Rookie/Sophomore Report

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This past week has been a wild one in the NBA, due in large part to injuries and players entering the league's health and safety protocols. As a result, some young players who would be on the outskirts (or completely out) of the rotation under normal circumstances have been pressed into action. We'll touch on some of those players in this week's column. But the first topic centers around a report on the future of the Pacers, and how it could impact the team's two first-round picks.

Could the Pacers be on the way to a rebuild?

The Pacers have struggled with injuries and inconsistent play this season, which is why the team currently had a 10-16 record. On Tuesday it was reported by The Athletic that the Pacers front office is considering the possibility of moving towards a "substantial" rebuild, with Caris LeVert and either Domantas Sabonis or Myles Turner being players who could be on the move. Add in injuries suffered by T.J. McConnell, who may be done for the remainder of the season, and Justin Holiday, and the Pacers are nowhere near the team that many expected them to be before the season began.

Due to these issues, rookies Chris Duarte and Isaiah Jackson immediately become players worth tracking, at minimum. In the case of Duarte, he's already rostered in 40% of Yahoo leagues. He got off to a hot start to the season, tailing off once LeVert and Malcolm Brogdon were both available to play. He's currently providing 15th-round value in 9-cat formats per Basketball Monster, averaging 13.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.9 3-pointers per game. Duarte is worth streaming for now if available, but there may come a point where he becomes a must-add.

Monday's win over the Wizards snapped a four-game losing streak, but another such run of form could provide the front office with the evidence it needs in order to begin the rebuilding process in earnest.

It's at that point where Jackson, who has spent the majority of this season with the Pacers' G League affiliate, becomes a player of interest in fantasy circles. He was a shot-blocking stud in Summer League play, producing a block rate of 18.67%. Of course, "that's just Summer League," but the athleticism and shot-blocking are attributes that could potentially translate to actual NBA games. And if the Pacers go through with a rebuild, Jackson will have every opportunity to show what he can do.

Jackson's lack of NBA playing time doesn't make him a player worth tracking in the traditional sense; watching him rack up DNP-CDs with a few minutes on occasion would tell fantasy managers nothing. What they should be tracking is the Pacers' performance, as noted above.

Is Dosunmu worthy of a standard-league look?

On the same day that he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Bulls wing DeMar DeRozan was ruled out due to health and safety protocols. And this happened after Chicago lost Alex Caruso to a strained hamstring, which he aggravated during Saturday's win over the Nets. Those absences have opened the door even more for rookie Ayo Dosunmu to have an impact, and he's taken advantage.

After putting up 11 points, three rebounds, and two blocked shots in that win over Brooklyn, Dosunmu was even better in his first career start. Playing 42 minutes, he accounted for 11 points, six rebounds, eight assists, one steal, and one 3-pointer in Monday's win over the Nuggets. The assist tally was a career-high for Dosunmu, who had a total of nine assists in the 11 games prior. He's made a positive impression on Billy Donovan, who praised Dosunmu for how coachable he is.

"I really love coaching him because you can really, really talk to him in a way that he wants the truth," Donovan said on Tuesday, according to 670 The Score. "He wants to get better. He wants to grow. He wants to hear what he’s got to do to improve. And for me as a coach, when you see a young man with that much hunger and desire to want to be good, he wants to hear it all. I really, really respect that about him."

Dosunmu was told before Monday's game that he would play "a lot," and that will remain the case for as long as the Bulls are without Caruso and DeRozan. Due the circumstances, a player who barely raised an eyebrow in deeper leagues is now someone that standard league managers need to pick up. The only negative here is that Dosunmu, who is still rostered in just 6% of Yahoo leagues, will only play two more games this week (at Cleveland, at Miami).

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Thunder welcome back Giddey after brief absence

After missing two games due to a non-COVID illness, Josh Giddey was back in the lineup for Monday's win over the Pistons. While he did commit four turnovers and fail to grab a rebound on the night, the positives far outweighed those negatives. Giddey wasn't on a minutes restriction, playing 30 minutes and finishing with a line of 12 points (5-of-6 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), five assists, and one steal.

Fantasy managers should not be concerned about the rebounding, as Giddey is averaging 6.8 per contest on the season. He's grabbed at least five in 17 of the 21 games that he's appeared in, and Giddey has also accumulated five or more assists in 14 games (18 of 21 with four or more). Providing 13th-round value in 9-cat formats, Giddey is ranked fifth among all fantasy rookies. He has value now and, as we all know, he'll be even more valuable later this season as the Thunder play out the string.

Pelicans' Jones making an impact defensively

Dosunmu isn't the only rookie who has experienced an uptick in playing time due to injury. New Orleans wing Herb Jones has started 14 of the 23 games that he's appeared in this season, including the last seven. In those seven starts he's averaged 7.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, and 0.3 3-pointers in 29.9 minutes per game, shooting 42.9% from the field and 80.0% from the foul line. While the scoring doesn't jump off the page the defensive stats do, which shouldn't come as a surprise.

Jones was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year at Alabama last season, and he fits the mold of a 3-and-D wing at the NBA level (despite playing the four for most of his senior year). The Pelicans have been without Zion Williamson all season, and with Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram also missing time due to various injuries, there have been more than enough minutes available to Jones. Providing 13th-round value in 9-cat formats for the season according to Basketball Monster, Jones has been a top-100 player (ranked 80th) over the last two weeks.

Rostered in 11% of Yahoo leagues, Jones is a worthwhile pickup due to his recent play and the Pelicans having three more games to play this week. And with New Orleans boasting a 7-19 record, it doesn't take much effort to envision a scenario in which the team eventually gives its younger players all the minutes that they can handle with an eye towards the future.

Young Hornets Richards, Bouknight and Thor pressed into action

Before the season began, Hornets Nick Richards, James Bouknight and JT Thor did not appear to be in line for consistent rotation minutes. Richards was looking to get in the mix for minutes behind Mason Plumlee and P.J. Washington, while Bouknight joined a crowded backcourt and Thor was on a two-way contract. But the Hornets have been hit hard by health and safety protocols, with five players currently being sidelined. As a result, Richards, Bouknight, and Thor are all a part of the team's rotation as they look to tread water until those key players return.

Richards played 18 minutes in Monday's loss to the 76ers and had his best game of the season, accounting for 12 points (5-of-5 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), five rebounds and two assists. While it would have been nice to get some defensive stats out of Richards, the lack of them doesn't come as a major surprise given the matchup (Joel Embiid). As for Bouknight (who was lighting it up in the G League) and Thor, they've been thrust into the spotlight due to LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, and Ish Smith all being sidelined.

Bouknight finished Monday's overtime defeat with a line of 11 points, five rebounds, none assist, and one 3-pointer in 22 minutes, while Thor accounted for eight points, two rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot, and one 3-pointer in 20 minutes. The fact that each was able to step in and contribute Monday night is a positive sign, as the Hornets will have to rely on Richards, Bouknight and Thor for production until their key pieces return.

"I just knew that whatever time I was given, I need to take advantage of it," Bouknight told the Charlotte Observer. "Just being a rookie in the league, you have a short leash and you’ve just got to go out there and play. You’ve just got to play like it’s your last, and I went out there and that’s exactly what I did."

Clippers' Boston cracks the rotation

After hitting double digits in minutes in just two of his first seven games, Brandon Boston Jr. has done so in three of the Clippers' last four. He scored 13 points in two of those four games, and is averaging 8.5 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 1.0 3-pointers in 15.8 minutes per. And Boston has put up solid percentages during this recent run, shooting 45.8% from the field, 44.44% from three and 100% from the foul line. While he still isn't worth picking up in any league, the rookie out of Kentucky is worth tracking for the time being.

Boston was the first player off the bench in Monday's win over the Blazers, and Tyronn Lue offered praise for the young wing afterward.

"I thought he played great," Lue said according to Clippers Nation. "Just taking his open shots, made three threes, aggressive attacking the basket on close outs. And then defensively, hustling back, that one time got the deflection. And so he’s only going to get better, you know, 3-for-6 from three, 13 points off the bench for a rookie, that’s pretty solid."

With Nicolas Batum due to return from a stint on the sideline due to health and safety protocols, it appears that Boston's minutes will decrease. However, given the strides that he's made, it would not come as a surprise if the rookie continued to get opportunities to prove himself.

Spurs' Primo finally gets some run

Joshua Primo being selected in the lottery was one of the bigger surprises of this summer's NBA Draft, if only because of how young he was. After reclassifying in order to enter college a year earlier than expected, Primo was expected to spend much of his time with the Spurs' G League affiliate due to the team's roster being loaded with young perimeter players. That's how the season has played out for Primo, who has only appeared in seven games for the Spurs. But he's played 18 and 15 minutes in his last two, with Monday's loss to the Suns being the best of his rookie season to date.

In those 18 minutes, Primo accounted for five points, two rebounds, three steals, four blocks, and one 3-pointer. Of course, expecting a perimeter player to produce those defensive stats on a consistent basis would be unfair. However, with Keldon Johnson (ankle) going down during Tuesday's game, and Devin Vassell dealing with a quad contusion, there may be room for Primo in the Spurs rotation for the time being. Deep league managers will want to be mindful of this ahead of Thursday's game against the Nuggets, as that is the first of three games (including a back-to-back) that the Spurs will play this week. If Johnson and/or Vassell have to sit, Primo as a streamer is a gamble worth taking. Once those players are fully cleared, look for Primo to get the majority of his playing time in the G League.