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Another week, and another look at what's going on with some of the NBA's first-year players. While Minnesota's lottery pick continues to make progress on the court, Charlotte may be able to welcome back its top rookie in the very near future. Also worth keeping an eye are undrafted rookies in Houston and Toronto, as minutes have opened up due to injuries/health and safety protocols.
Hornets' Ball making progress in recovery: When LaMelo Ball suffered a fractured wrist, it was believed that the odds-on favorite for Rookie of the Year honors would not be able to return before the end of the regular season. The timeline has apparently changed, as he was cleared to resume on-court activities at the beginning of this week. To say the least this is a big development, not only for the Hornets but for fantasy managers as well. Rostered in 81% of Yahoo leagues, Ball sits just outside of the top-50 in 9-cat with averages of 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.0 3-pointers per game. And his percentages have also been solid, as he's shooting 45.1% from the field and 78.9% from the foul line.
The question now, as far as fantasy basketball is concerned, is whether or not Ball will be able to return soon enough to contribute something in head-to-head (single season) playoff rounds. That shouldn't be a concern in roto or multi-season head-to-head leagues. Some may also say that Ball's return puts him back atop the Rookie of the Year lists, but should he have "dropped" to begin with?
Availability is important, but outside of Edwards there really hasn't been a first-year player that's done enough in Ball's absence to move past him. And while team success tends to be overlooked in Rookie of the Year conversations, as many of the top candidates tend to be lottery picks on bad teams, you'd be hard-pressed to find people outside of the organization who believed in Charlotte as a playoff team before this season began. Ball hasn't changed that by himself of course, but his addition has been a factor.
Timberwolves' Edwards continues to score: Anthony Edwards was excellent in March, earning Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors after averaging 24.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.6 3-pointers per game. He's continued to perform well in April, averaging 22.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.9 3-pointers per in 12 games played. And Edwards has shot the ball better this month, as well. After making 42.3% of his field goals and 73.8% of his free throws in March, the first overall pick has increased those numbers to 44.1% and 82.3%, respectively.
The return of D'Angelo Russell hasn't impacted Edwards negatively; in fact, he has been more efficient in April than he was in March. Last month Edwards boasted a usage of 31.2, and an offensive rating of 100 according to Basketball Reference. Through 12 games in April, his offensive rating is up to 109, while the usage has dropped to 27.2. There's still work to be done defensively, but there's no doubt that Edwards is trending in the right direction. As noted above, I'd take Ball as Rookie of the Year even with the games missed. But if anyone is to overtake him, it would be Edwards.
Carey Jr. moves into starting five: Going back to Charlotte, second-round pick Vernon Carey Jr. made the transition from not playing, to joining the starting lineup this week. His first start couldn't have gone better, as Carey Jr. recorded a line of 21 points (9-of-14 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), six rebounds, one assist, one block and one 3-pointer in Charlotte's April 16 loss to the Nets. The next two games were a struggle, as he went scoreless and played a total of 10 minutes in games against the Trail Blazers and Knicks.
Thursday's loss to the Bulls went better, with Carey Jr. playing 15 minutes and finishing with eight points and four rebounds. And it may not be a coincidence that Carey Jr.'s bounce-back game came after the Hornets were able to practice, something they haven't done much of due to the condensed schedule (nearly every team in the league can make this claim).
"I don’t know when our last practice was to be honest," Hornets coach James Borrego said. "I guess (going back) to the All-Star break if you want to call that a practice you could call it our last practice. But it’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate for our group, for our guys. It’s not just our team. It’s everybody. But today was good just to get back in the gym."
Carey Jr. still isn't worthy of a fantasy look, even in extremely deep leagues, due to the inconsistent production. Add in the fact that the Hornets are looking to get P.J. Washington more time at the center spot, and Carey Jr. is a tough sell, even as a starter. But his coach believes in him enough to keep him in the starting lineup, as veterans Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo now sit on the outside looking in. At the very least, keep an eye on how Carey Jr. performs between now and the end of the season with an eye towards the 2021-22 campaign.
Brooks joins Tate in Rockets starting lineup: Jae'Sean Tate has been one of the biggest revelations in this rookie class, as he has developed into a consistent starter in Houston. Wednesday night another first-year Rocket joined the starting lineup, as Armoni Brooks filled in for Kevin Porter Jr. (health and safety protocols). Brooks didn't shoot the ball well, going 2-of-11 from the field, but he did manage to produce in other areas. In 35 minutes, he recorded a line of six points, 10 rebounds, four assists, one block and two 3-pointers.
The rebounds, assists and blocks are all career-bests for the undrafted rookie, while has has made a total of 15 3-pointers in seven games played. Similar to the aforementioned Carey, Brooks is rostered in just 1% of Yahoo leagues. But could the Rockets' upcoming schedule make it worthwhile to roll the dice on him? Houston has a back-to-back this Friday/Saturday (Clippers, at Nuggets), with two more on May 1-2 (Knicks, 76ers) and May 7-8 (at Milwaukee, at Utah). Those won't be easy matchups, but with Porter Jr. out and the Rockets usually looking to rest John Wall for at least one game of back-to-backs, Brooks may be worth considering as a deep league streaming option.
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Pelicans' Marshall sticking in the rotation: Naji Marshall was thrust into the rotation last month as New Orleans was hit hard by injuries, with Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker all going down. Add in the decision to trade J.J. Redick to the Mavericks, and there was room for the rookie out of Xavier to crack the rotation. And Marshall has made the most of his opportunity, averaging 27.0 minutes per game over his last 12. And in his last four, he's averaging 10.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 3-pointers per game.
The shooting percentages aren't great, as Marshall made 36.1% of his field goals and 68.8% of his free throws, but the overall body of work (with Hart and Alexander-Walker still sidelined) has been enough to keep him in the rotation. And following New Orleans' April 11 victory in Cleveland, Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy noted the consistency in Marshall's approach to the game.
"Plays hard all the time," Van Gundy said. "We go up and down in that department. And Naji doesn’t go up and down. That, more than anything, is what I like what he brings."
It's been reported that the team is strongly considering signing Marshall, who's on a two-way contract, to a standard deal. He's done nothing to hurt his case in that regard. Given his production in non-points categories, Marshall (12% Yahoo rostered) is worth a look in deep leagues.
Magic's Okeke racking up the steals: Chuma Okeke hit a bit of a rough patch over the last week, shooting just 30.6% from the field and 66.7% from the foul line in four games played. But even with the offensive struggles he remains a rookie worth rostering, due to what he's brining to the table defensively. During that stretch, Okeke averaged 2.0 steals while also accounting for 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 3-pointers per game. His streak of game with at least one steal ended at four Wednesday night, as he did not tally any in Orlando's loss to the Pelicans. But Okeke did record a total of seven in the two games prior, including a 14/4/2/4/1 line on April 18 against the Rockets.
The sore right hip that was an issue earlier this month doesn't appear to be an issue at this point, with Okeke playing about 30 minutes per night. That being said, it's worth noting that the Magic have a back-to-back coming up (April 25-26 vs. the Pacers and Lakers). Hopefully Okeke can play in both, but it would not come as a surprise if the Magic decided to sit him for one of those games for load management reasons.
Gillespie making a positive impression in "Toronto": Undrafted rookie Freddie Gillespie made the most of his opportunity in the G-League bubble, as he averaged 10.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 57.0% from the field. Due to that production, and the Raptors' rotation having been hit hard by injuries, Gillespie signed his first 10-day contract with the team back on April 8. He played well enough during that stretch to earn a second deal, and there's an opportunity for Gillespie to do even more.
Chris Boucher has been ruled out due to a sprained left MCL and, while it is unknown just how much time he'll miss, the timing isn't good for those who have him rostered. Gillespie hit the 10-point mark twice in his last three games, and during this stretch he averaged 8.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals and 2.0 blocks in 21.5 minutes per game. And with Toronto scheduled to play five games next week, this would be a good time to hop on the Gillespie bandwagon. Rostered in 1% of Yahoo leagues, he won't give fantasy managers much in the way of points, but the rebounds and blocks are why he has value. Especially during fantasy playoff time.
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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 13: Edwards hitting his stride in Minnesota
Volume 15: Strategy shift could benefit Wiseman
Volume 16: Anthony returns to Magic rotation