NBA Rookie of the Year ladder: Big rise from Bilal Coulibaly in Week 3

The Rookie of the Year race features a battle of titans and several worthy candidates vying for a spot in the top five.

Bilal Coulibaly, Washington Wizards
Bilal Coulibaly, Washington Wizards / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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The Rookie of the Year race can be separated into a few different tiers. There are the heavy-hitters — the battle of titans in the race for No. 1 honors. There are the legitimate day-one starters who have staked their claim in the top five. Then, there's a torrential wave of quality young role players serving in various different capacities who have managed to stand out for one reason or another.

While it's natural to focus on the obvious contenders, it's important to consider the entire race. The 2023 NBA Draft was blessed with abnormal depth top to bottom, with an especially talented batch of prospects in the lottery. It's easy to get caught up in Wemby-mania or Chet Holmgren's quick rise, but there are several future stars and high-level starters peppered throughout the rookie class.

So, that being said, here's how the fairly robust race for a top-five spot shapes up through Week 5.

NBA Rookie of the Year power rankings: Week 3

Honorable mentions: Jordan Hawkins, Brandon Miller, Marcus Sasser, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Cason Wallace

Bilal Coulibaly. Wing . Bilal Coulibaly. . . 142. Wizards. player. 5. 5

The Washington Wizards are an ongoing joke, but we can't let the sad comedy of Jordan Poole and Kyle Kuzma distract from the multiple quality young players in that rotation. Bilal Couliably has been mostly relegated to the bench so far, but the No. 7 overall pick — who, at 19 years and 113 days old, is the third-youngest player in the NBA — has seen his role steadily increase in recent days.

Coulibaly has posted 10-plus points in four straight games, including an eye-popping 20-point, four-steal performance in the Wizards' loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. The Wizards have allowed Coulibaly more freedom and opportunity than just about any other team would be able to afford. The result has been impressive (and immediate) productivity for an extremely young prospect who many thought would require years of polish.

That said, it shouldn't be all that surprising to see Coulibaly deliver right away. He's shooting 47.1 percent on 3.1 attempts per game from 3-point range — probably unsustainable, and definitely a mild shock — but the defense is the real standout trait. Coulibaly was always advanced for his age on that end of the floor, swallowing ball-handlers with his 7-foot-2 wingspan and making crisp rotations with Mets 92 next to Victor Wembanyama last season. There is untapped rim protection upside (0.8 blocks in 25.7 minutes per game) and he's already a pest in passing lanes (1.0 steals per game).

Coulibaly popped offensively down the stretch of his final French season, showcasing previously unseen aptitude on straight-line drives. The Wizards aren't going to let Coulibaly fully off the leash any time soon, but he's in a place where he can explore the breadth of his skill set while still operating effectively in a 3-and-D role. He won't get much shine on a cruddy Wizards team, but Coulibaly has been quite remarkable so far.