With the 2021 NBA Draft in the books, we’ve got 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year odds up at most sportsbooks.
That means it’s time to take a look at who has value.
Detroit’s Cade Cunningham opens as the favorite at +250 at DraftKings, with Houston’s Jalen Green (+450) and Cleveland’s Evan Mobley (+550) next in line. That makes sense, since those were the top three picks in the draft.
Toronto’s Scottie Barnes and Orlando’s Jalen Suggs are next up at most books, as was the case in the draft. It’s quickly apparent that these odds may leave betting value, since they’re basically just following the draft order.
The truth is that Rookie of the Year is typically one of the easier awards to predict. It’s all about the counting numbers, and not just the points.
Add up points + rebounds + assists per game at the end of the year, and you’ve got the Rookie of the Year Award winner in an overwhelming number of seasons. Unlike MVP or other narrative-based awards, we just need to follow the numbers.
So who should you bet to win NBA Rookie of the Year?
Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
As the top overall pick, Cunningham is the favorite and he absolutely should be. He has a high floor and NBA-ready game that should immediately translate to playing time, usage and numbers.
Cunningham averaged over 20 points per game as a freshman at Oklahoma State, getting to the free throw line frequently, hitting 40% of his 3-point attempts and soaking up heavy usage.
Cunningham is a big-lead handler, which should bode well for his rebounding. He averaged over six boards per game at Oklahoma State.
Cunningham’s most standout trait is his passing, but that was muted at Oklahoma State. The Pokes needed Cade to be a scorer, and his team couldn’t shoot, which hindered his assist number. He has good vision and great passing skills and will be well above his 3.5 assists per game from college.
Most importantly, Cunningham should get all the minutes and usage he can handle. Four of Detroit’s six leaders in minutes per game from last season are gone. Jerami Grant remains and may lead the team in scoring, but it would be a shock if Cunningham wasn’t next in line, if not ahead.
Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart are better complementary pieces, and Killian Hayes is not a scorer at all. Detroit is rebuilding and will let its young guys play.
Cunningham will put up big numbers, and remember, the percentages and efficiency don’t matter for Rookie of the Year. He has a good shot of something like 17 points, five rebounds and five assists a game. That wins Rookie of the Year most years and would’ve beaten LaMelo Ball or Ja Morant the past two seasons. That points + rebounds + assists total would be higher than all but three of the past 10 Rookie of the Year winners.
Everyone will be watching the No. 1 pick closely, the highlights will be there, and so will the buzz if he looks good. It won’t surprise me if Cunningham drops to even odds vs. the field early in the season if he has a big start.
I’m definitely playing Cunningham at these odds. You can play +275 at BetMGM, but if you’re in Michigan, you can do even better at DraftKings, where a special in-state promo is offering +500. You gotta jump on that.
Decision: Bet (+275 BetMGM)
Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
If you’re betting Cunningham, you probably can’t add much to your position. Otherwise, Green is next most likely to win.
Green is the best scorer in the draft, and we already know he can score against NBA talent because he literally proved that during his month in the G League. He averaged almost 18 points per game with the Ignite and looked like the next great NBA scorer. Houston should play fast and it’s unlikely the Rockets will worry about tanking, so Green is going to put up some big scoring nights and huge highlights.
Be careful, though. Remember, Houston has John Wall and Christian Wood who will command a lot of attempts and usage. There’s also Kevin Porter Jr. and the three other first-round picks this year. Green will have some 30-point games, but he’ll go missing in others and doesn’t put up big peripheral numbers yet.
Green is the guy to bet if you’re not high on Cunningham, but he’s a distant second.
Decision: Bet as an alternative to Cunningham (+475 PointsBet)
Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
I love Mobley and think he has a real shot to be the most valuable player in this draft when all is said and done, but that likely won’t happen right away. Big men have a difficult learning curve, and Mobley badly needs to add playing strength. He’s going to get banged up and in foul trouble often as he learns.
Mobley also is a guy who will depend on his teammates to make him look good, and the Cavs don’t exactly have guys who do that, though Ricky Rubio should help. Throw in Jarrett Allen taking up a lot of Mobley’s early minutes down low and then remember Mobley isn’t really a numbers guy anyway.
Decision: No Bet (+600 BetMGM)
Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
It’s tough to say yet what kind of minutes Barnes will get, depending on the rest of Toronto’s roster and how much of a rebuild they take on. Either way, he’s not going to put up numbers.
Barnes’ defense is his calling card, and voters typically don’t give the ROY award to defenders. He’s still developing as shooter and scorer, which will make it tough to put up the numbers to contend (think Patrick Williams with Chicago last season).
Decision: No Bet (+800 DraftKings)
Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic
Suggs would be my third favorite for Rookie of the Year Award entering the season, but a distant third.
He might be the most important Magic player going forward, but Suggs may not even start this year. Orlando has Markelle Fultz and last year’s first-round pick Cole Anthony at point guard, along with Michael Carter-Williams. And before you suggest the two, remember that Gary Harris, Terrence Ross, Chuma Okeke and Dwayne Bacon will soak up big minutes, usage and shots.
Orlando has a lot of complementary guys not built to score, so that may leave room for some numbers, but Suggs isn’t really a guy with a big-scoring mindset either. He’s more of a winning player than a flashy one. The team also doesn’t have much shooting, and a deep roster may mean fluctuating minutes and usage.
I just don’t trust Suggs to get consistent enough opportunity unless some of the names on the roster are traded or injured.
Decision: No Bet (+800 DraftKings)
Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State
Unfortunately, Kuminga reminds a lot of wing James Wiseman, who was an early Rookie of the Year favorite but never had a real shot. He just wasn’t a good player, actively hurting the team while on the court, and the Warriors are too good to play bad rookies long enough for them to compile numbers.
It would be a shock if that’s not the case with Kuminga. Expect something like a worse version of Andrew Wiggins or Kelly Oubre Jr., with occasional loud-highlight nights shrouded by a bunch of quiet, inefficient nights. It wouldn’t surprise at all if Kuminga spends a chunk of the season in the G League.
Honestly, your best chance of him winning ROY is probably getting traded in a package for a new Warriors star.
Decision: No Bet (+3000 PointsBet)
Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets
We’re digging for gold a little further down the board here with another Rockets rookie worth considering.
Alperen Sengun just had one of the most productive seasons ever for a teenager in Europe, putting up nearly 19/9 a night as an 18-year-old in a professional league. He may need time to grow defensively in the NBA, but Sengun is an incredibly polished post player who will score and rebound well.
Still, it’s a big ask to expect a big man this young to come in and win Rookie of the Year. And don’t forget, Sengun will be behind Wall, Porter, Wood and Green in the pecking order for shots, at least early in the season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Sengun made a late-season push once Houston tanks, but he’ll likely always be the second rookie on his own team.
If you do bet, keep it light.
Decision: Small Bet (+2500 DraftKings)
Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets
Let’s go way down the board for my favorite longshot play.
Cam Thomas averaged 23 points per game as a freshman in the SEC, something few have ever done in history. He’s a scorer through and through, and that sure fits the Brooklyn mentality. The Nets apparently rated Thomas as a lottery prospect, and he should get plenty of shots up on this team.
Remember, Brooklyn is extremely top-heavy. This team already knows how good it can be if it just gets to the playoffs healthy. That may mean monitoring minutes for Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, which leaves a bunch of random Tuesday nights in the winter where Thomas can act as a second or third scorer on a run-and-gun team and fill it up — just the role he’s built to fill.
There will be some quiet nights when Brooklyn’s stars are all playing, and Thomas won’t add many rebounds or assists, so we’ll need huge scoring. But the Nets are title favorites so that helps the cause, and the media will notice him when he’s good.
Thomas is the best long shot on the board.
Decision: Bet (+5000 DraftKings)