The fantasy crowd loves its rookies. When we hear words such as "upside," "length" and "wingspan" we salivate like dogs waiting for table scraps. Unfortunately, it's a rare occurrence when a rookie steps in and makes his mark on the fantasy world in his first season as a pro.
Take a look back over the last few years and name the rookies who have had an immediate fantasy impact for the duration of their rookie campaign. It's a short list, with Chris Paul, Emeka Okafor and Brandon Roy leading the way. Most of your rooks will take at least half of their inaugural season to get their feet wet (think Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo in 2006-07 or Raymond Felton in 2005-06), and even more will take a year or two to develop, like Deron Williams and Al Jefferson. Sadly, some will never realize the potential that made them draft picks in the first place.
Needless to say, there's a whole lot of uncertainty when it comes to dealing with rookies in fantasy leagues. That, of course, doesn't mean there won't be plenty of fantasy finds in this year's crop of youngsters. In a draft as deep and talented as this one, the fantasy implications, for this year and beyond, will be far-reaching. Let's break down the first round, pick by pick:
1. Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers
The Oden/Durant question has finally been answered, but now the real debate begins. Oden or Durant in your fantasy draft? It's actually not nearly as much of a debate. Durant's ability to dominate multiple categories (including points, 3-pointers and free-throw percentage) is a clear advantage over Oden's dominance in the big man categories (rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage). That said, make no mistake, Oden will be a dominant defensive force in the NBA this season. His rebounds and blocks -- not to mention the center eligibility -- will make him an immediate impact player in fantasy leagues. The only question is, how quickly will his offensive game progress? Now that Zach Randolph is gone, the Blazers will have to rely a little more on Oden's post presence on the offensive end, but we should still expect only modest scoring totals in 2007-08.
2. Kevin Durant, F, Seattle SuperSonics
I'm sure you've heard enough Durant comparisons over the last few months to make your head spin. So far, I hear he's Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen and Dirk Nowitzki all rolled into one. Well, I have another one for you, but this one is for the fantasy geeks in the group. How about Shawn Marion? The styles of play couldn't be more different, but statistically speaking, Durant was the NCAA's version of the Matrix last season. Within three years, this kid should be a surefire first-round fantasy pick with the ability to dominate multiple categories. If he's not, he'll be considered a disappointment. What about this year, you ask? Durant clearly has the talent to produce right away and with Ray Allen gone and Rashard Lewis possibly on his way, the Sonics will need to lean on Durant on the offensive end. If Lewis goes, opposing defenses will be able to focus almost solely on Durant, but he has the ability to overcome double-teams (yes, even this year); and more importantly, he'll be one of the only scorers left on this roster. Good players on bad teams are almost always fantasy gold. Everyone is going to want to get a piece of Durant come fantasy draft day and that will cost you a pretty penny. Those pennies will be well spent, especially in keeper leagues, but be careful not to overvalue him. After all, he is still just a rookie.
3. Al Horford, PF, Atlanta Hawks
Before you groan about Atlanta taking another forward, realize this: The Hawks don't really have a banger down low; Al Horford is a banger, and more. Not only can he pull down tough rebounds in traffic, but he's also a decent shot-blocker, can run the court better than most big men (an underrated quality) and is a very good passer for a player with his size. With an NBA-ready body, there is little doubt that Horford can step in and contribute right away for the Hawks. Expect him to earn plenty of minutes in the post, where he'll grab rebounds and block shots in bulk. His scoring might take some time to develop, as he still lacks polish with his back to the basket in the post. Still, the future potential here is tantalizing, and since he'll have the opportunity to play right away, Horford should be the third rookie off your board come draft day.
4. Mike Conley Jr., PG, Memphis Grizzlies
There is little doubt that Conley's skill set will translate well in the NBA. His speed is his greatest asset, and his decision-making skills and unselfish play combine to make him the top-rated point guard in the draft. The biggest problem for Conley is that he may be a better real-life player than fantasy player. The lack of range on his jumper and disappointing free-throw shooting undoubtedly hurt his fantasy stock. Still, Conley should provide decent returns this season, as he'll be able to rack up assists and steals at a high rate as the potential starting point guard for the Grizzlies. I say potential because Memphis still needs to find out what it has in Kyle Lowry (whom I also like by the way). Expect a position battle, and pray for a clear-cut winner. A timeshare would kill the fantasy value of both of these talented youngsters.
5. Jeff Green, F, Seattle SuperSonics
Green's scouting report reads virtually the same everywhere: NBA-ready and versatile, but lacks one standout skill and is unselfish almost to a fault. We've all seen Green at Georgetown and we know he's more than just a solid player; but his stats suffer due to the aforementioned unselfishness. I'll never knock a player for placing a priority on the team, but in the fantasy game, we look for stats, not wins. That said, Green should be one of the more productive rookies this season, as he'll be able to step in and play right away with the Sonics. I'm not entirely enthralled with his future fantasy prospects, however, as he's likely to be serviceable in all categories but dominant in none.
6. Yi Jianlian, F, Milwaukee Bucks
Jianlian is a polarizing prospect. Some people think he'll live up to the hype, others think he'll fall flat on his face. Count me in the "believer" camp, but don't count me in for a few more years. Though it may take him a little time to develop, I absolutely love his ability to run the court and I can see him contributing in multiple categories a little bit down the line. Yi's stats in China are not easily found on the Web, so I'll reprint his 2006-07 stats here: 24.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 58.5 percent from the field and 81.6 percent from the line. Obviously, we have to consider the competition, but those numbers are nothing to scoff at, regardless of the comp. I don't think he'll block shots like that in the NBA, but there is some tremendous future fantasy potential here. Although I don't think he'll contribute right away, he might be a nice late-round flier if it looks like he'll earn playing time alongside Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva in Milwaukee.
7. Corey Brewer, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Not only does Brewer have the skills to be a lockdown defender in the NBA, but he is also a very good finisher and has the athleticism to get after it on the offensive end. His offensive game, however, still needs some work and will take some time to refine. Brewer's overall fantasy value will hinge on how quickly he can adapt his offensive talents. Due to his defensive prowess, I can see Brewer earning around 25 minutes per game in his first season with the Timberwolves, but then again, we thought the same thing about Randy Foye last year. The Wolves have to be willing to sit Trenton Hassell on the bench -- and with Brewer's defense, they should -- to allow the exciting duo of Foye and Brewer to blossom. Brewer won't be a huge fantasy factor just yet, but the big fantasy bonus here is that he will be a major thief on the defensive end, providing steals in bulk.
8. Brandan Wright, PF, Golden State Warriors (via Charlotte)
Moving Jason Richardson for Brandan Wright sure makes a heck of a lot of sense for the Warriors, especially after they went and got themselves an NBA-ready talent in Marco Belinelli with the 17th overall pick. It helps that Wright possibly has the most upside in the draft, outside of Durant and Oden. Unfortunately, upside does not always translate into immediate production. Wright has all the raw tools (length, quickness and leaping ability) to be a dominant force in the league, but he will need to add some strength and refine his game before he becomes a major force in the league.
9. Joakim Noah, PF, Chicago Bulls
As the NBA shifts to a more up-tempo pace, players with the athleticism and intensity of Noah should end up doing quite well in the fantasy game. While Noah may never develop into a big-time scorer, his relentless effort and motor will lead to plenty of rebounds, steals and blocks. I love how Noah fits in Chicago, but it's not entirely clear how the minutes will be distributed. Noah very well may start at power forward, but the Bulls still need to find time for their future stud, Tyrus Thomas. Noah's fantasy value will rely heavily on playing time, so we will need to see how the free-agent market plays out. My initial instincts tell me that he'll see a good amount of minutes and will be a productive late-round fantasy player for his potential in the steals and blocks categories.
10. Spencer Hawes, C, Sacramento Kings
Name me one true center who had a great fantasy basketball season last year. OK, besides Yao Ming. Struggling to find one? Me too. The league is becoming too quick and athletic for these guys, and the less athletic big men, like Hawes, will struggle to keep pace. Hawes may be polished offensively (including his passing ability), but he's not nearly as light on his feet as some of the other big men in the league. And while he's a decent passer, he's not a great rebounder for a guy with his size, as his 6.4 boards per game at Washington suggest. He's being groomed to replace Brad Miller, but won't see much playing time this season unless the injury bug jumps up and bites Miller again. If Miller does go down, Hawes will be able to produce in spurts, but overall, I'm not incredibly high on Hawes' fantasy prospects for this year or the future.
11. Acie Law, PG, Atlanta Hawks
I'll be honest. I was a huge fan of Acie's college game. Loved his fearlessness, loved his awareness and loved his ability to control the flow of the game. Simply put, Acie Law is a very good basketball player. That said, his fantasy upside at this level is fairly limited. He's very well-rounded, but doesn't have that one standout skill. He's ready to contribute now, and he'll be solid, but he's not one of those guys we'll all be drooling about come fantasy draft day. Expect him to earn the bulk of minutes at the point for the Hawks in 2007-08, where he'll be one of the more productive rookies this season. I'm not sure how consistently he'll hit the 3 in the NBA, but he should be a solid option for points, assists and steals, while keeping his turnovers to a minimum.
12. Thaddeus Young, F, Philadelphia 76ers
You want upside, you got it. Thaddeus is all about upside. A few years from now, we might be looking back and talking about this kid as the steal of the draft. For now, we'll have to play the waiting game, as we can't realistically expect him to make a fantasy impact as a rookie. Just do me one favor: Make sure you keep Thaddeus on your radar, because he has the potential to be a truly special fantasy player down the road.
13. Julian Wright, F, New Orleans Hornets
Here's a guy I absolutely love. I'm convinced that if Wright had a better jump shot, and a little more strength, he'd have gone much higher in the draft. Since the strength will come in time, the biggest concern is the lack of range on his jumper, which will hurt his overall offensive game. Wright pretty much has everything else, highlighted by a wicked 7-2½ wingspan that will lead to plenty of steals and blocks down the line. He's a good defender, can run the court and will rebound well. To me, he looks like one of those guys who's about a year or two away from making his mark in the fantasy game, but he could be a nice fantasy sleeper given the overall health of the Hornets and the fact that they'll probably lose Desmond Mason in free agency.
14. Al Thornton, F, Los Angeles Clippers
An absolute physical specimen, it's going to be hard not to fall in love with Thornton's raw skills. The problem for me is that Thornton is a little too raw for a player his age. In any case, I have no doubt that Thornton will be a tremendous scorer in the league. He can be as explosive as anyone in this draft and can even step outside to knock down a few 3-pointers. I'm not entirely sold on his defensive abilities, but due to his athleticism, he will have potential to contribute in both the steals and blocks category. The talent is clearly there, and he should get some decent run off the bench behind Corey Maggette in Los Angeles this season. He will be a high-risk/very high-reward player until he proves himself at this level.
15. Rodney Stuckey, SG, Detroit Pistons
A do-it-all type at Eastern Washington, Stuckey's draft stock skyrocketed in the weeks prior to the draft. He's a pure scorer and he can even buckle down on the defensive end, racking up 2.4 steals per game during the 2006-07 season. After watching Stuckey post averages of 24.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.8 3-pointers in his sophomore season, it became clear why the fantasy crowd is already taking a liking to his game. Yes, he did it against weaker competition, but there's some serious potential for that multicategorical goodness we all love. Unfortunately, Stuckey has the bad luck of being drafted by a team that doesn't necessarily need immediate help. The Pistons can and will take their time with the talented rook, and you should follow suit in fantasy leagues.
16. Nick Young, SG, Washington Wizards
Silky smooth with a tremendous midrange game, Young is the kind of player who can come in and put up stats right away in the NBA. He is as efficient as they come (a fantasy owner's dream), shooting 52.5 percent from the floor, 78.6 percent from the line and 44.0 percent from downtown during his junior season at USC. He will be a solid scorer and will be able to knock down some 3s, but I'd love to see him really get after it on the defensive end. With his long arms, one would think he could rack up steals at a high rate, but he disappointed in that category in college, stealing just 0.7 per game in 2006-07. Young should be able to beat out DeShawn Stevenson for the starting shooting guard spot in Washington, but since the big three (Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison) command most of the touches, we can only expect moderate production. That said, if any of those three go down with an injury, Young has the ability to step up and be a productive fantasy scorer and 3-point shooter.
17. Marco Belinelli, SG, Golden State Warriors
With his 3-point range, quickness and athletic style of play, Belinelli is a perfect fit for Nellie's run-and-gun offense. He's absolutely NBA-ready, but the Warriors still have a little bit of a logjam in their backcourt with Baron Davis, Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson, so Belinelli will need to impress in order to get the playing time he needs to be productive. He has some serious fantasy sleeper potential going into the 2007-08 season, but we'll have to see how the position battles unfold in the preseason before making that call.
18. Sean Williams, PF, New Jersey Nets
This is a great pick for the Nets. They take on some big-time risk, because of his questionable character, but get the player they needed in Williams. His elite shot-blocking ability will undoubtedly make him a fantasy favorite early in his career. To me, this guy really looks like a younger version of Samuel Dalembert. Like Dalembert, Williams will take at least a few years to become a consistent force in the NBA, but he should actually get a chance to start for the Nets as early as this season. They are in desperate need of his defensive presence in the paint, and Williams will be a very nice fantasy sleeper for his boards and blocks.
19. Javaris Crittenton, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Like Thaddeus Young, his former teammate at Georgia Tech, Crittenton is another high-upside selection on whom we'll need to keep a close eye in future seasons. Fantasywise, Crittenton could end up being the best point guard in this draft. Yes, even over Mike Conley. Obviously, I'm extremely high on the kid, just not this year.
20. Jason Smith, PF, Philadelphia (via Miami)
A good pick for the Sixers, and an even better pick for Smith, who might get an opportunity to start right away. He's not a traditional "4" so don't expect to see him backing guys down in the paint. Instead, Smith likes to face the basket and use his quick first step to get to the rack. He will need to work on his strength, however, and that will hurt his immediate fantasy prospects. That said, the Sixers don't have many other options at power forward, so Smith should be able earn solid minutes and provide moderate fantasy value in 2007-08.
21. Daequan Cook, SG, Miami Heat (via Philadelphia)
Major project, major upside. Like Crittenton and Young, Cook will need at least a few years of seasoning before he can make a statement in the NBA. I love his natural scoring ability and jump shot and think he'll be able to create a high volume of steals once he's ready, but we'll wait to see how he progresses over the next few seasons before thinking about him in the fantasy game.
22. Jared Dudley, SF, Charlotte Bobcats
Dudley won't wow you with his tools, and his upside is limited, but he'll always be there scooping up the loose ball and banging for tough rebounds in traffic. He's a hustle guy with intensity and passion, but he looks like he'll be better in real life than in fantasy.
23. Wilson Chandler, SF, New York Knicks
A bit of a project, Chandler has all the physical tools to be a major star in the NBA. Will his fundamentals catch up to his athleticism? Time will tell, but this is a very nice risk/reward selection at this point in the draft. A little down the line, Chandler projects to be a solid scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker, and he might even be able to develop some 3-point range if he can continue to improve his outside jumper.
24. Rudy Fernandez, SG, Portland Trail Blazers (via Phoenix)
Fernandez is a serious talent with some really nice fantasy potential, but he has a sticky contract situation and may not be able to suit up for the Blazers in 2007-08. If he can get out of his contract, he should be an immediate fantasy factor with some nice potential in points, 3s and steals, but we'll reserve judgment until we figure out what's going on with his contract. In the meantime, can we just talk about how nasty the Blazers are going to be in a few years?
25. Morris Almond, SG, Utah Jazz
Clearly one of the best shooters in the draft, Almond drilled 2.4 treys per contest at a 45.6 percent clip during his senior season at Rice. He's an accomplished scorer and a plus free-throw shooter who can get himself to the line, so he has some good potential for fantasy production if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, rookies don't normally fare well in Jerry Sloan's system, as Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer can attest. The big question here is how will the Jazz find enough minutes for both Brewer and Almond? The answer is, they likely won't, and that could make neither player relevant for fantasy.
26. Aaron Brooks, PG, Houston Rockets
Welcome to the Rick Adelman era. No way would the Rockets take a lightning-quick guard who can push the ball, if they still had Jeff Van Gundy running the show. Brooks should be a decent spark plug off the bench for the Rockets this season, but won't have any fantasy value with Rafer Alston, Mike James and Luther Head around. The real story here is that this pick is a clear sign that the Rockets will look to pick up the pace on the offensive end this year.
27. Arron Afflalo, SG, Detroit Pistons
I'm not really sure how I feel about this pick for Detroit, though I am sure that Afflalo will not have any fantasy value this season, or next, for the Pistons. He's a good scorer and capable defender, but doesn't project to be a big-time fantasy prospect.
28. Tiago Splitter, PF, San Antonio Spurs
Splitter has been on draft boards for a few years now, but hasn't improved much and has seen his stock drop significantly during that time. A quality defender with some nice overall potential, Splitter still needs to work on his offensive game before he becomes much of a factor in fantasy leagues. He is still under contract with Tau Ceramica and doesn't have a buyout until the summer of 2008, making it highly unlikely that he'll suit up for the Spurs until next season. Write his name down and check back in a year or two to see if his offense has caught up to his defense.
29. Alando Tucker, SG/SF, Phoenix Suns
Tucker is a good athlete and an aggressive player, but I'm not sure how well he fits in Phoenix, because he lacks range on his jump shot. He's unlikely to earn much playing time in his rookie season for the Suns.
30. Petteri Koponen, PG, Portland Trail Blazers (via Philadelphia)
File this name away for future use. At just 19 years of age, Koponen is not nearly ready to make his mark in the NBA. Keep an eye on his progress, though, and look for his name to start popping up on sleeper lists a few years from now.
This is why I love the NBA draft. It's so unpredictable, and there are almost always a few huge trades during the night. Let's take a quick look at some of the teams that will be affected by the three big draft day trades:
Boston Celtics: Some may think that the addition of Ray Allen will hurt the fantasy prospects of the players around him. Sure, he'll need the rock and will take a lot of shots, but he'll also command a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Al Jefferson will still get his looks, and he's worthy of being double-teamed in the post, but will teams be able to bring a defender down with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the court? No way. Rajon Rondo makes out pretty well here too, as he now has a variety of scorers to dish to when he penetrates the lane.
Seattle SuperSonics: The true effect of this deal will be realized in the coming months when we see what happens with Rashard Lewis. If Lewis bolts, both Durant and Green will have highly productive rookie seasons. If he stays, there might be a bit of a logjam at the forward position with Lewis, Durant, Green and Szczerbiak. I love the Delonte West addition, but it's unclear what his role will be as of right now. Let's reserve judgment on this one until we see what happens with Lewis during the offseason.
New York Knicks: Wow, I'm not really sure what to say except that the Knicks are going to have a tough time defending in the paint. Zach Randolph is a big name, but is he really going to help the Knicks? One thing is for sure, he's going to hurt the fantasy value of virtually everyone around him. I was all primed to grab David Lee in most of my drafts this year. Not anymore. There just won't be enough rock to go around, not with Randolph in town.
Portland Trail Blazers: Steve Francis might never suit up for the Blazers, and that's just fine by me. I'd much rather see Brandon Roy, Sergio Rodriguez and Martell Webster blossom in the backcourt, while Channing Frye, LaMarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw and Greg Oden hold it down in the frontcourt. Frye's addition poses some problems for Aldridge, because the two will likely split time at power forward.
Warriors trade Jason Richardson and Jermareo Davidson to Bobcats for Brandan Wright
Golden State Warriors: Giving up Jason Richardson isn't the worst thing in the world, not when Marco Belinelli has the potential to come in and contribute right away. I'd still like to see the Warriors clear some more room for Belinelli, but still think he'll be productive even with Monta Ellis and Stephen Jackson in town. Wright will have some fleeting moments of success this year, but will not be consistent. He is still a big long-term winner here, though, as his athleticism is a perfect fit in Golden State's run-and-gun offense.
Charlotte Bobcats: Not much will change here for Charlotte. J-Rich will replace Gerald Wallace (who's certainly on his way out), and the rest will be business as usual for the Bobcats. Right now, I'm looking at a starting lineup consisting of Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson, Walter Herrmann, Sean May and Emeka Okafor to start the season.
Brian McKitish is a fantasy baseball and basketball analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com. He can be reached at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com