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Rookie of the Year contenders Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green square off for first time

Here’s how the top two picks from the 2021 NBA draft have fared so far this season.

Detroit Pistons v Houston Rockets
Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets drives against Cade Cunningham of the Detroit Pistons during the 2021 NBA Summer League at the Thomas & Mack Center on August 10, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The top two picks from the 2021 NBA draft will officially face off for the first time Wednesday when Cade Cunningham’s Detroit Pistons meet Jalen Green’s Houston Rockets. Cunningham and Green did play against each other during Summer League but this is the real deal now.

Green entered the year as the favorite to win Rookie of the Year at +200, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Cunningham was second at the time at +300. In DKNation’s staff predictions prior to the season, three members of the panel had Green winning the award. Two others had Cunningham, while one had Cleveland Cavaliers big man and current odds-on favorite Evan Mobley bagging the honor.

There were some questions about whether the Pistons would wind up taking Cunningham, who was the consensus top prospect in NBA circles. Detroit was just doing its due diligence with the No. 1 overall pick, and Cunningham embraced the chance at reviving the franchise. Hopefully, the “Motorcade” nickname will stick. Green made some questionable remarks about the city of Detroit when asked about him falling to the Rockets at No. 2 overall, so he’s fortunate this first meeting between the two players is in Houston.

Mobley and Scottie Barnes are currently ahead of Cunningham and Green in Rookie of the Year odds at +350 each, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, but both guards do figure to be in the mix by the time the season ends. Let’s look at how each player has performed so far.

2021-22 NBA stats

Cade Cunningham (4 games): 10.8 points, 2.8 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 23.2 FG%, 14.3 3PT%
Jalen Green (10 games): 13.6 points, 3.0 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 35.3 FG%, 28.6 3PT%

The primary reason for both guards falling in ROTY odds is shooting inefficiency. It doesn’t matter how many points you average if you’re clunking most of your shots. Cunningham’s injury early in the season also affected his stock.

It appears both players are being somewhat miscast in their roles at the moment, which can happen on rebuilding teams. Cunningham is averaging 3.3 turnovers per game, while Green is not doing much better at 2.9 turnovers. The latter was already more of an off-ball player and shouldn’t be forced to initiate offense at this stage. Cunningham was the primary ball handler in college at Oklahoma State but that doesn’t mean he has to fit into that role in the NBA. His skills allow him to play well off the ball, and it’s possible Detroit has to move him to that type of role as Killian Hayes gets back to 100 percent. Hayes is expected to play Wednesday.

When the Pistons and Rockets meet Wednesday, Cunningham and Green will be looking to make statements. One will be trying to justify his spot at the top pick, while the other hopes to show up the organization who passed on him (even if he is thankful for them doing so). Despite their poor starts to the regular season, expect both guards to be in the running for Rookie of the Year. This could be the game where things start looking up.