- Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is the opening favorite (+300) to take home the Naismith Player of the Year Award in 2021
- USC’s Evan Mobley (+950) and Duke’s Jalen Johnson (+1000) round out the top three contenders
- See the full list of opening odds and an early pick within the story below
Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham has opened as the favorite in 2021 Naismith POY odds, but there is a lot of uncertainty, as well as a ton of basketball to be played between now and the end of next season.
The Cowboys face a potential postseason ban, and Cunningham will face an uphill battle of his own to win an award that has historically avoided true freshman.
Additionally, a host of talented players, including USC’s Evan Mobley, Duke’s Jalen Johnson, and Florida State’s Scottie Barnes will be gunning for the award as well.
2021 Naismith Player of the Year Odds
|Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State)||+300|
|Evan Mobley (USC)||+950|
|Jalen Johnson (Duke)||+1000|
|BJ Boston (Kentucky)||+1200|
|Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga)||+1200|
|Scottie Barnes (Florida State)||+1400|
|Terrence Clarke (Kentucky)||+1400|
|Ziaire Williams (Stanford)||+1400|
|Greg Brown (Texas)||+1600|
|Keon Johnson (Tennessee)||+1800|
|Caleb Love (UNC)||+2500|
|Jaden Springer (Tennessee)||+2500|
|Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova)||+2500|
|Josh Christopher (Arizona State)||+2500|
|Moses Moody (Arkansas)||+2500|
|Terrence Shannon (Texas Tech)||+2500|
|Trayce Jackson-Davis (Indiana)||+2500|
|Wendell Moore (Duke)||+2500|
Odds taken June 17th
Cunningham is an extremely talented prospect, but he’s not a guarantee to take home the Naismith award for a few key reasons.
Cunningham Sticking in Stillwater
Oklahoma State is facing a postseason ban this season after former assistant Lamont Evans admitted to taking thousands of dollars in bribes to steer player towards certain financial advisers. Despite a looming postseason ban for the Cowboys, Cunningham announced he will be staying at OSU for the upcoming season.
Unswerving in allegiance. pic.twitter.com/tuhcIWhTWh
— Cade Cunningham (@CadeCunningham_) June 22, 2020
Despite the trend of players leaving mid-season, or even skipping college altogether, having increased in recent years, Mike Boynton has kept a good relationship with his talented incoming class as all have opted to remain in Stillwater and compete for a Big 12 championship at minimum.
Tough Task for a Freshman?
Historically, it’s been extremely tough for first-year players to take home the Naismith award. Much like the Heisman Trophy in college football, the Naismith has, for much of its history, been as much about career accomplishment as single-season success.
Also like the Heisman Trophy, however, that freshman wall has started to come down in the last decade-plus.
In 2007, Kevin Durant was the first freshman to ever win the award. In the 2010’s there were two freshman winners. Kentucky’s Anthony Davis won it in 2012, and Duke’s Zion Williamson took home the Naismith in 2019.
In the 2020-21 season, there’s one key aspect that will deal a blow to the hopes of the freshmen who hope to win the Naismith. Uncertainty is abound as the sports world figures out how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s unknown how the college basketball schedule will be affected, but if preparation and preseason practice is affected in a significant way, it is the freshman players that will be affected the most. T
he experienced players, who have already been ingrained into their systems, will have a definite leg-up on the new players that are learning as the season goes on. That was already the case in a pre-pandemic world, but it will be increased tenfold if the season sees major disruption.
Mobley Could Be the Man
Cunningham is the headliner of this group of players, but in many eyes, USC’s Evan Mobley is just as, if not more, exciting.
The seven-footer from Temecula, CA is reminiscent of an early Giannis Antetokounmpo, except he’s further along developmentally at an earlier point.
Like a young Giannis, Mobley has the kind of height and length that makes scouts salivate. He’s also got an incredibly high ceiling with a frame that still has to be grown into. Unlike the Greek Freak early on, however, Mobley already possesses a polished offensive game, complete with a strong handle and smooth shooting stroke from the outside.
Pairing those attributes with the big man fundamentals he also possesses, such as strong rebounding ability on both ends of the floor and tremendous timing as a shot-blocker, there really isn’t much that Mobley does wrong. If anyone should be a contender for the Naismith award, it’s this dynamic USC seven-footer.
Other Players to Watch in the Naismith Race
The top two in the odds are there for a reason. Both Cunningham and Mobley are such exciting players heading into this season, and they deserve to be the favorites to take home the Naismith. However, surprises emerge every year, and there are plenty of sleepers on the board that could disrupt the Cunningham/Mobley hype train in 2021.
One of those players is Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. One of the only non-freshman listed in the odds, Robinson-Earl had a strong freshman season a year ago, posting 10.5 points per game, 9.4 rebounds, and adding just under 2 assists. With the aforementioned advantage of experience as we head into the unknown, the Naismith award has a good chance of coming back to Jay Wright’s Wildcat program.
The other name that must be mentioned is Jalen Johnson. He’s the latest Duke star, which means the eyes of the sport will be on his every move. That scrutiny can both help and hurt. Should he struggle at times, it will only be amplified by the constant attention that Duke receives.
However, if Johnson puts together a strong campaign, he’s almost certain to be in contention to be named player of the year.
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