“Definitely Felt Like It Was Like A Big Stage” | NBA Rookie Meter Leaders Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham Shine In Rising Stars Game

Time to rank the NBA frosh once again after another week of action on the hardwood. Some of these rookies showed out in NBA All-Star weekend Rising Stars Game. Cleveland Cavs rookie sensation Evan Mobley and No. 1 overall draft pick Cade Cunningham both showed why they are leading candidates for Rookie of the Year

The annual showcase of the league’s best rookies and sophomores introduced a new format this year, switching to a single-elimination mini-tournament, rather than a lackluster game with no defense or competitive intensity.  

There were three games — two semifinals and the championship. The first two played to a target score of 50, while the second went to 25 as the league celebrates its 75th anniversary.

Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham and Franz Wagner were all members of Team Barry, led by Hall of Famer Rick Barry, which won 25-20 over Team Isiah on Friday night. 

The Cleveland crowd booed Cunningham when he was voted the MVP by the eight judges. Mobley totaled 18 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and a block in two games, and the hometown crowd wanted their guy to win. 

“He’s big time,” Cunningham humbly said of Mobley. “The MVP trophy could have gone to either one of us.” 

Cunningham scored 13 points with six assists and five rebounds in the night’s first game. He had five points, three assists, two rebounds and a steal in the clincher. 

Evan Mobley — Cleveland Cavaliers (F/C)

Mobley continues to be the ROY favorite with his dynamite two-way play. With the Cavaliers sitting at (35-23) and tied for third in the East. He and first time All-Star Jarrett Allen lead the league’s second-most efficient defense. Mobley has also flashed some very nice offensive skills. This past week he was solid but not good enough to take back his usual top spot. If he stays steady he should win ROY, as he’s affected winning more than any other rookie.

For the season, the former USC Trojan is averaging 14.7 points. 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 blocks per game.

Cavs GM Koby Altman on his prized rookie via the “Woj Podcast”:

Franz Wagner — Orlando Magic (Guard)

Wagner has continued his solid play for the tanking Magic. The smooth-shooting wing has much more to his game than most thought when he left Michigan. His ability to create good shots for himself and his teammates was overlooked as he’s one of the Magic’s best shot creators.

In January, his shooting dipped a bit, but it’s picked back up. The German talent is shooting 47 percent from deep and averaging 16.8 points per game over his last 11 games. 

Wagner is averaging 15.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 36 percent from three.

Cade Cunningham — Detroit Pistons (Guard)

The 2021 top overall pick is still a huge threat to steal ROY. Cunningham effects the game in more ways than any other rookie in this class, his ability to play either guard position is an asset, but at 6 feet 8 he’s also capable of playing small forward. Cunningham has all the tools to be an elite defender as well.

Jonathan Kuminga — Golden State Warriors (Forward)

Kuminga has thrived in the absence of Draymond Green. After not getting much playing time earlier in the season the freakishly athletic Kuminga has been special for the Dubs. As a starter Kuminga has averaged 15.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game on 60 percent shooting. When Green returns Kuminga will likely see his minutes diminish, but now that head coach Steve Kerr knows what he can do he may still get more time than he was getting prior to Green’s injury.

Recently, Steve Kerr spoke about the difference in Kuminga’s performance now from earlier in the season. 

“I think better recognition of our coverages, better communication, and fewer mistakes,” Kerr told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Understanding personnel, who he’s guarding, closing out to a non-shooter versus a shooter, those type of things. He’s starting to pick on all that stuff much better.”

Josh Giddey — OKC Thunder (Guard)

Giddey, the 6-foot-8 pass-first floor leader has reached many milestones this season. He’s been named Western Conference Rookie of the Month every month this season. He also became the third-youngest player in NBA history to dish out 100 assists and grab 100 rebounds in his first 20 career games. 

Only LBJ and LaMelo were younger. He also became the youngest player in league history to record a triple-double in January. This past week the 19-year-old Aussie had a ridiculous 28-point triple-double that saw him hit 11 of 22 shots from the floor. If his shooting continues to get better, his winning ROY is a real possibility.

Giddey is averaging 12.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game.

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