With Contenders releasing today, I thought it would be a good time to talk about NBA Rookies. Someone is going to get ROY, and someone might just get a ring.
This year's Rookie of the Year award has been narrowed down to 4 players in this order (according to the odds at Bet MGM)
Evan Mobley -225
Scottie Barnes +200
Cade Cunningham +750
Josh Giddey +8000
With the 2021-22 regular season now in the rear view mirror, I don't expect that order to change much. Josh Giddey was a diamond in the rough out there in Oklahoma City, who had a better rookie season than each 6th overall pick since Damian Lillard. He definitely earned respect across the league during his tear through February, averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists in that month. It was a shame to see his season cut short due to injury.
Cade Cunningham's preseason injury made us wait until 10/30 to see him play in his new Pistons uniform, where his rough start began with a 1-8 performance in just 19 minutes. November was pretty monotonous as well, but the #1 overall pick started to shine his light in December and it carried through the remainder of the season. In his last 18 games, Cunningham averaged 22.4 points per game. Had he kept that pace throughout the entire season, he would have been ranked in the top 25 all time in PPG for a rookie.
While exciting to watch and certainly worth noting among best rookies from the 2021 NBA Draft, their season is already over. Neither team reached the 25 win mark through these star rookies' campaigns.
Scottie Barnes' squad, on the other hand, got things done on W column. At 48-34, the Toronto Raptors secured the #5 seed in the East. Barnes, as a rookie, led this playoff team in minutes played. Let that sink in. 20 year old rookie Scottie Barnes was on the floor more than Pascal Siakam, Fred VanFleet, and the rest of Nick Nurse's team. The Raptors gave up just 107.1 points per game, ranking 7th in the NBA. He was obviously a factor in his team's success. I can't wait to see how he battles Philadelphia in Round 1 of the Playoffs. Toronto experienced some injuries and had a rough go of the COVID protocols last season, but adding 21 wins to their total this year was significant. Scottie Barnes has clearly made this team better.
As I am writing this article, ROY frontrunner, Evan Mobley, just lost a play-in game to the Nets. They can still make it to Round 1 if they can beat the winner of Hawks/Hornets. The fact that they are even in the playoff conversation is pretty impressive, as the Cavs have not been to the playoffs since Lebron James left. Mobley led all rookies in rebounds and blocks (8th in the NBA in blocks). Those stats are nice, but Cavs fans are much more satisfied about the transition out of being a perennial lottery pick. In the 2020-21 season, Cleveland went 22-50. They got the right guy with their #3 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. With his help, they doubled their win total this season. This happened in spite of losing Collin Sexton, who was considered by many to be the Cavs' best player. They were 7-4 to start the year with Sexton leading the way. Darius Garland embraced the role he needed to have and Evan Mobley stepped up in a big way. This is a young team with talent that can battle with anyone.
Other rookies still in the playoffs:
It was a slow crawl to see the minutes we wanted to see from Johnathan Kuminga this season. He only played 25 minutes 4 times in the first 38 games of the season. In the 2nd half of the year, he averaged around 25 minutes per game, producing around 12 points and 4 rebounds per game since the start of February. Golden State sits #3 in the West. They have a true opportunity to make a run for a ring - Kuminga is going to play a role in that run.
As of now, the Nets are in Round 1 of the 2021-22 NBA Playoffs. Their first round pick, Cameron Thomas, has not played as much lately as he did in February. During that month (27 minutes per game), he was averaging 16.5 points per game. While he may not be a priority in this playoff run as it sits right now, Thomas has proven he belongs in the league.
Ziaire Williams played in 62 games for the Grizzlies this year, averaging 22 minutes and 8 points per game. He is a factor on that deep roster. Memphis had the 2nd best record in the NBA this year. With Ja Morant as an absolute highlight reel, a supporting cast already in place, I would say Ziaire Williams was a first round pick well spent.