If you find yourself facing some overblown talking points about
your favorite Rookie of the Year candidate, I've rounded up some
numbers to help you oust and dispel some discourse circling around
SCOTTIE BARNES, TORONTO
The narrative: Is his role big enough?
This is some garbage of a narrative anyway, but it feels like
Barnes' case gets dimished because fans view him as a cog of the
Toronto Raptors rather than a pillar. No, Barnes is not a one-way
engine like his award competitors, and yes, he plays on a team with
a superstar in Pascal Siakam, an All-Star in Fred VanVleet and a
rising star in OG Anunoby. But Barnes' role in Toronto's surge to
the Eastern Conference's top-six has been instrumental.
Since the All-Star break, Toronto has a clear Big Three in terms
of passes per game: VanVleet (57.2), Siakam (55.6) and Barnes
(54.2). Barnes ranks third among all rookies in passes per game on
the season and first since the break — even ahead of
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Though Barnes has a comparatively low usage rate (18.8%) to his
peers, this metric doesn't fully capture his involvement in the
offense because it only incorporates play-ending events: shots,
assists and turnovers. Furthermore, Evan Mobley is the only other
rookie in a similarly-significant role for a playoff contender.
Then, on defense, Barnes takes on some of the heaviest loads of
any player in basketball. In fact, he has the single-highest
positional defensive versatility
score of any player in BBall Index's database for this season.
The No. 4 pick contests over 37% of opponents' at-rim shot
attempts when he's on the court; that ranks in the 89th percentile
at his positional group. BBall Index lists his most frequent
opposing matchups as "versatile bigs," "off-screen shooters," and
"slashers." Barnes is integral to a Raptors defense that is top-10
on the season, and per Cleaning the Glass, it's No. 1 over the past
Has he been as good of an individual defender as Mobley? No, but
he's been pretty darn good for a rookie with a serious burden.
Barnes' impressive counting stats — including 17.8 points,
8.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with six double-doubles since
the All-Star break — and Toronto's team success have put him in the
race. His high-level finishing and rebounding rates give him
another boost. Don't paint his success as a product of Toronto's
balanced lineup, because that tosses aside the huge responsibility
on the young forward's shoulders.
CADE CUNNINGHAM, DETROIT
The narrative: Does he impact winning
Well, the Pistons are 10-12 since the All-Star break, and 8-11
in those games when Cunningham plays with a young, poor-shooting,
inexperienced roster, but let's add some more proof.
I'm generally not a huge impact-estimator fan, so we're going to
skip the PERs, VORPs and Win Share stats of the world. What I do
trust as noteworthy is that the Pistons are 5.5 points per 100
possessions better with Cunningham on the floor this season, per
Cleaning the Glass.
Cunningham has created 27.8% of his team's assists, which is in
the 99th percentile at his position. Approximately 13.3% of his
passes have become assists; this ratio is 44th among 282 NBA
players and in the ballpark of guys like LeBron James, Marcus
Smart, Fred VanVleet and Nikola Jokic. That assist-to-pass ratio is
up to 15.0% post-break, putting Cunningham 31st out of 331
qualifying players. Both rates are second among rookies behind only
The top pick carries a ridiculous amount of weight as a creator
in Detroit's offense. Cunningham is averaging 16.2 drives per game
this season. Only 23% of his made field goals have come via
assists, and only 37% of his total shots were assisted — both in
the 97th percentile or higher at his position.
Even with his efficiency peaks and valleys, Cunningham has
massively catalyzed one of the worst-shooting squads in the NBA and
helped them reached competitive play. And if folks are still hung
up on Detroit's overall record, remember that 2 of the last 12 ROTY
winners have been on teams over .500.
EVAN MOBLEY, CLEVELAND
The narrative: Was his second half good
Mobley was the a clear-cut best rookie through the first half of
the season, so critics have resorted to focusing on his second
half. And we don't need to sugarcoat that Mobley has struggled
relative to his first half, plus he's missed the last five games
with an ankle injury. However, he's still been a phenomenal rookie
and overall player without his partner in crime, Jarrett Allen, for
a large portion.
Since the All-Star break, Mobley has contested a whopping 9.2
shots within 6 feet of the rim, second only to Nikola Jokic.
Opponents are shooting 61.8% against him — tied for 34th among 68
players (and second among rookies, behind Cunningham) — contesting
at least five such shots per game. Is it a downturn from his 49.1%
opponent clip (second in the NBA) from before the break? Sure, but
it's still a very solid number for a rookie, and again, Mobley has
had to take on different roles without Allen.
On the whole this season, opponents are 4.7% less efficient at
the rim when Mobley is on the floor. That drop-off puts him in the
91st percentile among bigs, per Cleaning the Glass. Since Feb. 1,
Mobley has a 2.2% block rate (74th percentile among bigs) and 3.2%
foul rate (79th percentile among bigs).
His post-break per-game counting stats include 15.1 points, 8.8
rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Mobley is receiving 8.4 paint
touches per game, good for ninth in the league, and shooting 68.8%
in the paint. These numbers aren't like the massive improvements
we've seen from Cunningham and Barnes, but they're still very
To say that Mobley's late-season challenges have taken him out
of the race is both untrue and lacking context. He's been tasked
with so much more on a Cavaliers team that has struggled on the
whole, and Mobley's still treaded water. Plus, it makes little
sense from a philosophical standpoint to apply more weight to his
"second half" (which isn't truly a half of the season) more than
his dominant first half.
THE OUTLIERS (a.k.a. other random interesting numbers I
found in the void):
- Speaking of rookies: Keon Johnson has been fantastic recently.
His jump shot was a major question mark on draft night, and it's
looking phenomenal. I'll be tracking his growth in
- This is just a wild stat for the Tyrese Maxey agenda: