Rookie Report, Volume 19

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Raphielle Johnson
·10 min read
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We're now well into the stretch run, which is a big deal with regard to both the NBA and fantasy playoffs. The challenge of cobbling together daily lineups has gotten a bit tougher this season, as the condensed schedule has impacted the way in which teams handle their rotations. Injuries and rest, which are always a concern, appear to be of even greater impact this season. This week's edition of the Rookie Report begins in San Antonio, where an injury to one of the Spurs' star guards freed up a spot in the starting lineup.

Injury thrusts Vassell into starting lineup: Spurs wing Devin Vassell had not been a consistent part of the team's rotation in the six games prior to Wednesday's loss to the Heat. Playing 23+ minutes in two of those games, the first-round pick out of Florida State played a total of 15 minutes in the other four. That all changed Monday night when Derrick White went down with a sprained ankle during San Antonio's overtime win in Washington. While Vassell played just 28 seconds in that game, there he was making the second start of his NBA career in Miami.

Vassell played 25 minutes in the defeat, shooting 4-of-10 from the field and 1-of-3 from the foul line, and finishing with a line of 11 points, two rebounds, one assist, one block and two 3-pointers. In the six games prior, he averaged 4.2 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.3 blocks and 0.8 3-pointers per. And it's important to note that a lot of he production during that stretch occurred in one game, as Vassell put up a line of 18 points, three rebounds, two assists, two blocks and four 3-pointers in a blowout of the Suns back on April 17.

So how much can Vassell provide, with regard to fantasy value, between now and the end of the season? It's a question that we really don't have a concrete answer for. But at the very least he'll have opportunity, something that was lacking when the Spurs' perimeter rotation was whole. And Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was complimentary of the rookie after Wednesday's game.

"He’s a great kid. When he missed his first three or four shots, I went to him and said 'I’m beginning to get angry. You miss another shot I’m going to be really angry,'" Popovich said. "He knocked one down and he smiled. I just try to keep him loose. He played a good game."

Campazzo making strides in starting role: Denver losing Jamal Murray to a torn ACL put the team's title hopes in a precarious position. Rolling in the immediate aftermath of their trade for Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets lost a second (and its most important) guard when Murray went down (since then, Will Barton has joined Murray and Monte Morris on the sideline). Facundo Campazzo, who was already starting due to Morris' hamstring injury, became an even more important figure for Denver as the team looks to make a run. While the rookie has struggled with his perimeter shot, making just 23.8% of his 3-point attempts over the last week, Campazzo has been an effective distributor and defensive pest.

Over his last five games, Campazzo is averaging 10.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 3-pointers per, while shooting 40.0% from the field and 94.4% from the foul line. Also of note is the way in which he's taken care of the basketball, recording just 1.4 turnovers per game during this stretch. Rostered in 27% of Yahoo leagues, Campazzo has recorded at least seven assists in three of his last five games. While his 3-point production hasn't been great, the assists, steals and turnovers (or A/T ratio if that's what your league uses) have been good enough to justify Campazzo being rostered during fantasy playoff time.

Celtics' Pritchard goes off sans Kemba: First-round pick Payton Pritchard enjoyed the best five-game stretch of his young NBA career earlier this month. During a stretch that ran from April 15-23, the point guard averaged 14.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.4 blocks and 3.2 3-pointers in 23.5 minutes per game, shooting 52.1% from the field, 55.2% from three and 100% from the foul line. While he, like many of his teammates, struggled in Sunday's blowout loss to the Hornets, Pritchard rebounded in a big way during Tuesday's loss to the Thunder.

With Kemba Walker sidelined due to an injury he suffered during Sunday's game, Pritchard played 33 minutes off the bench and tallied a career-high 28 points (9-of-16 FGs, 6-of-7 FTs) to go along with three rebounds, four assists, one steal and four 3-pointers. Rostered in 10% of Yahoo leagues, over the last two weeks Pritchard ranks just outside of the top-100 in 9-cat formats. We'll see what happens with Walker moving forward, as he's dealing with a strained left oblique, but Pritchard is certainly worth keeping an eye on as a streaming option for managers in the midst of their leagues' playoffs.

Boston was able to avenge Sunday's loss to the Hornets with a win Wednesday night, and another rookie stepped forward. Aaron Nesmith, like Pritchard a first-round pick, chipped in with 15 points, nine rebounds, three steals, three blocks and two 3-pointers in 31 minutes off the bench. Even though Nesmith hasn't been able to consistently crack the rotation, his work ethic has grabbed the attention of his coaches and teammates.

Wednesday night, that work paid off as he produced the best game of his Celtics career to date. What's notable about Nesmith here is that he only played 14 games during his sophomore season at Vanderbilt due to injury. Add in the 2019-20 college season coming to a premature halt due to COVID-19, and it shouldn't be all that surprising that it's taken him a little longer to get acclimated to the pro game than some other rookies. Nesmith is below Pritchard when it comes to potential fantasy value in the short-term, but he's a player with keeping track of for the future.

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Okeke suffers sprained ankle: Orlando forward Chuma Okeke was a part of the team's rotation ahead of the trade deadline. But the decision to begin a rebuild and move both the aforementioned Gordon and Nikola Vucevic freed up both minutes and touches for the 2019 lottery pick. In the 17 games played since March 25, Okeke has averaged 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.4 3-pointers per, while shooting 43.1% from the field and 83.3% from the foul line. That's been good enough for top-100 value over the last month, but the development process for Okeke hit a bump in the road Wednesday night as he suffered a sprained left ankle.

As a result Okeke, who's rostered in 28% of Yahoo leagues, will miss at least one game. With an eye towards next season, I'd consider hanging onto him if you're in a dynasty league. Since the trade deadline Okeke's usage has been 19.0, a significant increase on his number pre-deadline (10.9). While it does need to be noted that this is happening without Jonathan Isaac (who's still rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in the bubble), it's difficult to envision a scenario in which Okeke fades into the background once the Magic rotation is whole.

Flynn continues to grow as a floor general: Raptors guard Malachi Flynn was drafted into a great situation when it comes to learning how to run a team at the NBA level. While the presence of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet made it difficult for the former San Diego State standout to earn rotation minutes, it gave him two really good veterans to learn from. Due to injuries to both starters Flynn managed to crack the starting lineup in early April, and he has managed to stick in the rotation in the aftermath of the returns of Lowry and VanVleet.

While Flynn's minutes took a hit in games against the Nets and Knicks, playing a total of 17 minutes, he has played 20 or more in each of the Raptors last three. And in those outings, he averaged 15.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 3-pointers per game, shooting 60.9% from the field and 100% from the foul line. Rostered in 22% of Yahoo leagues, Flynn has been a top-100 player over the last month. Can he do that for an entire season? We may get our answer in 2021-22, depending upon what happens with Lowry, as he will be an unrestricted free agent. But there's no denying that Flynn continues to make strides at the point.

"You’ve seen him this year. (It) was dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble, dribble early on, a lot of perimeter shots," coach Nick Nurse said. "He’s running the team better. He’s play-calling. He’s getting people organized. He’s getting off the ball. He’s getting in the paint. He’s getting to the rim. Those are all additions to the way he started out, I think."

Pistons' Stewart flourishing regardless of place in rotation: Isaiah Stewart showed signs of being a player that can be a part of Detroit's rebuild earlier this season, and he has been quite productive over the last week. Over the last week he's averaging 11.3 points, 9.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 2.8 blocks and 0.8 3-pointers per game, while shooting 54.3% from the field and 100% from the foul line. That has been good enough for top-25 value in 9-cat, even though Stewart is averaging just under 26 minutes per game.

Stewart didn't do much scoring in Monday's win over the Hawks but he did record a full line, finishing with four points, 11 rebounds, one assist, one steal and four blocks in 27 minutes off the bench. Three nights later, with Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant both sidelined, Stewart put up 20 points, 10 rebounds, one steal, three blocks and two 3-pointers in the Pistons' loss to the Mavericks. While it is still early, with Saddiq Bey firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, Stewart making waves and Killian Hayes showing signs of improvement since returning from a hip injury, it's fair to to say that the Pistons have received good returns on their three first-round picks.

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

Volume 16: Anthony returns to Magic rotation

Volume 17: Warriors' Wiseman undergoes season-ending surgery

Volume 18: Hornets' Ball making progress in recovery