Rookie/Sophomore Report

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After a wild holiday season with regard to injuries and health and safety protocols, things appear to be calming down in the NBA. But chaos isn't too far away, as we're three weeks away from the trade deadline (February 10). This week's column will begin with a Pacers squad that could be impacted in a big way by trades, but one of the team's most attractive options has gone down with a foot injury. How will that impact their two first-round picks?

Outlook gets a bit cloudy for Pacers' Jackson, Duarte

Back in early December, it was reported by The Athletic that the Pacers were "moving toward a substantial rebuild," and the team's standing within the East hasn't changed much. Following Monday's loss to the Clippers, Indiana sits at 15-29, 7.5 games behind Boston for the final play-in tournament slot. And with Monday's matchup being the first of five straight on the road (a period that includes games against the Warriors and Suns), it's possible that things will get worse for Rick Carlisle's team before they get better. Given the circumstances, it would be fair to assume that the Pacers front office will look to see what some of their more established players can fetch on the trade market ahead of the February 10 deadline. And that's where things have gotten a bit interesting.

Myles Turner, whose name has come up in more than a few trade rumors, is expected to be sidelined until after the All-Star break due to a stress reaction in his foot. This would also mean that he'll be sidelined through the trade deadline...which impacts rookie Isaiah Jackson. He was a player that we pegged as a long-term fantasy possibility back in December; if the Pacers were to clean house, he should be (in theory) in line for an increase in playing time. But the Turner injury, and Goga Bitadze's return to the rotation, likely change the equation for Jackson.

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The first-round pick out of Kentucky has only appeared in 11 games this season, with the majority of his playing time coming with the Pacers' G League affiliate. The good news is that very few fantasy managers decided to take the plunge and pick up Jackson in preparation for what Indiana's rotation could look like after the trade deadline. And that should remain the case. Fellow rookie Chris Duarte, who's rostered in 31% of Yahoo leagues, will have value regardless of what the Pacers do over the next three weeks or so (Caris LeVert, for example).

Back with the team after missing time due to health and safety protocols and the birth of his second child, Duarte has been a top-100 player over the last week according to Basketball Monster. With Indiana having three more games this week and four the next, not to mention Malcolm Brogdon dealing with a sore Achilles, this would be a good time to pick up Duarte if he's available.

Hawks' Okongwu taking advantage of an opportunity

Onyeka Okongwu was expected to eventually become Atlanta's backup center, but offseason shoulder surgery derailed those plans. But the sprained ankle that has sidelined starter Clint Capela has opened the door for the second-year power forward/center out of USC, and he's taken advantage of the opportunity. Okongwu had one of his best games of the season in Monday's comeback win over the Bucks, tallying 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal, and three blocked shots in 36 minutes. He would spend the majority of his time on defense guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 27 points but did so on 8-of-20 shooting from the field.

"He’s really strong, and he understands leverage and he understands angles," McMillan said according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "He does a good job of getting leverage, getting underneath those guys so that they’re not able to just walk him or back him down. He’s very strong...He doesn’t have the size, that length, but he understands leverage and does a good job of keeping his body between man and basket. And we’ve seen him be able to defend Giannis and a guy like Embiid."

In the eight games that Okongwu has played over the last two weeks, he's averaging 8.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks in 24.3 minutes per, shooting 81.6% from the field. While he isn't very high on the Hawks' offensive pecking order, Okongwu has (obviously) been effective when given the opportunity to score. Rostered in 13% of Yahoo leagues, he's providing 13th-round value over the last two weeks. That isn't great, but you'll take that production from a fill-in center as Capela works his way back. Until the Hawks' starting center is cleared to play, Okongwu makes for a solid fantasy option (and he's eligible at two positions).

Injuries thrust Bulls' Dosunmu into starting role

Friday's loss to the Warriors was a rough one for Chicago, and not only because of the 42-point margin. Billy Donovan lost both of his starting guards due to injury, with Lonzo Ball being sidelined due to a sore left knee and Zach LaVine left knee pain. Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu were called upon to fill the resulting voids, but the focus here is Dosunmu. The rookie had a career night in Saturday's loss to the Celtics, recording a line of 21 points (9-of-10 FGs), four rebounds, 10 assists, and three 3-pointers in 40 minutes.

He would follow that performance with another double-double on Monday, going for 15 points (7-of-12 FGs), 10 rebounds, six assists, five steals, two blocks, and one 3-pointer in a loss to the Grizzlies. Rostered in 15% of Yahoo leagues, Dosunmu has been a 12th-round player over the last week, but that ranking is skewed due to a scoreless effort in that loss to the Warriors. Obviously, he's a player that should be streamed for as long as the Bulls, who will welcome back Alex Caruso, remain shorthanded on the perimeter. Offensive numbers aside Dosunmu has also been asked to take on some challenging defensive assignments, including Jayson Tatum and Ja Morant. The fact that he hasn't backed down from these challenges is a great sign for the Bulls, both now and in the long run.

"You have to grow up fast," Dosunmu said after the loss to the Celtics according to NBC Sports Chicago. "From the beginning of the year, we've been having guys out with either nagging injuries or COVID. Our whole team hasn't been there. So I'm forced to be there. And a compliment I can get is Coach asking me to guard their best player. I try to compete, play how I know I can play."

Road trip proves beneficial for Warriors' Kuminga

With Draymond Green sidelined due to calf and lower back issues, the usual suspects were in line to see their fantasy values boosted. Otto Porter, who's been close to a top-100 player for the season, and Andre Iguodala were two names to consider, while Juan Toscano-Anderson got the first crack at replacing Green in the starting lineup. While Porter has proven to be quite valuable and the other two have fallen off, another name has emerged over the last week: rookie Jonathan Kuminga.

Providing 12th-round value in 9-cat formats over the last week, Kuminga is averaging 17.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 1.5 3-pointers over his last four games, shooting 50.0% from the field and 68.2% from the foul line. Those are good numbers for an athletic lottery pick who was thought to be more of a developmental project on the offensive end of the floor. And it's possible that we'll look back at the Warriors' four-game road trip as the point when Kuminga came of age as a pro.

"He's believing in himself," teammate Andrew Wiggins said of Kuminga according to NBC Sports Bay Area. "When he does that, no one can stop him. Physically, he's god-gifted. The strength, athletic ability, quickness -- everything in his ability to play basketball. He's a smart young player, aggressive, a hell of a defender. He's coming into his own and it's good to see. He's a good kid."

Otto Porter and Andre Iguodala (when healthy) will be in Steve Kerr's plans, but Kuminga has certainly earned the right to remain in the rotation. And following Tuesday's win over the Pistons, Kerr said that Kuminga (12/10/1/1 with two 3-pointers vs. Detroit) will start for as long as Green remains sidelined. He's rostered in 28% of Yahoo leagues, and now would be a good time to hop on the bandwagon if you haven't already. The Warriors play their next seven at home (four this week), with the first three games against teams that are not in the playoff conversation in their respective conferences (Detroit, Indiana, and Houston).

Durant injury opens the door for Nets' Edwards, Thomas

During Saturday's win over the Pelicans, the Nets lost Kevin Durant to a sprained MCL in his left knee. Things could have been a lot worse for the superstar, who's expected to miss 4-6 weeks. And with Kyrie Irving only being eligible to play in away games, there's even more room for some of the Nets' younger players to step forward. Heading into Monday's loss to the Cavaliers, there were essentially two options as far as fantasy is concerned: Kessler Edwards or Cam Thomas.

Edwards was Steve Nash's choice to fill the resulting void in the starting lineup, and he would play 38 minutes to Thomas' 19. A second-round pick out of Pepperdine, Edwards finished with a line of 10 points (4-of-8 FGs), three rebounds, one blocked shot, and three 3-pointers. As for Thomas, the first-rounder out of LSU tallied six points (3-of-4 FGs), two rebounds, and one steal. On the season as a whole Edwards, who's rostered in 9% of Yahoo leagues, has proven to be the better fantasy option. He's a 16th-round player in 9-cat, with Thomas (15% rostered) down in the 28th-round.

Edwards may not have entered the NBA with the offensive reputation of Thomas, who led the SEC in scoring as a freshman, but there's a lot to like here. A versatile wing who did a bit of everything at Pepperdine, he's averaging 8.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, and 1.5 3-pointers per game while shooting 45.5% from the field. Thomas' averages are 7.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, and 0.7 3-pointers per, and he's shooting 43.6%.

With Brooklyn scheduled to play eight of its next 10 games on the road, Edwards stands out as the better option of the two for managers in need of an additional option on the wing. Another rookie worth tracking is Day'Ron Sharpe, who's started the Nets' last four games due to LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Claxton being sidelined due to injury. Aldridge returned for Monday's game in Cleveland, and Claxton may not be far off from a return. Once Claxton returns, it will be difficult to justify rostering Sharpe. However, over his last five the rookie is averaging 12.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game, shooting 59.6% from the field and 80.0% from the foul line.

Fantasy value for Kings' Mitchell improves

With Tyrese Haliburton having been ruled out just before Sunday's loss to the Rockets due to health and safety protocols, Kings guard Davion Mitchell was well-positioned to see his standing within the rotation improve. Of course, he did not move into the starting lineup, as Terence Davis was Alvin Gentry's choice to fill the void, but the rookie out of Baylor logged 28 minutes and recorded one of his best lines of the season. Shooting 7-of-12 from the field, Mitchell finished with 16 points, four rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and two 3-pointers. He also recorded a usage percentage of 21.9, the first time in six games that Mitchell surpassed 20%.

This was Mitchell's first double-digit scoring effort since January 2, and over the last week, he's provided 7th-round value in 9-cat formats. Rostered in 8% of Yahoo leagues, the rookie has not been a very good fantasy option this season. Due to the presence of players such as Haliburton, De'Aaron Fox, and Buddy Hield, Mitchell's scoring opportunities weren't going to be as plentiful as they were at Baylor. The percentages become of even greater importance in a spot like this, and Mitchell is shooting 38.8% from the field and 62.9% from the foul line. That issue aside, he's worth a look in deeper leagues for as long as Haliburton remains sidelined.

Heat's Yurtseven drops out of the rotation

An undrafted rookie out of Georgetown, Heat center Omer Yurtseven made the most of the opportunity that came his way when Miami lost both Bam Adebayo and Dewayne Dedmon to injury. In 14 games (10 starts), he averaged 11.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.6 blocks in 28.2 minutes per, shooting 51.4% from the field and 62.5% from the foul line. Given how productive Yurtseven, who hit double figures in rebounds in all 14 games, was, there was no way that he would fall completely out of the rotation once Adebayo and Dedmon were healthy, right? Wrong.

Yurtseven was a DNP-CD in Monday's win over the Raptors, with Adebayo playing 32 minutes in his first game back and Dedmon getting the other 16. Obviously, there's no need to hold onto Yurtseven given that development. But his name is worth keeping on the radar, just in case the Heat are once again shorthanded in the post at some point.

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