Let me preface anything and everything I have to say about this year's batch of drafted players with the simple fact that you need to temper expectations for the vast majority of first-year NBA players.
Take the fantasy impact of the 2007 rookie class as an example. While there wasn't exactly a dearth of talent, picks 2-11 combined to average the following numbers: 8.9 points on 44 percent shooting, 0.2 threes, 4.6 boards, 1.6 assists, 1.5 turnovers, 0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks and a cumulative season rank of 208. Of rookies that played at least 50 games in 2007, one averaged more than 13 points (Kevin Durant), one made more than 80 three-pointers (Juan Carlos Navarro), one averaged more than 6.5 boards (Al Horford), one averaged more than 3.0 assists (Mike Conley), one averaged more than 1.0 steals (Jamario Moon) and two averaged more than 1.0 block (Sean Williams, Jamario Moon).
Obviously a healthy Greg Oden would have helped boost those numbers slightly, but either way they should serve as a commentary on the limited opportunities for rookies to succeed in general. Only Durant and Horford averaged more than 30 minutes of playing time among rookies in 2007, and only 16 averaged more than 20 minutes per game (picks 2-11 averaged 24 minutes per game as a group). Durant was the can't-miss prospect in 2007 drafts, compiling an ADP of 37.6, but only a late-season boon in production helped him to his season-ending rank of 63rd overall.
In standard leagues, most rookies won't warrant a draft pick. Once you get into deeper leagues, however, taking a rookie with question marks but proverbial "upside" can make more sense than a grizzled veteran with a well-established but middling track record. Of the seven rookies who finished in the top 156 (the number of rostered players in a standard league) in season rank in 2007, only Moon (45), Durant (63) and Horford (83) came in below 135th overall. The others – Thaddeous Young (135), Luis Scola (139), Joakim Noah (153) and Juan Carlos Navarro (154) – only warranted fantasy play at sporadic points in the season (like when they were in the starting lineup).
While each new class does bring with it an influx of talented young players, it's the exception and not the rule when a rookie steps in and is a top-level fantasy asset over the entirety of his first season. For that to happen, it has to be the perfect combination of player and situation. You've got to have realistic expectations for these kids – the average age of the first 10 picks was just 19.5 years – when it comes to year-one fantasy production. Now that we've gotten all that out of the way, let's get to the breakdown of the individual players.
Michael Beasley (F – Miami)
Regardless of what appeared to be going on in the days and weeks leading up to the draft, Beasley is a great pick for and a great fit with the Heat. He'll be an exceptional offensive pairing with Dwayne Wade and should form one of the most versatile and prolific rebounding duos in the league with Shawn Marion. Udonis Haslem is a reasonably effective pro, but he also has clearly established limitations, particularly on offense. With the Heat looking to move to a more up-tempo game under new coach Erik Spoelstra, Beasley is clearly a favorite to open the season in the starting five. The Wade/Marion/Beasley trio will give opposing defenses serious problems on most nights and be exceptionally fantasy-friendly. How the team comes together around those three players is far from being settled. The Heat have an exorbitant number of restricted/unrestricted free agents. What isn't unsure is that Beasley will be prominent from the outset – he and Greg Oden look like the very early favorites for Rookie of the Year. I'm looking at Chris Bosh's second year (2004-05, per-game rank of 54) as his rookie upside, but trade a few defensive stats for threes.
Derrick Rose (G – Chicago)
Rose was the clear option for the Bulls after they landed the first pick overall. Now the question that remains is how the rest of the pieces fall into place in the Bulls' backcourt. As of now, they have Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon (restricted FA), Larry Hughes and Thabo Sefolosha competing for 96 minutes of playing time. While the initial coach-speak is that Rose won't be rushed into a starting role, he'll clearly be a key from the outset. With that said, a trade does have to go down before I'm ready to draft Rose close to the middle rounds. He's a great scorer but not a great shooter (33.7% 3PT, 71.2% FT at Memphis), and he's not at an elite level as a distributor at this point. Rose's own college line from this past season (14.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.2 steals) is a fair estimate for first-year upside at this point, given the Bulls' current makeup.
Kevin Love (FC – Minnesota)
Let's get to the point with Love right away: in the NBA, he's going to be matched up against players that will surpass his athleticism, sometimes by a good margin. What he lacks in physical gifts me makes up for in tangible skills, however. He's a gifted scorer with extended shooting range, is top-tier in terms of passing big men, and didn't average 10.6 boards and 1.4 blocks at UCLA by accident. He's also answered a number of critics with a dedicated offseason that has him down 20 pounds. While he and Al Jefferson figure to be an exceptional pair offensively, they are both better suited at PF on defense. Considering Jefferson's horrific defense against opposing centers last season, it's likely that Love will be the early choice to man the five. With that said, it's only a concern if your league happens to use +/-. Brad Miller circa 2002-03 is a fair rough estimate of Love's fantasy contributions, putting him in "solid C2" territory.
O.J. Mayo (G – Memphis)
The trade that sent Mayo from Minnesota to Memphis did nothing but good for his fantasy potential. He was/is miscast as an eventual NBA point guard, and in Memphis he'll clearly play shooting guard. He's not lacking for skills, but most of them have to do with creating scoring opportunities for himself. For me his obvious NBA comparison is Ben Gordon. The points and threes aren't likely to be in short supply, but efficiency isn't a strong point (3.5 turnovers at USC) and the nine-category line may leave a bit to be desired. One thing he does have going for him: He'll be given every opportunity to produce for the woeful Grizzlies, and you can already pencil him in as the starting SG. My expectations for Mayo next season are somewhere in the neighborhood of Stephen Jackson's 2005-06 season, which put him in the 90's in terms of season rank.
Eric Gordon (G – LA Clippers)
Gordon seems like the natural fit for the Clippers, and his college numbers (20.9 points on 43 percent shooting) would have looked better had he not dealt with a wrist injury (non-shooting hand) and upheaval within the Indiana program during the latter half of the season. There's skill-gap between Gordon and O.J. Mayo is not as big as some may think, but efficiency should also be a shortcoming for Gordon, particularly in the early-going. With that said, he can score in bunches and in a variety of ways, including getting to the line (8.7 FTA for Indiana). The status of three key Clips – Elton Brand (early termination option), Corey Maggette (also an ETO) and Shaun Livingston (knee surgery) – will impact his fantasy value. If Brand or Maggette were to leave, Gordon inherits that much more of the scoring load; if Livingston is not healthy, he may be asked to play out of position at PG. Regardless, he doesn't figure to begin the season behind 33-year-old Cuttino Mobley on the depth chart.
Brook Lopez (C – New Jersey)
Lopez fell to the Nets, who were happy to take him at 10th overall. Josh Boone was serviceable when he started at center for the season's second half, but neither he nor anyone else on the roster is the long-term answer there. Enter Lopez, who looks like he'll be a solid, but not spectacular pro that is good in most areas but doesn't particularly excel in any one. He's a true 7-footer, but his lack of athletic upside is a knock. I see him in the mold of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and his 2006-07 season is where I'm setting expectations. It was a down year for Big Z personally, but it was still good numbers for a C2. While the Nets currently have a bevy of big men, it's not out of the question that Lopez establishes himself as the team's choice at center in camp.
Jerryd Bayless (G – Portland)
The Blazers are going to be ridiculously good and very soon. The "knock" on Bayless was that he's more of a scorer than distributor-type at PG, but that's ideal alongside Brandon Roy, who tends to dominate the ball from the SG position. Even if Steve Blake is the assumed starter at the point right now, Bayless is looking at a pretty good situation for steady minutes as a reserve for both guard spots. He's athletic and can attack the basket much like Monta Ellis, and he's also a steady shooter (40.7% 3PT, 83.9% FT at Arizona). First-year stats could be along the lines of what Derek Fisher did for the Lakers last season. How Rudy Fernandez fits into the rotation could affect Bayless.
D.J. Augustin (G – Charlotte)
Augustin made sense for a team that needed a PG, and that appears to be what Larry Brown thinks of the Bobcats. Despite reports to the contrary, it seems likely that Raymond Felton could be on his way out for some help in the post. If he is traded, Augustin becomes relevant in any format. He was a very good distributor as a freshman (14.4 points, 6.7 assists) playing alongside Kevin Durant, and took on more of a scorer's mentality once Durant left (19.2 points, 5.8 assists). That flexibility showed leadership and versatility in his game that will translate to the pros. Obviously questions abound while Felton is still being called the team's starting PG, but even Jeff McInnis managed to average 26 minutes per game as a Bobcat in 2007.
Russell Westbrook (G – Seattle)
The Sonics raised a lot of eyebrows when they took Westbrook fourth overall, but the pick was half what he is and half what they hope he can become. He's a smart, team player and a hard worker and his defense is about as good as it gets. His offensive repertoire is somewhat limited (0.7 3PT, 71.3% FT at UCLA in 2007-08) but his athleticism is off the charts and he really can attack the rim, particularly in transition. His "PG skills" are still developing, but the Sonics wouldn't have drafted him that high if they didn't think he'd eventually own the position. A Rajon Rondo-type line seems inevitable at first, although a trade of either Luke Ridnour or Earl Watson does improve his immediate prospects a bit.
Others of note
Danilo Gallinari (F – New York)
He was booed mercilessly on draft night but his game is a good fit for what the Knicks are at least planning to do on offense moving forward. He'll make threes consistently in the NBA, but he's also more effective at creating his own shots and getting to the rim than his fellow countryman Andre Bargnani. Limitations on defense probably won't affect his standing in your league, but the Knicks' ever-questionable personnel situation should. It's impossible to tell who will be on the team by the start of the season, let alone what roles they will have. Gallinari has two transitions working against him – his own and his organization's – but he's a big part of Mike D'Antoni's plans at this point. Think of Bargnani's rookie season in terms of a best-case scenario, albeit an unlikely one.
Jason Thompson (F – Sacramento)
The Kings may have reached to fill their void at PF, but Thompson absolutely dominated at Rider, averaging 20.4 points, 12.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.7 blocks as a senior. Don't forget, Paul Millsap posted similarly huge stats at a similarly small school, and he's gone on to post 30-minute averages of 11.5 points, 8.3 boards, 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks thus far in his NBA career.
Marreese Speights (FC – Philadelphia)
Speights averaged 14.5 points and 1.4 blocks in 24 minutes per game for Florida as a sophomore. Reggie Evans averaged 5.3 points and 0.1 blocks in 23 minutes as Philly's primary option at PF.
Courtney Lee (G – Orlando)
Lee was a reliable scorer and very steady shooter in his four seasons at Western Kentucky. He'll be in the mix for quality minutes at SG when the Magic open camp.
Mario Chalmers (G – Miami)
Chalmers is in an ideal situation with Miami, and they are undoubtedly happy to have him. While he's likely to be a free agent signee's backup this season, he's ready to play right now and his shooting touch and defense make him a great complement to Dwyane Wade.
Roy Hibbert (C – Indiana)
He's expected to be part of the Jermaine O'Neal/T.J. Ford trade. While his senior season was a disappointment relative to expectations, he has the size and enough ability to contribute at the NBA level from the outset.
Joe Alexander (F – Milwaukee)
Alexander's athleticism surprised some people in workouts leading up to the draft, and he's a good scorer and a decent shooter. What's working squarely against him is that he shares a position with Richard Jefferson. With Mo Williams, Michael Redd, Charlie Villanueva and Andrew Bogut also on the roster, it's difficult to project more than a few touches being available right away. He's a role player at this point, but a trade could open up more playing time.
Brandon Rush (G – Indiana)
The overhaul in Indy should make their offense very fantasy-friendly in the coming season. Rush won't play a lot this year, but he'll score while he's on the court.
George Hill (G – San Antonio)
Meet the Rodney Stuckey of the 2008 draft. The Spurs' depth chart in the backcourt could look significantly different after free agency, and being a prototypical Spur is rarely a bad thing.
Chris Douglas-Roberts (G - New Jersey)
A good scorer in a good situation behind Vince Carter, but his fantasy potential doesn't appear to extend past a few offensive categories.
Darrell Arthur (F – Memphis)
While he's thought to have lots of potential, right now he's basically a raw Hakim Warrick.
Kosta Koufos (C – Utah)
He showed offensive polish at Ohio State and the Jazz don't have much depth at center, but he's likely to be a Jerry Sloan whipping boy while he learns to be more aggressive on the boards and on defense.
Donte Greene (F – Houston)
Plus-athlete (7.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 1.6 steals at Syracuse) but questionable hoops IQ (2.6 turnovers, 41.8% FG). He's a few years away.
DeAndre Jordan (C – LA Clippers)
Jordan was thought to be a lottery pick just a few weeks before the draft, but he fell all the way to 35th for the Clippers. We're a ways away from knowing what this physical specimen will be at the next level.
Bill Walker (F – Boston)
Tony Allen clone, right down to the questionable health.
Anthony Randolph (F – Golden State)
Any power forward that weighs less than 200 pounds tends to take some time to develop. Is a very similar package to what now-teammate Brandan Wright was at this time last season.
JaVale McGee (FC – Washington)
He's a ways away from his basketball skills catching up with his physical gifts.