Predicting the NBA Rookie of the Year Race, from 1 to 10

One month into the season, Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes are battling it out for Rookie of the Year

With the first month of the NBA season almost in the books, we are in a much better position to get a read on the top candidates for Rookie of the Year. 

In last month's initial rankings we noted that while talent certainly matters in a Rookie of the Year race, opportunity is paramount. The Rookie of the Year needs the right combination of talent, minutes, and a leading role to play.

Minutes, games played and the highest combined averages of points, rebounds and assists per game are all predictive of who will win the award and factor into our rankings here. This is not a ranking of who will, ultimately, be the best player in this class down the road. Nor am I just looking at what the rookies have done in the first month. This is more a projection of where they’ll end up in Rookie of the Year voting at the end of the season.

1. Evan Mobley, PF/C, Cavs

Mobley has been, in a word, awesome. And not just for a rookie. He’s played more like an NBA veteran and, if he can return quickly from his recent injury, he’ll likely have a legitimate case to make this year’s All-Star Game. 

Mobley’s shown all the tools to be a dominant hybrid big man in the NBA. His defense has been especially impressive. His defensive RAPTOR score has Mobley ranked fourth in the NBA (among players who have played at least 300 minutes), alongside Bam Adebayo and Myles Turner, making him the rare rookie to be a dominant force on defense. His offensive talent has been evident as well (other than a tough night in Boston on Monday), as he’s shown the ability to score in the paint, off the bounce and from the perimeter. 

Mobley suffered a right elbow strain on Monday and is expected to miss two to four weeks. If the recovery takes a month, he may fall behind Barnes or other players on this list. And ultimately, Mobley’s stats might not match up to those of a couple of other ROY candidates. Defense is harder to quantify, and voters often default to rookies who put up box-score numbers; as Kevin Pelton has written, the path to being Rookie of the Year is posting the best combined averages in points, rebounds and assists.

And of course, Mobley might regress or get overtaken by another talented rookie like the next two players on my list. But so far, he’s the clear favorite among the NBA teams I’ve spoken with.

2. Scottie Barnes, W, Raptors

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