With one week of the 2021-22 NBA season already in the books, it's now officially time to start up Rookie Rankings again. The 2021 draft class had it all: franchise cornerstones, quality role players and unrefined projects who project to be really special after a few years in the Association. That means this slate of NBA freshmen are sure to be an exciting bunch to watch this season.
We're still waiting on the debut of the No. 1 overall pick in Cade Cunningham, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury, but with him getting healthy it allowed other top picks to steal the spotlight in the first week of action.
Keep in mind that these rankings will reflect a rookie's performance on a week-to-week basis only, not the collective season. These aren't Rookie of the Year standings. With that straightened out, here is a look at the top rookies from the opening week of the 2021-22 season.
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Though the Indiana Pacers lost their season opener, Duarte put up 27 points in his NBA debut, shooting 6 of 9 from deep and grabbing five rebounds in the process. With so many injuries plaguing the Pacers to start the season, Duarte has started in every game and rarely showed timidness in shooting the ball. Against the Heat, he showed off his playmaking ability, attacking mismatches and taking defenders off the dribble for both easy buckets and tough shots. Like this step-back jumper:
Averaging just under 20 points, Duarte has taken 15 or more shot attempts in the first four games of the season so far, which suggests that Indiana is going to give him plenty of touches to develop during games. He's got a ways to go before he's able to get by good defenders, as he sometimes settled for mid-range jumpers against a tough defensive team like Miami, but he certainly is fearless in shooting the ball.
The Raptors received a bunch of puzzled reactions when they decided to take Barnes with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. But in the early going of the season, Toronto looks incredibly smart in "reaching" with that selection. He's a 6-9 forward, but Toronto has allowed him to split ball-handling duties with Fred VanVleet.
He can take a defender off the dribble, his athleticism and size make him a tough player to guard in the paint and he's been an absolute ball hawk on the offensive glass. Barnes absolutely punished the Boston Celtics for their lack of size in the interior, finishing that game with 13 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive glass. But it was this play against the Mavericks that really stood out:
That slight hesitation to fake the dribble handoff to VanVleet was just enough to catch Luka Doncic on his heels and blow past him for the easy dunk. Just awesome. Against the Celtics, he was scoring with ease, and what's even better he was doing it with great efficiency (11 of 17 from the field). If he's going to be one of the primary ball-handlers for the Raptors, though, he does have to improve as a passer, and needs to do a better job of taking care of the ball, as he committed six turnovers in his NBA debut.
After two so-so performances to start his NBA career, Green broke through in his third game against the Celtics, putting up 30 points and tying the record for most 3s made in a game by a teenager (eight). He also became the first teenager with a 30-point game in Rockets history and also set the franchise record for 3-pointers in a game by a rookie.
Green's expected to be one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year this season, and his performance against Boston showed exactly why. He's a dynamic scorer and showcased his ability to get points in a variety of ways against the Celtics. Green's big game was capped off with a monstrous dunk in the fourth quarter in the loss, which showed off his athleticism after lighting up the Celtics all night long.
In the annual GM survey, Mobley was voted to be the best rookie in five years, an honor that no one was surprised by even before he was drafted. The take on Mobley is he's a 7-footer who has all the traditional skills of a center, with the added package of handling the ball like a guard. He's very much still unrefined, which is why he's projected to be really good in the future.
But while he's still growing into his lanky frame, which results in turnovers when he's trying to put the moves on a defender, he's still managed to be a consistent scoring presence for the Cavaliers to start the season. He's doing the majority of his damage underneath the basket, as his 3-ball hasn't begun to fall yet. But it's promising to see that at least for right now he's still able to be a dominant offensive presence down low.
Just look at this possession by Wagner ...
He was heralded as a do-it-all forward entering the league, and he's already showcased his two-way capabilities for the Magic in the early going. The next guy on this list might be considered the "steal of the draft," but Wagner could prove to overtake that title with his 3-point shooting, defense and off-ball movement. Wagner's a 3-and-D wing player that is at an all-time high demand in the league, and Orlando just drafted one who could pay huge dividends for it.
Rookie point guards typically take longer to get things going in the league as they're tasked with orchestrating their team's entire offense while also trying to adapt their game. So typically that means high turnover numbers and inconsistent shooting performances, which is to say that there is no need to worry about Suggs' inefficiency to start the season.
He's getting his points and has shown great flashes of his playmaking abilities. His eight-assist night against the Knicks was a perfect example of that, where he made the easy reads while delivering some tougher passes that resulted in points on the board. Suggs will have plenty of opportunity to play through mistakes and develop over the course of the season, so it's more important to focus on the positives he's shown so far.
Many believed the Thunder overreached to take Giddey with the sixth overall pick, and after his first two games in the league, it certainly wasn't allaying any criticisms about the selection. But then Giddey turned in his best performance so far in the NBA against the Sixers.
The 6-8 Aussie was taking it straight at Philadelphia's defenders, and wasn't afraid to get into the paint where a dominant Joel Embiid was always there waiting. His floater is already in midseason form, and his ability to go to it frequently will surely annoy opposing teams.
No, the Kings didn't need another guard to clog their backcourt rotation, but they took the best player available when they drafted Mitchell, and he's made an impact right out of the gates. Mitchell was lauded for his defense entering the league, and so far he's been tasked with guarding Stephen Curry, Donovan Mitchell, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. Against the Jazz, he had his best defensive performance, being a constant menace on that end of the floor.
This is elite defense from Davion Mitchell in his second NBA game. All six of these plays are from one second quarter stint. Sneak steal from Gobert, bothering Donovan Mitchell/Jordan Clarkson on ball, seamless switching, drew a Whiteside message screen, a constant pest. pic.twitter.com/7Z23f8OdJh— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 23, 2021
The steal he came away with against Donovan Mitchell while tying him up in the middle of his drive to the basket was especially impressive, given how skilled and quick Donovan is when he's going downhill. His defense is his calling card, but in his third game last week he dropped 22 points on the Warriors, showing that he can get it done on both ends of the floor.
Sengun showed hints of what he could be for the Rockets, which is a 6-9 reserve big man who can shoot 3s, grab boards and get points in the paint as well. However, at just 19 years old, Sengun still has plenty of room to grow in terms of his development and overall game. He committed a total of 10 turnovers over three games, which isn't ideal for a big man, but that's mainly due to him trying to be too flashy with his passes. He clearly isn't afraid to put the ball on the ground and try to make a play out of the post, similar to reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, but his awareness needs significant improvement if he's going to try and be a playmaker.
Robinson-Earl is just one of many young players the Thunder will be trotting out onto the court this season, so he'll surely get an opportunity to develop and impress OKC's front office. He's another big man in this draft class who can spread the floor out to the 3-point line, which will open the door for some pick-and-pop plays in the second unit.