Rookie Report, Volume Fourteen

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Raphielle Johnson
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The trade deadline can be an interesting — and stressful — time for NBA players who have been through the ringer before, and even more so for rookies. In the aftermath there’s the opportunity to evaluate what the moves may mean for some first-year players, and that will be the focus of this week’s Rookie Report. We’ll begin with a guard who was included in the Aaron Gordon deal, and now appears to have the opportunity to show what he can do on a consistent basis.

Rotation minutes for Hampton in Orlando?: RJ Hampton was one of the players sent to Orlando in the deal headlined by the aforementioned Gordon. And with Gary Harris still sidelined due to injury, the rookie guard will be the first player that the Magic will get to evaluate. Also worth noting is the current state of the Magic backcourt, as Evan Fournier was traded to the Celtics and Cole Anthony remains sidelined indefinitely due to a rib injury. There will be a need for Hampton to get up to speed on Steve Clifford’s system, but with the Magic going all-in on a rebuild he won’t lack for opportunities to prove himself.

“Denver was one of the teams that were interested in Aaron and they were very reluctant to discuss RJ,” Magic president Jeff Weltman said on Friday. “It wasn’t until a couple of days before the deadline that his name started to be included in discussions and that was a pivot point for us. The conversations with Denver definitely shifted when his name was included and this is not a guy that they happily moved into this deal.”

Selected 24th overall in November’s draft, Hampton was pretty much out of the rotation from late-February until Wednesday’s loss to the Raptors. In a nine-game stretch during the month of February, he posted averages of 4.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.2 blocks and 0.6 3-pointers in 18.3 minutes per game (nine games), shooting 43.9% from the field and 50.0% from the foul line. Not great numbers obviously, but it can be tough for a rookie to establish himself when playing alongside some of the talents that the Nuggets currently boast.

Personally I think Hampton is worth a gamble, especially in deep leagues, given the current state of the Magic roster and the front office’s desire to begin a rebuild in earnest. He rebounds well for a guard, and there will also be more opportunities to serve as a playmakers given Orlando’s lack of healthy lead guards.

Trades will also impact Okeke’s fantasy value: Chuma Okeke is the other rookie in Orlando who’s worth keeping a close eye on in the aftermath of the team’s moves, as Al-Farouq Aminu was traded to the Bulls along with Nikola Vucevic. Since returning to action in early February, Okeke has averaged 5.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers in 22.4 minutes per game (23 games), shooting 39.8% from the field and 70.0% from the foul line. The field goal percentage is a concern, but he should be better when given more opportunities to score.

In his most recent outing, Okeke posted a line of 17 points (6-of-6 FGs), three rebounds and four 3-pointers in just over 20 minutes during Wednesday’s win over the Suns. While the aforementioned Hampton may be viewed as a fantasy “gamble,” the same shouldn’t be said about Okeke. He’s currently rostered in just 5% of Yahoo leagues, and that number is way too low given the opportunity that lies in front of him.

More minutes for Pistons’ Lee post-Wright trade?: After playing 21 minutes or more in seven straight games beginning in late-February, second-round pick Saben Lee slipped further down the Pistons pecking order after Dennis Smith Jr. was acquired from the Knicks and Delon Wright returned to the lineup. In Detroit’s last seven games he’s averaged just 11.2 minutes per, accounting for 2.1 points, 1.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 0.3 steals. With Wright and Smith in the fold there weren’t many opportunities for Lee to build on his late-February run, but that may have changed on Thursday.

Wright was traded to the Kings, and while the Pistons received Cory Joseph in return, this trade clears even more room for for Dwane Casey and GM Troy Weaver to evaluate Smith Jr., Lee and lottery pick Killian Hayes. Hayes, who has been out since January 4 with a hip injury, is making progress in his recovery and is expected to return soon.

“There’s nothing that replaces a game,” Casey said. “We were kind of put behind the eight ball (without a G League season), but playing time for Saben in games is very valuable. We’re in the same situation as far as who gets the job done, deciding who gets to play between he, Dennis and Killian. Make sure we see what combinations work together and who can play with who. Can Killian play off the ball as the secondary ball handler? Can he play as the primary ballhandler? Those things we want to see and give him time.”

Lee’s long-term fantasy value isn’t great, given the eventual return of Hayes, but in the short-term he should see a boost in playing time. The rookie out of Vanderbilt certainly had his moments in late-February, and for that reason he’s worth keeping an eye on, especially in deep leagues. Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, whose roles were not impacted by the trade deadline, should see their fantasy values increase moving forward as Detroit continues to place an emphasis on evaluating its young talent. Bey’s already a starter, and Stewart is moving closer to getting an even split on center minutes with Mason Plumlee.

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Injury likely boosts values of Maledon, Pokusevski: With Oklahoma City announcing on Wednesday that starting point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be sidelined for an extended period of time due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, the team’s two rookies are poised to benefit when it comes to their respective fantasy values. Theo Maledon, who has started 16 of the last 17 games that he’s appeared in, and Aleksej Pokusevski won’t lack for opportunities to prove themselves, as the Thunder continue their rebuild.

During that 17-game stretch, Maledon is averaging 9.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.8 3-pointers in 31.6 minutes per, while shooting 37.0% from the field and 82.4% from the foul line. Rostered in 8% of Yahoo leagues, Maledon hasn’t been a great option as far as fantasy basketball is concerned with the field goal percentage being especially concerning. But he won’t lack for opportunities to turn things around, which makes him worth the gamble.

Pokusevski has also struggled with his field goal percentage, shooting just 34.1% in the eight games that he’s played since returning from the G-League bubble, but there are other numbers that work in his favor. The rookie forward is averaging 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.9 blocks and 1.6 3-pointers per game over his last eight, which are solid numbers overall. But the field goal percentage and turnover average (2.1 per game) have limited his fantasy value over the last two weeks. If Pokusevski, who’s rostered in 17% of Yahoo leagues, can become a more efficient player, that would do wonders for his fantasy value down the stretch.

Oladipo trade should benefit Tate: Houston managed to move Victor Oladipo ahead of the trade deadline, sending him to Miami in exchange for Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and the right to swap first-round picks in the 2022 NBA Draft. While the haul isn’t great as far as the Rockets are concerned, this transaction should result in a minutes increase for Jae'Sean Tate. Averaging 28.2 minutes per game for the season, over his last ten games the rookie guard/forward has played 31.0 per. During that stretch Tate accounted for 12.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.1 3-pointers per game, while shooting 48.0% from the field and 60.7% from the foul line. Rostered in 30% of Yahoo leagues, he has been a top-100 player over the last two weeks.

Bradley has struggled with injury for much of this season, and given the Rockets’ place in the standings it would be a shock if younger players such as Tate and KJ Martin didn’t see their minutes increase considerably as the team plays out the string. Martin is rostered in just 12% of Yahoo leagues and he has been a top-100 player over the last month. For the reasons noted, it would not be considered a gamble if fantasy managers rushed to grab either Tate or Martin off of the waiver wire.

Will additions hurt Williams’ value in Chicago?: As mentioned above the Bulls acquired Nikola Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu from the Magic, so it’s fair to wonder what this means for Patrick Williams in the short-term. The rookie has already given his jersey number to Vucevic, who has worn No. 9 for most of his NBA career. I don’t expect the additions to impact Williams’ fantasy value all that much, as it appears likely that he’ll remain in the starting lineup. If anything, playing alongside a center as skilled as Vucevic could help the rookie as they establish on-court chemistry. However, while the additions may not impact Williams’ fantasy prospects, there’s a holdover who might.

Rostered in just 14% of Yahoo leagues, Williams has offered late-round value (in deep leagues) regardless of format. If there’s a concern it’s the presence of Thaddeus Young, who was starting at the five pre-trade. With the Bulls also acquiring Daniel Theis in a separate trade, Young could move back to the four full-time, which would, in turn, impact Williams’ minutes. With Vucevic and Aminu both set to make their Bulls’ debuts Saturday night, it will be interesting to see how Billy Donovan divvies up the minutes, and whether or not Williams takes a hit.

“Inaction” means no boost for Pelicans’ Lewis, Raptors’ Flynn: Point guards Kira Lewis Jr. and Malachi Flynn haven’t had many opportunities with their respective teams thus far, but the trade rumor mill made it appear possible that this would change after the deadline. But in the end both teams held onto their starting point guards, with the Pelicans making it clear that Lonzo Ball would not be traded and the Raptors not finding a suitable offer for Kyle Lowry.

Of course both teams could wind up in situations where the postseason isn’t a realistic target, which would likely mean more playing time for Lewis and Flynn. But for the time being there isn’t a clear path to rotation minutes, which means there’s no reason to even consider the possibility of their fantasy values receiving a boost.

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 Eleven: Ball, Haliburton headline rookies in Rising Stars Challenge

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

Volume Thirteen: Edwards hitting his stride in Minnesota