It didn’t take long for chaos to break loose during the 2021 NBA Draft.
The first three picks went as expected, as Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and Evan Mobley were the first three players to come off the board. The trio was heavily favored to open the draft at picks No. 1, 2 and 3, with Cunningham carrying (-5000) odds to go first, per pre-NBA Draft odds at BetMGM.
However, that’s where the locks stopped. Scottie Barnes was selected before Jalen Suggs, who was widely expected to end up with the Toronto Raptors.
Josh Giddey went sixth.
Joshua Primo — the youngest player in the class and projected late-first round pick — was selected by the San Antonio Spurs at No. 12.
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Usman Garuba, a hyper-talented defender and projected lottery pick, fell all the way to the Houston Rockets at No. 23 — a pick Dan Preciado nailed in his 2021 NBA Mock Draft.
Several high-profile players fell far into the second round as well. Sharife Cooper and Brandon Boston Jr., two players who had lofty preseason expectations, came off the board at No. 48 and 51, respectively. Luka Garza, the Naismith College Player of the Year, was drafted by the Detroit Pistons at No. 52.
Surprises aside, a few players have already found themselves in a position to make a strong bid in the 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year race. Here are The Game Day’s sleeper picks and predictions for who will bring home the coveted award next season.
2022 NBA Rookie of The Year Sleeper Bets
Jalen Suggs, G, Orlando Magic (+800)
The first twist of the night came at pick No. 4, when the Toronto Raptors elected to select Florida State forward Scottie Barnes. As a result, the Orlando Magic were able to select Jalen Suggs at No. 5, who should immediately step into a starting role for a team in desperate need of direction on both ends of the floor.
At 19, Suggs is a natural leader capable of creating for himself and others. In addition to his high basketball IQ, Suggs has proven to be unafraid of the moment and a go-to option with the game on the line.
Assuming Suggs can maintain a high usage rate in Orlando and put up a few flashy lines throughout the season, he’ll have a decent shot at no less than a top-three finish in the Rookie of the Year race.
Josh Giddey, G, Oklahoma City Thunder (+2500)
Aussie guard Josh Giddey was the first international player drafted Thursday night, coming off the board at No. 6 to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The reigning NBL Rookie of the Year showed off his all-around game in his lone season with the Adelaide 36ers, averaging 10.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and a league-best 7.6 assists across 28 games.
Giddey is worth consideration as a sleeper pick based on talent alone, and OKC’s current situation should only help his case. Outside of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder are devoid of top-tier talent and will benefit from having another playmaker on the floor.
Giddey’s shot needs some work, but he could very well use his stat-stuffing ability to his advantage — something fellow NBL-to-NBA star LaMelo Ball achieved throughout his ROTY campaign in 2020-21.
2022 NBA Rookie of The Year Prediction
Cade Cunningham, G, Detroit Pistons (+275)
There’s no way around it: No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham is destined to bring home the hardware in what should be a dazzling rookie season with the Detroit Pistons. Superb talent and sky-high potential aside, Cunningham has one asset that will help him garner media attention in an oft-ignored market: charisma.
Sure, Cunningham’s highlight reel is full of plays that no 19-year-old should be able to make. However, his personality stole the show on draft night. He appeared comfortable in front of the camera and was quick to entertain, pulling props out of his inner suit pocket to cater specifically to his soon-to-be home crowd in Motor City.
Already, Cunningham is embracing his role as the face of the franchise, and his marketability off the court will only supplement his star-caliber production on it.