1. Chris Duarte — Indiana Pacers (Guard)
The former Oregon Ducks sharpshooter came out of the gate in a zone this season, hit a rookie wall and has regained his smooth stroke as of late. With the Pacers on a west coast swing, and down some key guys, Duarte has asserted himself.
The oldest rookie in the 2021 NBA Draft class went for 24/7/6 on 10 of 14 shooting in a tough 139-133 loss to the Clippers. He wasn’t as efficient in a 111-104 win over the L.A. Lakers going for 11/5/3 on 4-for-13 shooting from the field. But he did make two timely triples to help stymie a late Lakers run, showing his dependability in the big spots.
In an unexpected 121-117 overtime win at Golden State on Thursday, Duarte was the best player on the floor and poured in 27/7/3, hitting 10 of his 16 shots from the field. His deft shooting got him drafted, but he’s showing an ability to create for others, which puts him in another category as a plus shooter and playmaker.
2. Evan Mobley — Cleveland Cavaliers (Center)
The two-way big is still a key component in the surprising Cavaliers who sit at 27-19 and sixth in the Eastern Conference. Mobley had a typically solid week, where he averaged 17.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
His effect on the game doesn’t always show up in numbers. His shot-altering prowess is on par with the likes of Giannis, Gobert, and others.
Make it a dozen for #EvanMobley's double-digit scoring streak! 🔥
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) January 18, 2022
This season he’s averaging 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.7 blocks per game, while shooting 51 percent from the field.
Head coach B.J Bickerstaff raved to Cleveland.com about his prized rookie prior to a huge 111-91 win over the Utah Jazz.
“It’s that level of trust that he’s going to make the right decision when the ball is in his hands, and not only from my standpoint, but from his teammates standpoints. His teammates seek him out when the games are close or when the games are on the line to put the ball in his hands because of that trust. And that says a lot about him. To earn that trust this quickly is difficult to do for most rookies.”
3. Cade Cunningham — Detroit Pistons (Guard)
The Pistons (11-33) are a dumpster fire, but drafting Cunningham No. 1 overall gives them hope for the future. The talented combo guard has displayed flashes of brilliance. His ability to score or facilitate bode well for a Pistons team devoid of playmakers and as scorers. Following a slow start to the season, CC2 has really picked it up on both ends. His shooting is still a work in progress, but this is just year 1. His overall effectiveness will accelerate as he gets better players around him.
The #Pistons identified @CadeCunningham_ not because he could run faster or jump higher than everybody else in a prospect-loaded draft but because of his otherworldly feel for the game.@Keith_Langlois
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) January 19, 2022
Cunningham’s season averages are 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
4. Scottie Barnes — Toronto Raptors (Forward)
The multidimensional former Seminoles star has seen his minutes fluctuate a bit with the return of OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakim. But he’s still putting in work when his number is called. Barnes went for 16/8/6 in a loss to the Heat this week, continuing to aid his team in a multiplicity of ways. He’s a lockdown defender already and has shown the ability to guard 1 through 4 comfortably.
Last game on the road
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 21, 2022
Barnes is averaging 14.4 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.0 blocks per game
5. Herbert Jones — New Orleans Pelicans (G/F)
The Pelicans are in rebuild mode without their franchise player Zion Williamson. Herbert Jones has been one of the few bright spots this season.
The 6-foot-8 swingman is versatile and a lockdown defender who averaged 13 points, four rebounds and three assists per game this past week.
Like Barnes, he has a defensive prowess that enables him to guard four positions. Nawlins head coach Willie Green lauds Jones’ defensive intensity and trusts the rook with the responsibility of guarding the opposing team’s toughest defensive assignment.
“In this league, you get thrown into the fire when you’re that good. He’s going to continue to get better and learn. His progression from the start to now, it’s a huge jump.”
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