NBA Rookie Ranking: Cade Cunningham leads after career night; Evan Mobley Plays Like An All-Star

The NBA season is officially halfway through as many teams have hit the 41-game mark. This point on the calendar is usually when freshmen start hitting that proverbial “rookie wall”, where the demands of an NBA season start to catch up with them and we see some flow of performance. So far, we haven’t seen anyone get to this point as many Rookie of the Year prospects continue to impress. We’ll have to wait and see if this year’s class can instead break through that rookie wall and perform as well in Game 82 as they are now.

Moving on to this week’s leaderboards, remember that they will reflect a rookie’s performance on a weekly basis only, not the collective season. These are not the rookie of the year rankings. With that settled, here’s a look at the top performing rookies in the league.

Monday night against the Utah Jazz, Cunningham had a first half that he would probably like to forget (2 of 8 in the field, 1 of 4 in 3-point territory). But once the third quarter began, the No.1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft took full control of the game, scoring 26 of his career-high 29 points and distributing six of his eight assists after mid -time. Cunningham helped the Pistons to a shocking victory over the Jazz and ended the game with a plus-22 rating.

It was the last reminder of how special Cunningham will be in his career. He knocked down 3s, attacked Utah’s inside defense without Rudy Gobert in the lineup, and sank midrange jumpers on any defenseman the Jazz placed in front of him. His score is what will help keep the Pistons in games, and even win some surprising clashes like they did on Monday. But what has perhaps been the most impressive aspect of Cunningham’s game this season is his passing.

It’s not that Cunningham has excellent assists numbers; it’s the way he watches the pitch before delivering a well-placed ball, and the way he manipulates defense to open up a teammate that really stands out.

Like that:

The Pistons do a lot of high pick-and-rolls not only to get the switches they want for Cunningham, but also to give him the option of getting his own shot or looking for an open teammate. More often than not, he pulls defenders towards him, and his high basketball IQ kicks in when he passes a pass like this to the open man in the corner as the Hornets scramble to turn:

There are so many examples of Cunningham acting like a magnet with multiple defenders assaulting him, and just when you think he’s stuck he passes to the 3-point line or a teammate cutting the edge. It’s at times like these that you can understand the comparisons to Luka Doncic, even if it comes to expectations that are high to live up to:

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Maybe it’s just that I’m too cavalier – see what I did there – but Mobley should at least be seriously considered for the All-Star Game this season. I get it, he’s a rookie and for some reason that usually means they’re left out of the conversation, but the way he’s played so far this season at least deserves the talk.

From the jump, Mobley’s defense stood out in Cleveland. He has the ability to get out on the wing and successfully defend guards, which is very rare for a 7 footer. His length and his fundamentals on defense make it difficult for the guys to get past him like they would with most of the other greats in the league. Its wingspan is also useful for blocking fire on the perimeter as well.

Then there is the offense. He moves so gracefully and easily that it shouldn’t even be possible for someone his size. He’s not frantic when trying to reach the edge, and he maneuvers on contact like he’s moving in slow motion and can already tell where the defender is about to go.

Mobley’s production (14.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists) is one of the main reasons for the Cavaliers’ success this season. Cleveland sacked the majority of their roster from last season where they won just 22 games, so it’s clear to see what Mobley’s addition to the first zone has done for the Cavs as they’ve already passed their total wins from a season ago, and sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

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Giddey is already one of the league’s elite young passer, and when he starts taking more shots, mostly around the rim, he’ll be even more lethal. Just look at some of these possessions over the past week that show off his ability to create from dribbling, but not converting back:

You can see the potential of these possessions, where if he made just a few more, Giddey’s game would be taken to another level:

These are also good “problems” to have, because Giddey is already proving that he can remove a defender from the dribble and reach the rim. Once there, it is the finish that he has to work on. He ranks in the 16th percentile among all wings in the league in around-the-rim shot percentage (52%), and given that his 3-point shot is still a work in progress as he only shoots at 27, 8% of the depth this season, its conversion around the rim must be higher.

But that’s not worrying for a 19-year-old rookie, who also happens to be the league’s second-youngest player. Giddey has already shown so much potential as a secondary facilitator alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as well as a capable defender and goalscorer who can create for himself and everyone else on the pitch.

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Barnes returned to his first full week of action after being in league health and safety protocols for three games. And he went back to being Mr. Do-It-All for the Raptors in the process. He flirted with a triple-double twice last week, showing his versatility on both ends of the pitch.

The beauty of Barnes’ game is that scoring isn’t the only way he has a positive impact, which is good considering the Raptors don’t necessarily need him to score 20 points per game … the moment. With scorers like Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby surrounding him, Barnes can better choose his spots, act as a secondary facilitator when needed and be a strong advocate on the other side without worrying about showing. huge numbers every night. This was evident during Toronto’s six-game winning streak, as Barnes did not have more than 13 points during that streak. But he’s nearly eclipsed double-digit rebounds on two occasions and also had over five assists on two occasions.

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When the Nets struggled to field a team due to the large number of players in the league’s health and safety protocols, Thomas stepped in and made the best of the situation. Since then his playing time has fluctuated with the return of All-Star goalie Kyrie Irving as a part-time player, but whenever Brooklyn needs him he doesn’t disappoint. His last impressive performance came on Monday night when the Nets lost to the Portland Trail Blazers. Brooklyn was without James Harden, who was a late scratch, so that meant big minutes for Thomas on the bench.

In addition to 26 minutes of action, Thomas finished with 21 points, three rebounds and three steals. It comes after another performance earlier in the week in which he recorded 14 points, five rebounds, two assists and one steal against the Milwaukee Bucks. If Brooklyn needs a player to come in and make an impact either by scoring, rebounding, or playing solid defense, he knows he can call on Thomas to deliver.

Honorable mentions: Keifer Sykes, Indiana Pacers (14.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds), Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls (12.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists), Omer Yurtseven, Miami Heat ( 10.5 points, 16.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists)

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