There have been multiple players on every NBA team entering COVID-19 health and safety protocols the last few weeks, and that’s allowed the opportunity for some rookies to step up.
During the first couple of months of the NBA season, it appeared to be a two-way race for Rookie of the Year between Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley, but a new name has emerged in the conversation after an impressive showing during December.
Here’s a look at Yahoo Sports’ updated NBA rookie power rankings.
Previous rank: No. 4
2021-22 stats: 15.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg
Wagner is leading all rookies in the following categories: points (627), points per game (15.7), minutes played (1,288), field goals made (235) and free throws (104). Wagner is the dark horse in the Rookie of the Year race, making a strong case. Even teammate Cole Anthony is campaigning for him and voiced his frustration of Wagner getting overlooked early in the season. Recently, Anthony said he’s going to start calling Wagner “ROY” (Rookie of the Year) after a strong showing last month.
Wagner was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for December and averaged 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists. He had a monster game against the Milwaukee Bucks where he finished with 38 points (including four 3-pointers) and added seven rebounds. Wagner is getting much more comfortable and is making the right reads off the pick-and-roll as the primary ball handler. Wagner was the No. 8 overall pick and is a serious contender for the top rookie honor at the end of the season.
Previous rank: No. 2
2021-22 stats: 14.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg
Mobley continues to be an elite rim protector and leads all rookies in blocked shots with 55. He’s also the youngest player in the league-wide top 10, tied with Anthony Davis. Mobley was one of the best shot blockers in college during his one season at USC, but it’s been impressive to see his impact as a center so early into his NBA career.
Offensively, his footwork is incredible, and he even had a move on the baseline against the Washington Wizards that warranted a quick dap from Wizards guard Kyle Kuzma after the made basket. Kuzma gave him further praise after the game in a tweet saying, “You damn right I’m going to dap him up. I just saw the closest thing to George Gervin in the flesh!”
Young centers have had a harder time adjusting to the NBA in recent years. Bam Adebayo, Deandre Ayton and Jarrett Allen all took a couple years before their game translated on the court. What Mobley has done in his rookie season is incredible, and he is proving to be the next generation of centers.
Previous rank: No. 5
2021-22 stats: 11.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 6.4 apg
Giddey became the youngest NBA player ever to record a triple-double when he put up 17 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 2. Giddey continues to lead the rookie class in assists with 208 and is averaging an impressive 8.8 assists per game in the last four games.
Giddey has great size at 6-foot-8 and is able to see above the defense and make the right play. Giddey has been named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for two consecutive months. He is the dream addition in the backcourt to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder still have 36 draft picks in the next five years, and there’s a lot to build around this young core.
Previous rank: No. 1
2021-22 stats: 14.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.5 apg
Barnes is the best offensive rebounding player in this draft class and has created several second opportunities for the Raptors this season. He leads all rookies by a mile with 91 offensive boards with the next player, Alperen Sengun, recording only 60.
Barnes was sidelined for a couple of weeks due to health and safety protocols and a minor knee injury but returned to the court Jan. 2 against the New York Knicks. It’s been a solid start to start the new year with Barnes averaging 10.3 points, seven rebounds and 4.5 assists since his return. The 6-foot-8 point forward started to find his 3-point shot after struggling early in the season and has such a consistent all-around game, it’s hard to keep him off the court.
Previous rank: No. 3
2021-22 stats: 15.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 5.3 apg
Similar to Barnes, Cunningham also missed four games due to health and safety protocols. In his first game back, he played 37 minutes in a win over the Bucks. Cunningham has excelled at finding his teammates and is averaging 5.3 assists per game, including recording a season-high 11 assists in a loss to the Houston Rockets on Dec. 18. Cunningham’s shot selection needs to improve, after shooting only 32% from 3-point range and attempting an average of 6.5 3-pointers in the last six games. He’s so patient in the pick-and-roll. Cunningham, Killian Hayes and Saddiq Bey are starting to find their rhythm in the backcourt as the Pistons look to rebuild with this young group.
Previous rank: No. 9
2021-22 stats: 15.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.2 apg
Green made his return to the court Dec. 23 and has shown more efficiency in his scoring. He’s one of the most entertaining players in the open court with his high-flying dunks and impressive finishes at the rim. The Rockets continue to struggle, going 1-5 since Green’s return, but there’s a lot to like about his individual development during a difficult first season. Green’s biggest knock coming into his rookie season was his outside jump shot, and he’s averaging 3.3 made threes in his return, including an impressive six 3-pointers in his first game back. Green is tied for third in the rookie class in 3-pointers made with 53 and continues to improve.
Previous rank: N/A
2021-22 stats: 8.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Jones already had the daunting task of guarding Luka Doncic, Donovan Mitchell and Damian Lillard and had different degrees of success guarding all three. The Pelicans are struggling this season with Zion Williamson yet to return, and Jones has added a spark. He’s averaging 3.3 steals per game in the last five games and leads the rookie class in steals with 53. Jones was a second-round pick at No. 35 overall and has completely outperformed his draft stock three months into the season.
Previous rank: No. 6
2021-22 stats: 13.1 ppg, 4 rpg, 2.1 apg
Duarte hadn’t played since Dec. 29 due to being in health and safety protocols and made his return against the Utah Jazz on Saturday. He played limited minutes and finished with nine points and three rebounds in a 125-113 win. At 24 years old, Duarte is one of the oldest rookies, and he’s been a solid contributor to the Pacers. In December, Duarte averaged 13.3 points and 2.4 assists per game. He is tied for first with Cunningham in 3-pointers made with 62.
Previous rank: N/A
2021-22 stats: 7.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg
Wiggins was a late second-round pick (No. 55) and has seen extended minutes lately with multiple players in health and safety protocols. He scored in double digits in the last six games and has seen his minutes increase from 15 in the beginning of the season to 30 the last five weeks. Wiggins is a fluid shooter with great length and speed for a shooting guard and has been a great complementary piece in the backcourt with Giddey.
Previous rank: N/A
2021-22 stats: 4.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg
The Warriors are one of the top teams in the NBA, and Kuminga is seeing limited minutes in his rookie season. In a game against the Raptors in mid-December, Kuminga got his first start and showed glimpses of what the future looks like for the Warriors. The 6-foot-7 forward had a season-high 26 points, including four 3-pointers, and also added two steals. At just 19, he became the youngest player in Warriors franchise history to score 20-plus points in a game.