Rookie Report, Volume 16

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Raphielle Johnson
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It's Thursday, which means that it is time for another edition of the Rookie Report. This week we'll begin in Orlando, as the Magic welcomed back their first-round pick after he spent nearly two months on the shelf with a rib injury.

Anthony returns to Magic rotation: After missing nearly two months with a rib injury, Orlando point guard Cole Anthony made his long-awaited return in Wednesday’s loss to the Wizards. He played 26 minutes, posting a line of 13 points (5-of-14 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs), one rebound, seven assists and two 3-pointers. Anthony didn’t offer any production on the defensive end of the floor but. more importantly, he was responsible for just one turnover. The first-round pick came off the bench Wednesday night, sharing the court for long stretches with fellow rookie RJ Hampton (28 minutes) and veteran Terrence Ross.

The three rookies in the Magic rotation, Anthony, Hampton and Chuma Okeke, won’t lack for playing time for the remainder of the season so long as they remain healthy. Okeke didn’t have his best showing on Wednesday, but he’s hit double figures in six of the last eight games. And Hampton has scored 12 or more in each of his last three, posting some solid overall lines in the process. Okeke may be the closest to a fantasy “sure thing” right now, but Anthony could eventually surpass him once his playing time increases and he moves back into the starting lineup.

Pokusevski back with a bang: Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski played well towards the end of March, scoring 13 points or more in three out of four games played. But that progress was put to a temporary halt due to the league’s health and safety protocols, with the rookie missing one game as a result. Pokusevski’s back, and he’s playing his best basketball of the season for Oklahoma City. He’s scored 19 points or more in three out of his last four games, most recently scoring 25 in Wednesday’s loss to the Hornets. And Pokusevski made history in that one, becoming the youngest player in league history to make at least seven 3-pointers in a game.

Over the last week Pokusevski is averaging 18.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks and 3.8 3-pointers per game, while shooting 45.0% from the field and 60.0% from the foul line. The question worth asking right now is whether or not that 3-point production is sustainable, given the difference in Pokusevski’s percentage over the last week (51.7%) and his percentage for the season as a whole (29.3%). Whether it is or not, he’s clearly a player who should be rostered in more than 36% of Yahoo leagues. Because even if the averages decrease, Pokusevski isn’t going to lack for opportunities given Oklahoma City’s desire to play their young players as much as possible.

And Pokusevski isn’t the only Thunder rookie who’s coming off of a good week. Theo Maledon scored a career-high 33 points in an April 2 loss to the Suns, and over his last four he’s averaging 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.5 blocks and 2.3 3-pointers per game. During this stretch, Maledon has shot 41.7% from the field and 87.0% from the foul line.

Unfortunately the numbers posted by Oklahoma City’s rookies haven’t resulted in wins, as the team lost each of those four games by 11 points or more. But the front office made its intentions clear at the trade deadline (and in the days that followed): the remainder of the season is all about getting young players like Pokusevski and Maledon as much time as they can handle. And for that reason, it would be wise to roster those two and let the chips fall where they may.

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Bey sets franchise rookie 3-pointer record: Pistons forward Saddiq Bey has been a fixture in the starting lineup since mid-February and, in his most recent outing, he had a nice scoring night in a loss to the Nuggets. Playing 24 minutes, Bey posted a line of 25 points, one assist and six 3-pointers. And in the process he broke the Pistons rookie record for 3-pointers made in a season (106). Following the game, Pistons coach Dwane Casey spoke highly of Bey while also noting his importance to the team’s rebuilding project.

"He's solid. He's a keeper. He's an NBA starter for us,” Casey said. “He’s part of our building blocks and a great kid. That's something that I'm happy to see him achieve in his rookie year.”

Of course, from a fantasy standpoint, we’d want to see more production in areas outside of points and 3-pointers. To go along with 10.8 points per game, Bey is averaging 3.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals and 2.3 3-pointers, while shooting 40.4% from the field and 87.6% from the foul line. Look for those non-scoring numbers to get better over time, as Bey’s spot within the rotation is now clearly defined and the Pistons continue to evaluate how all of the pieces will fit together moving forward.

Something else to keep an eye on in Detroit is the return of Killian Hayes, who played 20 minutes in a loss to the Knicks and 25 in a win over the Thunder. The second game was better than the first, as he accounted for nine points, three rebounds, seven assists, four steals, two blocks and one 3-pointer. Fellow rookie Saben Lee remained in the starting lineup took a hit in the minutes department, as he played just over 16 minutes and posted a line of eight points, four rebounds, six assists and one steal. Hayes is the priority given the fact that he was Detroit’s lottery pick, but don’t expect to see Lee fall completely out of the rotation, either. While he hasn’t done much scoring as a starter, Lee is averaging 5.0 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.4 blocks per game over his last seven.

Flynn making the most of extended minutes: Due to injuries Toronto has been shorthanded recently, with Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet among those sidelined. Those absences have freed up minutes for first-round pick Malachi Flynn, and despite still coming off the bench, he has taken advantage of the opportunity. In his last three games Flynn has averaged 14.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.7 steals, 1.3 blocks and 1.7 3-pointers in 32.6 minutes per, while shooting 47.2% from the field and 100% from the foul line.

While his offensive production comes as no surprise given his accomplishments at the college level, Flynn being this impactful defensively has been a pleasant surprise. Being able to learn some of the tricks of the trade from Lowry and VanVleet has helped a rookie who, in a “normal” season, would have spent the majority of his time with the Raptors’ G-League affiliate. Earlier this week, Nurse said that he would like to see Flynn become more aggressive on offense moving forward.

"We've asked him to really start attacking the rim, right, and he's just got to be more aggressive, like right up the floor, when he sees an opening he's got to shoot in there," Nurse said. "If he can blast through there and gets a few layups here and there that goes a long way to helping our offense."

Toronto isn’t in a spot where it would be inclined to “tank,” so Flynn’s minutes are going to decrease once Lowry and VanVleet are cleared to return. But until that time comes, fantasy managers would be wise to pick him up as he’s rostered in just 32% of Yahoo leagues.

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Impact of Russell’s return on Edwards: Minnesota point guard D'Angelo Russell made his long-awaited return to the lineup on April 5, and one of the questions asked was how would his presence impact Anthony Edwards. Given the Timberwolves’ luck, or lack thereof, with injuries, it should come as no surprise that we really don’t know the full scope. And that’s because Malik Beasley will miss 4-6 weeks with a hamstring injury. Beasley was injured two games prior to Russell’s return, so there hasn’t been much of an impact on Edwards.

Over the last week, Edwards has averaged 23.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.5 blocks and 2.5 3-pointers in 35.9 minutes per game, while shooting 47.9% from the field and 83.3% from the foul line. Turnovers (4.0 per game during this stretch) are a concern, but that number was somewhat skewed by Edwards racking up seven in the April 5 win over Sacramento. He had just two in the next game, a four-point loss to the Pacers, while scoring a team-best 27 points.

Not only have the injuries kept us from seeing what Edwards and company can do when the Timberwolves’ rotation is whole, but it can also stunt the rebuilding process for the front office. Hopefully we aren’t saying this when the regular season reaches its conclusion.

Okongwu flourishes in second career start: With Clint Capela and Danilo Gallinari both being given the night off, Onyeka Okongwu made his second start of the season Wednesday night. And the Hawks rookie played well, recording a line of 13 points, 11 rebounds, one assist and two blocked shots in 33 minutes of action. The lottery pick out of USC has hit double figures in three of his last five games, and during this stretch Okongwu is averaging 9.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per while shooting 60.0% from the field.

With the Hawks among the many teams jammed together in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings, Okongwu has managed to work his way into the back end of the rotation. That isn’t enough to make him a must-add right now, but Okongwu’s name should be kept in mind for nights when Capela and/or Gallinari are rested. It will be interesting to see what his role is next season, and how that impacts Okongwu’s fantasy value.

Past Columns

Volume One: Wiseman’s debut a solid first step

Volume Two: All aboard the Haliburton bandwagon

Volume Three: Fultz injury thrusts Anthony into the spotlight

Volume Four: Opportunity knocks for Maxey

Volume Five: Grizzlies rookies limited due to postponements

Volume Six: Wiseman moved to the bench

Volume Seven: Rozier injury pushes Ball into starting lineup

Volume Eight: Bulls' Williams making strides

Volume Nine: Pistons' Bey takes advantage of opportunity

Volume Ten: A role change for Haliburton?

Volume 11: Ball, Haliburton headline rookies in Rising Stars Challenge

Volume 12: Ball clear favorite for ROY honors at halfway point

Volume 13: Edwards hitting his stride in Minnesota

Volume 14: Trade deadline boosts for Magic's Hampton, Okeke

Volume 15: Strategy shift could benefit Wiseman