NBA Rookie Rankings: Scottie Barnes Impresses With Offensive Efficiency; Evan Mobley deserves a lot of praise

We are now two weeks into the new NBA season and early signs suggest that the 2021 draft class will be incredibly exciting to watch this season and beyond. The most interesting aspect of this batch of rookies is the number of them that look like tough defenders so early in the season.

Some of these guys are busting the myth that freshman players struggle a lot with defense as we have rookies at the top of several defensive stats. It may decrease as the season progresses, but it’s something to keep an eye on with this class. In other news, No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham made his NBA debut after missing the first four games of the season with an ankle injury. Although his offense was not efficient (1 of 8 for two points), he showed promise in defense.

Please note that these rankings only reflect a rookie’s week-to-week performance, not the collective season. These are not Rookie of the Year leaderboards. Now that that’s straightened out, here’s a look at the top-performing rookies in the league.

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Barnes has started the season incredibly strong on both sides of the floor, but what has been most impressive is his efficiency in attack. Against the Orlando Magic, he took on fellow rookie Jalen Suggs, who many believe should have lined up Toronto over Barnes, and shot a ridiculous 64.3 percent of the field en route to 21 points, nine rebounds and two steals.

Barnes’ shooting was so good that his 55.1 percent of the field is in the rankings fourth throughout the competition (among players who make at least 14 field goals per game), right behind Kevin Durant. That’s absurd for a rookie. What’s even more impressive is that the shots he takes aren’t easy at all. He hits shots through the traffic around the rim, making his season start that much more impressive.

On defense, Barnes’ hands are always active and his 19 total deflections to start the season are in the top 20 in the league. Even at his size, he has shown flashes of a versatile defender capable of guarding multiple positions.

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Mobley has proven to be centuries ahead of where most rookies are on the defensive side of the ball. With just six games in the season, he already leads the league by a wide margin in shots contested on defense (152) and his 44.7 defended field goal percentage ranks 10th in the league (at least 100 shots defended). That’s ahead of superstars like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis, so yeah, he’s been incredibly defensive so far.

Against the Clippers last week, Mobley was everywhere, making shots and showing off his versatility in guarding the rim and in the paint. Like this one against Reggie Jackson:

Jackson is usually great at reaching the edge, but the fact that he couldn’t get past Mobley with this possession and instead settled for a long 2-pointer shows that the rookie is a tough draw in defence. In his next game against the Lakers, where he finished with 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals, Mobley gave Davis a hard time, who paid him high praise after the game.

Davis compared Mobley to himself when he first entered the NBA. “He’s probably about as big as I would get into the league,” Davis said. “Pretty skinny. Elite shot blocker. Lob threat. Kind of the same things I had when I got into the league. But probably shot a little better than me.” That’s a big compliment from Davis, and it’s a glimpse of what Mobley could be in a few years.

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It’s still early days, but Franz Wagner is arguably the best player drafted by the Magic this year, not Jalen Suggs. Wagner is just messing with Orlando right now. He’s beating threes at an absurd pace, and while he won’t blow past elite defenders, he’s shown he’s capable of getting to the brink. Just look at this possession against the Pistons:

Not only was the big man from Detroit, Kelly Olynyk, late to rotate to Wagner, but once there, the rookie was assertive in his first step and Olynyk caught his tail for the easy ride to the rim. Oh, and then there was this eyebrow-raising dunk he had about two Timberwolves defenders that was as surprising as it was exciting:

Wagner scored 28 points in his career against Minnesota on Monday night, and his confidence grows with every game that goes by. If he’s this good to start the season, I can’t wait to see what he looks like with a few months under his belt.

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Duarte was an incredibly balanced scorer for the Pacers to start the season, and despite the team’s 1-6 start, he was one of the bright spots in Indiana. Since the Pacers have been understaffed, he’s taken on a major role in Indiana, and he’s making the most of the opportunity. He’s been shooting 42.3 percent from three-point territory on more than six tries per game this season, an absurdly efficient figure, especially for a rookie.

He has also shown some defensive chops on the other side of the floor. He’s not a defensive stopper by any means, but he’s shown flashes of being disruptive. Duarte puts so much energy on offense that it’s more than enough to be an average defender.

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Giddey had arguably one of the best rookie performances of the season last week with his 18-point, 10-rebound outing in a comeback win over the Lakers. The Thunder was 26 points behind, but Giddey helped lead Oklahoma City back for an astonishing win. He did it with his scoring and playmaking, and some of the passes he made were ridiculous.

Just take a look at this high-precision bounce pass that moves straight into the pocket for Kenrich Williams to get the easy dunk:

Or this pass he waved to Derrick Favors with two defenders:

There was concern about how the Thunder would build around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but Giddey already proves to be a more than capable backcourt.

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Suggs’ efficiency was an issue to start the season as he only shoots 30.8 percent from the field and 23.9 percent from the 3-point area. While still trying to find his rhythm on the attacking side of the ball, he is incredibly active on defense. He gets out and blocks shots in the transition and is disruptive in forcing turnovers and gets away with steals.

Suggs’ attack will eventually increase, but in the meantime it’s good to know that he can still be involved on the other side of the floor, even if his shots don’t come at the rate he’d like. He had a 21-point outing against the Raptors last week, which was by far his best offensive game yet, so hopefully that gets him going.

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Here’s a stat that no one expected to see just two weeks into the season: Sengun’s 2.5 steals per game ranks sixth in the league. Even crazier, everyone above him plays more than 27 minutes a night, while he sits on the floor for 19 minutes a game. That’s what you call incredibly good use of your time on the floor with the minutes you get.

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Let’s take a moment to realize how much Mitchell annoyed Luka Doncic with this possession, because that’s a very hard thing to do.

Mitchell expected Doncic to don his patented step-back jumper, but before the two-time All-NBA guard could even get on the air, Mitchell’s hand reached for the ball. While it didn’t lead to a bargain, it disrupted what could have been an elite guard-made jumper. It also shows how intelligent Mitchell is on the defensive.

Everyone in the league knows Doncic loves that move and that shot, and yet this is one of the rare occasions when a defender manages to nip it in the bud before Doncic can even fire a shot. That’s incredibly impressive.

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Other than a 30-point outing in his first week, Green struggled on offense. He was incredibly inefficient from the field, shooting 22.5 percent from the field and 9.5 percent from the depth last week on seven tries per game. But he stayed involved on both sides of the ball, getting away with steals and blocking shots to affect the game in some way, while still struggling to get shots at an efficient pace.

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With Zion Williamson out, second round pick Jones was vaulted into the starting lineup, and he made an impact in the big shot, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Against the Knicks, he made things difficult for All-Star Julius Randle, forcing him to hit heavy shots or miss scoring opportunities. When Williamson returns, Jones is sure to remain a fixture in the rotation just for his defense.

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