Kia Rookie Ladder

Kia Rookie Ladder: Chris Duarte, Scottie Barnes claim top spots after first week

The 2021 Draft class is off to an impressive start with many rookies making an early impact. writer Steve Aschburner breaks down the first Kia Rookie Ladder of the 2021-2022 season.

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A quicker start by the league’s prized newcomers was to be expected compared to last season. After all, the Class of 2021 got the benefit of summer league reps, organized workouts with their respective teams before training camp, the camps themselves and the preseason that followed. They even had more than a week or two to find housing in their new hometowns.

But this Kia Rookie Ladder already is reaching impressive heights, after just one week.

At this same point in 2020-21, the Top 5 players on the debut Ladder – LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, Tyrese Haliburton, Anthony Edwards and Patrick Williams – were averaging a combined 59.3 points per game.

This year’s crew – Chris Duarte, Scottie Barnes, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Franz Wagner – were scoring at a collective 80.2 ppg.

Chris Duarte set a Pacers franchise record with 27 points in his debut.

The early impact has come from deeper in the Draft, too. Add up the spots at which this week’s quintet were selected, thanks in large part to Indiana rookie Chris Duarte as the No. 13 pick, and you get 30. A year ago, the five players who drew the earliest praise were at 22.

All of which means, well, it’s hard to say. But based on just those two indicators, the Class of 2021 might be deeper, with equal or higher up sides than their very-solid predecessors.

Especially when you factor in that the No. 1 and No. 7 picks – Detroit’s Cade Cunningham and Golden State’s Jonathan Kuminga – have had delayed debuts due to ankle and knee injuries, respectively.

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

(All stats through Monday, Oct. 25) 

1. Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers

Season stats: 19.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.0 apg

To the elders, go the spoils. Based in part on the experience Duarte brings to his rookie season by virtue of being a 24-year-old rookie, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle put him in the starting lineup on opening night. From there, the 6-foot-6 guard averaged 19.8 points, 17 field-goal attempts and 38.3 minutes, with a positive plus/minus (6.3) in his first week of NBA work.

2. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

Season stats: 16.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.5 apg

The No. 4 pick in the 2020 Draft was something of a surprise – Chicago took Florida State’s Patrick Williams, who never started a college game – and the Raptors matched that by picking Barnes, another Seminole, a little higher than many expected. Definitely not a reach, to this point, with the 6-foot-9 forward logging time as a point-big. Former ROY Jason Kidd went on the record after Barne’s third game predicting he’ll be “a star in this league.”

3. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers  

Season stats: 14.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.8 apg

The comparison seemed unfair at the time and one week into this season, it remains so – to Chris Bosh. The Hall of Famer to whom Mobley’s size and skill set got compared prior to and after the Draft started more slowly than the Cavs’ new big man: 6.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, no assists, 1.0 bpg and 0.8 spg in his first four appearances. Mobley has been better across the board, including 2.0 blocks, 1.3 steals and his 55% field-goal shooting to Bosh’s 45.8. Exciting start.

4. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets  

Season stats: 16.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 apg

Jalen Green erupted for 30 points against the Celtics.

A darling of the experts (real or alleged), Green is widely favored to win the 2022 Rookie of the Year award. Oddsmakers in Vegas and elsewhere listed him that way on their boards, and both the GMs surveyed by (14 of 30, 47%) and a poll of The Athletic NBA writers (19 of 35, 54.3%) predicted that same verdict. Nothing in Green’s first week suggests he can’t climb three rungs of the Ladder, based both on his individual skills and his team awareness to start.

5. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic  

Season stats: 13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.0 apg

Frankly, we expected an Orlando newcomer to be in the Top 5 from the get-go, but thought it would be guard Jalen Suggs. Suggs just looked so poised in the summer and brings a team focus at both ends, so it seems inevitable he’ll rise from this week’s second group. But Wagner, at 20, has played like a veteran while averaging 33.0 minutes in four starts – three of them on the road. He has shown nice mobility on defense, along with an ability to play without the ball.

The Next 5:

6. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings

Season stats: 9.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 3.7 apg

His defense against elite scorers has earned him nickname “Off Night.”

7. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder

Season stats: 9.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.7 apg

A 3.6 assist/turnover ratio, and a minus-14.3 for a minus-22.0 team.

8. Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic

Season stats: 12.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.5 apg

Shooting struggles (28.8% overall) and 3.5 turnovers per game so far.

9. Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets

Season stats: 8.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.3 apg

No. 16 project led rookies in steals (2.3), with 4.0 FTA and 4.3 fouls.

10. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Oklahoma City Thunder

Season stats: 6.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.0 apg

Ten points in 13 minutes in NBA debut for No. 32 pick.

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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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