Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Where the award race stands heading into final stretch

With roughly 20 games left in the season, it's time to assess the race for the Kia Rookie of the Year award.

Josh Giddey, Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes are among the top 5 contenders in the Kia Rookie of the Year race.

Only a couple of rookies in consideration for the weekly Kia Rookie Ladder played more than a single game in the latest stats-cutoff period. Beyond a weekend trip to Cleveland, their schedules have been their own, with the real competition resuming Thursday.

So it seemed like a good week for the Ladder committee to announce a couple of tweaks in the methodology here.

First, this will serve as something of a reset in looking at the field of contenders for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award. For much of the season, the Ladder represents many things to many people – a gauge of a first-year player’s performance overall, a place to monitor progress as the schedule unspooled, a clearinghouse to celebrate big games and hot weeks, a mechanism to toss kudos at guys who emerge, however briefly, from the vast pool of newbies.

Post-All-Star break, though, is the time to get serious. About the award, about individual development, about impact. So the Ladder will start to serve as an unofficial ROY ballot as the final weeks play out.

That brings us to the second tweak. A ROY ballot is only three deep. The Ladder traditionally has had room for 10. But this crop of rookies has proven to be of such high quality and quantity, we’re adding two rungs for the remainder of the season.

Frankly, with fellows such as Alperen Sengun, Davion Mitchell, Bones Hyland, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and a few more, the Ladder could probably go to 15 rungs and still bump a promising youngster or two. But we’ll go with a dozen for now, a testament to the depth of the Class of 2021.

The Top 5 this week on the 2021-22 Kia Rookie Ladder:

(All stats through All-Star Weekend, Feb. 18-20)

1. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

Evan Mobley represented Cleveland well in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

Season stats: 14.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 22.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 4.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1
Draft pick: No. 3 overall

Mobley didn’t have to budge – All-Star Weekend came to him in Cleveland – to solidify his spot on the top rung here and emerge in what increasingly looks to be favorite status for the ROY. He scored a combined 18 points with 11 rebounds in two games of the Rising Stars mini-tournament to help Team Barry win it. Twenty-four hours later, the lanky USC product nailed a halfcourt shot to snag the Skills Challenge for Team Cavs. “He’s literally a unicorn,” Cleveland’s All-Star guard Darius Garland said, figuratively. “Seven-footer, 20-year-old that can do everything.”

2. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

Season stats: 14.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 2
Draft pick: No. 4 overall

The Raptors rookie helped provide perhaps the biggest moment of comedy in All-Star Weekend. It came when he and partner Tyrese Maxey of Philadelphia, competing in the Clorox Clutch Challenge, missed six bunnies, a few feet in front of the rim, as the timed competition unspoiled. Barnes missed four times, an embarrassed smile creeping onto his face as the two imagined their starring roles in an upcoming Shaqtin’ A Fool segment. No one is laughing off Barnes’ first NBA season and his value to Toronto’s surprising play.

3. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder

Josh Giddey makes history with his 3rd straight triple-double.

Season stats: 12.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 6.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 17.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 10.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3
Draft pick: No. 6 overall

In a span of two years, OKC’s Josh Giddey went from watching All-Star Weekend events at United Center in Chicago to participating in them in Cleveland. Back then, he was part of the league’s international program, Basketball Without Borders, still learning the game in his native Australia. Now he is the undisputed best rookie in the Western Conference. In his getaway performance before the break, Giddey put up 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to become the first rookie since NBA 75 legend Oscar Robertson to have three consecutive triple-doubles. And he drew praise from active legend LeBron James: “He has a great pace about the game. Great vision. He’s playing beautiful basketball.”

4. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons

Cade Cunningham says he's continued to grow despite the losses this season.

Season stats: 15.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 5.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 20.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 6.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4
Draft pick: No. 1 overall

Cunningham’s game keeps bubbling up after setbacks this season. He opened with an ankle injury, lost time to the league’s Health & Safety Protocols and most recently dealt with a right hip pointer. So he has had to shake off pain and/or rust three times to put up the impressive stats he has. He earned MVP honors in the Rising Stars competition over the weekend, scoring 13 points in Team Barry’s opener, then chipping in five points, two boards and three assists in the first-to-25 title game. “It’s not just like a regular All-Star Game where everybody is not playing defense, flying around,” the Pistons newcomer said. “It was fun.”

5. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 15.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5
Draft pick: No. 8 overall

Wagner wrapping up the Rising Stars event with a free throw seemed about perfect. His game might not shine in All-Star-like competition – he depends on timing, teamwork and practice, and scored only six of Team Barry’s 75 points in the two mini-games – but he does like to win (rare as that is for Orlando). After Wagner scored 26 against Denver on Feb. 14, teammate Wendell Carter Jr. sent some Valentines his way: “I told Franz, ‘Man, you are one of the best players on this team. If not the best.’ I want him to believe that. I want him to go out there and understand that. He’s got the respect from a lot of the great players in this league already. He’s gold.”

The Next 7:

6. Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls

Season stats: 8.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 6
Draft pick: No. 38 overall

As starter: 11.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 6.7 apg in 38.1 mpg, on 53.9% (40% 3FG).

7. Herbert Jones, New Orleans Pelicans

Season stats: 9.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 7
Draft pick: No. 35 overall

Plus-13 in 7-point loss to Mavs on night Doncic scored 49.

8. Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers

Season stats: 13.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.2 apg
Since last Ladder: DNP
Last Ladder’s rung: 8
Draft pick: No. 13 overall

Was averaging 15.5 ppg, 43.9% 3FG in 14 games before toe injury.

9. Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 12.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 19.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 10
Draft pick: No. 5 overall

Playmaking has perked up, consistency is current challenge.

10. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 14.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 19.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A
Draft pick: No. 2 overall

Rising Stars performance > Dunk Contest for rising Rocket.

11. Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors

Season stats: 8.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 9
Draft pick: No. 7 overall

He will help Golden State win games that matter down the stretch.

12. Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets

Season stats: 9.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 20.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A
Draft pick: No. 27 overall

First 10 NBA games: 1.2 ppg. Latest 10: 18.1 ppg.

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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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