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With the NBA regular season set to begin in less than a week, many fantasy managers are going through the process of selecting their teams. That makes this a good time to bring back the Rookie Report, albeit with a different name and a broader focus. This season, the annual Thursday column will focus on both first- and second-year players. Last season's rookie class produced just three top-100 players in 9-cat formats: LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton and Anthony Edwards. While the incoming crop of rookies does appear to be better-equipped to have an impact in fantasy leagues, that number tends to be low. As a result, we're going to add second-year players to the mix.
For the first column of the new season, we'll take a look at some players who are in positions where they can provide solid fantasy value immediately.
Should Timberwolves' Edwards have a top-50 ADP?
Anthony Edwards was excellent after the All-Star break last season, and that run was why he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind LaMelo Ball. But the rotation had a much different look than it does heading into this season. Malik Beasley, who played in just 37 games last season due to injuries and a 12-game suspension, is back in the fold. And the addition of Patrick Beverley, who's expected to help improve what was a putrid defense, needs to be taken into consideration as well. But these factors haven't swayed fantasy managers, who have boosted Edwards' ADP to 44. Should it be that high?
What fantasy managers are counting on is for Edwards to build upon his production from the final two months of last season. With a usage of 27.7, he averaged 23.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks, 2.8 3-pointers and 2.7 turnovers in 35.1 minutes per game, while shooting 45.1% from the field and 76.4% from the foul line. If Edwards were to approach those numbers in a rotation that will be headlined by Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell, he would have little trouble cracking the top-50. What would also help his cause would be the stated goal to average "two or three" steals per game; Jimmy Butler led the NBA last season at 2.1. That's ambitious, to say the least, but Edwards thinking about impacting the game defensively is a positive.
While I'm a bit skeptical when it comes to Edwards being a top-50 player, by no means would I consider that to be far-fetched. Minnesota has some questions to answer within its rotation, but Edwards should be fine. He's certainly a player that managers should consider making a run for before their draft hits pick No. 50.
Rockets' Green to share playmaking responsibilities
With John Wall no longer in the Rockets' plans, the team has a void to fill at the point. Kevin Porter Jr., who has been groomed for this job since the Rockets acquired him from the Cavaliers last season, will certainly factor into Stephen Silas' plans. But Jalen Green, who was selected with the second overall pick in this summer's draft, will also have moments when he gets to initiate the offense for the Rockets. Through three preseason games, Green is averaging 12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.7 3-pointers and 3.0 turnovers per game, with percentages of 34.3% from the field and 80.0% from the foul line.
Those numbers aren't great, and are a clear reminder that regardless of the hype, young players need time to develop. Green will certainly have he time to do so, as the Rockets have gone "all-in" on a rebuild in the aftermath of the James Harden trade. What will also help Green are the work ethic and confidence level; a cold streak isn't going to keep him from getting up shots within the course of a game.
"You still have to play the game," Green told The Athletic after his 20-point game against the Heat on October 7. "If you miss a shot, you can’t sit there and pout about it. You gotta get to the next play or go get the ball back on defense. You can’t sub yourself out, check out the game. You still got a whole game to play. If I was missing shots in the first quarter, I’m not gonna put my head down and dwell on it the whole game."
Green will certainly endure some growing pains once the regular season begins. But he's in a very good spot as far as fantasy potential is concerned. So long as he can improve upon those percentages, Green should be one of the top fantasy rookies this season.
Sengun appears to be further along than anticipated
Houston selected four players in the first round of this summer's draft: Green, Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba and Josh Christopher. With regard to Sengun, the early feeling was that defense would be an issue for him. But the 6-foot-10, 243-pound center has been solid during the preseason, averaging 8.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.0 blocks in 16.3 minutes per game. Sengun has grabbed at least five rebounds and blocked one shot in each of his three outings, and is also shooting better than 47% from the field. Add in his decision-making on offense, which has allowed Houston to use him as a high-post playmaker at times, and there's a lot to like here.
If there's a concern for Sengun fantasy-wise, it's that he begins the season behind Christian Wood and Daniel Theis. The presence of those two veterans, who are firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, will likely make it difficult for Sengun to "explode" early on. But that may change during the second half of the season, when most non-playoff teams commit to getting their younger talents all the minutes that they can handle. Taking a late-round flier on Sengun in your draft wouldn't be a bad decision, but do so with the idea that the rewards may not be reaped until later in the season.
Siakam injury opens the door for Barnes in Toronto
With star forward Pascal Siakam still working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, the Raptors had some additional minutes to distribute during the preseason. Of course rookie Scottie Barnes, who was selected fourth overall, was bound to get his fair share of that playing time. And thus far the former Florida State standout has looked the part, averaging 9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.8 turnovers in 26.3 minutes per game during the preseason. At first glance the assist average will surprise some, but keep in mind that Florida State used him as a point guard; playmaking isn't a foreign concept to Barnes.
The question is how much playmaking will he be able to do once the regular season begins? While Siakam may not be ready to go immediately, Fred VanVleet and Goran Dragic will certainly spend a lot of time on the ball, and the rapidly-improving OG Anunoby should see his usage increase significantly (career-high 19.3 in 2020-21). A supporting argument for Barnes is that he's put that assist average with a usage of 17.5, and boasts an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.11. He's definitely going to play, as coach Nick Nurse made clear before the start of training camp. His Yahoo ADP of 213 is way too low, even if we remember that preseason and regular season basketball are two entirely different animals.
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What should we make of Kings' Haliburton, Mitchell?
The aforementioned Tyrese Haliburton was one of the NBA's best rookies last season; although he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting, the Kings guard was tops amongst all first-year players as far as 9-cat fantasy value is concerned. The ability to play either on or off the ball served Haliburton well, with regard to his fit alongside De'Aaron Fox. He appears headed for a similar role this season, with the Kings using even more three-guard lineups consisting of he, Fox and Buddy Hield. Personally, I look at Haliburton in a light similar to that of Phoenix's Mikal Bridges from a fantasy standpoint; while there may not be a category in which either is "elite," they do enough across the board to make themselves worthwhile options.
This being said, there's another young Kings guard that fantasy managers likely have on their radar: rookie Davion Mitchell. With Sacramento boasting the NBA's worst defense last season, the front office decided to use its lottery pick on a guard well-known for his defensive prowess. Given the nickname "Off Night" as a result of his ability to shut down opposing players, Mitchell has been good on both ends of the floor in the preseason. Through three games, he's averaging 13.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 3.3 3-pointers and 1.7 turnovers in 27.2 minutes per, while shooting 51.7% from the field and 62.5% from three.
Mitchell has yet to attempt a free throw, and that's the statistical category that could be an issue for him, as it was in college. But the combination of Sacramento needing to get better at the point off attack defensively, and Mitchell proving to be an efficient playmaker on the other end, should result in his getting solid rotation minutes. If that were to happen, Hield would likely be the player who loses out, and that wouldn't be a shock given the offseason trade rumors (and Buddy nearly being moved to the Lakers). Mitchell has an ADP that's well off the radar right now, but he's worth tracking early in the season.
Is Brooklyn's Thomas worthy of a late-round flier?
With the Nets announcing at the beginning of the week that Kyrie Irving will be away from the team until he's available (per New York City's COVID-19 vaccine mandate) to play in home games, there are additional rotation minutes to be had. Of course Irving's absence will impact the responsibilities that James Harden and Kevin Durant take on, and the offseason addition of Patty Mills becomes a move of even greater importance. But could this also impact first-round pick Cameron Thomas, who was one of the most prolific scorers in college basketball last season while at LSU? It's definitely a question that merits consideration with the regular season just five days away.
While Thomas is averaging just 14.1 minutes per game in three preseason appearances, he hasn't hesitated to get shots up. Averaging 9.3 attempts per, the rookie is averaging 12.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.3 3-pointers and 2.7 turnovers, while shooting 50.0% from the field and 85.7% from the foul line. The percentages and scoring are positives, but Thomas hasn't offered much either defensively or as a distributor. Add to that the turnover average, and that's a bit of a concern early on. And it also isn't a guarantee that he'll have a significant role in the Nets rotation immediately, as the team also has the more experienced Bruce Brown and De'Andre Bembry to call on. While it would not come as a surprise if Thomas were to crack the rotation immediately, he's in a tough spot as far as fantasy value is concerned.
Suggs, Hampton and Anthony worth tracking in Orlando
Other than the Rockets and the Thunder, there may not be another team that stands to be more reliant on first- and second-year talent than the Magic. They added two rookies in the draft lottery in Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner, and also have second-year players Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke and R.J. Hampton on the roster. So how does one go about sifting through the group in an attempt to find fantasy value? Suggs is at the top of the list, not only because of his skill level, but the current state of the point guard rotation in Orlando.
Suggs and Anthony are the only two healthy options, as Markelle Fultz (knee) and Michael Carter-Williams (ankle) are both without a timeline for return. Suggs' numbers haven't been all that impressive during the preseason (5.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, 0.7 3-pointers and 2.0 turnovers in 22.6 minutes per game), but he's a high-level competitor who stands to begin the regular season as Orlando's starting point guard. As for Anthony, the second-year guard has accounted for 11.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 2.0 3-pointers and 2.3 turnovers in 25.1 minutes per game. The return of Gary Harris likely means that Anthony will come off the bench, due to Orlando's need for Harris' 3-and-D capabilities, but he won't lack for playing time, either.
Hampton, who said before the start of training camp that he's now 6-foot-6, has been the most productive in the preseason when it comes to the numbers. In 21.2 minutes per, he's averaging 11.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 1.0 3-pointers and 1.0 turnovers per game, while shooting 44.1% from the field and 84.6% from the foul line. Fantasy managers have not hesitated to select Suggs and with good reason, as noted above. But Hampton's ADP (390) may be a bit low given Orlando's youth movement and his versatility. What would help him even more fantasy-wise? If the Magic were to move Terrence Ross at some point, as this would clear up even more minutes on the wing.
Okeke and Wagner will both play, but their fantasy values depend (in part) upon when Jonathan Isaac (knee) will be cleared to return. Okeke has yet to play this preseason due to a hip injury, and it remains to be seen if he'll be good to go for the start of the regular season. As for Wagner, he's averaged 4.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 1.0 3-pointers and 1.0 turnovers in 22.6 minutes per game. The defensive numbers are certainly encouraging; Wagner's ability to defend multiple positions will get him minutes. As for fantasy value, that's a tough sell, even with Okeke and Isaac being down at present time.