Rating The 2021-22 NBA Rookies So Far

February 27th, 2022

By Alan Lu

I decided to take the time to rank NBA rookies that have played this season, and I went to Basketball-Reference to take a look at a bunch of different metrics, ranging from basic stats such as minutes, points, to more advanced statistics such as Win-Shares, Box Plus-Minus, Offensive and Defensive Ratings.  I also went to NBA.com to look at defensive differentials to help gauge on-ball defense, and I came up with a list of rookies that are playing well or not very well under the list of different statistics and metrics.

I used 400 minutes as the standard qualifying metric to analyze NBA rookies, with 1000 minutes or more being considered a high number of minutes for them, and anything less as lower minutes than expected.  With a priority being towards minutes played as a way to analyze them, as the more they play would mean they would be more valuable to NBA coaches, I also looked at their advanced metrics to try to gauge their true value.  Here is what I came up with.

Roughly 1000 minutes would be high minutes for rookies, and below that would not meet the criteria for Quadrant 1.  I used a series of averages and weighted averages to rank rookies, and rookies ranked in the upper half would meet the criteria to qualify for Quadrants 1 and 2.  I would label minutes to be on the X-axis, and production on the Y-axis.  Based on what my excel sheet said, here is what I have as a result, with my own NBA rookie rankings being listed below the Quadrant 1-4 rookie rankings.  Any NBA rookies that have played less than 400 minutes as of February 27th, 2021 are not listed in this article.

In the 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year race, Cleveland Cavaliers’ rookie big man Evan Mobley and Toronto Raptors’ rookie forward Scottie Barnes are two of the strongest contenders to win that award later this year.
Mark Blinch/Getty Images, via Fansided’s Raptors Rapture)

Quadrant 1 Rookies: High Minutes/High Production

These rookies have been playing very well, and they have exceeded pretty almost everyone’s expectations.

  1. Evan Mobley, F-C, Cleveland Cavaliers

Evan Mobley is the current favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award this year in the NBA.   I had considered him for one of the last spots to make it to the All-Star team in the East, and Mobley has done pretty much everything well for the Cavaliers.  He’s showing even more scoring and playmaking skills than he appeared to have in college, and he was quite the playmaker at USC. 

Mobley also quickly established his strengths as a rebounder, finisher, shot blocker, and defender, and he’s teamed up with Jarrett Allen and company to springboard the Cavs in the East.  Mobley is looking to be a franchise player, and the once-maligned Cavaliers are now looking very smart for helping to build their young team into being a playoff-ready team this year.

2. Franz Wagner, F, Orlando Magic

Franz Wagner has been one of the best rookies in the NBA.  He came in ready from the get go, and he has done pretty everything well in this league.  He’s quickly establishing himself as a good, all-around player in this league, and he is a contender for the Rookie of the Year award this season.

3. Scottie Barnes, F, Toronto Raptors

Barnes was going to be a good player in the NBA, but few could have surmised that he would contend for the Rookie of the Year award this season.  He’s a smart, savvy all-around point forward that can distribute and defend, but he’s also improved his jump shot and scoring skills this year.  He’s been a tremendously effective player for the Raptors, and he is one of the many reasons why his team has been overachieving and could make it back to the playoffs this year.

4. Herb Jones, F, New Orleans Pelicans

Herb Jones has been the best second round rookie in the NBA, and the very athletic forward has shot the ball much better than anyone anticipated.  He’s established a three-point shot, and he has shown that he can guard multiple positions.  He’s already had a defensive reputation from college, and now that he’s added a jump shot to his arsenal, he’s proven to be a valuable player on the Pelicans’ team this year.

5. Ayo Dosunmu, G, Chicago Bulls

Ayo Dosunmu has been a tremendously efficient combo guard that has played very well on a very good, Chicago Bulls’ team this year.  He was one of the best players in college basketball last year, and he has continued to shine by excelling in his role off the bench.  He can do just about anything he wants on the basketball court, and his ability to shoot, play either backcourt position, and make plays on both ends has made him one of the best rookies in the NBA this year.

6. Chris Duarte, G-F, Indiana Pacers

Duarte has been a solid, all-around role player for the Pacers.  He came in ready for the get-go, and he’s shown that he can do pretty much anything to help his team on the court.  He was injured at the All-Star break and wasn’t able to play in the Rising Stars game, but Duarte has quietly been one of the best rookies in the NBA this year.

7. Josh Giddey, G-F, Oklahoma City Thunder

Giddey has been a key player on the Thunder, and he’s been racking up points, rebounds, assists, and minutes for them this year.  He leads all rookies in triple-doubles accumulated, and he is a tall, savvy point forward that has a very good feel for the game.  He’s struggled with his jump shot, but he’s played far better than most expected, and he’s also played solid defense for his team this year.

8. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F, Oklahoma City Thunder

He was right around the cut-off for the minutes to be in Quadrant 1, and he almost didn’t quite have enough to be on this portion of the list, but here Robinson-Earl is now.  

Robinson-Earl has been one of the best second rookies not named Herb Jones in the NBA this year.  He’s provided scoring, rebounding, and defense for the Thunder this year, and he has proven himself to be a capable, versatile forward on his team.  He may be overshadowed by Giddey, but Robinson-Earl has showed that he may be worthy have of earning a long and illustrious playing career in the NBA.

9. Cade Cunningham, G-F, Detroit Pistons

Cade Cunningham has been a major player on the Pistons, and he’s been racking up a lot of points, rebounds, assists, and minutes when he is on the floor.  He’s also defended well on a bad NBA team, but he hasn’t shot the ball nearly as well as expected.  He hasn’t rated quite as well in advanced metrics, which explains his lower than expected ranking, but Cunningham is a tall, versatile playmaker who has shown flashes of being the franchise player of the future for the Pistons this year.

10. Corey Kispert, F, Washington Wizards

Surprisingly, Kispert made it to the high production part of this list.  Though he hasn’t shot the three-ball nearly as well as expected, he’s doing a great job of making twos, and he is still fairly an efficient offensive player this year.  He’s also been a competent defender, and while he may be at the lowest point of the Quadrant 1 rookies, Kispert has been a serviceable role player that could be well on his way to be a solid shooting specialist in this league.

Rookie forward, Jonathan Kuminga has been a pleasant surprise for the Golden State Warriors this season, as he’s aided their playoff run in their quest for a title this year.
Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle)

Quadrant 2 Rookies: Low Minutes/High Production

While these NBA players haven’t quite played a thousand minutes in the NBA yet, they have been very productive and efficient in their roles on their respective teams this year.

11. Omer Yurtseven, C, Miami Heat

The Turkish big man went undrafted in the 2020 NBA Draft after having starred at Georgetown, and Yurtseven dominated in the NBA G-League the following season, which netted him a contract from the Miami Heat.  So far, he’s made the Miami Heat brass look very smart for picking him up in the meantime.

Yurtseven has excelled as a scorer, rebounder, and interior defender, and he has done a tremendous job of rebounding the basketball in his time in Miami’s rotation this year.  While he’s not going to get a starter’s level of minutes in the NBA due to being behind former All-Star center, Bam Adebayo on the depth chart, Omer Yurtseven has played very well in his role as a per-minute big man in the NBA.

12. Jonathan Kuminga, F, Golden State Warriors

The very athletic forward had an up and down year in the NBA G-League before getting drafted 7th overall in the 2021 NBA Draft by the Warriors.  Kuminga primarily had questions regarding his jump shot heading in, but he’s played really well as an energetic, rim-running forward that has also played well defensively, and he’s played better than anticipated this year.  Kuminga is a high-riser that has made a lot of athletic, energetic hustle plays this season, and the Warriors are happy to draft a young player that has star potential and a lot of talent that could also contribute to their team in a meaningful way in the upcoming postseason.

13. Austin Reaves, G, Los Angeles Lakers

Reaves went undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft after starring at Oklahoma, but he has quickly established himself as one of the more underrated role players on the Lakers’ team this year.  He has excelled as a scorer and facilitator off the bench, and he also will chip in to get some boards for his team.  He’s been an efficient role player on a team that has sorely lacked shooting, and Reaves has gotten far more playing time than expected, and has played reasonably well this year.

14. Alperen Sengun, F-C, Houston Rockets

Alperen Sengun has been a very efficient scoring, role player on one of the worst teams in the NBA this year.  He hasn’t quite played as much as expected, and neither he nor his team has defended very well, but Sengun has excelled as a scoring big man in a bench role this season.

15. Quentin Grimes, G-F, New York Knicks

It was uncertain as to how much playing time Grimes would receive this season, but he’s established himself as a firm member of the Knicks’ rotation.  He’s proven himself to be the definition of a 3 and D type of player this year, and he’s especially shot the ball well off the bench on a lackluster Knicks’ team this season.

16. Jose Alvarado, G, New Orleans Pelicans

Alvarado is a tough, gritty point guard that plays for the Pelicans, and with Zion having been out due to injuries, there were minutes to be had, and Alvarado was able to take advantage of the ample playing time that was left behind.  Alvarado’s been known for playing tough defense, and he’s also shown that he can reliably run the team at the point.  He still will need to continue to improve as a shooter, but his ability to run the team and defend could allow him to have a lengthy playing career in the NBA.

Orlando Magic’s exciting rookie guard, Jalen Suggs’ first season in the NBA has come to mixed reviews, so far. He’s really struggled with his jump shot and sometimes with turnovers, but Suggs has become known for his defense, and has had some very good scoring games this year.
Scott Wachter/USA Today Sports, via Fansided’s Orlando Magic Daily)

Quadrant 4 Rookies: High Minutes/Low Production

Some of your favorite rookies might not be performing nearly as well as you thought they would, and no matter how much you chop up the math, the numbers suggest that the players listed here could and should be playing better.

17. Davion Mitchell, G, Sacramento Kings

He hasn’t shot the ball nearly as well as expected, but he is an athletic playmaker that can pass and defend the basketball.  That hasn’t translated much in terms of the advanced metrics, but Mitchell is a tough-as-nails point guard that could be a building block for Sacramento.

18. Jalen Suggs, G, Orlando Magic

I know this is an extremely low ranking for him, considering that he is a rookie guard that is asked to play a lot and help carry one of the worst teams in the NBA, but the fact is a lot of the advanced metrics just don’t rate Suggs very well.  He hasn’t shot the ball very well this year, and he’s a good on-ball defender on a bad NBA team.  He’s being asked to do a lot this year, but at least he’s played better since returning from injury this season, and the Orlando fanbase is excited to have him on board.

19. Jalen Green, G, Houston Rockets

I know this is also an extremely low ranking for him, considering that Jalen Green is a very athletic, rookie scoring guard that has had some tremendous games this year, but like Suggs, a lot of the metrics don’t rate him well, either.  His shooting percentages have tapered off, and he hasn’t rated well in a lot of the advanced metrics.  That said, he is still a very talented scoring guard that has a lot of upside, and like Suggs, he has a lot of skills that will have his team excited for many years to come.

Among NBA rookies that have played 400 minutes or more so far this season, Pelicans’ rookie forward, Trey Murphy III may be the worst amongst them. What has been baffling is Murphy’s extreme inability to make two-point shots in the NBA this year. Pelicans’ fans have to be wondering how Murphy was their first round pick instead of Herb Jones, especially since Trey Murphy has been really struggling to make shots this year, especially on two-point field goals.
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press, via The Rookie Wire – USA Today)

Quadrant 3 Rookies: Low Minutes/Low Production

On one hand, these players are in the worst quadrant possible. On the other, they have all played at least 400 or more minutes in the NBA this year.

20. Trendon Watford, F, Portland Trail Blazers

He hasn’t played nearly as much as the other rookies on this list, but Watford is an athletic, energetic combo forward that has excelled as a finisher on offense, and he also has proven to be a satisfactory rebounder off the bench.  However, the Blazers just haven’t been that good this year, so he may need to prove himself all over again to earn just as much playing time next season.

21. Cam Thomas, G, Brooklyn Nets

Cam Thomas was expected to come in to shoot and score on a loaded Nets’ team, but he’s proven to be fairly disappointing as a rookie this year.  He still is a young, athletic combo guard that has plenty of potential, and he’s had nights where he’s shot the ball well, but his shooting percentages haven’t been anywhere close to expected this season.

22. Aaron Wiggins, G-F, Oklahoma City Thunder

He’s an athletic swingman that has excelled at scoring the basketball.  He hasn’t the three-ball nearly as well though, and hasn’t made as much of an impact elsewhere, but Wiggins is an above the rim player that has shown that he can be a scorer off the bench in the NBA.

23. Ziaire Williams, F, Memphis Grizzlies

Numerous advanced metrics haven’t really favored Williams in the past two years, so he didn’t end up ranking nearly as well as expected.  On the contrary to this ranking, I feel that Ziaire Williams is actually playing significantly better than expected.  He’s a tremendously athletic and tall swingman that appeared to be one of the best incoming prospects heading into the 2020-21 college basketball season, only to underachieve significantly as a freshman at Stanford last year.

That said, Williams has shown that he can be the very athletic, energetic, 3 and D type of role player that the Grizzlies need.  They’ve simplified his role on offense, and Williams now shoots two-point shots much better than he ever did at Stanford.   He doesn’t take so many odd, contested long twos off the dribble, and they’ve reduced his ball-handling opportunities so that he doesn’t turn the ball over nearly as often.  As a result, they’ve kept it simple so that he can shoot threes (which he’s still struggling at, but has had some good games), be a transition-scoring dynamo on fast breaks, and he’s also shown to be a versatile defender this year.

24. Bones Hyland, G, Denver Nuggets

Hyland has had an up and down rookie season, but at least he’s played far more than Bol Bol.  He hasn’t quite shot the ball as well as expected, but he still has flashed games where he can shoot and score well off the bench.

25. Tre Mann, G, Oklahoma City Thunder

Numerous advanced metrics haven’t rated Mann too well this year, but he’s shot the three-ball well.  He hasn’t been racking up nearly as many assists as expected though, and he hasn’t quite shot the ball quite as well overall, though.

26. Josh Christopher, G, Houston Rockets

The very athletic swingman has excelled as a scorer off the bench, but he hasn’t shot the ball quite as well from the outside, and he ranks as one of the worst defenders amongst rookies on this list.  That said, Houston fans have to be excited for the upside he brings, as he can already throw down highlight reel-worthy dunks, and if he can gain a consistent jump shot, he could be leaps and bounds better next season.

27. Brandon Boston Jr., G-F, Los Angeles Clippers

Advanced metrics haven’t rated Brandon Boston Jr. that well either, but he’s appeared to far better than he ever appeared to be at Kentucky.  He’s an athletic slasher that has flashed bits of his all-around potential, but he’ll need to put it all together to make a difference and a noticeable impact in this league.

28. Kessler Edwards, F, Brooklyn Nets

He’s shot the three-ball fairly well, but he has been an above average rebounder, but he hasn’t seemed to do much else well at the NBA level.  On a theoretical level, he’d play well off of Durant and Kyrie Irving, but the Nets are rarely ever fully healthy this season, and his team has lost a lot more games than anticipated as a result.

29. Trey Murphy III, F, New Orleans Pelicans

Murphy is a tall forward that has shown that he can capably knock down threes, but he’s really struggled to score this year, and his extreme inability to make two-point shots has been absolute baffling this year, especially for a player that was hailed as one of the best shooters coming in to the 2021 draft. 

Maybe Murphy having played on one of the slowest paced, college basketball teams at Virginia last year has something to do with his inability to transition to NBA basketball, but I really don’t get why he has such a hard time making the transition, especially since he’d be primarily asked to make spot-up threes and play on-ball defense in this league.

30. Dalano Banton, G-F, Toronto Raptors

Contrary to this rather low ranking, Banton has played much better than expected.  He’s a very athletic rookie point forward that has shown that he can more than capably run the point, and he has been absolutely racking up assists.  He also has shown that he can rebound and defend.  If he can only gain a jump shot, his potential could be much higher, but Banton has been able to get some minutes on a solid, Raptors’ team this year.

31. Duane Washington Jr., G, Indiana Pacers

I feel like Washington has played better than expected this year, especially for a rookie that went undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft.  He has played far more than expected, and he has shown that he can capably knock down threes at the NBA level.

32. Joshua Primo, G-F, San Antonio Spurs

Despite this low ranking, I do feel Primo has played better than expected in the NBA so far.  He’s had some truly good games, and much credit goes to the San Antonio Spurs for developing him.  He’s shown that he can be an athletic, 3 and D type of defender in this league, and with a little more consistency and experience, Primo could end up being an integral rotation player on the Spurs for years to come.

In analyzing the NBA rookies that have played over 400 minutes so far this season, here are my adjusted NBA rankings regardless of the above rankings. Right now, if I were to vote for the Rookie of the Year award, I think I would vote Evan Mobley first, followed by Scottie Barnes, and then Franz Wagner.

Cleveland Cavaliers’ rookie big man Evan Mobley is having a tremendous rookie year, and he looks to be the frontrunner to win the 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year award this season.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images, via Fansided’s King James Gospel)

Alan Lu’s 2021-22 NBA Rookie Rankings, as of 2/27/22 (amongst the 32 qualifiers that have played 400 minutes or more)

  1. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
  3. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
  4. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
  5. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
  6. Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors
  7. Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls
  8. Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers
  9. Herb Jones, New Orleans Pelicans
  10. Quentin Grimes, New York Knicks
  11. Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic
  12. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
  13. Omer Yurtseven, Miami Heat
  14. Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets
  15. Ziaire Williams, Memphis Grizzlies
  16. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Oklahoma City Thunder
  17. Austin Reaves, Los Angeles Lakers
  18. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings
  19. Corey Kispert, Washington Wizards
  20. Kessler Edwards, Brooklyn Nets
  21. Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets
  22. Aaron Wiggins, Oklahoma City Thunder
  23. Bones Hyland, Denver Nuggets
  24. Dalano Banton, Toronto Raptors
  25. Joshua Primo, San Antonio Spurs
  26. Brandon Boston Jr., Los Angeles Clippers
  27. Josh Christopher, Houston Rockets
  28. Tre Mann, Oklahoma City Thunder
  29. Jose Alvarado, New Orleans Pelicans
  30. Trendon Watford, Portland Trail Blazers
  31. Duane Washington Jr., Indiana Pacers
  32. Trey Murphy III, New Orleans Pelicans

Well, those are my NBA rookie rankings for now, and hope you enjoyed reading this.  Thank you, and have a great rest of the weekend.

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