USATSI_17052103

Oct 29, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes (4) scores a basket during the second quarter against the Orlando Magic at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NBA Draft class is off to a hot start.

Just a week into their NBA careers, some rookies have flashed the talent that made them first-round picks. The league's return to a bit of normalcy has allowed the rookies to benefit from summer league, organized workouts with teammates, training camp and preseason games.

While most expected No. 1 draft pick Cade Cunningham to start out on top, he just joined the party after nursing an ankle injury. On Saturday, he scored just two points in his debut with the Detroit Pistons.

Here are the five rookies who've made early splashes and emerged as the top candidates for Rookie of the Year.

1. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

Stats: 18.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.0 apg

Those who weren’t a fan of the Raptors taking Barnes with the No. 4 overall pick are now eating their words. The 6-foot-9 forward’s size and ball-handling ability give the Raptors different points of attack offensively. With the ball in his hands, he's able to attack defenders with his back to the basket and also while driving downhill. He viciously goes after rebounds, giving his team multiple opportunities to score -- in transition and on second-shot opportunities.

In his second NBA game against the Boston Celtics, Barnes had six offensive boards and a career-high 13 total rebounds.

2. Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers

Stats: 17.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.4 apg

The 24-year-old rookie scored 27 points in his NBA debut against the Charlotte Hornets, hitting 6-of-9 from beyond the arc. Due to injuries plaguing the start of the Pacers’ season, Duarte has come out of the gate blazing. In the first four games of the season, he showed off his ability to take advantage of mismatches and get to the rim. His aggressiveness warrants the best defenders to guard him, but even through the pressure, he still managed to average about 20 points a night throughout his first four games.

3. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets

Stats: 13 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg

After a slow start to his rookie season, Green finally stepped into his own in the Rockets' third game of the season against the Celtics when he scored 30 points and tied the record for most 3s made in a game by a teenager (8). He also made history as the first teenager with a 30-point game in franchise history and set a Rockets record for 3-pointers in a game by a rookie.

Green’s athleticism is undeniable, making him one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year. If he can be a consistent weapon for the Rockets, he’ll remain in that conversation by the end of the season.

4. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

Stats: 13.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.9 apg

Averaging 33 minutes in four starts, Wagner is playing with great poise and comfortability. He has scored in double-digits in each game by cutting and moving well without the ball.

The two-way forward plays on the perimeter and in the paint, providing great defense, too, averaging at least one steal a game.

5. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

Stats: 13.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.6 apg

The No. 3 overall pick of the 2021 Draft is off to a dominating and exciting start for the Cavaliers. The 7-foot center possesses traditional big-man skills but can also handle the ball like a guard. He is raw but has plenty of opportunities to improve.

The sky is the limit for Mobley. As he gains muscle, he’ll be even more dangerous inside the paint, and as he works on his shooting range, Cleveland’s offense will become more dangerous.

Featured Podcast

See all