Ranking the 10 best rookies in the NBA a month into the 2021-22 season

Scottie Barnes
Scottie Barnes has impressed in his first month as a rookie. Photo from USA Today.

Whoever wins the NBA Rookie of the Year 2021-22 is going to have to be near-perfect until the end of the season. For the first time in years, it seems like there’s no clear-cut favorite to take home the award.

This year’s draft class has exceeded expectations thus far. Even players who weren’t taken in the top 5 are making a case, and at least 15 first-year players are making a big impact right out of the gate. That’s why this year’s NBA ROY race could be one for the ages.

NBA Rookie of the Year 2021-22: Rankings one month in

These young guys are putting up big numbers, playing defense, and embracing a leadership role not many players could take at that age. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at our top 10 candidates to take home the award this year.

10. Davion Mitchell

Mitchell has done enough to silence his doubters through the first month of action. He’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the league already and has proven that his height isn’t going to be an issue when it comes to playing defense. He needs to be a more consistent scorer, though.

People mocked the Sacramento Kings for taking yet another guard in the draft. But Mitchell has excelled in those three-guard lineups next to De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. His game isn’t the flashiest but his defense is just elite.

9. Bones Hyland

Bones Hyland has officially taken Facundo Campazzo‘s spot in the rotation for the Nuggets. Hyland has shown glimpses of streaky scoring ability and has been a huge spark off the bench. He’s quick, savvy, and has topped his career-high in points 3 times in a week.

Hyland started climbing the NBA rookie ladder pretty much out of the blue and he’s got exciting potential. He may even get a lot of playing time when Jamal Murray is ready to play again. If he starts playing better defense, Campazzo may not see the floor again.


8. Alperen Sengun

Alperen Sengun was one of the biggest dark horses ahead of this year’s NBA ROY race. He’s failed to live up to that because of the Rockets’ frontcourt logjam but he’s been fairly impressive when given the chance to play. His rim protection has been a pleasant surprise and he can do it all on offense.

Some scouts thought that Sengun was going to be the steal of the draft. He can pass the ball like a point guard, put it on the floor, or pull up from all three levels. But with Christian Wood on a big contract and Daniel Theis playing well, there won’t be many minutes for him.

7. Chris Duarte

At 24 years old, Oregon product Chris Duarte isn’t your average rookie. Even so, he’s been one of the best rookies so far, averaging 14.3 points per game despite being a third scoring option. Duarte is confident, smart, and a team-first kind of guy.

The Pacers are desperately craving a spark. They need a guy that can carry the offensive load besides Domantas Sabonis, and Duarte might well turn out to be that guy if they give him the chance. He’s got the potential to average 20 points per game right now.

6. Cade Cunningham

Cade Cunningham was supposed to win NBA Rookie of the Year 2021-22 but he’ll have a tough time getting on top of the NBA rookie ladder. He missed a lot of time early in the season due to injury and has been an inconsistent shooter thus far. Even so, the upside is clearly there and he’ll only get better.

There’s no denying Cunningham’s talents and there’s a good reason why he was the first overall pick of the draft. He’s looking more comfortable out there and it’s only a matter of time before he finds his shooting stroke, so he’ll definitely end the season higher on this list.

5. Josh Giddey

Josh Giddey has done an outstanding job of shutting down the doubters about his ability to make an impact in the league. He’s leading all rookies with 6.2 assists per game and it seems like the OKC Thunder have found their point guard for the future.

There were some concerns about Giddey’s skill set as he looked far from a finished product. His development seems to be ahead of schedule and he’s been perfect next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder still need to land another star, though; as Giddey might turn out to be just a very good role player.

4. Franz Wagner

Even though no one seems to be talking about him, Franz Wagner has quietly been one of the best rookies so far. He’s efficient and has been lights-out from all three levels. Even with Jalen Suggs on the team, he’s been the youngster that’s been stealing the show in Orlando.

While Jalen Suggs has gone under the radar more often than not, Wagner has proven to be ready for the challenge. The young Magic are surging behind Cole Anthony and Mo Bamba and for the first time in years, it looks like they could be up to something.

3. Jalen Green

Jalen Green started off the year at the top of the NBA ROY race but that’s no longer the case. The Rockets have been dreadful. And, even though Green isn’t the one to blame for that, his fit next to Kevin Porter Jr. is starting to raise several questions, especially when it comes to getting stops.

Green could be better off playing side by side with a pure point guard that could help him get to his spots. He’s been pretty good in isolation and has the makings of a scoring superstar, but he needs to find more consistency. That will be tough on Stephen Silas’ team.

2. Evan Mobley

Some scouts thought that Evan Mobley was going to be the best player in this class and it’s hard not to agree with them at this point.

He’s made a huge impact on the defensive end and, even though he needs to bulk up, he’s held his own vs. stronger opposition. Barring injury, he looks like he could be one of the best two-way players in the league in no time.

Mobley has also been a much better scorer than some analysts predicted. He’s shown his range and ability to spread the floor as a three-point shooter. He’s been in control of his body and his handles are much improved from his days at USC. Comparisons with a young Anthony Davis are not that far-fetched.

1. Scottie Barnes

Scottie Barnes tops the NBA rookie ladder in 2021-22 for now, but it’s actually pretty close. We’re giving Barnes the nod not only because he’s been the most impressive rookie thus far but also because of how versatile he’s been.

He’s guarding one through five on a team that’s been much better than expected.

Barnes is the jack of all trades for Nick Nurse’s team right now.

He’s pulling up from three, setting his teammates up, rebounding the ball, and even taking it up the court. Also, his defense on James Harden and Kevin Durant should be put in the Louvre on a never-ending loop. He’s a baller, and could even lead the Raptors to a play-in berth.

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