This past season saw LaMelo Ball beat out Anthony Edwards for the NBA Rookie of the Year award. One year prior, Ja Morant earned the top individual honor. The moral of this story? Simply because a player is picked No. 1, it doesn’t guarantee him the award.
Now that the 2021 NBA Draft is a thing of the past, let’s give you our initial NBA Rookie of the Year rankings for the 2021-22 campaign.
NBA Rookie of the Year: The top 10
10. Jalen Johnson, forward, Atlanta Hawks
Johnson’s first and only season with Duke was cut short after 13 games when he opted out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the games this forward suited up in, he was a dominant force for the Blue Devils. In fact, the former top-13 recruit from Milwaukee averaged 18.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists per 36 while shooting 52% from distance. He continued this during Summer League action for the Hawks, averaging 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds on 57% shooting in four games.
9. Evan Mobley, center, Cleveland Cavaliers
As we’ve seen with top picks Deandre Ayton and James Wiseman recently, big men struggle more than other players in making an immediate impact. While Mobley is a top-end prospect this year, he is more than likely going to follow suit. Despite this, we’re talking about a dude who averaged 17.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per 36 minutes as a freshman. Whether Mobley makes a huge impact as a rookie will depend on the Cavaliers’ usage of him next to Jarrett Allen.
8. Jonathan Kuminga, forward, Golden State Warriors
Seen as pretty raw, this ultra-talented forward was a surprise sensation during NBA Summer League action. At just 18 years old, he averaged 17.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. There were also times when Kuminga looked like a seasoned pro on defense. Expect him to ascend these rankings, should the Warriors move the teenager for move proven talent. Short of that happening, Kuminga is a bottom-end NBA Rookie of the Year candidate.
7. James Bouknight, guard, Charlotte Hornets
A two-year starter with Connecticut, this guard is in a great position to succeed out of the gate with Charlotte. Bouknight averaged 18.7 points and 5.7 rebounds on 45% shooting from the field for the Huskies as a sophomore. While he struggled from distance as the campaign progressed, a mid-range game will help this youngster make an immediate impact. He’s a perfect fit with reigning NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball and is coming off a Summer League performance that saw him average 16.8 points on 38% shooting from distance.
6. Moses Moody, guard, Golden State Warriors
As with others on this list, Moody more than proved as a freshman for Arkansas that he can make an impact in the NBA out of the gate. The 6-foot-6 guard started all 32 games for the Razorbacks, averaging 16.8 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 36% from distance. Depending on when Klay Thompson returns next season, Moody should get some nice playing time for the Warriors. He proved capable during the summer in Sacramento and Vegas, averaging 16.2 points on 37% shooting from distance.
NBA Rookie of the Year: Top-five candidates in 2021-22
5. Davion Mitchell, guard, Sacramento Kings
After leading Baylor to a shocking national championship over Gonzaga, Mitchell is quickly rising the rankings. For good reason. The dude earned All-Tournament honors, is a two-time Big 12 All-Defensive Team performer and can run an offense with the best of them. Per 36 last season, Mitchell averaged 15.3 points and 6.0 assists while shooting 45% from distance. The only lingering question here is whether Mitchell will see time initially with Tyrese Haliburton and De’Aaron Fox already on the Kings’ roster. What we do know is that Mitchell proved his worth during Summer League action, averaging 10.8 points on a resounding 47% shooting from distance.
4. Scottie Barnes, forward, Toronto Raptors
Toronto surprised everyone by taking this defensive-minded forward over Jalen Suggs with the fourth pick. Despite the perceived reach, Barnes is in position to succeed out of the gate. That’s magnified if Toronto does in fact end up trading Pascal Siakam during the summer. The only issue here was a lack of scoring for Florida State last season. While Barnes does everything good, he’s not a prolific scorer, and likely won’t ever be.
3. Jalen Green, guard, Houston Rockets
Green joined the aforementioned Kuminga in opted out of college basketball to play in the G-League. His response? Near perfection in the Orlando bubble for the Ignite. Per 36 minutes, the 6-foot-6 guard averaged 20.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He also shot 46% from the field and 37% from distance against NBA-level competition. Green now takes over as the face of Houston’s rebuild and should act accordingly as a rookie.
2. Jalen Suggs, guard, Orlando Magic
Dominant. A two-way stud. That’s the best way to describe what we saw from Suggs for Gonzaga as a freshman last season. The former top-seven recruit averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals while shooting 50% from the field. He was also consistently stopping the opposing team’s top offensive player. Set to join a rebuilding Magic team and ready to play next to fellow young guard Cole Anthony, Suggs is one of our top NBA Rookie of the Year candidates in 2021-22. The fact that he averaged 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists during Summer League action magnifies this further.
1. Cade Cunningham, guard, Detroit Pistons
Our top NBA Rookie of the Year candidate, there’s also a good chance that this former Oklahoma State star could also be an NBA All-Star as a rookie for the Pistons. The dude was brilliant as a freshman, averaging 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 40% shooting from distance. He’s one of a handful of potential franchise cornerstone players in this year’s draft and will be given ample opportunities to put up big numbers as a rookie.