Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Which rookies are being used the most?

Breaking down the 2021 class and their usage rate so far this season.

Evan Mobley’s return and Jalen Suggs’ absence could impact the next few Rookie Ladder editions.

It might have passed under the radar that the most heavily used rookie from the Class of 2021 no longer is getting used at all by his team.

When Orlando’s Jalen Suggs ran out of bounds holding his right thumb in the fourth quarter at Philadelphia Monday night, his status as the leader among 2021-22 newcomers in usage rate got frozen at 25.4%. That might or might not have him atop the pile by the time his recovery and rehab get him back on the court for the Magic.

Not only had Suggs’ stats been heading north lately, but that usage rate was also evidence that Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley was both committed to the rookie guard’s development and willing to rely on Suggs. Usage rate, one of the advanced analytics embraced by the NBA in recent years, is an estimate of the percentage of a team’s plays “used” by a player while on the floor.

What does “used” mean? Basically, it’s a play that ends with the player shooting the ball, turning the ball over or getting to the foul line. It roughly shows the degree to which a given player is involved in his team’s overall offense. Or more succinctly, how much a team relies or depends on that player offensively.

The league average usage rate is approximately 20%, which seems pretty simple: With five players on the floor at all times, 100% of that team’s plays will get divvied up among them. There are multiple factors in play, though, such as the player’s position, the quality of a team’s supporting cast relative to the talents of its top player(s), the style of play favored by its coaches or in the case of reserves, who else is on the floor with him at that time.

Consider the current leaders in usage rate and their importance to how their teams play (min. 400 minutes played):

Luka Doncic, Dallas, 35.1%
Paul George, LA Clippers, 34.0%
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee, 33.3%
Trae Young, Atlanta, 32.5%
Donovan Mitchell, Utah, 32.4%

Think about how often guys such as Doncic or Antetokounmpo have the ball in their hands and dictate offense, compared to teammates such as Dwight Powell (10.1%) or Semi Ojeleye (9.6%).

Now compare that to the top rotation rookies, the newbies averaging more than 10 minutes across more than half of their teams’ games:

Jalen Suggs, Orlando, 25.4%
Cade Cunningham, Detroit, 25.1%
Bones Hyland, Denver, 22.7%
Jalen Green, Houston, 22.3%
Tre Mann, Oklahoma City, 22.6%
Chris Duarte, Indiana, 20.9%
Josh Giddey, OKC, 20.8%
Alperen Sengun, Houston, 20.5%

Notably, Duarte’s usage rate has gone up (21.8% since Nov. 7) despite his recent role off the Pacers’ bench. He will be tangling Wednesday night in Indianapolis with the Hawks’ usage-rate heavyweight Young, whose number jumped from 28.4% to 34.9% by his second season.

You’ve got to get all the way to ninth place to start seeing some of the top names on the Kia Rookie Ladder. That includes Toronto’s Scottie Barnes at 19.3%, Cleveland’s Evan Mobley at 19.1% and Orlando’s Franz Wagner at 19.0%. Frontcourt players typically aren’t as ball dominant as those in the backcourt.

In last season’s rookie crop, the usage leaders were Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards (26.4%), Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball (24.7%) and New York’s Immanuel Quickley (24.6%).

In 2019-20, it was Memphis’ Ja Morant (25.6%), Miami’s Kendrick Nunn (23.6%) and Chicago’s Coby White (23.5%).

So Suggs’ rate, coming alongside second-year point guard Cole Anthony (25.5%) and Wagner, seems like a clear indication of Orlando’s focus on him. And now the Magic will have to do without him for a spell, same as with Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Michael Carter-Williams and E’Twaun Moore, as well as Chuma Okeke and Gary Harris for shorter stints.

The Top 5 this week on the 2020-21 Kia Rookie Ladder: 

(All stats through Monday, Nov. 29) 

1. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors  

Season stats: 15.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 18.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1

Scottie Barnes scored 21 points against the Celtics last week.

Leading your rookie class in minutes (35.3), scoring and rebounding counts for a lot, but it’s about more than quantity with Toronto’s semi-sleeper pick at No. 4. Barnes, like some teammates, flagged a bit during the Raptors’ recent road work (eight of nine games out of Canada) but he has perked up since, including 21 points, seven boards vs. Boston. Veteran teammate Fred VanVleet has offered encouraging advice, too, according to The Athletic. VanVleet says he tells the rook, “I think you should chase greatness and you shouldn’t fall into the trap and the lulls of what it means to be a rookie.” Never mind those, Barnes for now remains the top-rung rookie.

2. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers  

Season stats: 14.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 2

Mobley came back from his sprained right elbow, the Cavs won the next two games. None of these rookies can touch Mobley’s impact on winning – his club is 11-6 when he plays, 0-4 when he doesn’t. He has found a way to operate offensively and defensively alongside fellow bigs Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen, bringing success to coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s jumbo-sized lineups. And of the rotation rookies averaging more than 15 minutes across a dozen games, Mobley’s defensive rating per 100 possessions (99.3) leads the next closest, Chris Duarte (103.0), by a gap bigger than what separates Nos. 2-6.

3. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons  

Season stats: 13.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3

Cade Cunningham tallied 15 points and 11 rebounds against the Lakers.

When you look at how last year’s Rookie of the Year was doing after 15 games – 11.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 5.9 apg – you can see that Cunningham is pretty close statistically to Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball at the same point in 2020-21. Cunningham was shooting worse, though: 33.5% overall and 24.5% from three vs. Ball’s 40.4% and 32.4%. And while their team impact wasn’t far off – the Pistons were 4-11 in Cunningham’s first 15, the Hornets 6-9 in Ball’s – the 2021 ROY really took off when he became a full-time starter and the guts of Charlotte’s attack.

4. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder  

Season stats: 10.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 5.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4

After averaging 15-7-6 against Washington and Utah, Giddey had a 1-for-9 night, missing all five 3-pointers, against lowly Houston. Still, he stayed in the game with his work on the boards and dishing the ball, currently his two greatest assets. A quarter of the way into his first NBA season, the 19-year-old is silencing skeptics nightly, and given his decisions and daring with the ball, his 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio (even better if you factor in OKC teammates’ missed shots) especially is impressive.

5. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic  

Season stats: 13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 17.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5

Franz Wagner erupted for a career-high 27 points against the Sixers.

The No. 8 pick in the Draft would be valuable to this oft-injured Magic team simply by showing up – he leads their club in total minutes and shot attempts and has played in every game, one of the few rotation guys coach Jamahl Mosley has been able to set-and-forget. Wagner’s contributions have been solid across the board, whether on defense, as a jack of all trades or as a “point forward” at times given Cole Anthony’s and Jalen Suggs’ injuries.

The Next 5:

6. Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers   

Season stats: 13.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 7

Toughness, emotions on display nightly.

7. Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 12.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 14.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 9

Bump up likely to be short-lived due to thumb fracture.

8. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 9.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 10

Carving out a role in Sac’s most efficient closing lineup.

9. Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets  

Season stats: 8.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 8

His 40.9% from the arc has fans urging more minutes.

10. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets  

Season stats: 14.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 11.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 6

Hamstring and win streak without him cause this slide.

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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