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2021 NBA rookies: Why this year's class is ahead of the curve on defense

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Evan Mobley elevates for the big-time swat (0:20)

Evan Mobley elevates for the big-time swat (0:20)

Defense is typically the most difficult part of the adjustment for NBA rookies. This year's group of newcomers looks like an exception.

As Mike Schmitz explained in Tuesday's rankings of the top 10 rookies so far in the 2021-22 campaign, several are excelling at the defensive end of the court -- starting with leading Rookie of the Year contender Evan Mobley from the Cleveland Cavaliers but also including versatile No. 4 overall pick Scottie Barnes of the Toronto Raptors and the Sacramento Kings' lockdown perimeter defender Davion Mitchell.

Mobley has managed to stand out with both his rim protection and ability to defend smaller opponents on the perimeter. Barnes, at 6-foot-7, has been asked to guard lead ball handlers and centers. And Mitchell's "Off Night" nickname -- as in what his opponents experience -- has carried over from his team's national championship run at Baylor.

We've teamed up Mike Schmitz and Kevin Pelton to explore just how much rookies are typically behind the curve defensively and how the changing trends in the NBA and amateur levels have helped change that for a handful of players this season.


Rookies typically struggle on defense

How rare is it for NBA rookies to come into the league ready to defend? Consider that since 2009-10, the first year with luck-adjusted RAPM data on NBAshotcharts.com, there have been just 50 rookies who have played at least 2,000 minutes the year after being drafted. (The last filter separates international veterans from true rookies like this season's group.)