NBA Rookie of the Year ladder: Big rise from Jaime Jaquez Jr. in Week 6

The landscape of rookie performances in the NBA continues to shift. Let's rank 'em.

Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat
Jaime Jaquez Jr., Miami Heat / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
4 of 6

Center. 3. player. 79. Mavericks. Dereck Lively II. . . Dereck Lively II. 3

Dereck Lively II was not good early in his freshman season at Duke. He looked lost on defense and completely passive on offense. A year later, he has been one of the most impactful rookies to date, with on-off splits one would more closely associate with the NBA's premier stars than with a rookie center still getting his feet wet.

Lively put together what is arguably his signature performance to date in the Mavericks' loss to the Thunder on Saturday. He posted 20 points, 16 rebounds, and seven blocks while going 9-for-9 from the field. Totally nuts. It's unbelievable the difference Lively has made as a legitimate lob threat for Luka Doncic — one who can actually play defense, unlike 2022-23 JaVale McGee.

He obviously operates in a very streamlined offensive role, but Lively has carried more defensive responsibilities than most rookies are capable of, and he has done so with great success. He is a meaningfully impactful rim protector. It's more than blocked shots (1.5 in 25.1 minutes); he's navigating different schemes and avoiding serious breakdowns. It's hard for rookie centers to hold up defensively. Lively makes it look like second nature. Which, again, is remarkable considering where he started last season at Duke.

The Mavs have their starting center of the future. Dallas has fallen a bit in the standings, but Lively is still a bonafide starter for the 11-8, sixth-place team in a very competitive Western Conference. He deserves major credit.