Updated 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year Rankings

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterDecember 6, 2021

Updated 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year Rankings

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year discussion includes five lottery picks in the early part of December.

    Favorites from November haven't slowed down, but No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham is making a charge after an ankle injury delayed his debut. 

    A few rookies' cases have faded, as Jalen Green hurt his hamstring Nov. 24 and Chris Duarte's shooting has cooled.

    Rankings are based on a mix of production, efficiency and impact.

5. Cade Cunningham (Detroit Pistons, PG/SG)

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Cade Cunningham put an end to a rough shooting slump Tuesday by connecting on 10 of 13 attempts and scoring 26 points against the Portland Trail Blazers. His 19-point game on Thursday against the Phoenix Suns marked the first time he'd finished over 50.0 percent from the floor in consecutive outings.

    He shot 31.7 percent during a six-game stretch over the previous two weeks. Cunningham's three-ball, which was a consistent weapon at Oklahoma State, has been erratic with Detroit. But results from his last two matchups (8-of-12) suggest his confidence is rising.  

    He has still managed to produce during off nights by rebounding, facilitating and making plays defensively. Cunningham averaged 8.0 boards, 6.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game during that previously noted shooting slump.

    His maturity, pace, shot-making skill, creation flashes and passing IQ have consistently stood out all season, even when he's struggled with his shot. Inefficiency still keeps Cunningham down Rookie of the Year list for now, but the No. 1 overall upside appears intact.

4. Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder, PG/SG)

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    Hakim Wright Sr./Associated Press

    Before a matchup against the Houston Rockets last Monday, Josh Giddey had averaged 14.7 points over his previous six games. It's a notable development, given the predraft question marks about his ability to create for himself and score without much burst, explosion at the rim or shooting ability off the dribble. 

    Even though he lacks blow-by speed, he's still been able to shake off defenders by using unpredictable change of direction with his handle. He's been a hit-or-miss three-point shooter during most games (usually miss), but he has proved he can get in a rhythm, having hit four of six threes against the Boston Celtics and 3-of-4 against the Utah Jazz in late November.

    Considering how infrequently he gets to the free-throw line (1.3 attempts in 29.4 minutes per contest)—plus the likelihood his shooting continues to be unreliable—scoring consistently will be a challenge for Giddey all season.

    Otherwise, passing remains a bankable skill. Averaging 5.8 assists for the NBA's worst offensive team and second-worst three-point shooting team, the 6'8" Giddey has had instant success as a facilitator due to a mix of advantageous height for seeing and delivering and obvious basketball IQ. 

3. Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic, SF/PF)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Averaging 17.0 points and 4.5 assists over the Orlando Magic's last six games, Franz Wagner has separated from Giddey and Cunningham on the rookie ladder. 

    The recent playmaking has been a bonus, but Wagner's passing was always a plus on the scouting report. His ability to handle, make reads and dish off the dribble was a selling point out of college. 

    And despite the fact that he isn't an advanced self-creator, he's consistently given the Magic efficient scoring production. Aside from shooting a respectable 36.6 percent from three, Wagner continues to find ways to make shots in the lane by using his footwork, improvisation and 6'10" size against wings.

    He capped November with his second game of least 27 points in the month.

    Overall, Wagner's finishing rate inside 5 feet (52.8 percent) and pull-up game (34.4 percent) could improve, but given how effective he is already, that room for improvement hints at a higher ceiling than most saw before the draft.

2. Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors, PF)

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Scottie Barnes' recent flashes of shooting range and mid-range touch have been scary. We knew the passing and defense would translate first. But over the last six games, he's made more threes (13) than he did all last season (11). 

    Otherwise, he's showing how advantageous it is to have a handle at 6'7". Barnes continues to get where he needs to go, and though not an advanced self-creator, he's putting himself in position to use his length for miscellaneous scoring or finishing around the key.

    He leads all rookies with 15.3 points per game after tallying at least 17 in four of his last five contests. And he's also third on his team in assists.

    Throw in the defensive playmaking and tone-setting passion, and Barnes has given the Toronto Raptors an instant contributor who doubles as both a featured offensive player and two-way energizer.

1. Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers, PF/C)

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    An elbow sprain cost Evan Mobley some time, but not his spot atop the rookie ladder. He's been equally effective since returning Nov. 27 following a four-game absence, blocking multiple shots in each contest, adding value as a passer and even showing more shooting range with two threes against the Miami Heat and Orlando Magic. 

    Unsurprisingly, he's made the greatest impact on defense, as opponents are scoring 7.6 fewer points per 100 possessions when Mobley is on the floor. Guards and wings have trouble driving on him or creating separation. The Cleveland Cavaliers have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA after finishing No. 25 last season.

    But Mobley's offensive transition is the bigger story, considering the predraft questions about his strength, shooting and ability to play the 4. In 18 NBA games, he matched his three-point total from last season at USC. He's flashed shot-making versatility with pull-ups and post fallaways. And he's beaten defenders off the dribble from behind the arc, tapping into his handle, body control and coordination for finishing on the move.

    While Mobley's upside is obvious, he's already established himself as one of the league's most complete players in 2021-22.


    Stats courtesy of Sports Reference, NBA.com.