Commentary

Rookie Report: Playing the guessing game

Updated: February 6, 2008, 1:40 PM ET
By Keith Lipscomb | ESPN.com

In most deep leagues, you need to jump on a player either before he takes off or no more than 24 hours after the first sign of a fantasy heartbeat. With rookies, it's very difficult to find their pulses, let alone hold onto it long enough to know what to expect going forward. Those of you who own, or have owned, the likes of Yi Jianlian, Jamario Moon and, most recently, Al Thornton, know exactly what I'm talking about.

Each player's situation is different, but the frustration fantasy owners experience in playing the guessing game remains. Think about how long it took for you to believe that the undrafted 27-year-old Moon would continue to be fantasy-relevant, compared to how excited you immediately were when Yi, the 20-year-old No. 6 overall pick, averaged 15 points and seven rebounds in Games 3-6 of his young career.

Despite the fact Yi had started the first 48 games for the Bucks until missing Tuesday's game with a shoulder strain, he still trails Moon on the Player Rater by 21 spots. I don't know anyone who would have guessed that would be case as the All-Star break approached. While we're playing the guessing game, I'll say Moon continues to be more valuable than Yi from here on out.

Rookie Comparison

Jamario Moon has been a pleasant surprise for the Raptors and fantasy owners alike. He ranks 21 spots higher on the Player Rater than the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, Yi Jianlian.

Player
PPG
RPG
SPG
BPG
Jamario Moon
7.9
6.2
1.0
1.4
Yi Jianlian
9.6
5.8
0.6
1.0
Neither player is a whole lot of fun to project since their numbers have bounced around so much this season, but I like Moon more because he's a bit steadier in the categories in which the two players have fantasy value. Both Moon and Yi offer modest value on the glass; Moon has 21 games of seven rebounds or more, while Yi has 19. Moon has been a greater factor in steals of late, contributing at least one in nine of his past 10 games. And while Moon enjoyed a streak of 19 straight games with a blocked shot earlier this season, Yi has been much streakier and has just one steal and one block total in his past six games. These are the categories in which they help you "fill in" in head-to-head play, so I need to know what I'm getting. Moon simply gives me more comfort.

Speaking of comfort, do you get all warm inside when you hear a head coach sing the praises of a player you own who isn't getting the minutes you think he deserves? We've all seen a coach give a player a surprise start or two (think Brandan Wright in Golden State or Jeremy Richardson with San Antonio), but how seriously do you take a coach's word that he's going to give a player a greater opportunity? That's the million-dollar question regarding Mike Dunleavy Sr.'s recent comments about Thornton.

In the Los Angeles Times, the Clippers head coach essentially compared Thornton's situation to that of Vin Baker's as a rookie with Milwaukee in the 1993-94 season (when Dunleavy was his coach), when Baker was left out of the All-Star Rookie Challenge. Dunleavy alluded to gradually increasing Baker's playing time by January of that season, starting him and Baker playing his best ball down the stretch. Some could read into that as a preview of what is in the plans for Thornton … as long as Dunleavy holds onto his job, that is.

I'm just not one of them. Not at all.

Al Thornton, Month-By-Month

Al Thornton has seen his minutes increase throughout the season and has responded with more production and better shooting, until his poor start in February.

Month
Mins PG
PPG
RPG
FG%
November
16.3
6.3
3.4
34.2
December
18.9
8.1
3.0
41.8
January
25.7
13.2
3.4
49.6
February
31.7
14.7
5.3
26.5
I know Dunleavy's not speaking to us fantasy ballers when he compares Thornton to Baker in that example. He's speaking about maturing as a player and becoming more valuable to the team -- his team, the Clippers. In fantasy terms, Elton Brand's return in a month or so will make it difficult for Thornton to be a consistent offensive force. Just for fun, let's look at what Baker did in his first NBA season 14 years ago (yes, it's been that long) for perspective on how ridiculous it would be to take Dunleavy's comparison seriously from a fantasy perspective, even in scoring, which is the one category Thornton has considerable upside.

After scoring in double figures in just seven of the first 28 games of his career, Baker was turned loose when the calendar flipped to January and never looked back. He scored a season-high 29 points in his first game of 1994 and reached double digits in his final 40 games.

Hey, at least Thornton scored 10 or more points in eight of his first 28 games, literally one-upping Baker.

It's easy to get excited about a coach's words regarding a player you're high on -- especially if it's what you've been waiting to hear -- but Thornton is unlikely to demonstrate any great consistency until his role is more defined and he learns to play off of Brand upon his return. I like Thornton in keeper leagues, no question, but not nearly as much as some other owners like him for the rest of this season. His field goal percentage won't be pretty and he won't offer much more than scoring even if he is given enough minutes to be a regular contributor going forward. I don't expect him to rebound at a high level regularly.

It may not be a popular view, but of the three players I've discussed, I'd rank them Moon, Thornton, Yi the rest of the way, because of the categories in which Moon excels. I feel scoring is usually easy to find elsewhere, and it's not worth the hit in other categories to simply get more scoring from either of the lottery picks.

Keith Lipscomb is an editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.

Keith Lipscomb is a senior editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.