NBA Rookie Meter 18 | Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham Lead Top 5 Rookie Of The Year Candidates Entering Final Quarter

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The first week of NBA action since All-Star Weekend in Cleveland was full of rookies who continue to prove that they will have an impact on how the battle to the playoffs shapes up. Here’s where the Shadow League’s Rookie of the Year race stands with roughly 20 games left in the regular season

1.Evan Mobley — Cleveland Cavaliers (F/C)

The leader in the clubhouse most of the season, and it’s well-deserved. No other rookie has affected winning more, as the Cavs sit at 35-24 and tied for fourth in the East with the Bucks. Mobley has been good all season, displaying the two-way ability that made him such a highly sought prospect. He’s developed into a very solid pick-and-roll player.

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Always a strong finisher at the rim since his AAU days, the 7-footer from USC is completing an insane 71 percent of his shots at the rim. Mobley has multiple NBA All-Defensive selection type talent on that end of the floor.

2. Cade Cunningham — Detroit Pistons (Guard)

The 6-foot-8 2021 top overall pick has been really good for a terrible Pistons team that lacks talent and innovation offensively. Head coach Dwayne Casey isn’t the answer to get the most out of his prized rookie. Cunningham has shown a real knack for being a leader on a team devoid of them. Nightly he runs the show and takes the toughest perimeter assignment defensively.

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While his scoring and efficiency isn’t as productive as Mobley’s, his team isn’t nearly as good either. Cade’s got the highest ceiling of any rookie in this class.

3. Franz Wagner — Orlando Magic (Guard)

Wagner wasn’t expected to be the most NBA-ready of the Magic’s two lottery picks. That distinction was to go to Jalen Suggs, who was drafted higher than Wagner, and while he has flashed, he hasn’t been anywhere near the player Wagner has been. Wagner is having a great season on a Magic team that is trying to tank on purpose. They entered this season with a janky roster, and it’s showed on most nights.

NBA Rookie Meter 11 | Franz Wagner To The Top

 

But Wagner nevertheless has used his 6-foot-9 frame and smooth shooting stroke to be the team’s top scoring option for stretches this season. His skill set is so much more than what most remember from his time in Ann Arbor. He’s a cornerstone piece in Orlando.

4. Scottie Barnes — Toronto Raptors (Forward)

For awhile this season it looked like a two-man race between Barnes and Mobley, but that changed when the Raptors got healthy. Barnes was playing major minutes for the Raps while Pascal Siakim and OG Anunoby were in and out of the lineup battling injuries. While Barnes played admirably during those stretches, when those two became healthy enough to play his minutes began to fluctuate, and it effected his play.

 

He’s a dynamic two-way wing with elite athleticism, that he uses to attack the rim at will. He displays a cerebral grit that bodes well for head coach Nick Nurse and the Raps going forward.

5. Josh Giddey — OKC Thunder (Guard)

The Aussie sensation has been named Western Conference Rookie of the Month every month of the season. At 6-foot-8 with a tight handle, he can really pass the ball. His weakness seems to be shooting as well, besides that he’s got all the ingredients to be a 10-12 year starter in OKC.

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On a team with no real game-changers after Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey’s creativity and playmaking are vital. He has a confidence and swagger most rookies don’t carry, as he believes he belongs.

Playing in the NBL last season did wonders for his confidence and skillset; that experience showed him what he needed to tighten on before coming to the NBA.

Sort of like what it did for LaMelo Ball, who won Rookie of the Year in 2021 and was Kevin Durant’s All-Star replacement this season.

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Not suggesting that Giddey is Ball, but he’s talented in his own right, and the two took similar paths to the league. 


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