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No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham has yet to take the floor for the Detroit Pistons but this season’s rookie class is already off to a very inspiring start. Six rookies are averaging double-figures, a handful have looked like future All-Defensive Team candidates and four have made at least 40 percent of their 3-pointers on double-digit attempts.
We’re only a week and a half into the season but from the top to the bottom, this looks like a very, very good group of rookies. Here are a handful that have impressed the most.
Evan Mobley already looks like a special defender
Evan Mobley has made a big impact on the Cavs’ offense, averaging 14.3 points and 2.8 assists per game, shooting 58.3 percent from the field. His 3-point shot is a work in progress and he’s finishing a lot of opportunities created by his ball-handlers but you can already see the outlines of a smooth face-up game that could be a huge weapon down the line. But defense is where Mobley is really shining, which is an even more significant variable for a rookie.
Through four games, Mobley is averaging 1.3 steals and 2.0 blocks per game but he’s also clearly the kind of defender whose true impact will be difficult to measure with simple box score stats. He’s been the closest defender for an average of 9.0 interior shot attempts per game and opponents have made just 47.2 percent of those shots, one of the best marks in the league and 10.5 percentage points less than what would be expected based on the shooting percentages of those players taking the shots. It’s a sample size of just four games, but he’s been one of the most impactful rim protectors in the league so far.
He’s making a difference with length, athleticism and positioning but his awareness is also really advanced, reading complex situations and making the proper adjustment in real-time. It’s possible he loses the Rookie of the Year Award to Jalen Green, Cade Cunningham or someone else with a higher scoring output but in terms of two-way impact, it’s hard to imagine any rookie catching up to him this season.
It turns out the Pacers weren’t reaching for Chris Duarte at No. 13
Duarte was billed as one of the more polished and NBA-ready prospects in this draft class but at 24 there was concern about his ceiling and upside. He was a slight surprise when the Pacers took him in the lottery with the No. 13 pick. They may have only been expecting a high-level role player but they appear to have gotten that and then some.
In the absence of T.J. Warren and Caris LeVert, Duarte has started all four games for the Pacers playing 38.3 minutes per game and averaging 19.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He’s struggled a bit inside the arc but he’s made 7-of-17 catch-and-shoot and 6-of-12 pull-up 3-pointers. Duarte has also flashed real chops as a complementary creator, ranking in the 71st percentile in scoring efficiency as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll on just under three possessions per game.
His defense is solid and as he continues to adjust he should become more efficient on drives to the rim. Even if he’s already playing close to his peak as a 24-year-old rookie, the Pacers appear to have gotten a lot more than they were hoping for.
Scottie Barnes is making the Toronto Raptors look very smart
The Scottie Barnes hype train started chugging away from his very first Summer League game, but it certainly hasn’t slowed down since the regular season started. He’s averaged 16.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, shooting 56.0 percent from the field. Barnes has made plenty of mistakes and looked unbelievably raw at times — he has 13 turnovers and 13 fouls to 5 assists and 3 stocks through four games — but the fact that he’s making such a positive impact even in a sloppy and chaotic way speaks to his ceiling.
The Raptors are still bringing him on slowly as a creator — his time of possessions, average touch time and average dribbles per touch are still very much in the tertiary creator range. But his growth curve could be exponential as development, comfort and experience don’t just make him more efficient but also unlock new roles and structures for him.
The Orlando Magic might have caught lightning in a bottle
Jalen Suggs was the real prize for the Orlando Magic in this draft and his shooting percentages — 28.8 percent from the field, 31.0 percent from beyond the arc — leave a lot to be desired. But there is every reason to expect some progression to the mean on that front and he’s already doing a lot of the other little things that made him such a valuable prospect.
Suggs has been aggressive off the dribble and has gotten himself to the free-throw line 16 times in four games. His defense upside has also been as good as advertised and he’s racked up five steals and ranks among the league leaders in deflections per 36 minutes.
The Magic have to be counting on some rapid improvement from Suggs but they also should be feeling great about what they’ve seen from Franz Wagner so far. He was taken with the No. 8 pick and looked like a high-level role player someone with a versatile two-way skillset who could raise the floor at both ends. He’s absolutely delivered on that, averaging 13.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game, shooting 60.0 percent inside the arc and 35.0 percent beyond it. He’s held up well defending both wings and mobile bigs and we’ve seen flashes of every aspect of his versatile skill set — spot-up shooting, savvy passing and off-ball movement, crafty dribble creation. The Magic still have a long way to go but Wagner and Suggs are looking like a very solid foundation.
Jalen Green and the best of the rest
Jalen Green seemed like a good bet to challenge for Rookie of the Year given his explosive scoring ability and a relatively open opportunity to get buckets on a rebuilding Rockets’ team. He’s averaging just 14.5 points per game and shooting under 40 percent from the field but he’s also made 12-of-30 from beyond the arc and with 3-point shooting as his primary swing skill that’s a very positive number.
I still have no idea what Josh Giddey is going to be when he’s a finished product but he looks like far less of a project than I thought. His creativity and vision is off the charts and he’s managed to put up 9.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game despite his teammates air balling away a good chunk of his potential assists. The Thunder are going to be fun.
Davion Mitchell has been fantastic on defense and slotted in well in the Kings’ guard rotation. If he ever starts making his 3-pointers the Kings are going to be in business.
If you have thoughts about the NBA’s 75th-Anniversary Team, make sure to listen to the new episode of the Over and Back NBA podcast, breaking down the snubs, new inclusions and more.
It’s pretty incredible that the Warriors have gotten off to a 4-0 start when Jordan Poole, who was supposed to be a key scoring piece, has been shooting just 40.3 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Did the Spurs make the right call in not offering Lonnie Walker an extension and allowing him to enter restricted free agency?
If the Nets had known Kyrie Irving wouldn’t be available for the season, they might have handled things differently with Spencer Dinwiddie.