Lamelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Cole Anthony, Immanuel Quickley, and Tyrese Maxey. What’s the commonality between these players? Easy, they’re just a handful of the top talents from last year’s rookie class. In terms of having immediate impacts on their respective team, it’s fair to say the 2020 draft may be one of the best in doing so in recent memory. So what about this year's draft class? Will we see a similar trend? What names should we keep an eye out for? Who are the contenders for rookie of the year? Well, if you’re looking for the answers to these questions along with some analysis and hot take predictions that’ll most likely be wrong, you have come to the right place my friend. Let’s break down my top 10 rookies for the upcoming 2021-22 NBA season!
10. Sharife Cooper (Atlanta Hawks, Pick: 48)
Alright, so you might be saying to yourself, who in the world is Sharife Cooper and how did he end up on this list?
So, hold on, before you exit this page, let me explain myself. And to be honest, I don’t blame you for thinking
that. Personally, I had zero clue who Cooper was coming out of college either and I would consider myself to be an avid NCAA basketball fan. Turns out, the 6’1 guard born in Newark, NJ was the leading scorer for the Auburn Tigers last season averaging 20.2 points per game and was awarded All-SEC Freshman team in his one-and-done year at school. Cooper also led the way on the Hawks’ Summer League team averaging 14.8 points per game and showing his ability to create opportunities for his teammates with 7.2 assists per game. Frankly, that’s all you need to know about the kid. He’s an efficient scorer that can move the ball around similar to Trae Young’s game.. Of course, I’m not saying he has Young’s skillset, but I can see Cooper as a viable backup point guard for the Hawks’ quick-pace, offensive minded game plan and being a sneaky good rookie that could make some noise this year.
9. Luka Garza (Detroit Pistons, Pick: 52)
How does the Naismith Player of the Year fall to the 52nd pick in the NBA Draft? Seriously, if you know the answer please contact me. How do players like Filip Petrusev and Rokas Jokubaitis, with all due respect
to those guys, get drafted over one of the most dominant big men in college basketball for the past few seasons. Garza averaged over 23 points and 8 rebounds per game for the past 2 years at Iowa against powerful Big 10 schools for the most part. Garza later made heads turn in his Summer League action where he averaged 15 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, earning him All-Summer League Second Team honors. The Pistons traded away starting center Mason Plumlee this offseason to the Charlotte Hornets, which should open up additional opportunities for Garza to earn minutes this season in a depleted Pistons’ frontcourt (besides Jerami Grant). I also think it’s very fair to assume that the Pistons will be down in the majority of games, allowing more garbage time chances for Garza to prove his talent. So for those of you keeping track, mark me down with 2 hot takes for Cooper and Garza to be top 10 rookies when it’s all said and done at the end of the season.
8. Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers, Pick: 3)
Alright, another hot take: I believe Mobley will not live up to the expectations that surround a 3rd overall pick. I’m getting extreme role player vibes from Mobley as if he were a Thaddeus Young or Trey Lyles type player. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great player at USC, but I don’t see him fitting well on the Cavs at all considering the team’s recent roster moves. The Cavs traded for PF Lauri Markkanen, signed their young phenom center Jarrett Allen long-term, and made it clear that NBA veteran Kevin Love wants to continue to play in Cleveland. So I just can’t get with the idea of Mobley having much of an impact on the Cavs this year. I’m sure he’ll develop into a fine NBA player, but I don’t see him doing much his rookie year. With that said, I still have to put him on the top 10 list out of respect, but probably not as close to #1 as many people would think.
7. Moses Moody (Golden State Warriors, Pick: 14)
#7 on my list is going to feel like your favorite NFL team drafting an offensive lineman in the first round. Nothing
exciting, but it needs to be done. Moses Moody showed that he is a well rounded basketball player this past season at Arkansas, earning him All-SEC First Team honors. His standout ability is his lockdown defense and that will fit extremely well in the Warriors’system. Moody will also help spread the floor as a 3&D player, offering a nice complement to the playing styles of PG Steph Curry and SG Klay Thompson. I could see Moody’s fit on the Warriors’ be quite similar to the role Mikal Bridges has on the Phoenix Suns. Just like the Warriors, the Suns are led by All-Star guards, Chris Paul and Devin Booker, and Moody could be just like Bridges as that spot up shooter and defensive machine that all great teams have. It may be hard for Moody to be a stand out like other guys on this list who are for the most part on bottom-tier teams, but I can see Moody fitting in as that “glue guy” role for Golden State this year.
6. Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder, Pick: 6)
Let’s make one thing clear… I’m confident none of us watched or knew about this kid from Australia until weeks before the draft. It also helps that Giddey will be playing on the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team with little to no expectations this season allowing him to get an abundance of playing time because quite frankly, besides Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, this roster is desperate for consistent talent. I may be getting ahead of myself, but the last time we had a young, tall, guard born outside of the United States get picked early in the draft was Luka Doncic. Now, I’m not saying Giddey will ever be as good as Doncic, but I’m not, not saying he will ever be as good as Doncic. So, if Giddey does become a future All-NBA superstar, I just want to make sure I have that written in the fine print and get credit for the take. Alright, so let’s get down to my serious contenders for rookie of the year…
5. Davion Mitchell (Sacramento Kings, Pick: 9)
Okay if your name is D. Mitchell, and your jersey number is 45, and you’re a guard, and you play the sport of basketball, you are most likely going to be good. Of course, those are just coincidental comparisons to Jazz star Donovan Mitchell, but in reality I love what I see out of this player. If you paid any attention to college basketball, you know Mitchell was one of the leaders, if not the leader of Baylor’s run to being National Champions. The 6’0 guard was also named Co-MVP of the NBA Summer League after leading his team to the championship, averaging about 11 points and 5 assists with great shooting from the field. However, it’s the defensive side of the ball where Mitchell’s game is taken to a whole new level, which is important in a guard-led NBA. The only reason why Mitchell is not higher on my list is because the Kings’ best players are all guards. De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Tyrese Haliburton are all key contributors to the Kings, which will likely limit Mitchell’s chances of getting extensive minutes.
4. Jalen Suggs (Orlando Magic, Pick 5)
Getting drafted to Orlando makes me already feel bad for Suggs. The Magic have struggled mightily in evaluating and developing talent. Let’s take a look at the Magic’s draft picks over the past decade:
2012: Andrew Nicholson (Pick 19). Didn’t pan out to be a great player and out of the league.
2013: Victor Oladipo (Pick 2). Solid player, but didn’t strive until he was traded out of Orlando.
2014: Aaron Gordon (Pick 4). Okay, fine, this pick isn’t awful.
2015: Mario Hezonja (Pick 5). Do I really need to explain this one?
2016: Domantas Sabonis (Pick 11). Again, a great player once he was traded out of Orlando.
2017: Jonathan Isaac (Pick 6), Promising talent. Can’t really hate on this one too much.
2018: Mo Bamba (Pick 5). Great song, but underperforming big time.
2019: Chuma Okeke (Pick 16). Yikes.
2020: Cole Anthony (Pick 15). Finally, a good rookie. It only took a decade.
I mean, I haven’t seen that many swings and misses since the last time I watched a Baltimore Orioles game. With all of that said though, the Magic are just such a bad team this year that I think Suggs will have so much
playing time and be able to stuff the stat sheet to increase his odds for ROY. Suggs was a great playmaker and floor general at Gonzaga and I see him and Cole Anthony leading the way for the Magic offense. And when I say lead the way, I literally mean they will have to touch the ball at least twice on every offensive possession because the Magic look that bad this year. So, because of sheer volume, I put Suggs at #4.
3. Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors, Pick: 4)
Take everything about the Magic’s ability to draft and develop players, do a complete 180, and then you have the Toronto Raptors. There’s 3 things certain in life: death, taxes, and the Toronto Raptors successfully developing young players. Don’t believe me? Let’s go through some names: Fred VanVleet (undrafted), Pascal Siakam (27th pick), O.G. Anunoby (23rd pick), Chris Boucher (undrafted), Norman Powell (46th pick). What the Raptors do better than anyone else in the NBA is find talent and develop them into contributing players. That’s why I am so high on Scottie Barnes. It shocked a lot of fans that the Raptors passed on Jalen Suggs to take Barnes, but I can’t hate the move because they have proven time and time again they know what they’re doing in the draft. Okay, so what is so special about Barnes? It’s not every day you see a 6’9, 225 pound small forward with the skillset of a point guard. For reference, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf is 6’4 and 229 pounds. So add 5 inches to D.K. and let him dribble down the court on you. I, for one, would not sign up to guard that on a nightly basis. Additionally, Barnes was named ACC Freshman of the Year, ACC Sixth Man of the Year, and plays great defense while being able to score if needed. I believe Barnes will be a perfect fit on the Raptors, especially with the departure of Kyle Lowry this offseason, and be a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year.
2. Cade Cunningham (Detroit Pistons, Pick: 1)
I can’t let myself be a chalk guy and make the first overall pick in the draft be #1 on my power rankings. For that reasons, I have to make the all around elite scorer out of Oklahoma State #2 on my list. Cunningham said he wanted to play for the Pistons which, at least in my opinion, is wild and I don’t know why anyone would
want to happily do that. Now, I have never been to Detroit. I’m sure the city and its people are great, but the actual Pistons franchise has frankly been an unsuccessful mess since the mid 2000s. But if he wants to play there, then it seems to be a perfect match, as the Pistons are ready to welcome Cunningham with open arms, as he is their best acquisition since Chauncey Billups in 2002. Cade Cunningham is an offensive Swiss army knife to say the least. He can score from every spot on the floor, which he showcased during the Summer League, averaging 18.7 points per game. The only thing that can hold him back is his injury history, which is why I have him ranked #2. If he can stay healthy, then he could very well end up as the best player in the draft class. Lastly, Cade will very likely get this year’s Lamelo treatment on House of Highlights… I can almost guarantee it.
1. Jalen Green (Houston Rockets, Pick: 2)
Honestly, I see the Rookie of the Year race being a season long toss up between Green and Cunningham. Both guys are gifted scorers and can very well be ROY. If you don’t recognize the name Jalen Green from the NCAA Tournament, well, you shouldn’t, because he wasn’t there. In fact, Green opted out of going to college and went straight to the NBA’s G-League Ignite team. Since Green has been playing for ayear against G-League players, who I believe are more developed than college students you would see inyour Monday, 10am communications class, I give Green the slight edge over Cunningham. I just think Green’s transition to playing up against NBA level talent night in and night out will be smoother than Cade’s. In addition, the 6’5 guard was electric in the Summer League, and I see him playing a huge roleon the Rockets this season. Ultimately, the Rockets are in need of a top scoring option, as PG John Wall has requested a trade out of Houston and PF Christian Wood and SG Kevin Porter Jr. are not consistent enough scorers to fill the role as option one on offense. With all that said, I am officially declaring Jalen Green as my 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year Award winner.