NBA Rookie of the Year Watch: Jan. 27

Story posted January 28, 2022 in Sports, CommRadio by Joe Tuman

As the NBA trade deadline and All-Star break approach, the NBA’s various award races are beginning to narrow down who the top contenders are.

That certainly applies to the Rookie of the Year race, as a number of players have set themselves apart thus far in their debut seasons. 

Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

At 30-19, the Cavaliers have skyrocketed up to the third seed in the Eastern Conference this season after missing the playoffs for a number of years prior.

That is partially due to the impact their No. 3-overall draft pick Evan Mobley has made.

Paired with fellow big Jarrett Allen in the frontcourt, Mobley has set the tone for Cleveland’s stellar defense, which is currently ranked top five in the NBA.

Individually, Mobley has set himself apart as well, putting up 15 points and eight rebounds a night, while also blocking nearly two shots per contest.

Mobley has already proven to be a major asset for the Cavs on both sides of the ball, and if he keeps this up, Cleveland may just have themselves a new franchise player.

Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

Some were surprised by the Raptors’ selection of Scottie Barnes with the fourth-overall pick in last summer’s draft.

Nonetheless, Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri must have seen something other teams didn’t, and his high hopes have been vindicated in Barnes’ first year in the NBA.

Barnes has helped the Raptors stay around the playoff picture by putting up about 15 points and eight rebounds per game, while also emerging as a very prominent playmaker for Toronto despite his frontcourt presence.

While his numbers are similar to Mobley’s on paper, Barnes’ impact on his team’s record is not quite as evident as Mobley’s has been.

If Toronto can firmly establish itself as a playoff-caliber squad, though, that will likely have plenty to do with Barnes’ play.

A run like that would help his Rookie of the Year case immensely. 

Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

The Magic may be the worst team in the NBA at the moment, but they still have to be pleased with the production they’ve gotten from Wagner this year.

The eighth-overall selection out of Michigan has been a bright spot for Orlando, providing a steady hand as a two-way threat.

Wagner is scoring 15 points per game, playing solid defense, and overall has looked like a real find for the Magic.

The long-term future of the Magic remains unclear, as many of their younger players have yet to set themselves apart for various reasons.

However, having Wagner in town can be something Orlando fans can place their faith in going forward.

Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City is amid year two of what figures to be a long rebuild. 

They have a boatload of draft picks coming in the pipeline, but one player who’s actually on the team has already inspired optimism in OKC’s fanbase.

Nineteen-year-old Josh Giddey out of Australia was expected to be a bit of a project when Thunder General Manager Sam Presti selected him in the 2021 draft, and that assessment has held true to a degree. 

Giddey has also shown some major flashes as a possible future star.

Giddey’s scoring has been inconsistent, especially from the 3-point line, but his overall skills as a passer and a rebounder have conversely been impactful. 

The Timothee Chalamet look-alike has even already notched a triple-double just a few months into his career.

With Giddey partnered alongside fellow guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is already an all-star caliber player, the Thunder may have their backcourt of the future. 

For that to come to fruition, though, Giddey has to hope he isn’t traded for even more first round picks. 

 

Joe Tuman is a first-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email him at joentuman@gmail.com.