Is it too early to say that the 2021 Draft class might be up there with the 1996 and 2003 classes in terms of quality? Sure. But it's not too early to see that there are more than a few potential All-Stars, maybe even superstars, as this year's rookies near the halfway point of the season.
There’s already plenty of depth with just how many late first-round and second-round picks have been productive for their teams like Chicago's Ayo Dosunmu, Oklahoma City's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and New Orleans’ Herbert Jones. No matter where you look in this draft class, there are standouts everywhere.
5. Josh Giddey
The Aussie has proven to be a steal for the Thunder. Picked sixth overall, Giddey faced plenty of skepticism as to how well his off-kilter game would translate into the NBA.
Not only has Giddey successfully found his groove in the league, but he has also exceeded expectations. He’s a classic point guard who reads the floor and sets up his teammates first. He also contributes all over the stats sheet, averaging 11.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 1.1 steals. If he finishes the season with those numbers, Giddey joins a star-studded group of Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Ben Simmons as the only rookies to do so.
?? 17 PTS, 13 REB, 14 AST, 4 STL ??@joshgiddey becomes the the youngest player in NBA history to put up a triple-double! #NBA75 pic.twitter.com/cYZewoJ6ZA— NBA (@NBA) January 3, 2022
The big question for Giddey is scoring. Point guards who can’t create shots for themselves get phased out of the league as fast as wing guys who can’t shoot. Currently, Giddey is shooting 40.1 percent from the field and 68.1 percent from the free throw line. Those numbers have been trending up recently, but it’s clear Giddey still has to develop his bag to be a true lead ball-handler.
4. Scottie Barnes
Never doubt Masai Ujiri’s drafting choices again.
From one of the shocks of NBA Draft night to one of the best rookies in the league, Barnes has exceeded even Toronto’s expectations. Like a true Raptor, even the analytics love him (he has some of the best defensive on/off numbers in the league).
Barnes is a terror in transition and an advanced passer. He’s averaging 14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists – every bit of those numbers he gets with maximum effort. He shines the most when Toronto tests his limits defensively as he’s had to guard stars in all five positions this season.
4 being GREAT pic.twitter.com/dJs0AG4cjz— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 5, 2022
Barnes has already shown a more well-rounded offensive repertoire than most scouts had him displaying this early in his career. He’s the only player to actually look like the next Draymond Green after years of searching.
3. Cade Cunningham
Detroit Pistons games have been hard to watch this season so you’re forgiven if you haven’t paid a lot of attention to the first overall pick.
Cade Cunningham is just about the only good thing the Pistons have going for them. He offers a light at the end of the tunnel because no matter what happens this season, at least they have a franchise.
🏁 MOTORCADE 🏁@CadeCunningham_ puts up a career-high 29 PTS to lead the @DetroitPistons to the win! pic.twitter.com/h3DVeUbfXI— NBA (@NBA) January 11, 2022
The most impressive part of Cade’s game has been his restraint. Unlike most rookies, Cunningham rarely makes a bad decision – a special trait for a point guard. He’s averaging 15.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.4 assists (his assists number would be higher if he had more shooters around him).
With Jerami Grant nursing an injury, Cunningham has had to deal with a lot more responsibility on offense. The pressure has gotten to him a couple of times but more often than he comes out looking like a future All-Star.
2. Franz Wagner
Speaking of teams heading for the draft lottery again, the Orlando Magic have been incredibly unlucky this season. They did, however, strike gold with Franz Wagner.
The eighth overall pick has been the lone bright spot on a down year for the Magic. Wagner has responded well to carrying more offensively responsibility with the Magic suffering injuries up-and-down the roster. Wagner has shone in whatever role Orlando has put him in. He recently scored 38 points, the most by a rookie this season, and is averaging 15.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. He’s scored in double digits in 35 of 45 games with 10 20-point outings.
Franz Wagner EXPLODES for a new career-high ??— NBA Fantasy (@NBAFantasy) December 29, 2021
The highest-scoring game by a rookie this season 📈 pic.twitter.com/F8K8ivFXVg
Wagner was expected to be a great shooter and a decent role player coming out of college. Now, Wagner has flashed legitimate star potential. This Magic team may not look great now but watch out when they get healthy.
1. Evan Mobley
The Cleveland Cavaliers deserve an All-Star this season, and not just because they’re hosting. There’s a case for Jarrett Allen or Darius Garland. But how fun would it be if Evan Mobley made the cut?
Rook droppin' dimes too!— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) January 13, 2022
📺 #CavsJazz on @BallySportsCLE pic.twitter.com/2dc0aYKiSg
Mobley shows us something new every game. He’s been a beast defensively and has been comfortable wherever the Cavs put him on offense. Mobley’s averages are rising, — 14.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 blocks. More than his numbers, it says a lot about Mobley that the Cavaliers are still in contention despite their injury luck and with him being their only big offseason addition.
Few bigs come in and adjust to the NBA as quickly as Mobley but even fewer have tangibly helped their teams win. The best part about Mobley is there truly is no limit to what he could end up becoming.