The Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers each had a top-four pick at the 2021 NBA Draft and while the season is still very young, both teams appear to have aced their top selections. The prizes were a defensive game-changer in Evan Mobley and a promising two-way star in Scottie Barnes.
A quick look at the stat sheet reveals both Mobley and Barnes are the frontrunners for the Rookie of the Year award. Barnes, who has missed two games due to a thumb strain, has been sensational. He’s averaging 17.0 points on 52% shooting, 8.5 rebounds (2.9 offensive), and 2.6 assists per game. He has already produced two double-double games.
Head to head with Mobley in a heartbreaking 102-101 loss, Barnes nearly recorded a third with 14 points and nine rebounds.
In comparison, Mobley has been equally effective averaging 15.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game for Cleveland. Both rookies are having immense impacts on their team’s fortunes.
Neither team was a playoff participant last season but both have .500 or better records so far, this year. Toronto had a five-game winning streak snapped by Cleveland and the Cavs just saw a four-game streak end.
The question on everybody’s mind is who is the better player? It’s an age-old fun experiment that pundits, experts, and fans alike engage in when a talent like this is dropped into their lap. Still, projection of a player’s talent is never easy.
Is Toronto Raptors star Scottie Barnes outperforming Evan Mobley?
Both Mobley and Barnes come to the NBA as highly touted prospects. Mobley, a USC alumnus, has many of the attractive attributes the Raptors saw in Barnes and at times was projected to get selected first overall. In the end, he went third acquired by the Cavs. He is a seven-footer with a seven-foot-four-inch wingspan.
In his 11 games as a Cavalier, he has shown an aptitude for becoming a shot-blocking rim protector who can also defend well on the perimeter. During a double-double performance against the Hawks, Mobley not only recorded 17 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocks, but he took on perimeter players like Trae Young multiple times.
A seven-footer, he also runs the floor well and can finish on the break and above the rim. For his size, he is a strong playmaker. His basketball IQ and ability to learn have been praised by his head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
As for the Raptors’ rookie, Barnes’ impact on Toronto’s games has been equally impressive. Barnes is shorter than Mobley, but he is long, active, athletic, and plays with intensity.
Like Mobley, Barnes is a very good playmaker with the ball in his hand and doesn’t have to score 20 points a night to make an impact. He is all about filling out the stat sheet and does many things at a high level.
As an illustration, in an October 29 victory over the Magic, Barnes scored 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds, produced one assist and block, and tallied two steals. After Sunday’s victory over the Raptors, Brooklyn Nets future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Durant had high praise for the Raptors’ rookie when he said to the media:
"“What’s more rare about Scottie Barnes is his IQ for the game, his length and his enthusiasm for the game, All of that stuff shines bright when you watch him play.”"
What makes Barnes’ play so special is that he went into the year as an offensive question mark. Aided by Pascal Siakam’s shoulder surgery recovery, he’s started all ten games he has played in. With Goran Dragic essentially shelved pending a buyout or trade, Barnes has managed to average 34.5 minutes per game.
In answering the question of who is better? it would appear at this stage to be a slight edge belonging to Barnes.
While both he and Mobley still need to develop a consistent 3-point shot to be true inside-out offensive threats, Barnes impacts the game in more ways right now. His energy, intensity, and hustle are infectious for his teammates, and his offensive game appears to be slightly more refined than Mobley.
It is extremely early in the season but, Mobley and Barnes have a good chance at being named Rookie of the Year. Both players will be franchise cornerstones for their respective teams for the next half-decade at least.