Detroit Pistons rookie and 2021 first overall pick Cade Cunningham finished third in the NBA Rookie of the Year race, the NBA announced Saturday, in one of the closest races ever.
Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors forward, was voted Rookie of the Year with 48 first-place votes. Cleveland Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley was a close second with 43 first-place votes, while Cunningham received nine first-place votes.
The finally tally gave Barnes a 378-363 points edge on Mobley, the smallest margin since the current voting format began 19 years ago (five points for first, three points for second, one point for third).
Cunningham had 153 points, with 10 second-place votes and 78 votes for third. He was left off three of the 100 ballots.
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Cunningham is the first Pistons rookie to finish top three in votes since Grant Hill shared the award with Jason Kidd in 1995.
Barnes, 20, was the No. 4 overall pick in July’s draft out of Florida State, helping the Raptors to a surprising 48-34 record and the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals in 74 games, all starts, shooting 49.2% overall and 30.1% on 3-pointers.
Cunningham had a historic first season, averaging 17.4 points, 5.6 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He’s the youngest player in franchise history to record a triple double, and only the 10th rookie in NBA history to average at least 17 points, five rebounds and five assists per game.
It was an usually competitive race, as Barnes and Mobley each had standout seasons for teams that finished above .500 — rare for teams picking at the top of the draft — and top nine in the East. Toronto made the playoffs and Cleveland made the play-in tournament.
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While Cunningham stated several times over the course of the season he felt he deserved to win the award, he acknowledged it was not his motivation for playing basketball. Cunningham’s top priority, he said, is to win games. And despite the team’s 23-59 record, he positively impacted winning. The Pistons went 20-44 with Cunningham in the lineup and 3-15 without him.
“I play to win,” he said after scoring 34 points — 29 in the second half — against the Brooklyn Nets on March 29. “There’s a lot of guys that play to win in this league, but not everybody that’s super talented does that. Just the way that I play, the way that I compete, it shows that and I try to put my team first. And sometimes in that, I try to help my team by me going and doing it myself. My teammates encourage that. They allow me to go be me. The fact that I’m doing what I’m doing, I think my game will speak for itself.”
Mobley averaged 15 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 blocks. Houston’s Jalen Green got one second-place vote to finish fourth, and Orlando’s Franz Wagner — the former Michigan standout — finished fifth with two third-place votes, after averaging 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. New Orleans forward Herb Jones got one third-place vote.
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