Pelican star Zion Williamson cleared for full squad activities but still no return schedule


The NBA Rookie of the Year award won’t be handed out for quite a while, but if the first month of the season is any indication, voters will have plenty of options to choose from.

With teams having played roughly the first quarter of the season, this seems like a good time to watch how some of the top draft picks are doing as they navigate their first campaign at the top of basketball.

Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons

After a terrible start, including missing the first four games with a sprained ankle, Cunningham looked more like a player worthy of being one of the top picks in the draft. In his first three games, Cunningham averaged just 8.7 points on seven of 39 shots (17.9%) while missing 20 of 21 three-pointers. He’s been much more efficient in the last six games, scoring 14.7 per game on 36.3% of the field (33 of 91). It is highly unlikely that someone with Cunningham’s abilities will only shoot the 33.9% he is currently at. He is, after all, a player who shot 40 percent on three points in his lone college season.

His shooting selection will improve as he becomes more familiar with the professional game and learns about the defender’s tendencies. Getting to the free throw line would also help improve his offensive efficiency as he averages only 1.9 free throws per game, despite shooting 88% (22 of 25). There is pressure inherent in being the first player selected and Cunningham will need to carry that weight throughout his career. But because the former Oklahoma State star has a high basketball IQ and can rebound and distribute at a high level, he doesn’t need to rack up points to affect the outcome of a game.

The Pistons are also clearly in rebuild mode now, so wins are secondary, giving the well-rounded Cunningham plenty of minutes and opportunities to learn on the job.

Jalen Green, Houston Rockets

Much like Cunningham, Green has the advantage of playing for a 2-16 Rockets team that have absolutely zero expectations and are in the midst of rebuilding for the foreseeable future. Green ranks third in minutes (555) among rookies and leads all freshmen in field goal attempts (228) and three-point attempts (115), so he’s clearly not short of opportunities or touches. .

Like many newbie goalies, the super athletic Green has faced his fair share of challenges and especially from an efficiency standpoint. He shoots just 38.2 from the field and 27.8 from behind the arc while handing out 2.3 assists per game. While his overall numbers aren’t mind-blowing, Green has shown flashes of what he can and likely will become. Chief among them is a 30-point, 11-for-18 – eight-for-10-out of three-point performance in a loss to the Celtics on October 24.

He also had 24 points on nine of 15 shots with five three-pointers, five rebounds and five assists in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on November 2. It can be argued that Green is where he should be after his first 18 games compared to other rookie goaltenders who have achieved All-Star status.

Zach LaVine, for example, averaged 8.1 points on 42.2% of shots in his first 18 games, while Bradley Beal averaged 11.9 points on 35.9% of the field in the during the same period. Green still has three quarters of the season to improve and there’s no reason to think someone with his skills and athleticism won’t as he gets used to the professional game.

Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers

After the best start to a month of any 2021-2022 rookie, Mobley sprained his right elbow in a loss to the Boston Celtics on November 15 and is expected to miss several weeks. With its momentum stalled, the seven-footer should have no problem picking up where it left off when it returns to the Cleveland roster.

If the Rookie of the Year award came in November, Mobley might have the best chance of winning the gear, as he’s been equally impressive on both sides of the pitch. His offense was better than expected with 14.6 points on 49.4% shots and 8.0 rebounds and even managed eight of 26 three-pointers. He was tied for fourth in the NBA with 32 dunks until Nov. 16 and showed rare positional versatility.

There were questions about his offensive abilities coming out of college, but those were answered and there is no doubt that Mobley is set to become a scoring force for years to come. A stellar defensive player at USC, Mobley has continued this path in his NBA career, demonstrating exceptional timing and discipline in protecting the rims. He leads all rookies with 1.60 blocks per game and his 24 total blocks was the Cavaliers’ second-tallest player in the first 15 games of a career (Hot Rod Williams, 30 in 1986).

Mobley’s injury clearly left a big void and the Cavs were unable to compensate. They rank 26th in the league since Nov. 17 in defensive scorers (112.5) and have lost all four games without him following a surprising 9-6 start to the season.

Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors

Mobley’s biggest challenger for the coveted Rookie-a-Month award would be Barnes, who leads this class of rookies in scoring (14.8), rebounding (8.4) and minutes per game (35.1) while also placing second for field goal percentage (48.6).

The Raptors’ little forward is sort of a Swiss Army Knife with a well-rounded game and a tantalizing set of tools. Barnes adapted very quickly to the NBA, becoming just the second player (Shaquille O’Neal) since 1985-86 to rack up at least 170 points and 85 rebounds while shooting 50% or better in his first 10 career games. . Barnes’ 212 points in 13 games have been the most important of any player in Raptors history and it’s a franchise that has drafted Vince Carter, Damon Stoudamire and Chris Bosh.

Aside from Barnes’ ability to score, bounce and pass, he also excels on the defensive end, often tasked with protecting the opposing team’s best player, regardless of size. He’s already faced seven-footer Mo Bamba, Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, James Harden and even some point guard. Barnes has also proven to be an adept at handling the ball, which is a huge advantage when playing against other big players.

Perhaps the only aspect of Barnes’ game that’s missing is his three-point shot, as he’s only attempted 19 from long range and made five. The ability to expand the pitch with deeper shots would make every other part of his offensive arsenal even more effective.

Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder

By most accounts, the top pure passer in this draft class was point guard Giddey. A little over a month into his NBA career and no one would argue about it. Giddey looks like a good bet to lead all rookies in assists, as he has totaled 105 so far with the Sacramento Kings’ Davion Mitchell second at 68. But it’s the Australian’s full game that has the upper hand. Thunder rebuilding very smart for catching him. with the sixth overall choice.

In addition to scoring 10.8 points per game, the six-foot-seven playmaker is third among freshmen with 7.3 rebounds and leads all rookies with 101 defensive boards. Giddey’s performance in the first month places him among an elite company. With 105 assists and 131 rebounds in his first 18 games, he joins LeBron James and LaMelo Ball as the only teenagers to reach 100 in both in their first 20 NBA games. Giddey, who turned 19 last month, is set to record a triple-double shortly after coming close several times already.

After averaging 9.0 points on 37.1% of shots in his first 13 games, Giddey has warmed up with 15.4 per game on 47.8% of the field in his last five games. The score is a bonus when it comes to Giddey, who led the attack with the calm of a veteran and helped the Thunder to be a lot more competitive than expected.


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