Kia Rookie Ladder Evan Mobley Cade Cunningham take over top 2 spots

Kia Rookie Ladder Evan Mobley Cade Cunningham take over top 2 spots

Kia Rookie Ladder Evan Mobley Cade Cunningham take over top 2 spots

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One of the best things about being drafted in the NBA’s second round is, there are so many people to prove wrong.

First, of course, comes the sting of sliding out of the first round, where the money is better and guaranteed and teams typically have a more obvious commitment to a player’s success. Second-rounders sometimes fare worse than guys who aren’t drafted at all, who at least can scramble with their agents to score an invitation to a camp where the fit is better.

But with the right personality, the proper edge, a second-round pick can turn his status into marvelous motivation.

Beyond proving untold numbers of scouts, coaches and executives wrong for passing them up, a player selected when NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum is announcing the picks – after boss Adam Silver has left the stage – can stare at all those names above his on the Draft list and formulate a challenge. Whether the higher picks know it or not.

In recent years, Gilbert Arenas (No. 31 in 2001) and Draymond Green (No. 35 in 2012) have been pretty candid about psyching themselves up when they faced teams that passed on them. On Tuesday night, it was Ayo Dosunmu’s turn. The No. 38 pick in the 2021 Draft laser-focused on Detroit and its prize rookie Cade Cunningham, who went No. 1 overall last summer.

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Both players have rungs on this week’s Kia Rookie Ladder. But Dosunmu, increasingly valuable off Chicago’s bench, won the battle this time. He only scored 10 points but he brought energy and defense in the Bulls’ rout, helping to limit Cunningham to eight points. Dosunmu wound up a plus-23 in 27 minutes to Cunningham’s minus-30 in 29 and spoke about how his draft position motivates him.

“Of course,” he said. “Me being drafted in the second round, every night I have to play with a chip on my shoulder just to prove that’s where I thought I should have belonged. But that’s all in the past. I try to go out there and compete on the defensive end.”

With his local roots – high school at Chicago’s Westinghouse and Morgan Park, college at the University of Illinois – Dosunmu was a United Center crowd favorite from the start. But his offensive outburst (the Bulls are 8-0 when he scores 10 points or more) and his defensive tenacity won over teammates and fans regardless of his background.

5. Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
Season stats: 11.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 6.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 11.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 6.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 5
Draft pick: No. 6 overall

These aren’t Giddey’s most impressive numbers but they might be the most encouraging: In the four games he played after exiting virus protocols through Monday’s stats cutoff, he shot 46.5% overall and 50% on 3s. Now the impressive numbers: the 19-year-old is on pace to join Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Ben Simmons as rookies who averaged at least 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Of the Class of 2021’s 23 second-rounders who have earned time, Dosunmu, New Orleans’ Herbert Jones and Oklahoma City’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl rank as the cream of the Nos. 31-60 crop through the season’s first half. Several others have contributed when pressed into action in more limited sample sizes, including OKC’s Aaron Wiggins, Brooklyn’s Kessler Edwards and LA’s Brandon Boston Jr.

The true value of second-rounders usually takes several seasons to reveal itself. As of Wednesday, there were 11 players drafted in Round 2 averaging at least 15 points per game – the most recent arrivals are Gary Trent Jr. and Jalen Brunson, both picked in 2018. Jarred Vanderbilt, also a 2018 pick, is the second-best rebounder (9.1 rpg) among second-rounders while 2012 draftee Draymond Green is tops in assists (7.4).

Green, Nikola Jokic, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon (2017 Rookie of the Year) are gold-standard second-rounders after whom Dosunmu, Jones and the rest can compare their impacts. While sharing in the underdog status that served those guys so well.

The Top 5 this week on the 2020-21 Kia Rookie Ladder:

(All stats through Monday, Jan. 10)

1. Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
Season stats: 14.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.8 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 2
Draft pick: No. 3 overall

In a recent poll of 17 NBA executives conducted by, Mobley ranked No. 6 as a player under age 25 around whom the execs would choose to build their franchises. The next closest rookie on the list was Detroit’s Cade Cunningham at No. 13. One respondent called Mobley “the best two-way player from last year’s draft. He has a maturity about him.” GM Koby Altman owes at least a portion of his new contract extension through 2027-28 and boosted POBO title to Mobley’s quick and considerable impact.

Season stats: 15.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.4 apg
Since last Ladder: 17.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 6.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 4
Draft pick: No. 1 overall

Our stats deadline each week for the Ladder is Monday night, so we won’t spend any time on Cunningham’s 3-of-11, eight-point, six-turnover nightmare against Chicago, with inspired Ayo Dosunmu dogging him. Otherwise, the No. 1 pick has been climbing. He has shown a tendency to let games come to him, as evidenced by his slow start but 18-point third quarter on his way to 29 in a win against Utah. “I know what I’m capable of doing to help a team win once I get into a rhythm,” said Cunningham, appreciative his teammates stuck with him.

3. Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
Season stats: 14.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.5 apg
Since last Ladder: 8.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 5.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 3
Draft pick: No. 4 overall

Barnes missed Tuesday’s Phoenix game with right knee soreness. But in last week’s games, he and the Raptors were 4-0 as the rookie averaged 33.7 minutes. His point forward skills were really utilized, though a piece on the touted Barnes’ defense: “Barnes has guarded some of the league’s premier talents, including Luka Dončić, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. In games against Washington, Chicago and Boston, Barnes defended all five positions. In each of those games, Barnes spent at least one minute guarding all five starting players.”

4. Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
Season stats: 15.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.6 apg
Since last Ladder: 13.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.3 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 1
Draft pick: No. 8 overall

Team-wise, Orlando has been stuck with lemons – nine consecutive losses, heading into four road games in the Magic’s next five. But Wagner remains the team’s lemonade, the best news of the season’s first half for these guys. His role has grown, by virtue of handling most of what coach Jamahl Mosley has thrown at him. He has scored in double figures 35 times, 10 times topping 20. And his on/off rating is plus-7.6. No wonder bosses Jeff Weltman and John Hammond got contract extensions this week.

The Next 5:
6. Herb Jones, New Orleans Pelicans
Season stats: 8.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.9 apg
Since last Ladder: 11.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.7 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 8
Draft pick: No. 35 overall

Presence being felt at both ends with +10.2 on/off rating.

7. Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
Season stats: 15.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 14.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.5 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 6
Draft pick: No. 2 overall

Rockets’ net rating is poor (minus-8.8), Green’s is worse (minus-18.3).

8. Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers
Season stats: 13.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.1 apg
Since last Ladder: 9.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 7
Draft pick: No. 13 overall

Easing back (plus new baby) from health and safety protocols.

9. Omer Yurtseven, Miami Heat
Season stats: 5.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.0 apg
Since last Ladder: 10.5 ppg, 16.0 rpg, 6.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: 10
Draft pick: Undrafted (2020)

Lots of legends never grabbed 16+ rebounds in four consecutive games.

T10. Cam Thomas, Brooklyn Nets
Season stats: 7.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.2 apg
Since last Ladder: 15.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A
Draft pick: No. 27 overall

Makes the most of uncertain minutes in Brooklyn rotation, including the game-winner on Sunday.

T10. Ayo Dosunmu, Chicago Bulls
Season stats: 6.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.3 apg
Since last Ladder: 12.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg
Last Ladder’s rung: N/A
Draft pick: No. 38 overall

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