2022 NBA Rookie of the Year Predictions: Will Anyone Challenge Cade Cunningham?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterSeptember 7, 2021

2022 NBA Rookie of the Year Predictions: Will Anyone Challenge Cade Cunningham?

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    Jim Poorten/Getty Images

    Cade Cunningham enters the season as the NBA's Rookie of the Year favorite, but the last first overall pick to win the award was Ben Simmons in 2018. 

    Will Cunningham be able to hold off a strong class that includes Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs? Even a non-lottery dark horse looks ready to put pressure on each of the draft's top-five picks.

    We made our predictions for who'll win, finish runner-up and compete all season for votes.

Long Shots with an Outside Chance

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    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers C

    Odds: +550

    In today's NBA, young bigs have needed more time to develop than guards and wings. That pattern may continue with the 215-pound Mobley, who shot 34.9 percent in summer league. The Cavaliers bringing back Jarrett Allen and trading for Lauri Markkanen will also cut into the No. 3 pick's opportunities. 

    Mobley will still give Cleveland easy baskets, passing, defensive versatility, shot-blocking and flashes of face-up offense that hint at future star potential. Even as a rookie, he'll be one of the few 7-footers who'll be guarding forwards. He'll deliver some eye-opening glimpses of open-floor ball-handling and outside touch. 

    However, he lacks the physicality to consistently play through contact and win inside battles, and plays in a lineup dominated by Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, so it's unlikely Mobley will put up Rookie of the Year stats. 

                 

    Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors SF/PF

    Odds: +1300

    Barnes' best chance at Rookie of the Year is for coach Nick Nurse to frequently use a small, defensive lineup. Will Barnes get to play with Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby? If not, the No. 4 pick will come off the bench, reducing his chances of putting up the numbers he'd need to compete with Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green for votes.

    Even in a limited role, Barnes could validate the team's decision to draft him as early as it did. Bigs should have trouble containing his ball-handling and playmaking skills, while wings won't match up physically with his 6'7", 225-pound frame and 7'3" wingspan. 

    He'll have some trouble scoring consistently or in volume without a reliable three-ball or pull-up. In the meantime, he'll make his mark on games with passing, length, impact defense and scary intensity. But it's unlikely he's able to produce Rookie of the Year stats as a poor shooter in a lineup already featuring Siakam, Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr.

                

    Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings PG

    Odds: +1600

    With the Kings reportedly unwilling to trade Tyrese Haliburton in a deal for Ben Simmons, Mitchell seems unlikely to receive enough creation opportunities to build a Rookie of the Year case. He might have been a top-three favorite had he gone to a team like the Toronto Raptors or Oklahoma City Thunder, where he'd slide into a lead guard role.

    Mitchell will still make an immediate impact with his explosive burst, improved shooting and ridiculous defensive pressure. It just may be more of a supporting role-player impact without enough stats to realistically compete for Rookie of the Year.

Dark-Horse Prediction: Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets, C)

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Odds: +1600

    Considered a Rookie of the Year long shot, Alperen Sengun should have a better chance to win than the odds suggest.

    Last year's MVP of the Turkish BSL, he's joining the Houston Rockets after experiencing unprecedented pro-league success for a teenager. And his effectiveness in summer league (14.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 3.0 blocks) only helped validate that success, which seems even more likely to translate than it did on draft night.

    Sengun scored using his strength, footwork, soft hands and timing on post-ups, rolls, cuts and offensive rebounds. At 6'10", 243 pounds, he shouldn't suddenly hit a wall once the season starts.

    He also started to flash modern skills that came alive later in the 2021-22 season, including face-up moves into body-controlled finishes, three-point shooting and high-level passes. 

    While Sengun figures to have trouble defending away from the basket, his motor and aggression should still be able to rack up blocks that could strengthen his statistical profile/case.

    And there should be no shortage of opportunities for Sengun in Houston. The Rockets lack frontcourt depth and will be more focused on prospect development than their record. Their No. 16 pick will get plenty of minutes, both next to Christian Wood and with the second unit. 

    Sengun has a chance to lead all rookies in double-doubles while shooting a solid percentage from the floor and adding defensive playmaking stats.

Serious Contender: Jalen Suggs (Orlando Magic, PG)

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    David Dow/Getty Images

    Odds: +650

    If summer league was any indication of how the Orlando Magic backcourt will operate, Jalen Suggs should quickly emerge as the lead guard.

    He looked confident and aggressive as the primary ball-handler, even with Cole Anthony in the lineup. Coach Jamahl Mosley figures to prefer his rookie as the team's No. 1 initiator, given his superior passing, rim pressure and overall scoring efficiency compared to Anthony.

    In terms of NBA-readiness, Suggs' 6'4" size and athleticism downhill should serve him well. He also ranked as one of the nation's most efficient pull-up shooters last year (93rd percentile, per Synergy Sports), an important skill in the NBA.

    Even on nights when his shot isn't falling, Suggs should find a way to earn fans and votes with his competitiveness, hustle and defense. He can double as both a star and energizer.

    Production-wise, he could have trouble keeping up with Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green, as Suggs' half-court playmaking and shooting consistency can still be shaky. Plus, Anthony, R.J. Hampton and the return of Markelle Fultz may cut into his on-ball reps.

    Suggs will still find himself in a full-time role, with the freedom to play through mistakes and enough versatility to regularly impact games. He'll finish top five on the rookie ladder—just unlikely at No. 1.

Rookie of the Year Runner-Up: Cade Cunningham (Detroit Pistons, PG/SG)

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    Chase Stevens/Associated Press

    Odds: +190

    Cade Cunningham should be set up for high usage and similar numbers he produced at Oklahoma State for a Detroit Pistons team lacking creation and scoring.

    Alongside Killian Hayes, he might start the year seeing more off-ball reps as a shooter from the wings and corners. But unless Hayes starts to blow up, Cunningham should eventually be used the way Luka Doncic is with the Dallas Mavericks—as a lead initiator.

    Opposing guards will continue to have trouble containing Cunningham's ball-handling and off-the-dribble shooting at 6'7", 220 pounds. 

    He enters the league with an advanced jumper game in terms of converting pull-ups, step-backs and spot-ups. And Detroit figures to get him in space around the post, where he's always had success against smaller players.

    Compared to No. 2 pick Jalen Green, Cunningham offers more playmaking and passing potential, and any missed time or demotion for Hayes could allow Detroit's star rookie to really pad his stats with extra assists.

    Given his tools and off-ball IQ, Cunningham could even emerge as a defensive plus right away, a rarity for a rookie. 

    He's not our pick to win Rookie of the Year due to inefficiency projections caused by a lack of explosion for separating inside the arc. His decision-making in the lane also leads to difficult and contested attempts. Nonetheless, Cunningham remains a sure thing to produce top-pick stats, with his special skill level, positional height/strength and expected usage.

Rookie of the Year Prediction: Jalen Green (Houston Rockets, SG)

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Odds: +340

    Our 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year prediction isn't the sports books' favorite. Jalen Green is our pick after being drafted to the Houston Rockets and cruising through summer league (20.3 points, 51.4 percent FG, 10-19 3PT), looking even more comfortable than he did in the G League bubble. 

    He'll be playing a similarly high-usage role as No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham. For scoring, Green's shot-making ability is at least on par with Cunningham's—if not better—in terms of hitting jumpers off self-creation or spot-ups/screens. Green should have an easier time separating from defenders with his footwork off the dribble and superior quickness and explosion, which should translate to more easy baskets off of drives and transition. 

    Production-wise (points per game), Green and Cunningham figure to finish in a similar ballpark, but Green could have the efficiency edge with more athletic traits for creating cleaner separation and finishes.

    Team performance can also play a role in voting, and the Rockets are actually projected to win more games (27.5) than Detroit (23.5).

    Cunningham is the better passer and defender, but his assists per game since arriving at Oklahoma State (3.5 NCAA, 2.3 Las Vegas) haven't been overwhelming. Plus, Killian Hayes' development remains a priority for the Pistons, and voters don't typically put too much stock into defense, particularly when it comes to guards.

             

    Odds are courtesy of FanDuel.

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