NBA rookie ranking: Jalen Green goes up, Evan Mobley remains stable
As bad as the Rockets have been this season – and at times it has been downright ugly – there are glimmers of optimism, including from their prized rookie, Jalen Green. Since returning from a hamstring injury, Green has averaged 20.5 points per game in his last six games, shooting 45% from the field and 44% from three, up from 38% and 28% in his 18 first professional matches. The leap in efficiency is no mystery. Green begins to trust his elite first step with increasing frequency, avoiding uncertain dribbling backwards in favor of bursts towards the tin. Green can pass even against the fastest wingers in the league, dipping his shoulder past defenders before he reaches the edge. Green completes 49.4% of training attempts at the rim, a respectable sixth out of 21 rookies with at least 50 attempts. When Houston’s offense stalls in the half-court, a stubborn practice from Green is often the best option available.
“[Green] get to that corner and it’s over, ”Silas said after Wednesday’s win. “Now it comes to those quick little finishes. With him, it’s all about quick decisions. This is what I harassed with him.
Green recorded 14 career-high free throw attempts against Denver on New Years Day, and he’s recorded more than five free throws in four of the last five games. This growth is intentional and, frankly, as Green grows both his figure and stature in the league, he should be getting calls more and more frequently. Green’s free throw rate and field percentages are in line with Zach LaVine’s rookie season, Green’s most frequent draft competition. Like the Chicago star, Green’s shot count will level off as the rookie gets older.
The advanced numbers are still not being kind to Green at the moment. He ranks No.491 out of 536 skilled players in terms of defensive rankings, struggling as both a defender on the ball and a weak full back. He also returns the ball at a staggering 14.6% rate and doesn’t make the same passes we see rookies Cade Cunningham (Pistons) and Josh Giddey (Thunder) in the pick-and-roll. We’re going to need to see significant growth from Green to get him to the top of our rookie rankings. But the talent of a franchise presenter is there. Houston has time to capitalize on it.
1. Evan Mobley, horsemen
A pair of wings have challenged Mobley for the top spot in recent weeks, but it’s hard to rank anyone other than Mobley as the gem of the Rookie class at this point. Opponents are barely scoring 101.9 points per 100 possessions with Mobley on the court, and that number drops to 99.4 points per possession when Mobley is paired with Jarrett Allen. Mobley is already a solid defensive anchor, whose versatility has allowed Cleveland to play its very large formations with ease.
But his offensive cap is the big surprise here. He finished 74.4% of his shots in the restricted zone, a better score than Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokić and Domantas Sabonis. It has a better assistance / turnover ratio than Cunningham. And his George Gervin-style finger roll against Washington was such a smooth move that it drew a congratulatory dap from Kyle Kuzma. Mobley’s intelligence and size defensively set the stage for a productive NBA career. His offensive skills raise his cap to a potential All-NBA talent.
2. Franz Wagner, Magic
You’d be forgiven for ignoring the Magic given their 7-32 start. But there is an intriguing project involved. The Magic have more and more confidence in rookie Franz Wagner as the main playmaker, especially when Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs are not in the lineup. So far, the increased accountability has paid off.
Wagner is averaging 20.8 points per game in his last 10 games, including a 38-point explosion against Milwaukee on December 30. Wagner ranks second among all recruits from FiveThirtyEightRAPTOR player ratings. He’s already recorded 180 possessions as a pick-and-roll player, and while he’s averaging 0.86 points per possession on those attempts, such a large total suggests significant confidence on the part of the player. ‘Freshman Coach Jamahl Mosley. Wagner is more than just a spacer. He’s an immediate threat with a booming streak of play, one of Orlando’s most promising plays amid an ongoing rebuild.
3. Scottie Barnes, Raptors
Barnes’ offensive production as a rookie can be even more surprising than Mobley in the early months of the season. The Florida State product entered the league with a solid defensive reputation, and his packed frame suggested he would be an instant presence around the rim. But Barnes’ game already extends far beyond his physical gifts. He chases every switch in sight, showing an early recoil that was largely non-existent in college. Barnes’ 0.93 points per isolation possession ranks better than LaMelo Ball, Jayson Tatum and Luka Dončić. He shoots nearly 49% on mid-range attempts, the highest rating among the 21 rookies with more than 15 attempts.
Barnes is emerging as a true three-level scorer, one of which the jumper is only expected to improve in the years to come with increased repetitions. Barnes could very well be the best player in the 2021 class when we look back five years from now.
4. Cade Cunningham, Pistons
Don’t confuse Detroit’s substantial struggles for a disappointing No.1 pick rookie campaign. Cunningham rebounded from a shaky start with a respectable 15.4 points, six rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, and he looked downright brilliant in spurts as the main playmaker. Cunningham easily recognizes cross shooters as he cruises the pick-and-roll, and he’s been shooting 40% on three since Thanksgiving. His composure and control, along with a valuable defensive impact, make him an effective player on most nights.
Turnover is doomed to decline with added experience. Score explosions will eventually happen. Detroit fans should always feel more than comfortable with their No.1 pick. Cunningham’s talent and supernatural freshness should lead to a successful and potentially all-star career.
5. Josh Giddey, Tonnerre
dizziness became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple double last week, posting a performance of 17 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists against the Mavericks. And frankly, Giddey’s superb night was more a confirmation of his talent than a revelation.
The 19-year-old has appeared at home in the NBA in his first year since playing in the Australian National Basketball League, combining an advanced playing feel with more useful defense than initial projections would. suggested. Giddey leads all rookies in assist percentage. He catches 18.4% of his opponents’ misses, the second best score of any freshman. The statistical profile itself is impressive, although it’s the little things that seem to separate Giddey from many of his newbie peers. He’s already an expert in helping hockey, and the grown-ups who work to run are constantly being rewarded. Oklahoma City appear to have their future backcourt firmly on hand with Giddey alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
6. Chris Duarte, Pacers
Duarte hasn’t played since the schedule moved to 2022, but he holds his place here thanks to his strong performance in his first 33 games. The 24-year-old may not have the ceiling of those above him in our rankings, but his refined skills should make him a valuable instant attacking keeper for years to come. Duarte shoots 42.1% on three shots. He also develops a delicate dance for two with Domantas Sabonis.
The Pacers currently feel like a visionless franchise – Indiana is expected to be one of the most active teams by the trade deadline – although they appear to have found a goalie with Duarte. A potential departure or two before March will only free up more room for the Oregon product to work in the future.
7. Herb Jones, pelicans
The No.35 pick in the 2021 draft has become a potential anchor for the franchise in New Orleans, which has a marked defensive impact on a struggling Pelicans team. Jones is one of the most impressive ball defenders in the game, hunting down both faster guards and bigger wings with his 7 ‘0 “wingspan. Jones ranks # 6 among all deflection players. His 48 interceptions lead all rookies, and only Evan Mobley has more blocks.
It remains to be seen how well Jones can fit in alongside Brandon Ingram and (ideally) Zion Williamson given Jones’ current offensive limitations. But becoming a corner shooter, even passable, will help secure his future in the NBA as an impact player. For now, let’s choose to marvel at his defensive magic on a team that desperately needs it.
Rookie Riser of the Week: Ayo Dosunmu, Bulls
The Bulls have been the most delightful story of the 2021-22 season, defying skeptics with hellish defense and DeMar DeRozan’s All-NBA turn. Chicago is teeming with tough guards and wings, with rosters including DeRozan, Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball allowing just 98.5 points per 100 possessions. Ayo Dosunmu fits perfectly into the Bulls trio.
Dosunmu did Yeoman’s job replacing Caruso and Ball amid COVID-19 and injury absences, helping to keep the Bulls on top of the East alongside third-year goaltender Javonte Green. Dosunmu isn’t necessarily a threat beyond the arc, and outside of transition opportunities, he’s not much of a threat as a goalscorer. But let’s not waste the forest for the trees. Dosunmu fulfills his role with aplomb as the Bulls go through the regular season.
Best Rookie Moment of the Week: Evan Mobley, Cavaliers
We briefly touched on Mobley’s finger roll earlier, but this move deserves its own space. I mean seriously, how many guys in the league can pull this off? KD, Giannis and maybe a few others? Mobley takes off from the low block on the left side of the court, twists his head around the backboard, and uses every inch of his 7’4 ” wingspan to pull off what must be the layup of the year. Forgive the benchmark cross-sport, but I’m in love in full bloom. Dreaming about what Mobley may become over the next decade is one of the funniest thought experiments in sports right now.
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