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Why Evan Mobley Deserves to be the NBA’s 2022 Rookie of the Year

Evan Mobley of the Cleveland Cavaliers continues putting up career-highs and is emerging as the current favorite for Rookie of the Year.

Evan Mobley is proving his versatility and skillset is unparalleled by any other rookie. This year, the Rookie of the Year race is as tightly contested as it gets. However, a select few stand out from the rest, but none more so than the Cavs’ young big fella. Specifically, four rookies appear poised for contention for Rookie of the Year honors: Evan Mobley (CLE), Cade Cunningham (DET), Scottie Barnes (TOR), and Franz Wagner (ORL).

Some may also include the Thunder’s Josh Giddey, but his monthly accolades derive from a weak western pool of rookies. Giddey’s season is promising as a premier facilitator, but his offensive efficiencies are severely lacking. Most notably, the Australian teenager is shooting just 26.3% from deep on nearly four attempts per game, just shy of 42% from the field with 12.5 attempts a night, and, despite leading all rookies in assists (6.4), he is second in turnovers (3.2).

When evaluating these generally very different players, both stats and intangibles need consideration. First off, each player shall be analyzed using core statistics such as scoring, rebounding, assisting, defense, and efficiencies. However, other vital topics such as team impact, record, and responsibilities deserve appreciation. Regarding their teams, these four can be separated into two categories: playoff or lottery-bound. Although one man is not responsible for a team’s success, it is worth mentioning Cleveland and Toronto’s successes compared to Detroit and Orlando’s struggles.

Here are the top four frontrunners for Rookie of the Year in descending order.

4. Cade Cunningham

55 games (T-10th), 32.6 mpg (3rd), 16.9 ppg (1st), 5.9 rpg (4th), 5.4 apg (2nd), 1.2 spg (T-2nd), 0.7 bpg (5th), 3.5 tpg (1st), 40.5 FG%, 32.3 3PT%, 83.8 FT%, 12.7 PER, -0.5 win shares, and a team record of 19-52

This may surprise some, but his season is just not as good as people think. Furthermore, Franz Wagner is performing really well and lacks any national attention whatsoever. However, a significant reason for Cunningham’s placement is his turnovers and injuries. Although injuries can happen, and turnovers tend to be high for passing guards, his overall numbers lack. His popularity derives from being selected first overall, while Wagner’s unpopularity stems from Orlando’s irrelevancy.

Even so, the Magic only sit a game back from Detroit, despite their numerous injuries. Sure, Cunningham holds a 1.5 ppg advantage over Wagner, but Cunningham is attempting 3.4 more shots a night. Furthermore, his shooting splits and careless handling of the basketball weigh down his player efficiency rating.

All things said the most concrete argument for leaving Cunningham outside of the top 3 is his win shares. Win shares are a complex estimation of the number of wins contributed by a player. Despite Detroit’s limited number of wins, the statistic shows his value to the team is rather marginal. Granted, saying his presence on the court is genuinely detrimental is relatively egregious. Nevertheless, this just goes to show his surrounding teammates hold greater value for their victories than Cunningham. Therefore, even though Cunningham has solid numbers in comparison to other rookies, his production is somewhat baseless and, in the larger scheme of things, irrelevant.

3. Franz Wagner

71 games (1st), 31.6 mpg (4th), 15.4 ppg (4th), 4.6 rpg (7th), 2.9 apg (6th), 0.9 spg (T-5th), 0.4 bpg (T-5th), 1.6 tpg (T-6th), 46.7 FG%, 36.5 3PT%, 85 FT%, 14.6 PER, 3.5 win shares, and a team record of 18-53

The forgotten about Franz Wagner is flourishing in his first NBA season. As the eighth overall pick in the draft, many considered Wagner a stretch and not even the best rookie on the Magic. However, Jalen Suggs missed several games this season. On the other hand, Wagner remains perfectly healthy as he’s started every single Orlando game this year. This level of consistency is unparalleled among rookies and something every franchise seeks in the draft. 

Although Wagner’s contributions are not as widespread as Cunningham’s, the former Michigan Wolverine fills his role perfectly. Wagner is the perfect example of a modern two-way wing by shooting at a strong clip with limited touches. Furthermore, his defense is not nearly as poor as scouts expected and should continue to improve given more time. When comparing the numbers, solid arguments can be made for both Cunningham and Wagner. Specifically, each rookie earned rookie of the month honors, with Wagner winning in December and Cunningham winning in January. 

However, as already mentioned, the apparent distinguishing factor is found at the PER and win share level. In fewer minutes per game, albeit more total minutes, Wagner’s earned a 1.9 PER and 4.0 win share advantage over Cunningham. Therefore, despite the media’s focus on Cunningham, Wagner deserves to be a top-3 rookie this year. That said, cracking the top two is unlikely as Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley hold a strong lead on everyone else. 

2. Scottie Barnes

62 games (T-5th), 35.7 mpg (1st), 15.5 ppg (3rd), 7.7 rpg (3rd), 3.4 apg (3rd), 1.2 spg (T-2nd), 0.8 bpg (T-3rd), 1.9 tpg (5th), 49.4 FG%, 31.4 3PT%, 73.5 FT%, 16.6 PER, 5.5 win shares, and a team record of 39-31

Once again, this placement might be debatable, as even the numbers slightly lean in Barnes’ favor. Granted, any statistical advantage in his favor is very minor, if at all. When watching these two play, Barnes and Mobley both appear destined for strong, lengthy NBA careers. But, their surrounding cast shows the biggest difference. Toronto is no star-studded squad but is certainly more established than Cleveland. The significance of this distinction aligns with how badly their respective team would miss them if they were injured or absent. 

Barnes may hold a higher PER and win share, but his surrounding cast should keep them relatively afloat. Whereas if Mobley missed time, Cleveland’s entire offensive and defensive structure would shift. For being so young, both of their teams rely heavily on their contributions, as observed through Barnes and Mobley leading rookies in minutes per game. Truthfully, both of their numbers are so close that their respective team records may become the deciding factor for who wins Rookie of the Year. 

1. Evan Mobley

63 games (4th), 34.3 mpg (2nd), 15.2 ppg (5th), 8.3 rpg (1st), 2.6 apg (8th), 0.8 spg (T-5th), 1.7 bpg (1st), 2.0 tpg (T-4th), 50.5 FG%, 25 3PT%, 67.2 FT%, 16.1 PER, 5.1 win shares, and a team record of 41-30

On top of having such a close statistical comparison, both Mobley and Barnes won rookie of the month honors one time. Therefore, deciding a standalone victor will come down to personal opinions. Barnes holsters a unique playstyle for his height that allows the ball to flow through him. However, Mobley can operate in the same way, as countless times this year, the ball is in hands during clutch minutes. Altogether, these two rookies are both worthy victors, but one reason puts Mobley ahead in my eyes.

Mobley’s incredible defensive ability at such a young state is unbelievable. Although Barnes grabs more steals, Mobley is already the Cavs’ best rim-protector, even with Jarrett Allen on the roster. Moreover, Allen’s recent injury forced Mobley to play center, which he is pretty undersized for both in height and weight. And yet, Mobley’s holding his own alongside the NBA’s best bigs. Specifically, his innate blocking ability shows how well the 20-year-old grasps NBA coverages. 

Either way, the NBA yields several deserving rookies, but these two appear to be in their own field. Mobley is doing almost as much as Barnes with fewer minutes. Whereas Barnes is shooting more efficiently, and it shows through his PER lead. Even with fewer wins, Barnes is ahead of Mobley in win shares. Nevertheless, the minimal difference between the two means the consideration should shift to visual interpretation. And when looking at all rookies, none appear more NBA ready and poised for a dominating future than Cleveland’s Evan Mobley. 

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