NBA Rookie Rankings: Evan Mobley seizes No. 1 spot; Cade Cunningham showing poise despite shooting struggles

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At this point of the NBA season, most rookies have officially passed the 10-game threshold, giving us somewhat decent idea of what these players are going to look like. In the early going, some of the top picks (Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs) are still trying to find their shots, while others (Scottie Barnes and Chris Duarte) are having no issue finding the bottom of the net. We’ve also seen great defensive effort from so many of these young players, including Evan Mobley, Franz Wagner and Davion Mitchell. 

With 10 games in the books, the Rookie of the Year race is starting to take shape, with Barnes, Mobley and Duarte looking like the early season favorites. However, there’s still plenty of games left in the season for narratives and performances to shift. But we’ll have to wait and see which of these players can crack that top three. Meanwhile, let’s move into this week’s Rookie Rankings. 

Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie’s performance on a week-to-week basis only, and not the collective season. These aren’t Rookie of the Year standings. With that straightened out, here is a look at the top-performing rookies around the league. 

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In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, Mobley absolutely feasted against the New York Knicks to the tune of 26 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and a steal and block apiece. In the grand scheme of that game, his incredibly efficient performance (11 of 15 from the field), was just a tad bit overshadowed by Ricky Rubio’s career-high 37 points, but Mobley’s do-it-all outing was just as important in Cleveland’s win as Rubio’s big night. 

It didn’t matter who the Knicks put on Mobley, as none of New York’s bigs managed to keep him in check. Nerlens Noel was tasked with guarding him the most, and as a result looked outmatched against the No. 3 overall pick:

On another possession, Mitchell Robinson tried his best to guard Mobley out on the wing, but the 7-footer’s guard-like handles allowed him to blow right past Robinson for an easy dunk:

So far this season Mobley’s been getting tons of praise for his defensive play, and while that’s still an exciting aspect of his game, he showed against the Knicks last week just how dangerous he can also be on the offensive side of the ball.

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Look at this deadly jab step Mitchell caught Gordon Hayward with to create an ocean’s amount of space for a stepback 3-pointer:

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Now look at him lose Landry Shamet off a screen with this crossover for the long jumper:

This past week (and really all season long) Mitchell’s done things on offense that make you really excited to watch him play. His defense has been what’s been getting him the most attention, as he’s shown an incredibly high IQ on that end of the floor. But the standout aspects of his game last week came on offense, as he showed off his versatility in taking defenders off the dribble, knocking down spot-up 3s and finish controlled at the rim.

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Barnes missed two games early last week due to a thumb sprain, but in his first game back, he picked up right where he left off. He went head-to-head with Mobley, who is his toughest opponent right now for Rookie of the Year. Although Toronto didn’t get the win, Barnes still impacted the game in a variety of ways outside of just scoring. 

He guarded Mobley for most of the night, and did a solid job on him. Mobley might have a couple inches on Barnes, but he didn’t make anything easy on the Cavs rookie. Like on this play, where Barnes overplays on defense trying to go for the steal, but still manages to recover and knock the ball out of Mobley’s hands for a turnover:

There were a handful of possessions throughout that game where Barnes played great 1-on-1 defense against Mobley, showing once again just how impressive he is on both ends of he floor.  

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Cunningham finally had his first full week of NBA action after missing the first four games of the season due to a sprained right ankle. He put up 18 points and 17 points in two of his three games last week, but he did so rather inefficiently. He shot just 25 percent from the field, and 17.4 percent from deep on over seven attempts a game last week. Those are pretty grim numbers.

But his shooting woes shouldn’t be concerning this early into his career. Especially when you consider he’s getting to the spots he wants, he’s just not knocking down the shots yet. He’s getting past defenders to the rim, like he did on James Harden last week:

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He also did something similar to Kevin Durant in that same game:

Durant praised Cunningham after their matchup. “I love Cade’s game. I think he’s going to be a tough tough cover for a long time.” Though Cunningham’s struggling with his efficiency right now, that hasn’t hindered other aspects of his game. He’s shown great poise through his shooting struggles, exhibiting flashes on defense and his playmaking for others has been a bright spot in his game early on.

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Duarte is perhaps the most developed rookie in his class at this stage in the season. Not surprising considering his 24 years old, but it’s still impressive for a rookie to average 16 points while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and an even more ridiculous 42 percent from deep. 

In fact, his 3-point percentage right now would rank second all-time in league history among rookies who averaged five or more 3s a game in their first season. Obviously that could change over the course of the season, but that’s just how great of a start Duarte has gotten out to. Even better, when Duarte’s on the floor, the Pacers outscore opponents by 36 points, making him invaluable to Indiana’s success going forward.

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Green had the most balanced week of his season so far, though it still was incredibly inefficient. It was always expected that Green was going to be a high-volume shooter in his rookie season as the rebuilding Rockets allow ample opportunity for Green to develop during games. It was also expected that he wouldn’t be terribly efficient, either, given that it’s normal for most rookies to struggle with finding their shots early in their careers. Green also isn’t the only guy in his class who’s having less-than-ideal luck in shooting the ball; Cunningham and Jalen Suggs are the other two who immediately come to mind. 

The point is, his percentages shouldn’t be concerning right now on a week-to-week basis. His ridiculous athleticism is still on full display, and he’s showing flashes every game of potentially being an elite scorer and playmaker. He’s just 19 years old, so it’s going to take time before we see a fully realized version of Green’s abilities. 

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Please, enjoy this video of Wagner putting the moves on reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert:

It seems like with each passing week we see a new facet of Wagner’s game. First it was his defense, then it was him dunking on the entire city of Minneapolis and now we have him cooking defenders like he’s Luka Doncic. Wagner’s going to be a really solid player for a really long time. 

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Suggs may not be putting up huge scoring numbers like Barnes and Duarte, but he’s consistently given Orlando 10-12 points a night, a handful of assists and great effort on defense. He’s going to get compared to Barnes for a while, as many thought the Raptors should’ve taken Suggs over Barnes. Right now, Barnes has had the better start to his career, but that doesn’t mean Suggs is a bust. 

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He’s struggled with his efficiency, but he’s getting great looks, and like Green, he’s still showing that he can create off the dribble, get teammates involved and stay engaged on the other end of the floor. His shooting will come, because in his lone season at Gonzaga his efficiency was what he was known for, as he shot 50 percent from field. Like I said, he’s already getting his looks and getting to his spots, so once his shots start falling, then he’ll be really dangerous. 

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Sengun has become a really solid player for the Rockets off the bench. He’s a center who can stretch the floor out to the 3-point line as he’s shooting 41.7 percent from deep. He’s incredibly active with his hands on defense, causing deflections and steals and he’s even shown off some flashy passes every now and then. Just look at this absolute dime between two Suns defenders for an easy dunk:

If you take a peek at the Rockets bench, you can see an assistant coach look weary as Sengun brings the ball up the court, probably expecting his rookie center to turn the ball over or not make the right play. But to the surprise of clearly everyone, he dished a perfectly-placed ball for the assist. You love to see it.

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Reaves came up clutch for the struggling Lakers against the Hornets this past week, nailing a turnaround mid-range jumper at a pivotal moment in the fourth quarter. His minutes have started to increase, largely in part to the amount of injuries L.A. has suffered to start the season. But regardless of the reason, he’s making the most of the opportunity, knocking down 3s at a high clip and making the right plays on offense.

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