Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Cade Cunningham climbs to No. 3, Scottie Barnes holds top spot

The No. 1 overall pick is on the rise, Josh Giddey holds strong and Jalen Green climbs 2 rungs in the latest top 10 ranking.

Cade Cunningham tallied his first career triple-double on Sunday. Steve Aschburner breaks down his rise.

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Rookies never climb the Kia Rookie Ladder by not playing.

That’s just one of the fundamentals involved in this weekly ranking of the NBA’s newcomers. Here are a few more:

• Injuries might cost a player a rung or two, especially the longer he’s out, but poor performance is an even greater accelerant for a slide downward.

• The Ladder is neither a mere snapshot of which rookies had a strong previous week, nor is it a prediction of the final Rookie of the Year balloting. It’s kind of both, as a tool to keep tabs on the first-year players’ comings, goings, breakthroughs, setbacks and fabled rookie walls.

This reset of sorts was necessitated by the action (and inaction) near the top of the latest Ladder. Toronto’s Scottie Barnes didn’t have a great week, especially putting up points, but he did have a better week than Cleveland’s Evan Mobley. Mobley, due to his sprained right elbow, did all this work in rehab and on the side as his Cavaliers lost each night they played without him.

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Remaining inactive didn’t knock Mobley down in this case but it certainly prevented him from leapfrogging Barnes even on the Raptors forward’s off week.

Where Mobley might slip in status in coming weeks is if his number of games played falls significantly behind the other top rookies. For now, he has logged three more games than Cade Cunningham, the 2021 Draft’s No. 1 pick overall who has been getting real traction with the otherwise disappointing Detroit Pistons.

With a big helping of gratitude as we head into Thanksgiving weekend for a rookie class much deeper than we were led to believe pre-Draft, here is this latest Ladder:

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

(All stats through Monday, Nov. 22)

1. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

Season stats: 14.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 5.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1

Barnes’ scoring has dropped off recently, partly because his shot attempts have dipped as well, from 13.2 to 10.0 in the past week. Hey, Pascal Siakam came back and his opportunities had to come from somewhere. And now both of them are adapting to OG Anunoby’s absence. Barnes isn’t faring as well on the Raptors’ current six-game road trip, either, averaging 10 points on 34.1% shooting compared to 20 points on 56.9% in his first four away games. But he still is rebounding and distributing well.

2. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

Season stats: 14.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since last Ladder: DNP
Last Ladder’s rung: 2

Injuries are catching up to the Cavaliers, and Mobley’s sprained right elbow is right there with Collin Sexton’s season-ending meniscus tear at this point. Cleveland is 0-4 since the moment he got hurt, though officially 0-3 in the games he has not played. No wonder: Mobley already was better in Cavs’ victories (16.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 53.7% shooting) than in their losses (12.5, 6.7, 42.6%). So a bunch of zeroes is no help at all.

3. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons

Season stats: 13.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.8 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 7.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5

Cade Cunningham tallied his first career triple-double on Sunday against the Lakers.

Big leap here by the No. 1 pick this summer. He gets props not just for his first triple-double Sunday — 13 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists vs. the Lakers — but for his efforts in at least slowing down irate teammate Isaiah Stewart when Stewart tried repeatedly to bull-rush his way to LeBron James, the man who bloodied Stewart’s eye. “I’m trying to stop him from maybe getting into trouble,” the rookie said. Yeah, well, Cunningham has had more success shepherding his own performance through a rocky start, triggered by his preseason ankle injury. Recently, the Pistons guard said: “A lot of people were trying to say I was a bust. I thought that was pretty funny … That’s something I took note of, like ‘All right, well, we’ll have to see about it.’”

4. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder

Season stats: 10.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.7 apg
Since last Ladder: 14.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 4.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4

As Giddey goes, so goes the Thunder? OKC ranks 30th in field-goal percentage overall (40.8%), 29th in 3-point percentage (30.6%) and 26th in free-throw accuracy (73.3%) — and their prized rookie is pulling down each of those stats at 39.7%, 25.4% and 63.6%. Still, he’s a runaway leader among rookies in assists and he’s not far behind the big guys above him on the Ladder in rebounds. He’s reliant on his Thunder teammates, remember, when it comes to his passes — he ranks 21st among all players with 11.5 “potential assists” per tracking stats. And he’s good for a highlight or two on most nights:

5. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 12.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3

Wagner had a strong start to the week offensively (16 points at New York 17 at Brooklyn) before getting bogged down in a “baseball series” at Milwaukee. In a combined 44 minutes, the 6-foot-9 wing shot 1-for-13 for just three points, though his Bucks counterpart, Khris Middleton, averaged 12.5 points in the home team’s two victories. Wagner leads Orlando in minutes and steals.

The Next 5:

6. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 14.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 8

Shooting better with fewer mistakes earns a rung climb.

7. Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers 

Season stats: 13.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 7.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 6

Changing role, changing roster bring challenges to learning curve.

8. Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 8.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 6.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 7

Per our John Schuhmann, Sengun excels in post-ups, despite turnovers.

9. Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 11.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A

Plugs away to earn a rung, despite recent 2FG woes (10-for-29, 34.5%).

10. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 8.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 5.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 10

New coach Gentry could alter Mitchell’s trajectory for the better.

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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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