The dawn of a new NBA season is upon us and with that comes the opportunity to get a glimpse at what is a highly-touted rookie class for the first time at the professional level.
There are a number of exciting talents included within the class of 2021 that also have an opportunity to compete for the Rookie of the Year award. Last season, Charlotte Hornets point guard LaMelo Ball ran away with the award, picking up a total of 84 of the 100 first place votes to win the award.
Last year’s number one overall pick Anthony Edwards came second after an improvement in the second half of the season for the Minnesota Timberwolves, while Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton was a deserving third.
As ever, the picks at the top of the lottery are the favourites to win the award but as 12th pick Haliburton showed, some could come from the middle of the first round.
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Below, we will be taking a closer look at the leading contenders for this year’s NBA Rookie of the Year Award.
Cade Cunningham was the unanimous number one pick from the 2021 draft class and it was the Detroit Pistons who won the Cade lottery. There was never much doubt about who the Pistons were going to select with Cunningham being the consensus first overall pick for the majority of last season. A 6 ft 7 point guard that shot 40% from 3 in his one year at Oklahoma State, one of Cunningham’s biggest strengths is his feel for the game. He will undoubtedly be the number one option on a Pistons team that has little expectations this season and will allow him to develop his game at the next level. He will now look to become the first number one pick in the draft to win the Rookie of the Year Award since Ben Simmons achieved that feat back in 2018. There is huge hype surrounding Cunningham and how his game will translate at the next level which makes it far from a surprise that he is the favourite to be this year’s ROY.
Unlike the rest of the players on this list, Jalen Green skipped the chance to go to college by joining the NBA’s G-League Ignite team after signing a one-year, $500,000 contract. Green went on to average 17.9 ppg and the consensus five-star recruit will feel gratified by his decision after being drafted second by the Houston Rockets. The Rockets are in need of a new potential star player to build around after losing James Harden last year and getting little in tangible assets in return for his services, passing up on Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen who went elsewhere in the four-team trade, while Victor Oladipo left to join the Miami Heat. Like Cunningham, Green is headed to a team that has little expectations this year and will probably have their sights set on acquiring another lottery pick in next year’s draft. This should give him the freedom to make his own mistakes and showcase his talents across the season, where he will hope to demonstrate the lethal scoring touch that has seen him become such a highly-regarded prospect.
Jalen Suggs represents excellent value in this betting market at 7/1 after being drafted fifth overall by the Orlando Magic. The Magic would’ve been somewhat surprised to see Suggs fall into their laps after most predicted he would be picked one place earlier by the Toronto Raptors – who instead opted for Scottie Barnes. That should put a significant chip on Suggs’ shoulder, who is arguably the most NBA ready prospect of this top five list. He led Gonzaga admirably throughout March Madness last season, where in the Final Four against UCLA he banked in a 30-foot, 3-point, game-winning buzzer beater to send them to the Championship Game. Despite being defeated by Baylor in the Final, Suggs’ stock continued to rise after his eye-catching performances. He joins an Orlando team with plenty of young talent – particularly in the backcourt – and is expected to be the team’s starting point guard this season.
With the third overall pick the Cleveland Cavaliers were always going to pick whichever one of Evan Mobley or Jalen Green was passed on by the Houston Rockets and they ended the night with the former. Mobley was the outstanding big man of the 2021 draft class and now looks to be joining a Cavs team where he will make a formidable frontcourt pairing alongside Jarrett Allen. The 20-year-old averaged just under 3 blocks per game for USC last season alongside 16.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Like many young big men coming out of the draft, Mobley will have to fill out into his body before we truly see the best, most dominant version of him at this level. Still, expect Mobley to impress in what looks set to be a young, fun Cavaliers team this season.
Scottie Barnes was something of a surprising pick at number four from the Toronto Raptors, but the fact Masai Ujiri was the man to pick him seems to have given the franchise the benefit of the doubt. Barnes’ stock rose drastically throughout the workout and interview period ahead of the draft and the 6 ft 8 forward’s defensive attributes make him a tantalising prospect – particularly alongside forwards OG Annunoby and Pascal Siakam. Though Barnes has work to do when it comes to his three point and free throw shooting, he makes up for it with his impressive playmaking ability. Barnes averaged 4 assists per game at Florida State and though his ceiling may be lower than the players on this list, his floor looks to be just as high. His playing time could be dependent on the future of Siakam, who is in regular trade discussions.