By Logan Volk
As the basketball season comes to an end, there are few things known: what teams will be in the playoffs, which teams are tanking for a better lottery pick, what coaches and players will have jobs next year, what will happen with free agents, NBA champions and the yearly awards? Currently, Joel Embiid is the front runner for the Most Valuable Player Award (MVP), but Giannis Antetokunmpo and Nikola Jokic are not far behind. Another close race, or some would say more important race, is that for the Rookie of the Year (ROY).
This year, there were some very talented rookies. Some players exceeded expectations tremendously, while others failed to reach their potential. In the end, much like the MVP race, it comes down to three players: Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes. But which player should win the award?
One key factor and name that should be in the conversation prior to a season-ending injury is Josh Giddey. He is a guard on the Oklahoma City Thunder and ended the season with the most triple-doubles in the rookie class, and his numbers continued to increase with every game. Along with this, he was the only rookie to win rookie of the month every month in the west.
Evan Mobley has been the rookie of the year leader since the second week of basketball. Over his first 67 career games, he has averaged just under 15 points, just over eight rebounds, two and a half assists, just under two blocks, half a steal and two turnovers per game, while playing about 34 minutes a game. With these numbers, he is ranked fifth in points-per-game among rookies, ninth in assists, first in rebounds, first in blocks, ninth in steals and second in minutes. These are some very impressive numbers for any player, but for a 20-year-old rookie, they are even more impressive. He has done a good job as a key factor in the Cavaliers offense, but once their center, Jarrett Allen, went down with an injury, his team and his numbers dropped off. On top of this, Mobley is ending the year on an injury.
Last offseason, the Detroit Pistons were put in a great position when they were lucky enough to receive the first overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft and selected a young guard out of Oklahoma State University — Cade Cunninghan. He is first in points-per-game, averaging just over 17, along with five and a half assists, ranking second among rookies in the league. He is also fourth in rebounds with just over five and a half per game, and averages just over 32 minutes per game. Cade got off to a slow start this season and has struggled to lead his team, and for this they have the second-worst record in the league.
Something that he and Mobley have in common is that they will both lose the rookie of the year award to the underrated and overlooked forward playing for the Toronto Raptors, Scottie Barnes.
Barnes has had a very overlooked rookie year and I can’t understand why. He is a six-foot-seven 20-year-old who is the only player who can cover the point guard through center against every team. He is currently third in points, with just over fifteen per game, along with being fourth in assists with just under four per game. In addition to this, he is also second in rebounds with seven and a half, third in blocks with one per game, and third in steals with just under two per game. He also has the second-best field goal percentage among rookies, with just under 50 percent, which is almost 10 percent better than Cade. On top of all this, he has also played in more games than both Cade and Mobley, averaging the most minutes among rookies with just under 36 per game.
In all of the key categories, Barnes is top four in each. The voters tend to overlook that the Raptors were supposed to be a team trying to rebuild. They drafted Barnes with the fourth pick and were expected to have another good lottery pick this year, but Barnes managed to be all that the team needed. He is currently helping boost his team to the sixth seed in the east, and most likely the fifth seed by the end of the season.
All three of the teams, the Cavaliers, Pistons and Raptors were supposed to be rebuilding, but the Raptors only needed one year and their future rookie of the year, Scottie Barnes.