1. Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)
2. Scottie Barnes (Raptors)
3. Cade Cunningham (Pistons)
This turned out to be an incredibly deep draft class (and this was a very close decision), but from the opening tip Evan Mobley was at the heart of a surprise Cavaliers team — his defense in the paint, his adaptability next to Jarrett Allen made the Cavaliers’ fast rise possible. Mobley provided 14.9 points and 8.3 boards a game, too. Still he barely beat out Scottie Barnes for first — Barnes has been phenomenal for the Raptors and fit in beautifully with their long, rangy, switchable system. He scored more points per game (15.5) and was slightly more efficient than Mobley, and Barnes plays great defense as well. This is almost a coin flip, but I leaned Mobley slightly.
I can hear the complaints from Detroit already, and in five years we may well see Cade Cunningham as the best player in this draft class. He is special and would have won the award a lot of years. Not this one. First, it is the Rookie of the YEAR and Cunningham started the season slowly (the injury in training camp definitely set him back) — that matters in a close race. Second, Barnes and Mobley played in meaningful games, and they played important minutes on teams heading to the postseason, that extra weight on them matters as well. Cunningham is a foundational piece for the Pistons and one they can build around, but that doesn’t mean he had the best rookie season.
1. Scottie Barnes (Raptors)
2. Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)
3. Franz Wagner (Magic)
Is Scottie Barnes a point guard, forward or center for the Raptors? Yes. Good enough as a rookie to do it all, Barnes shined as a versatile/energetic/harassing defender AND often spearheaded Toronto’s offense with his attacking and passing.
Another very advanced defender for a rookie, Evan Mobley used his size to protect the paint and mobility/length to cover the rest of the floor, too. But as tantalizing as his offense is, including shooting and passing, he wasn’t as refined on that end as Barnes.
Pistons guard Cade Cunningham is playing at a higher level as the season nears close and has a brighter future, but his slow start counts with this full-season, single-season award. Though tasked with a much smaller creation burden, Franz Wagner was way more efficient as a scorer and played a nice all-around game.
Really, Pelicans defensive specialist Herbert Jones might have had a better season than Cunningham. But we can dodge that debate with this three-player ballot. (And Kurt thought he was going to piss off Detroit!)