Kia Rookie Ladder: Evan Mobley climbs to 1st place as the top 2 picks compete against each other



Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green first met as professionals on Wednesday night.

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The otherwise petty competition between the Detroit Pistons and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night seemed to have at least one sideline to draw in NBA fans: the first official showdown of the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2001 Draft.

“Seems to” is the operative phrase, however, as Cade Cunningham of the Pistons and Jalen Green of the Rockets had too much work on their plates to devote too much time to what did each other early in their careers.

The fact that no one cracked the top 5 Kia rookie ladder here at three weeks later simply confirms the slow, zigzag starts they both had.

The Pistons arrived at the Toyota Center as the bottom feeder of the Eastern Conference, with a 1-8 mark and a losing streak of four games on the road. The Rockets were both worse and better – only marginally – finishing 14th of 15 in the west at 1-9 thanks only to the 1-10 battle of New Orleans.

The 20-year-old Cunningham had previously only played four games but was sidelined due to injury during the preseason and five of the first six games in Detroit. 19-year-old Green was involved in Houston defeats, forcing shots and plays, and was inefficient overall (13.3 shots per game for his 13.6 points) in 10 games.

Disappointing? Sure, that’s fair. The two were considered preseason favorites to fight for Rookie of the Year simply because of their draft positions. But also busts, as some have already criticized on social media? Barely.

The overwhelming stars of the two top picks have the ladder committee marveling at the earliest appearances of other young phenomena. How did some of the NBA’s best players of all time – the top 75 players – get through their first 10 games?

Unsurprisingly, statistically, a sizable group of legends walk on the hardwood. In their first 10 league games they were almost as good or – especially in the case of Wilt Chamberlain – even better in some categories as they were later. Here are a dozen examples (stats via

• Wilt Chamberlain: 37.1 ppg, 31.2 rpg, 1.5 apg.
• Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 27.8 ppg, 15.7 rpg, 3.6 apg.
• Michael Jordan: 27.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.5 apg.
• Oscar Robertson: 25.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 9.2 apg.
• Elgin Baylor: 24.1 ppg, 17.4 rpg (Aids not available)
• Shaquille O’Neal: 23.8 ppg, 15.8 rpg, 1.5 apg.
• Allen Iverson: 22.4 pages per second, 5.4 pages per second, 5.8 pages per second.
• Isiah Thomas: 21.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 7.0 apg.
• Kevin Durant: 20.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.8 apg.
• Hakeem Olajuwon: 19.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.6 apg.
• Magical Johnson: 18.9 pages per second, 6.6 pages per minute, 6.9 pages per second.
• Larry Vogel: 18.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 4.4 apg.

Nine of these 12 won Rookie of Year, with only Johnson, Thomas and Olajuwon missing. But another group of greats of all time came along and offered more humble glimpses of what they would become:

• Lebron James: 16.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 6.4 apg.
• Tim Duncan: 16.0 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 2.1 apg.
• Charles Barkley: 13.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.1 apg.
• Jerry West: 12.9 ppg (Rebounds, assists not available)
• Karl Malone: 9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2.0 apg.

Curious about some names that haven’t come out yet? That’s because their production was poor at best for the first 10 games of their NBA career. Oh, according to the “eye test,” they were fine – that’s what pulled them up in the first place. Some had limited roles dictated by cautious coaches. Whatever the reason, those first 10 games were slow for the following reasons:

• Steph Curry: 8.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.7 apg.
• Dirk Nowitzki: 7.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.1 apg.
• Kevin Garnett: 6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.9 apg.
• James Harden: 5.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.1 apg.
• Kobe Bryant: 4.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.4 apg.

Anyone who thinks any of these five broke this early in their first season would talk about it wisely now.

And just to bring matters up to date, here are the first 10 game examples of the last five No. 1 picks (which had a few false starts and other hiccups):

• Anthony Edwards: 13.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.0 apg.
• Zion Williamson: 22.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.2 apg.
• Deandre Ayton: 15.9 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 3.4 apg.
• Markelle Fultz: 6.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.3 apg.
• Ben Simmons: 17.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 8.0 apg.

So enjoy how much Cunningham vs. Green plays as a head-to-head duel. (Editor’s note: Cunningham hit a career high of 20 points – 4 for 8 out of 3 – while Green lost 23 points in the defeat.) But don’t read too much into it for long-term effects. In the meantime, appreciate the work of some of the best players on the ladder this week.’s Steve Aschburner arrives at GameTime to discuss its latest installment of the Kia Rookie Ladder.

This week’s top 5 on the 2020-21 Kia Rookie Ladder:

(All statistics by Monday, November 8th)

1. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

Seasonal statistics: 14.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.5 apg
Since the last ladder: 18.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.3 apg
Rung of the last ladder: 2

Evan Mobley dominated the Knicks with 26 points.

Last week’s # 1 and # 2 ladder clashed on Friday in Toronto. You have now switched places, but this is not an indictment against Barnes. Mobley was just too good and rose to the third rookie in the rankings in three weeks. The young Big of the Cavaliers was in the spotlight at Madison Square Garden, scoring 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists in Cleveland’s fourth win in a row. He also leads the league – not just among the newbies – with 16.1 contested shots per game. A note on Mobley’s rapid adoption by Cavs and Cleveland fans, sports media site Athletic created “Mobley Mondays” to capture the 7-foot player’s rookie season in highlights, stats, outsiders’ assessments and anecdotes to pursue.

2. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

Seasonal statistics: 16.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.4 apg
Since the last ladder: 11.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.0 apg
Rungs of the last ladder: 1

A sprained thumb limited Barnes to just two games as of this week’s statistics close. He failed in double digits against Brooklyn on Sunday and ended at eight. And along with the other raptors, he had to adjust to the return of his Frontcourt colleague Pascal Siakam from shoulder surgery. The key, however, is that coach Nick Nurse didn’t put the rookie on the bench. Barnes didn’t move and continued to run alongside similarly sized Siakam and OG Anunoby. After the Nets game, opponent Blake Griffin said of Barnes: “Physically he’s NBA ready. Optimistic. Can score in a number of ways. I think it’s great that he puts hard screens, rolls, rebounds. … It will be good for a long time. “

3. Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers

Seasonal statistics: 16.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.4 apg
Since the last ladder: 11.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.3 apg
Rungs of the last ladder: 3

Like Barnes, Duarte navigates the changing staff around him. Last week it was the return of Caris LeVert, who was out with a back problem. In a month or two, the Pacers expect striker TJ Warren to come back from his foot injury. Both of these affect Duarte’s role, right down to the almost green light he had to shoot and score to reinforce Indiana’s attack. Remember, he’s taken 28 shots in his last three games and 124 in his first eight. This is one of the reasons for Duarte’s remarkable early stats, but his maturity and smoothness in getting the action taken should still help him and his team do good service.

4. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

Seasonal statistics: 13.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.1 apg
Since the last ladder: 8.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.7 apg
Rungs of the last ladder: 4

Wagner’s score fell and the gap between him and Giddey in 5th place narrowed almost to a coin toss. In three games, Orlando’s 6-foot-9 forward looked more like the versatile glue type it was meant to be than a top-scoring option. It lasted an average of 30.9 minutes and shot 35.5% last week, including 2-of-13 out of 3.

5. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder

Seasonal statistics: 10.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 5.9 apg
Since the last ladder: 6.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 6.0 apg
Rung of the last ladder: 5

Giddey’s score was low and his shooting is still lagging – he was 5 out of 19 and 1 out of 8 in Thunder’s two games. But the 6-foot-8 shooting guard continued to show their vision and creativity, helping OKC beat the Lakers and Spurs in those two games. His 5.9 assists lead all newbies by a large margin and his rebounding is positive, but so is his sales (4.0 for the week).

The next 5:

6. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets

Seasonal statistics: 13.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.0 apg
Since the last ladder: 14.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.0 apg
Rung of the last ladder: 7

Inconspicuously bad team / high pick results: 0-4 weeks, minus 8.3.

7. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons

Seasonal statistics: 10.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.8 agp
Since the last ladder: 13.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.0 apg
Rungs of the last ladder: N / A

Double-double in third game = Pistons’ fastest since Grant Hill in 1994.

8. Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets

Seasonal statistics: 9.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.4 apg
Since the last ladder: 9.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.3 apg
Rung of the last ladder: 8

Per 36: 17.0 points, 8.2 boards, 4.5 assists vs. greens 15.2, 3.5, 3.4.

9. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings

Seasonal statistics: 9.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.6 apg
Since the last ladder: 12.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.4 apg
Rung of the last ladder: 9

Average of 11.2 FGA in five games after taking 9+ only once in the first six.

10. Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic

Seasonal statistics: 12.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.5 apg
Since the last ladder: 9.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.3 apg
Rung of the last ladder: 6

Cole Anthony’s rise could slow Suggs’ development down.

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Steve Aschburner has been writing about the NBA since 1980. You can email him here, find his archive here, and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs, or Turner Broadcasting.



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