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Rob’s Rookie Rankings – December 2nd

Bad Men, Bad Takes – Season 1

With six weeks done and dusted, and all teams having played around 20 games, it’s time to take a look at the 2021 Draft Class to see how they are performing.

It’s difficult to evaluate and rank this season’s rookie class in one respect, particularly with #1 overall pick Cade Cunningham having a delayed start to his rookie campaign due to injury and big Evan Mobley jumping out of the blocks only to suffer a ligament sprain in his right elbow late in November. Despite this, however, six weeks into the season, I believe the NBA world has seen enough to be able to make an informed decision on how the Rookie of The Year race is shaping up.

As with my Rolling MVP Guest List (December 1st update dropped yesterday!), there are a variety of factors taken into account to help me rank this year’s Rookie Class. These include:

  1. Individual statistics

  2. Games played

  3. Team record (this plays a lesser role than in my MVP Guest List, but is still relevant when it comes to weighing up whether lesser stats on a better team are worth more than higher stats on a worse team).

  4. Subjective opinion

  5. Ability to make the game easier for teammates.

Unlike my MVP Guest List, however, I will be ranking my three best rookies in each update, from third to first, with an honourable mentions list at the end.

As always, if you disagree, be sure to hit me up!, @bmbtpodcast or @Robert__Beaver on Twitter, or by commenting on this article!

Without further ado, my Rookie Rankings for December 2nd, 2021.

3. Josh Giddey: 10.4ppg, 7.2rpg, 5.8apg, 1.0spg, 0.7bpg, 25.7% 3FG, W/L 6-15.

I won’t lie. When the Thunder selected Giddey at number six in the Draft, my eyebrows were raised.

While I believed he was a lottery talent, I had him pegged at around the 9-14 range coming into the draft. I likened him to Ben Simmons in some respects, not only because he was an Australian, but also due to his 6’8” frame and genuine ability to be a primary ball-handler. I expected Giddey to have some amazing highlight plays, particularly distributing the ball, but also thought his minutes may be limited as a back-up to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He has blown those expectations out of the water.

Giddey more than hit the ground running with Oklahoma City despite injuring his ankle in his opening Summer League game, and hasn’t looked back since. While not blessed with elite speed, athleticism or strength, Giddey somehow turns these weaknesses into an advantage by refusing to be rushed on the court and managing to dictate the flow of the game when on offense.

His height is an obvious advantage when setting up in the half-court, allowing him to see and execute on passing lanes that smaller guards wouldn’t dare attempt, and while he seems to only move at one pace, he never seems to have trouble getting into the lane and collapsing the defence. Once in the lane, he has an innate ability to know where his teammates are on the perimeter and keeps his head up on drives to the hoop allowing him to either drop a pass off to his big or find the best angle to attack the rim from. His individual stats don’t do him justice either.

Josh Giddey’s play-making is already at an elite level. Credit: The Rookie Wire – USA Today

While Giddey’s 5.8 dimes a contest lead all rookies in that category, he is routinely robbed of assists in the box score due to his teammate’s inability to hit the open shots he sets them up for. Just check out this tweet from Oklahoma City Thunder beat writer Brandon Rahbar outlining this exact fact. Despite his talents however, like all rookies, Giddey still needs to improve in some areas.

His three-point shooting is suss at best. Giddey is making 0.9 threes per game on just 25.7% from deep and while I suspect this will improve as the season and his career progresses, it’s still a mark against him for these rookie rankings. He has also struggled to make the right decision multiple times when inbounding the ball in key moments down the stretch, as seen by this stretch against the Lakers earlier in the season.

While Giddey is far from a polished product, few rookies are, especially six-weeks into their NBA career. His elite-level play-making and ability to make the game easier for his teammates by spoon-feeding them wide-open shots stands out above all other rookies. While his teammates don’t always convert those chances into buckets, Giddey has already proven himself to be arguably the Thunder’s best floor general.

2. Evan Mobley: 14.4ppg, 8.0rpg, 2.5apg, 0.9spg, 1.8bpg, 31.3% 3FG, W/L 12-10.

Evan Mobley has been stuffing the stat sheet since arriving in the NBA, and it’s been helping the Cleveland Cavaliers pick up wins to start the season.

The 7’0” power forward possesses a unique skill-set that not only sets him apart from others in his rookie class, but also most of the Association. Firstly, he’s a genuine three-level scorer, shooting 70.1% when less than 5 foot from the basket, 50% from 10-14 foot and 43.5% from 20-24 foot. He’s also got incredible physical tools, with a 7’4” wing-span helping him achieve 1.8 blocks per game, making him first among all rookies in that category and placing him seventh in the entire NBA.

He also possesses excellent timing, knowing when to cut to be available to passers, when to rotate on defence and when to hesitate and utilise a pump-fake in the low post to get defenders to leave their feet before finishing. Combine this with above-average athleticism, and Mobley looks like he has all the tools to be a future All-Star.

Evan Mobley is already a key player in the Cavaliers rotation. Credit: CBS Sports

He is the only player in the top three of my rookie rankings to be on a team with a winning record, too. While the Cavaliers have arguably the best roster around their star rookie of my top three, Mobley’s ability to impact winning when he plays well is evident this early into his career. He averages 16.8ppg and 8.9rpg on 53.7% shooting in their wins, and only 12.5ppg with 6.7rpg on 42.6% shooting in their losses.

Mobley suffers in my rankings mainly due to injuries at this stage of the season. He has appeared in 17 of Cleveland’s 22 games thus far, which isn’t bad, but still equates to missing close to 25% of games. I’d expect this to matter less and less as the season progresses if he can stay healthy, however.

Overall, Mobley has started his pro career in great form and looks like he has all the tools, physically and mentally, to be a star in this league. While a recent injury has seen him drop in my rookie rankings, if he can stay healthy and his production stays at this level, he will likely be a shoe-in for a top 3 finish come the season’s conclusion.

1. Scottie Barnes: 15.4ppg, 8.2rpg, 3.3apg, 1.2spg, 0.8bpg, 35.5% 3FG, W/L 9-13.

When Toronto took Scottie Barnes at Pick 4, Raptors fans reactions were mixed to say the least.

Whether they had fallen in love with the prospect of Jalen Suggs still being on the board following his buzzer-beater in the Final Four, or they thought selecting Barnes would indicate the franchise was leaning into rebuilding rather than a re-tooling, fans north of the border were far from enamoured when he name was announced.

In hindsight, they had nothing to worry about. Whether the Raptors were wanting to re-build or re-tool, they likely got the best player for whichever direction they chose to pursue. Barnes has been everything Toronto wanted, and everything they didn’t know they needed, particularly in the absence of All-Star Pascal Siakam to start the season.

Scottie Barnes (4) has hit the ground running in Toronto Credit: Daily Hive

Barnes has been the best player from the draft so far, providing consistency on offense and reliability on defence for a team who has needed just that from the wing position. He leads rookies in scoring and rebounding, is second in blocks, fourth in steals, fifth in assists and is also third in field goal percentage amongst rookies who attempt more than five shots per game.

While Barnes’ shot attempts have dropped off since the return of Pascal Siakam, he is still rebounding and distributing well, having grabbed at least six boards and averaged over four assists in the eleven games since the All-Stars return. Combine this with his energy around the rim and he’s still able to keep the score board ticking over with second-chance points due to his superior positioning.

As the season wears on, we’ll see if Barnes hits a wall or if any other member of his rookie class can elevate their game, but as of December 2nd, Barnes is in the box seat for Rookie of The Year honours.

Who Got Next?

4: Chris Duarte: 13.1ppg, 4.1rpg, 2.0apg, 0.9spg, 0.1bpg, 36.8% 3FG, W/L 9-15.

5: Cade Cunningham: 13.8ppg, 6.6rpg, 4.6apg, 1.3spg, 0.6bpg, 27.4% 3FG, W/L 4-17.

6: Franz Wagner: 13.4ppg, 4.4rpg, 2.4apg, 1.0spg, 0.5bpg, 35.2% 3FG, W/L 5-18.

7: Jalen Green: 14.0ppg, 3.1rpg, 2.3apg, 0.6spg, 0.2bpg, 27.8% 3FG, W/L 5-16.

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