- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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Over the past few seasons, rookies have had a varied impact upon the fantasy hoops landscape. Two years ago, Stephen Curry and Tyreke Evans were studs, and nine rookies cracked the top 150 on the Player Rater. Last year, Blake Griffin, John Wall and Landry Fields were the only three to do so. But what will the prognosis be for this year's class, widely panned as one of the weakest groups of all time? Well, beyond Kyrie Irving, who will see run in Cleveland and have a chance to put up numbers, few rookies will be on the fantasy radar come draft day. Before seeing how their minutes shake out and skill sets translate, it's difficult to rationalize the gamble of spending a valuable draft pick on an unknown fantasy commodity. This year, it'll be more about knowing which players to keep a close eye upon as the season unravels, and which have the upside to be modest fantasy contributors if opportunity shines upon them.
This year doesn't bode well for rookies having an immediate impact, as Jimmer Fredette is the only player coming in with dominant college statistics like Curry and Griffin did, and the question marks surrounding him are well-documented. He and a few others should have some impact this season, but the majority of rookies won't be fantasy factors. Let's take a look at those who will, as well as some with long-term upside and sleepers.
Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers: Irving is a special talent who should surface as an above-average NBA point guard, although a rookie campaign along the lines of Wall, Evans and Curry isn't likely. It's frustrating that we have such a small sample size to gauge his statistical prowess from, but here's what we do know: he can score, both by shooting and getting to the line, and accrue assists and steals at a steady rate. But there are two major questions for him with regards to his fantasy game: Will he hit NBA 3-pointers as a rookie, and how many minutes will he play? He obviously boasts a perimeter game and sees 3s as part of his long-term arsenal, but it often takes players a year or two to adjust to the extra distance. As for his PT, he should get solid minutes from the jump, as the Cavs are looking to the future and will want to start grooming him for superstardom as soon as possible. But with both Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions potentially on the roster, Irving might not play 30-plus minutes each night right off the bat. I think Davis or Sessions is likely to be eschewed, and the other will split time with Irving, who will end up with around 30 minutes per game, score about 15 points with 5 assists, a steal and a 3 per game. Definitely good enough numbers for a fantasy roster, but he likely won't wow us as a rookie, and I'll be targeting surer bets in this season's draft.
Derrick Williams, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves: How much run will he get as a rook with Michael Beasley and Kevin Love clogging the frontcourt in Minnesota? He's too talented not to play, plus teams don't spend the No. 2 overall pick on a player they plan on keeping on the bench, so he should forge out around 20-25 minutes per game splitting time between both forward positions. But what will he do with that PT? Williams is bursting with potential and continually developed as a player in his two years at Arizona, although he didn't flash the type of peripheral numbers that make fantasy freaks drool. He averaged just 0.7 blocks per game in 30 minutes last season, and shot 74.6 percent from the stripe. Williams will enter the league with the ability to score in a variety of ways, and should be able to use his athleticism to grab a few rebounds, but those are the only two categories we should expect above-average per-minute contributions from Williams this season. He did start nailing 3s last season, going 42-for-74 (56.8 percent) from beyond the arc in college, but I don't see him gunning from the NBA line as a rookie who's trying to establish himself as a legitimate scorer, so that skill will likely translate into steady 18-20 footers, at least this season. Down the line, he should put up some nice numbers, but this year I expect 12-15 points with about 5 rebounds and a field goal percentage in the upper-40s, but not much else. He's still developing as a player, and in the fantasy game, I'd rather own him once he's further along and has a clear starting role.
Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats: The fact they chose him leads me to believe that Bobcats brass isn't sold on D.J. Augustin, and with Shaun Livingston out of the picture, Walker should have a chance to contribute right away and vie for a starting spot. But the fact he didn't nail a ton of 3s in college (1.8 per game as a senior on 33 percent shooting), and scored at an inefficient clip (42.8 percent field goals) leads me to believe he'll be a better actual player than fantasy player as a rookie. He did average 2.1 and 1.9 steals per game his final two seasons, respectively, and his style of play lends itself to snagging steals. Barring any roster changes, he should get 25-30 minutes per night and score 12-15 points with around three assists, a steal and a 3, putting him on the bubble of fantasy relevance. I'm not drafting him, although he's another player who could surface as a solid fantasy player in the long run.
Jimmer Fredette, PG/SG, Sacramento Kings: I think Fredette will forge a solid career for himself in the league, as he possesses enough critical skills to make himself valuable. But the Kings backcourt isn't hurting for somebody to shoulder a heap of minutes, as Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Francisco Garcia and newly reacquired John Salmons have things pretty much under control for this season. That should provide Fredette the opportunity to come off the bench in a relatively low-pressure role and knock down 3s, without worrying too much about facilitating an NBA team or playing NBA defense for more than 15-20 minutes per game as he adjusts. He averaged 3.4 3s per game his senior season at BYU, and clearly has the range to hit the NBA long ball, plus he averaged 1.5, 1.2 and 1.3 steals respectively in his final three college seasons. I see Jimmer flirting with two 3s per game in limited minutes this season, and having some value in deep leagues, but without a starting spot he's not primed to be a major fantasy factor.
Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors: Thompson has the most instantly translatable asset a player needs when transitioning from college to the NBA game, a legit jump shot with range. He can create his own shot, and his length and hustle translated into solid defensive stats against strong competition in the Pac-10. The obvious question is where he fits in with Curry and Monta Ellis around, although he could slide up to the small forward position in a small lineup, and play alongside either of those guards while the other rests. You've gotta love the combination of 2.9 3s, 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks per game at Washington State, although he shot just 43.6 percent from the floor and likely won't have a starting spot waiting for him unless the Warriors trade away Ellis. Most likely, he'll see minutes in the low-20s and make his money from behind the arc, where he could average 1.5-2.0 3s per game but likely won't be above average in other statistical categories at the onset of his career. The potential for big NBA stats are there, but other than the 3s I don't see him getting enough playing time to shine anywhere else as a rookie.
Jan Vesely, SF, Washington Wizards: Youngsters don't get a ton of run in the Euroleague, but Vesely is a good athlete who runs the floor well and boasts a nice perimeter game for his size. He should develop NBA 3-point range, and averaged 1.3 steals in just 14.3 minutes per game for Partizan Belgrade. So, down the road he should be able to contribute along the lines of Andrea Bargnani, although he'll be brought along slowly with little need to play big minutes right away, since Andray Blatche, Yi Jianlian and Rashard Lewis are already on the Wizards roster. His varied skills should allow him to do a little bit of everything eventually, but this season I don't see him being ready for big minutes, and the need for him to contribute right away isn't there.
Bismack Biyombo, PF, Charlotte Bobcats: Like most players from Africa, Biyombo is a raw talent with an impressive wingspan and athleticism. But he's a project, and with Boris Diaw, Tyrus Thomas, Dante Cunningham and D.J. White already at power forward for the Bobcats, he won't be forced into immediate action. He averaged 1.8 blocks per game in just 16 minutes playing in the Spanish League, and will likely have some highlight-reel swats. The consistency to be relied upon as a fantasy player won't be there this season, although he should be able to average 1.0-1.5 blocks per game in around 15 minutes, and eventually he'll be a shot-blocking force with rebounding ability and loads of upside.
Brandon Knight. PG, Detroit Pistons: Rodney Stuckey hasn't proven himself to be a true NBA point guard, as the Pistons gave Tracy McGrady significant run manning the point last season. They likely see Knight as their future starter at that spot, but this year, Stuckey and Will Bynum will still be around and soak up the majority of the minutes. Knight has nice size, is a natural scorer with an explosive first step and has range on his jumper. The 0.7 steals per game he averaged at Kentucky is a bit disconcerting, and with just one year of college experience under his belt, Knight still needs time to develop. He'll get some points, assists and 3s as a backup this year, and eventually when he's starting has the tools to be an above-average fantasy guard, especially if he can develop the ability to accrue steals at the next level.
Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs: I love Leonard's all-around statistical game, although the Spurs will be in no rush to hand him big minutes, as Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson are still very much in the picture. He averaged only 15.5 points per game against weaker defenses playing for San Diego State, and at 19 years old he's not ready to contribute consistently at this level yet. But down the road he projects as a player who should score and rebound, and most importantly get a nice combination of 3s, steals and blocks. From a fantasy perspective, he's brimming with upside, but expectations should be tempered as he adjusts to a jump in the level of competition he faces.
Alec Burks, SG, Utah Jazz: He's got the prototypical NBA shooting guard size, can create his own shot, handle the ball and get to the line. But he likely lacks a consistent NBA 3-pointer right now, and will be facing much stiffer defensive competition than he did playing at Colorado. Still, there should be some minutes for him at the 2 in Utah, and his versatility will be valuable. If Raja Bell battles injuries or Gordon Hayward doesn't pan out, Burks could find himself with enough minutes to be on the fringe of fantasy worthiness.
Norris Cole, PG, Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers has had an up-and-down NBA career, and the Heat's overtness about their desire to draft a point guard doesn't bode well for their long-term plans for Chalmers. They selected a solid player in Cole, who is quick, well-balanced and appears to have a good head on his shoulders. I love the 2.2 steals per game he averaged as a senior at Cleveland State, as well as the rest of his line: 21.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.4 3s. If he plays well, Cole should be in position to get minutes as a rookie, and has versatility that should translate nicely to the fantasy game.
Markieff Morris, PF, Phoenix Suns: Morris is instantly the most pure power foward on the Suns roster, and as the team makes the shift to an emphasis on defense, he should see some minutes at that position. He's got an NBA body and averaged 8.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 0.8 steals in just 24 minutes of play last season at Kansas while shooting 58.9 percent from the floor. He should be able to collect some rebounds and blocks, as he landed in a situation where he'll have the opportunity to succeed.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Josh Whitling breaks down the top NBA draft selections in terms of fantasy value for the short term and the future.