It’s time to turn the microscope to this year’s NBA rookie class with our second Rookie Rankings.

There already looks to be a clear division between the top four on this list and the next group. Though make no mistake, this is a deep and talented crop of first year men.

Let’s take a look at who has impressed over the last month of NBA action.

(For clarification, these rankings only take into account play since our last rankings in mid November)

1. Cade Cunningham – Detroit Pistons (LR: 4)

After a slow start to the season caused by injuries and some gawd awful shooting upon his debut, the #1 overall pick has now settled comfortably into NBA life.

Since our last rankings, Cunningham has only failed to hit double figures in the scoring column on two occasions. Also, he’s picked up his rebounding and playmaking production considerably.

Cunningham has shot the ball particularly well in December, his FG% up to 44.4% from 36.9%. Plus, his 3P% rose to 42% from 28.6%. He averages a shade under 20 points per game for the month so far. The most important factor for the 20 year old is that his scoring looks sustainable. His jump shot looks far less rushed that it did in the first few weeks of his career – as does his play in general – and he’s finding avenues to the basket easier to navigate seemingly each and every game. At this point, it looks entirely conceivable that Cunningham will average north of 20 per contest for the remainder of the season.

Pistons coach Dwayne Casey has occasionally made comments about working Cade away from the ball. Whilst attacking a shifting defense will be a major step in his development, you can’t help but feel that move is at least in part designed to try to pump up the tyres of the Pistons previous lottery pick, Killian Hayes. The contrast between the two youngsters is stark.

2. Scottie Barnes – Toronto Raptors (LR: 2)

In a tight run race, Scottie Barnes once again has to be satisfied with second spot in our Rookie Rankings.

If you didn’t know any better you would swear Barnes was a 28 year old, dependable do-it-all veteran, such is his remarkable consistency. Still only 20 years of age, Barnes seemingly never plays a poor game. In fact you have to go all the way back to November 19th for Barnes last stinker. A game where he was held to two points by the renowned defensive juggernaut that is the (checks notes) Sacramento Kings.

It seems as though every time you watch Barnes play, a different facet of his game stands out. He had five blocks in the return game against the Kings last week. He’s topped 5+ assists in six separate outings since our last rankings. Over a three game stretch early in December, he flashed his improving three-point stroke. He shot 10 for 21 from deep. An encouraging development in both attempts and makes.

So many high draft picks struggle to impact the game if they’re not putting the ball in the basket (See: Green, Jalen). Barnes, who averages 15.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 steals and a block, is that rare specimen that always finds a way to make a positive impact.

3. Evan Mobley – Cleveland Cavaliers (Last Ranking: 1)

Mobley’s fall from the peak of this particular mountain is mostly down to his missing six games in the past month. Through a combination of COVID protocols and a hip ailment. That said, it was still a razor thin decision between the top three rooks.

When he has played, Mobley has been just as much of a force as he was through the opening month of his career. The 20 year old big man is producing 12.5 points, 9.1 boards, 3.4 assists, and an even two blocks per game in December.

More than pure statistical production, it’s Mobley’s incredible versatility at both ends of the floor that makes the Cavaliers a difficult match up. His combination with Jarrett Allen (an outside chance of an All Star berth) has led the Cavs to the 2nd best defensive rating in the NBA this season. An astonishing improvement for a club that has ranked 25th, 29th, and 30th over the past three seasons.

At the other end of the floor Mobley continues to score in the low to mid teens whilst proving an able playmaker in the short roll where, again, his chemistry with Allen is apparent.

4. Franz Wagner – Orlando Magic (LR: 3)

A genuine steal with the 8th overall pick, Wagner has been a revelation to this point.

Immediately after the previous rookie rankings were released, the younger Wagner brother produced a pair of stinkers. Since then, he’s averaged 17.2 points, 5.8 boards and 4.1 assists with seriously impressive 48/40/86 shooting splits.

On a back-to-back in Los Angeles, the 6’10” forward gave both the Lakers and Clippers an even 20 points (one of those efforts proving more impressive than the other in retrospect). More impressively, since the Magic have seemingly lost 90% of their roster to COVID protocols or injuries, Wager has taken over as Orlando’s starting point guard and primary scoring option. He responded with a 27 point performance in a narrow loss the the Heat.

With genuine centers in Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr on roster, as well as 4/5 Jonathan Isaac due to return from injury, Wagner’s size and versatility helps the pieces of this Orlando jigsaw fit into place.

5. Josh Giddey – Oklahoma City Thunder (LR: 5)

Giddey might be the oldest teenager to ever play professional basketball.

The Australian possesses all the traits of that old guy in your local competition who’s speed and athleticism have long since left him, but parlays crafty handles, otherworldly vision, and a knowledge of angles that would make Pythagoras drool into yet another dominating performance.

Giddey’s foibles are there for all to see. He doesn’t have elite burst, though he makes up for it with elite footwork and an excellent floater game. His east-west speed isn’t great, making him a less than ideal one-on-one defender. He compensates for that with outstanding anticipation and a fine understanding of team defensive principles. The one issue Giddey is failing to overcome is his lack of a jump shot. Through December, he’s shooting a disastrous 19% (that’s one-nine-percent) from beyond the arc. Until he can get that up to the mid to low 30’s, he’ll fail to be a genuine scoring threat.

Despite that, Giddey produces. He makes the Thunder’s offense tick, despite their less than NBA level roster. His passing remains a genuine delight. Check out this:

When Giddey loads up that pass, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (spoiler: more on him below) has three defenders between him and he basket, with a fourth running alongside. Credit the big man for running hard, but Giddey’s pass eliminates each and every Clippers defender.

6. Alperen Sengun – Houston Rockets (LR: 8)

It’s taken a little bit of bedding in, but the Rockets are slowly starting to figure out the best ways to use their highly entertaining 19-year-old center.

Sengun isn’t an elite athlete by any means and at 6’9” is undersized for a true center. He makes up for it with wonderful court vision and the sheer confidence to try just about anything. His passing is uncanny for a young big man. The audacity of some of his passes and shot attempts are fantastic.

Through December, Sengun is giving the Rockets 10.4 points, 4.6 boards, 3.4 assists, and 1.4 blocks in a touch under 20 minutes a game from the bench. He played his best game of the season against Cleveland’s daunting front line, producing 9 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, two steal s and a block.

If he could cut down on his horrific foul rate – 6.3 per 36 minutes in December – then perhaps we’ll get to see more of Sengun’s fearless game.

7. Chris Duarte – Indiana Pacers (LR: 10)

The 24 year old was expected to produce as a rookie and produce he has.

A red-hot opening few weeks to his career led to an inevitable regression but Duarte has stepped up his game. Over the past month, he’s reached double figure scoring in 10 of his past 12 matches. Highlighted by a 23 point – 9/11 from the floor – and six assist outburst in a convincing win against New York.

Already a solid scorer, Duarte is also a competent play maker. With the Pacers potentially looking to move on from team centrepiece Domantas Sabonis, more opportunities to both score and create could come Duarte’s way sooner rather than later.

8. Nah’Shon ‘Bones’ Hyland – Denver Nuggets (LR: 6)

After a solid opening to his rookie campaign, Bones Hyland has only gotten better over the past month. This is despite missing time with a twisted ankle and having entered COVID protocols.

A sparkplug off the bench, Hyland has had some big nights so far. His recent 24 point effort (four of five from deep) against Atlanta represented a career high.

On a team that is desperately missing Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, Bones’ offensive outbursts are most welcome. Encouragingly, he’s able to pick his spots without forcing the action. He’s also proven smart enough to move when he doesn’t have the ball. Allowing the savant that is Nikola Jokic to find him for baskets with regularity.

The challenge for Hyland – as it is for many rooks – remains consistency. If he can start to string performances together, then both he and the Nuggets will be the better for it. Especially when Murray returns to the fold.

9. Herb Jones – New Orleans Pelicans (LR: Not Ranked)

In a season from hell for the Pelicans, the emergence of 35th overall pick Herb Jones as a genuine wing stopper is a rare highlight.

An undersized center in college, the 6’8” converted wing has been a bona fide positive as a surprise starter for the Pellies. Giving the team 9.6 points, 3.9 boards, 2.4 assists, and 1.5 blocks in December. He’s become coach Willie Green’s go-to man to slow the opposition’s best players. His 1.4 steals on the season are 2nd to only Cunningham amongst rookies, though his 38 total steals tops the Pistons guard.

A fine athlete, Jones is also emerging as a master at the fading art of drawing legitimate (read: not the crap Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul draw) charges from the opposition.

10. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl – Oklahoma City Thunder (LR: Not Ranked)

We round out the December Rookie Rankings with a young man that is making the most of his NBA opportunity. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.

At 6’9” and 230lbs, JRE is perhaps a little undersized to play the five position on a full-time basis. Thunder coach Mark Daigneault really has no other choice, given that age and injuries have diminished Derrick Favors and Mike Muscala suffers from an acute case of being Mike Muscala.

Robinson-Earl is a below average athlete at the NBA level but compensates through a well developed basketball IQ and old fashioned hard work. Defensively he’s a key to a Thunder side that ranks 18th in Defensive Rating, despite their sub-optimal talent. He reads the game so well for a rookie. He is constantly communicating to his teammates, captaining the defense when on the floor.

Offensively, the power game he used at Villanova hasn’t translated to the pros. To counter that he’s dropped about 10 pounds from his collegiate playing weight. He now routinely beats opposition bigs up and down the floor (go back and watch the ground he makes up for that Giddey assist).

Dropping out: Jalen Green, Davion Mitchell

This article also appears at leading independent media site FOOTYOLOGY.