As the playoff races in both conferences begin to heat up, rookies may be getting less attention as we start shifting our focus to the postseason. For guys like Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes, whose teams are firmly in the playoff hunt, we'll get to see how they fare in their first playoff test. But for majority of the rookie class, this part of the season can be used to hone in on specific skills to prepare for next season as teams begin to visualize the roster for the future.
Let's move on to this week's rankings. Remember these will reflect a rookie's performance on a week-to-week basis only, and not the collective season. These are not Rookie of the Year standings. With that straightened out, here is a look at the top-performing rookies around the league.
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We're starting to really see the extent of how Cunningham can bend games to his will and power the Detroit Pistons to wins as the season carries on. Detroit's latest victory -- a 113-110 overtime win over the Atlanta Hawks -- highlighted Cunningham's ability to completely control every aspect of the game.
After missing his first four shots of the night, Cunningham's shots began to fall, which opened up other aspects of the game for him. He was finishing tough shots at the rim with multiple defenders on him, whipping passes back out to the perimeter after drawing the defense into his drive toward the hoop and staying connected on defense.
The No. 1 overall pick wasn't going to let the Pistons lose this game, and as the lead seesawed back and forth, Cunningham just kept knocking down big shots. He racked up 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and as the Hawks tried to trap him with more defensive pressure, Cunningham remained collected and delivered well-placed passes for easy buckets. Cunningham's ability to take over a game, either with his scoring or passing, has become a constant for the Pistons lately, and it's a positive sign for where his development and Detroit's future are headed.
It wasn't a terribly great week in terms of wins for the Raptors, going just 1-4 with losses to the Pistons and Magic. But that's to no fault of Barnes, who started the week securing the game-winning block against the Brooklyn Nets, and ended it by putting up a double-double for the third time in four games. Let's start with his performance against Brooklyn, which ultimately was the reason the Raptors won that game.
Barnes' versatility as a defender continues to astound me, as he can seamlessly go from guarding Goran Dragic, Patty Mills and Seth Curry out on the perimeter, to holding his own in the low post against the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge. That versatility also comes into play on offense and often works in his favor in terms of matchups. Against the Nets, he had smaller guards on him because of the size Toronto possesses when it runs lineups with Pascal Siakam and Khem Birch. When Barnes sees someone like the 6-foot-4 Bruce Brown on him, he takes full advantage by getting downhill.
What's been most impressive about Barnes' development over the season is his ability to adapt to whatever role the Raptors ask of him. When injuries hampered Toronto at the start of the year, Barnes was a sufficient No. 2 option alongside Fred VanVleet, capable of running the offense, wreaking havoc in transition and defending ridiculously well. As players got healthy, Barnes scaled back his offensive game a bit, but remained essential in the starting lineup with his low-post scoring and defense. As injuries have crept up again, Barnes has gone back to that point-forward mentality, but his play has been elevated with the experience and knowledge he's gained over the season.
Green hasn't been getting that much fanfare this season after being selected No. 2 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. That's in large part due to the fact that he's already been labeled a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer, which is unfair for one of the youngest guys in the league at 19 years old. Yes, Green struggled mightily with his shooting efficiency at the start of the season, but he's really started to turn a corner as of late. Just this week alone, in four games, Green shot over 50 percent from the field while knocking in over 34 percent of his 3s.
In an impressive win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Green had a number of plays that highlighted his elite playmaking ability, like this breakdown of Grizzlies' Brandon Clarke that had him dancing around guessing where Green was going to move next:
Green's at his best when he can use his handle to get by defenders and finish at the rim, in part because his shooting from mid-range and beyond the arc just aren't good enough right now. Green is shooting 59 percent around the rim this season, which ranks in the 50th percentile in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. That's far higher than the 25th percentile and 13th percentile he ranks in his shots from 3-point territory and midrange, respectively. It's a little reminiscent of Ja Morant's rookie year, where he struggled from 3-point range to the point where defenders would dare him to shoot that shot. Now he's worked on his long-range shooting to the point where opponents have to respect him from beyond the line. That will be something for Green to focus on in the offseason to become a more efficient scorer, because once he's knocking down those shots at a higher clip, he'll be even more dangerous on offense.
I don't think Wagner gets enough attention when it comes to the Rookie of the Year race, which is insane given how consistent he's been all season. Wagner also has so many tools in his offensive arsenal that I don't think many people were expecting to see in his rookie year, which makes the lack of attention he's getting even more bizarre. Regularly, Wagner is taking defenders one-on-one to the hoop, like he did against fellow rookie Barnes this past week:
He was considered a 3-and-D guy coming into the league, but he's already proven he's far more capable of an expanded role on offense. He's improved as a passer, getting his assist numbers up as the season progresses. He's also excellent at moving without the ball as he ranks in the 95th percentile this season as a cutter. He can knock down 3s, finish through contact at the rim and hit the in-between shots. I'm not saying Wagner should win Rookie of the Year, but he certainly is in the top 3-4 range based on his consistency all season long.
While Wagner might be a Rookie of the Year contender, Suggs has had a roller coaster of a season, one that saw him miss 20 games with a fractured thumb in December. He's struggled with some inefficient shooting splits, but he's also had some promising moments, too. Suggs is showing all the tools of a solid playmaker as he can get to the rim with relative ease, score off the dribble and make things easier for his teammates with his passes. In recent weeks his efficiency has improved, and the next step in his development will be trying to sustain that over a longer period of time and cutting down on the turnovers.
Honorable mentions: Brandon Williams, Portland Trail Blazers (20.7 points, 4.3 rebounds); Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers (12.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists); Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls (11.3 points, 5.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds)