- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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Analysis of NBA draft prospects is typically farsighted, with an emphasis upon players' long-term values rather than their short-term statistical outlook. But examining rookies under the lens of fantasy sports, all we care about is this season's stats. And stats occur when skills meet opportunity. Many players selected Thursday will provide valuable contributions down the road for their teams, but only a handful marry proper circumstance with adequate talent to yield immediate statistical production.
Predicting rookie impact upon fantasy hoops is tricky: Three years ago, nine rookies ended the season in the top 150 on the Player Rater. Two years ago, it was three. Last year, eight did it from a class that was widely dubbed as weak. This year's draft appears relatively deep with talent, but the majority of the players who end up as fantasy options will be added during the season, not prime options on draft day. For fantasy purposes, it's less about which rookies to draft, and more about knowing which players to keep tabs on as the season progresses and have the upside to be modest fantasy contributors if opportunity shines upon them.
Let's take a look at a few players who will have fantasy impact this year, some sleepers and some to watch for the long term. I'm not including "busts," because it's difficult to dub a player as a bust during their rookie season, although many have great long-term prospects but unpromising short-term outlooks.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets: Blocks and boards, that's where this stud's short-term fantasy value lies. Davis will put up defensive stats immediately, but his offensive game is still a work in progress. He'll likely score more as the season goes on and finish in the low double-digits. His long-term ceiling is insane, because he has guard-like skills and quickness in a freakish body with room for growth, but this year, his statistical impact will primarily be limited to the defensive end. He should average at least eight boards and two blocks per game, a feat only three players achieved last season. That's good enough to make him a solid option, especially if he qualifies at center, although if he solely has power forward eligibility, you would ideally get more scoring from that slot. He'll be fantasy relevant, but not dominant for a couple of years as his jump hook and turnaround jumper continues to develop along with his low post moves. His rookie statistical floor this season is DeAndre Jordan, who finished top-70, and his ceiling is Serge Ibaka with more boards and better percentages.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: Beal is a snug fit for the Wizards, who need a shooter to complement John Wall in the backcourt and are set at the other starting positions with Trevor Ariza, Nene and Emeka Okafor. Beal's one season at Florida didn't fully exemplify his statistical potential, as he deferred to veteran players, played out of position at times and struggled a bit with his shot. But he wowed teams with his shooting in workouts, has an NBA-ready body, good ballhandling, work ethic, toughness, and the ability to impact both ends of the floor. His 3-pointers and steals should translate to the fantasy game immediately, and he could come close to mimicking his college numbers as a rookie. Expect more than a three and a steal per game from the jump, with double-digit scoring and nice rebounds for a guard.
Thomas Robinson, Sacramento Kings: Robinson is a great fit chemistry and makeup-wise for the Kings and complements DeMarcus Cousins nicely in their frontcourt. He'll be immediately productive in the scoring and rebounding department, but the lack of blocks hinders his fantasy value. He should shine in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations, and Cousins should take pressure off him in the post, but he'll mostly contribute points and boards and not much else. He'll be more helpful to the Kings than to fantasy teams and could eventually average a double-double, but not this season. Expect 12-14 points and eight boards, but with mediocre peripherals, as he blocked just 0.9 shots per game for Kansas.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: He had some of the best offensive numbers in all of college basketball, averaging 24.5 points (second in the nation), 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.9 3s and 1.5 steals, while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor and 88.7 percent from the stripe. His 3s made were second among drafted players, a promising immediate sign in the fantasy realm. Questions surround the fact he never played a top-25 team or played in the NCAA tournament and hasn't seen top competition, but he's a high-character, superb athlete who can score relentlessly with nice passing skills. He's also in an excellent place in Portland, a team with just six players on the roster and plenty of room for an offensive combo guard. Expect primarily points and 3s from him as a rookie as his court vision and all-around game develops at the next level.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors: There isn't much long-term competition for Barnes, who will fit nicely with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry to form a formidable scoring trio from the perimeter. Richard Jefferson and Dorell Wright will block his immediate path, but don't be surprised if he's making noise by the end of the season like Thompson did last season. If he sees floor time, his well-rounded game will translate into 3s and steals, and many allow the fact that he didn't completely dominate in college muddle their perception of his amazing athleticism. He posted a 38-inch standing vertical at the combine and blew people away with his measurables, plus there's still room for growth. He should immediately provide modest points, 3s and steals. Down the line, he has a great fantasy skill set, especially as he becomes more efficient offensively.
Jeremy Lamb, Houston Rockets: He should soak up Chase Budinger's minutes, and if the team gets rid of Kevin Martin in a trade, Lamb has the tools to contribute if he gets the opportunity. His season was somewhat disappointing, but he still averaged 17.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 3s and 1.2 steals with good percentages. A 7-foot wingspan, ability to spot up as well as score off screens and curls, and promising defensive potential indicate that he'll excel eventually, but he doesn't get to the rim as much as he could, is not great at creating own offense, and his size makes it difficult for him to finish around rim. The stats to focus on when measuring a guard's ability to immediately contribute are 3s and steals, and Lamb should be able to provide them right away, but if Martin is still on the roster, he won't provide much else.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats: While the second overall pick drips with intangibles: "hard worker," a "winner," "you can build a culture around him," "motor" ... the stats just won't be there yet. He's low-risk, high-reward player for the Bobcats and will make them better in the long run, but he won't be great in fantasy this year. Given his work ethic, he'll figure out how to shoot, create his own shot, and improve offensively as his career progresses. He has Gerald Wallace in his peak-type potential down the line when it comes to defensive stats. However, right now his offensive game needs work, as he primarily scored in college due to effort, hustle and desire, not scoring and shooting ability. Remember he's the youngest player in the draft and didn't post mesmerizing college stats, so don't expect a big statistical impact yet.
Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers: This combo guard can take it to the basket hard, has good size, strength and quickness, and didn't achieve his statistical potential in college coming off the bench playing just 24.1 minutes per game. He's got an elite point guard in Kyrie Irving to take the bulk of the ballhandling duties off his plate, and he can focus on using his athleticism and size to create havoc on the offensive end. That athleticism translates to steals, where he has the chance to have an impact immediately, although it's unlikely he'll be a fantasy starter as a rookie. Love the 1.8 steals per game, but he's not a pure shooter yet, and will be statistically outperformed by many who were drafted after him.
Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets: His short-term value hinges on whether Eric Gordon signs the Hornets' qualifying offer, as Rivers is not ready to start at point guard in the NBA yet. He's a lethal scorer with an alpha-dog mentality, a great crossover and even greater ego. He will contribute 3s off the bench immediately with his 25-foot range, but won't immediately provide overall stats. As he learns to run a team from the point, develops his left hand, and improves his ability to finish in traffic, he has a nice long-term future in the league. However, don't expect much more than 3s yet, unless he somehow carves out a starting role.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons: His athletic ability is freakish, which is enough for him to contribute some on the defensive side of the ball from the onset. But he's incredibly raw offensively and has been constantly plagued by work-ethic questions. The Pistons are a nice fit for him, and the fact he dropped some weight leading up to the draft is a promising sign. His back-to-the basket game needs work, and he needs some time to mature and develop, but in a disappointing statistical season for Connecticut, he still averaged 2.7 blocks and 0.8 steals. Based on athleticism and length alone, he should accrue more than one block and half a steal per game, but Drummond shot 29.5 percent from the stripe, so temper any offensive expectations as a rookie.
Perry Jones, Oklahoma City Thunder: A player with the tag "passive" pinned to him couldn't have landed on a better team. He's in a great place to allow his skills to develop. His athleticism is jaw-dropping, but like Drummond, he needs some time to cultivate his skills and mature. The great feature of both is that the makeup questions have nothing to do with their character, just more to do with maturity, something that is self-correcting as they become adults. He could end up being a huge steal for the Thunder and a fantasy gem down the line.
Tony Wroten Jr., Memphis Grizzlies: Wroten's game needs to mature, but he's got size, swagger and passing ability and plenty of room to improve at the next level. He played primarily played off-guard at Washington, but he has the talent to be a starting point guard in the NBA if he develops his weaknesses. If he works hard on his jumper, his fantasy skill set is tantalizing, and he'll likely be a fantasy starter down the line if his game continues to progress.
Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors: He has the tools to be fantasy gold eventually, but with DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani clogging the two most likely roles he would play, he'll likely be featured as a shooter off the bench as a rookie. If a slot opens up, however, he can contribute on the offensive end immediately. Expect 3s this year, but down the line, he has exciting multi-category potential and fits nicely in a league where long perimeter players who can hit 3s and guard multiple positions are increasingly valuable.
Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics: Sure, the back issues might plague him as his career progresses, but if all we care about is numbers this year, Sullinger has a chance to contribute off the bench for the Celtics. Assuming Kevin Garnett is back, he'll likely play fewer minutes. And early on in his college career, Sullinger was assumed to be a lock to go early in the lottery. His college stats of 17.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game illustrate a fine fantasy skill set, so while he won't shine in any category, he could provide decent production in four categories off the bench for the Celtics.
John Jenkins, Atlanta Hawks: Effective perimeter shooting is the most immediately translatable skill when moving to the next level, and Jenkins might be the best pure shooter in the draft, as he averaged 3.8 3s per game on 43.9 percent shooting from behind the arc. He boasts a quick release and should spread the floor for the Hawks, and he complements Joe Johnson's ability to put the ball on the floor. Don't expect anything other than 3s, but he could easily lead the league among rookies in long-range stats and put up 1.5 per game as defenses focus on Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford.
Kendall Marshall, Phoenix Suns: Assists are a commodity in fantasy hoops, and if Steve Nash leaves Phoenix, Marshall has the tools to contribute immediately in this category. He averaged 9.8 dimes per game as a sophomore at North Carolina, so if he's pushed into the role he'll produce there, which will put him on the fantasy radar. Just don't expect much else, as his 8.1 points and 0.8 3s per game demonstrate his lack of offensive game.
Josh Whitling breaks down the top NBA draft selections in terms of fantasy value for the short term and the future.