• Get NBA League Pass NOW: Stream FREE for 7 days
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.
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.
phew 😳@C_Duarte5 | #GoldBlooded pic.twitter.com/l5j1YM3MXg
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) October 26, 2021
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.”
BEAM ME UP SCOTTIE pic.twitter.com/c9CXM0I9fI
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 26, 2021
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.
Another classic Rick and Mobley adventure!#LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/QVuNqJqbTy
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) October 23, 2021
4. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
Season stats: 16.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 apg
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 NBA.com (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.
Franz Wagner last night:
He has scored in double figures in all four games this season. pic.twitter.com/BNsYSossNl
— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) October 26, 2021
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.
* * *
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.