This year’s NBA Rookie of the Year race is turning into a classic with five legitimate contenders to clinch the much-vaunted end-of-season award.
Some of the winners of the last decade include Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Ja Morant, so it’s often a great indicator of players who can become superstars or make it to the league this way.
Perhaps it would be a stretch, so far, to say that some of the contenders in this year’s game have already reached that bracket, but the new leader is Franz Wagner of the Orlando Magic and is fresh 38 points against the Milwaukee Bucks and former defender of the year. Giannis Antetokounmpo.
That achievement helped him climb to the top of the standings, but he’s closely followed by Toronto Raptors’ Scottie Barnes impressing north of the border; Cavaliers long Evan Mobley, who is a double double walk and block specialist who exudes superstar potential with his versatility; first choice Cade Cunningham who is recovering in full swing after missing part of the action earlier in the year; and flashy Australian pass Josh Giddey who is losing some mind-blowing pennies to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It’s an exciting race and promises to be one of the closest races in recent years after Morant and last year’s winner. LaMelo Ball have both been favorite picks over the past couple of years.
The top five have a chance to win the prize, with Mobley, Barnes and Wagner now leading the way in the rookie leaderboard in a few spots.
Here’s what they look like towards the new year …
1. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
Statistics of the season: 15.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.7 apg
From the last scale: 19.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last step of the ladder: 5
Draft choice: No 8 in total
If showing up is really 90 percent of life, then the Orlando Magic rookie winger continues to keep up with the 2021 class. Wagner scored more points last week (58) than the other top 4 rookies in this ranking. together and nearly equaled them in total minutes – and that’s not counting his big Tuesday night against the Bucks (38 career best points). He was the iron man of this rookie crop with 35 appearances and logged over 1,100 minutes before the others hit 1,000. It fills a true position of need for Magic, with starring roles at both ends. With only Thursday’s rematch against Milwaukee to be played in December, Wagner’s 19.5 / 5.3 / 3.3 in 13 games should serve him well when considering East Rookie of the Month.
2. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
Statistics of the season: 15.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.4 apg
From the last scale: DNP
Last step of the ladder: 1
Draft choice: No 4 in total
With the postponements and his stint in health and safety protocols, Barnes hasn’t played since December 18. He is still leading the Raptors in double doubles (5), but his stats stuck with his sacking. Games, training and individual development are all stalled, not ideal for first year kids. But based on his early season play, Barnes will probably do better than most to get back to the pace quickly.
3. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
Statistics of the season: 13.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.5 apg
From the last scale: DNP
Last step of the ladder: 2
Draft choice: No 3 in total
Mobley is back from league protocols following the Ladder’s weekly Monday stats cut. But it’s worth noting that he had 22 points out of 9 of 12 shooting with seven rebounds, but was a minus -8 in Cleveland’s defeat in New Orleans on Tuesday. Now the challenge is how he manages to plug the holes left by other missing Cavs in their absence. He tops all rookies with 46 blocks and is sixth in the NBA with 1.8 bpg.
4. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
Statistics of the season: 15.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.2 apg
From the last scale: 7.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 9.0 apg
Last step of the ladder: 3
Draft choice: No. 1 ever
It just feels right, sliding down a step when other Ladder denizens haven’t played at all. But Wagner was special and Barnes and Mobley are back or nearly so. And then it was Cunningham’s turn, after just one appearance last week, to be sidelined for the same reason. His talents are evident but consistency remains a goal, and he is tormented by turnovers and fouls. He has 11 games of 2+ steals and 35 steals in his first 25 games, second in Detroit history only to Grant Hill’s 50 in 25.
5. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
Statistics of the season: 10.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 6.1 apg
From the last scale: 10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.0 apg
The last scale step: 4
Draft choice: No 6 in total
Giddey’s performance in his last game before entering the virus protocols was not only bizarre, it was historic: 10 rebounds, 10 assists, zero points. An unscored double double is reportedly something that only happened once in the NBA annals, in 1971, when Cincinnati’s Norm Van Lier made 13 assists and 11 rebounds without scoring in the Royals’ 34-point defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers. . Giddey’s club beat New Orleans, their fourth win in five games. He shot 0 for 8 and did not attempt a free throw.
Enjoy five live matches between Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday as Sky Sports embraces the turn of the year in style – find the full TV listings here.