In the final week of the NBA regular season, the Rookie of the Year race is tighter than ever. Although we have seen names come and go from this list, three names have remained all year long. Despite Evan Mobley running away as the clear front runner for the award, Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes have made themselves known. With everything left to this final week, let’s see who has made themselves stand out.
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5. Herbert Jones, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
Jones cracks the list for the first and last time this season. Despite a less than impressive performance against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night, Jones bounced back against the Los Angeles teams. The Tuscaloosa, AL native scored 12 as the Pelicans defeated the Lakers. He also managed to score 13 in the loss to the Clippers. Selecting Jones with the 35th overall pick in the 2021 draft has been a massive steal for New Orleans this season.
4. Franz Wagner, SG, Orlando Magic
Wagner made the most of his two-game week before missing the last two games with an injury. Twenty seconds into a matchup against the Toronto Raptors, Wagner had his foot caught on Barnes after an unintentional landing. Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley said that Wagner felt good to go, but he decided to withhold him the next game. “The way he processes things is really good. He understands it. Was he disappointed? I believe so, but, at the end of the day, he understands taking care of his body and being healthy is the most important thing in this situation.” Before the injury the game prior, Wagner had an offensive explosion. Despite Orlando losing by a large margin to the Wizards Wednesday night, Wagner scored 28 points in an impressive 55 percent shooting. Wagner finished the year with a special rookie campaign. The young core in Orlando is very bright in the Eastern Conference.
3. Scottie Barnes, SF, Toronto Raptors
Barnes had an impressive week for the Raptors. Through three outings, he never once scored below 17 points. He scored 17 against the Minnesota Timberwolves before scoring 19 twice against the Magic and Miami Heat. He was also able to score eight and seven rebounds in the last two games. The West Palm Beach, FL native has been as consistent as you could be for a rookie. He has been a massive playmaker for his team and is a leader on a playoff-hopeful Raptors team. He’s shooting just above 50 percent, which is phenomenal for a point forward. It will be extremely close for Rookie of the Year, as Barnes has closed the gap.
2. Cade Cunningham, PG, Detroit Pistons
It was a dominant week for Cunningham. He scored 34 points in Brooklyn against the Nets, shooting an impressive 54 percent in the outing. The Arlington, TX native followed this up with a 27 point performance against the Philadelphia 76ers. Friday night against the Thunder, he recorded only two points while playing seven minutes. Head coach Dwane Casey said the team wanted to give the starters a bit of rest. “They have some nicks and bumps. Saddiq’s hip is a little banged up. Cade’s back is a little banged up. It gives us the opportunity to play the young guys, and that’s what we wanted to do. If we were competing for playoff position, they probably could have gone out and played, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t risk anything. We’ll see going forward where they are.” Cunningham is everything you want in your starting point guard and franchise cornerstone. It’s anyone’s award to grab.
1. Evan Mobley, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Mobley has missed the last four games with an ankle injury. Last Monday against the Magic, midway through the second quarter, his left ankle appeared to land on the foot of fellow rookie Wagner after attempting to contest a shot. He looked to be in immediate pain and hobbled off the court. Mobley is averaging 14.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.6 blocks in 67 games. He leads all first-year players in rebounding and blocks while he is fifth in scoring. He needs one more point to become the eighth rookie in team history to reach at least 1,000 points. While this can go to any of the three, Mobley has looked like the most dominant rookie all season.
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