Rookies to watch in fantasy hoops
In 2009-10, 16 rookies finished the season in the top 200 on the Player Rater. One (Stephen Curry) finished in the top 10. No one else finished in the top 50, and only Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings and Darren Collison cracked the top 100.
Obviously, this mode of analysis has some problems. It doesn't take into account how good some rookies were in head-to-head formats down the stretch of the season (when Collison, Jrue Holiday and Marcus Thornton were particularly valuable). It also doesn't take into account what we can expect from last season's rookie class this season. That, however, is an entirely separate issue.
Here, we're dealing with this season's rookies and wondering how valuable they might be this season. Last season is merely an example of a finished product, and the results say that in general, in most fantasy leagues, you'll have made a mistake if you drafted a rookie in the top 100 picks. Beyond that, drafting most rookies anywhere in your fantasy draft is probably a crapshoot at best.
What follows is a list of rookies I think you should be paying attention to before the season starts. Once we start seeing these guys play, we can re-evaluate, but these are the ones you should be considering in your drafts.
John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards: If you've seen Wall play, you know that his talent is undeniable. That aside, Wall is just turned 20 years old, and young players tend to take a season or two to start looking like the player they will be down the road. The aforementioned Evans had about as good a rookie season as a player can have and still finished just 58th on the Player Rater. Like Evans, Wall is a mediocre outside shooter who excels at getting to the rim, and like Evans, it's hard for me to see Wall cracking the top 50 as a rookie with his skill set. Draft him anytime after that (and in the late-second or early-third round in keeper leagues).
The Question Marks
(These guys clearly have the talent and the opportunity to be great, but they're not sure things)
Evan Turner, SG, Philadelphia 76ers: I actually like Turner a lot and think he's flying a bit under the radar, but it's extremely difficult to say for sure what his role will be or what his stats will look like. His game seems to resemble Andre Iguodala's quite a bit, and more importantly, the Sixers have the look of a team that needs to get out and run, but they have a new coach, Doug Collins, whose teams are always among the slowest in the league. Turner should be a great rebounder for a guard, but he'll be playing alongside Iguodala, who is already a great rebounder from the small forward spot. Turner will also be fighting with Thaddeus Young, Andres Nocioni and Lou Williams for minutes at his possible positions. All in all, he looks like a good player in a bad system for his talent. Unless you're in a keeper league, I wouldn't draft him until the next-to-last round of a standard, 10-team draft. In keeper leagues, you can bump him up inside the top 100.
Wesley Johnson, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves: Johnson is a great athlete and a good shooter at the small forward spot, and, interestingly, there's a case to be made that he's already the second-best player on his team, so there should be an opportunity for Johnson to succeed. The problem is that the Wolves are a team absolutely loaded with question marks. The fact that he's old for a rookie (23) would be to his benefit except that he doesn't have the experience most 23-year-old rookies would have because he played only one season at Syracuse after two seasons at Iowa State. I'd rather have a lot of guys at his position who are going behind him in drafts (Hedo Turkoglu, Corey Maggette, Terrence Williams and even Anthony Morrow, to name a few). Like Turner, he's worth drafting in the top 100 only if you're in a keeper league.
DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings: On talent, no one is a better pick than Cousins. His numbers at Kentucky last season were off the charts, and he managed to put them up in just 23.5 minutes per game. He projects as a Zach Randolph-type of scorer/rebounder, but he can also block shots and run the floor. On the other hand, Cousins is a bit of a wild card; he's got a reputation as a head case and can let a bit of adversity take him out of his game on occasion. Those are tough qualities for a rookie to overcome. He won't have too much pressure on him because the Kings acquired Samuel Dalembert to hold down the fort at center until Cousins is ready, but that also means he might not play big minutes as a rookie. In keeper leagues, I'd draft him as high as the sixth round, because I think he can be truly special, but if you are in a standard league, right outside the top 100 -- behind Emeka Okafor and Roy Hibbert, but ahead of Jermaine O'Neal and Robin Lopez -- seems just right.
Tiago Splitter, PF, San Antonio Spurs: Splitter has been considered one of the best big men in Europe for a couple of seasons now, but the fact that he's been playing in Europe means he's flying below the radar in most fantasy leagues. He'll share frontcourt minutes with Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess and DeJuan Blair, but given that coach Gregg Popovich likes to rest his starters a lot during the season, Splitter should see major minutes, and might even relegate McDyess to the bench. I'd put his numbers somewhere around 10 points, six rebounds, one block, one steal and a high shooting percentage. Everything considered, that probably makes him a top-100 guy by the end of the season, although you can probably get him in the final round of most standard fantasy drafts.
Head-to-Head League Specials
(These are guys you may want to take at the end of your draft and stash them until the second half)
Greg Monroe, PF, Detroit Pistons: The Lamar Odom comparisons he's gotten through the years seem apt, as Monroe is a great combination of many different skills. He's a tremendous passer and rebounder who racks up an impressive number of blocks and steals to go along with his productive low-post and midrange offensive game. He's got a lot of guys ahead of him on the depth chart (Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva, Ben Wallace, and maybe even Jason Maxiell), but the Pistons drafted Monroe because he fills a need for them, and I'd expect to see him logging heavy minutes at power forward and center by the end of the season. You can probably wait until the 12th round to get him (more like 10th if you're in a keeper league) and by the second half of the season, he might be giving you a pretty robust and well-rounded fantasy line.
Gordon Hayward, SF/SG, Utah Jazz: He'll start the season as the backup to Andrei Kirilenko, which will mean that he probably won't get a ton of playing time. However, it also means he's likely to log some minutes as an injury replacement as the season goes along, and by the end of the season he should be better adjusted to the 3-point line, and to banging bodies with guys in the NBA. Still, his rebounding was one of his best skills in college, and I'm not sure yet how well that will translate to the pros. I wouldn't draft him unless it's in the final round of a keeper league, but in head-to-head formats, he could be a good source of production this season after the All-Star break.
Eric Bledsoe, PG, Clippers: Playing behind Baron Davis always means you're an injury away from major minutes, but the Clippers still think they might be pretty good this season, so Bledsoe will probably be relegated to spot duty until he's more acclimated to the pro game. Bledsoe is very talented, but his poor foul shooting at Kentucky makes me a bit worried about how his overall shooting percentages will look in the pros. I have no doubt that Bledsoe will be a player worth owning in seasons to come (and even at the end of this coming season), but you certainly don't need to use a pick on him in fantasy leagues this season.
(These guys are not being drafted, but could be useful fantasy players this season if things break right for them)
James Anderson, SG, Spurs: Anderson finds himself behind the oft-injured and oft-rested Manu Ginobili on the Spurs' depth chart, and could fill a similar role for them to the one Roger Mason filled a couple seasons ago, knocking down open shots. It's hard to predict how good a shooter he'll be from the NBA 3-point line (his percentages were pretty inconsistent at Oklahoma State, but he ended up at 37.5 percent for his career), but if he gets hot at any point, he could be productive on a week-by-week basis.
Paul George, SF/SG, Indiana Pacers: George was a bit of a surprise lottery pick, and playing the same position as Danny Granger definitely isn't going to help him to start the season. Whenever he starts getting playing time, he's got the kind of skill set that could fit in really well with coach Jim O'Brien's fast-paced system and might be worth picking up.
Al-Farouq Aminu, SF, Clippers: Ryan Gomes is just good enough that he'll probably keep Aminu on the bench most of the time, but when Aminu plays, he should be a good source of rebounds and blocks from the small forward spot. If anyone on the Clippers' front line gets hurt, Aminu will be a pretty good player to pick up.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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