6 NBA Rookies to Have on Your Fantasy Basketball Radar
There's no question that this year's draft class has tons of promise and upside. Whether they perform at a high level now or in the future is a matter of time and, above all other things, opportunity.
The good news for this year's class is that there are a lot of opportunities to be had early on, and some teams simply need bodies on the floor.
With the need to contribute right away, these players, regardless of whether or not they start, will be given a lot of time on the court. That's where real life opportunity meets fantasy value.
That's why this year's rookies could provide such great value on draft day. There might be uncertainty about them among drafters, but the opportunity is there to be taken advantage of, both for the youngsters themselves and for you.
Who should you be targeting as the NBA season approaches? And where should you be targeting them?
The Early Rounder
Karl-Anthony Towns, Center, Minnesota Timberwolves
No surprise here! Karl-Anthony Towns was the number one overall pick in this year's NBA Draft, so why wouldn't he be expected to come in and contribute in a big way? Towns, standing 7 feet tall and 250 pounds, was a man among boys in his brief stop in Lexington a year ago. At 19 years old, he has an NBA body, and we think he's ready to put it to good use.
Despite his rookie status, our projections -- based off of our in-house Fantasy Score which indicates a player's projected value in a standard nine category league (points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, threes and turnovers) -- love Towns this year. We give the big man a value of 1.1, which ties him for our 56th player overall and 20th center-eligible player. Most notably, we project Towns to finish in a tie for 7th among NBA centers with 147 blocks on the year.
Our rankings more than justify Towns' Yahoo O-Rank (62), and they go further to suggest that he provides even more value at his average draft position (ADP) of 61.2. As the Timberwolves' starting center, expect Towns to at least meet his projections with the upside of finishing as a top 50 player in fantasy in his first NBA season.
The Late Round (Un)Certainties
Emmanuel Mudiay, Point Guard, Denver Nuggets
Emmanuel Mudiay might have expected to go a couple spots sooner in this year's draft, and he might even be a little disappointed that he didn't end up in New York or L.A., but I know that fantasy drafters are very happy he ended up where he did. The 6'5", 200-pound point guard is very likely to start at point for new head coach Mike Malone and the rebuilding Nuggets, so he should have the ball in his hands a whole lot, giving him many chances to produce from a fantasy perspective.
With that exact thought in mind, Mudiay has an O-Rank of 104, is owned in 84% of Yahoo leagues and has an ADP of 101 -- 4th among all rookies. Our numbers kind of agree -- but not really. While we agree that Mudiay is worth a late-round selection, we have him in a tie for our 120th ranked player overall and 66th guard overall. That ranking would call for an ADP of 9.12 as opposed to his current Yahoo ADP of 8.05.
The expected knock on Mudiay -- and just about all rookie ball-handlers -- is turnovers. We project the 19-year old Mudiay to finish 18th overall and 14th among all guards with 216 turnovers on the year while accounting for just 409 assists. If Mudiay can quickly mature and cut down his turnovers, he will be more likely to provide value at his current ADP.
Myles Turner, Center, Indiana Pacers
With Roy Hibbert joining the Lakers and David West joining the Spurs, the Pacers were hurting for some much-needed size this summer. Before signing Jordan Hill to a one-year deal, the Pacers had seven-footer Myles Turner fall right into their lap with the 11th overall pick in this year's draft.
Yeah, Turner's a seven-footer, but there's so much more to him than his size. Turner boasts a unique skillset by stretching the floor on offense and protecting the rim on defense. So why is he nearly going undrafted (ADP of 139.5) with rankings of 143 and 156 from us and Yahoo, respectively? It could be the combination of the presence of Hill and, of all things, his questionable gait.
If Turner can outplay Hill, stay healthy and produce early, we could see a whole lot more of him as the season goes on. He might even be a starter by the end of the year. If that's the case, expect some great return for your risky end-of-draft investment. If we extrapolate Turner's numbers from our projections, he will efficiently tally 14.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per 36 minutes. If he gets the minutes, look out.
The Late-Round Fliers
Jahlil Okafor, Center, Philadelphia 76ers
Jahlil Okafor might not have a lot of chances to win games this year with the lowly Sixers, but he will have a lot of chances to pad stats and compete for the Rookie of the Year award. The former Duke star figures to slot in as the starting center in Philadelphia and should see a lot of minutes alongside Nerlens Noel in the frontcourt. A lot of drafters expect that to mean top-100 production I suppose.
Despite having an O-Rank of 108, Okafor is currently coming off the board with an ADP of 89.1, meaning the only rookie going before him is Towns. That's just crazy. Our projections place Okafor behind Towns, Mudiay and Turner by a decent margin and ahead of D'Angelo Russell by a very slim one. Clearly Okafor's name and promise of starting is driving up his ADP in standard leagues.
According to our rankings, Okafor is the 163rd best player in terms of fantasy value. If you would complete a 12-team, 13-round draft that means he would go undrafted rather than in the 8th round. Don't get me wrong, a young, promising starting center is worth a flier late, but the 8th round isn't very late at all. If you can wait on him at later points in the draft, Okafor's projected 13.3 points and 8.2 boards per game could provide some depth and value at center for your squad.
D'Angelo Russell, Point Guard, Los Angeles Lakers
As a fantasy player, D'Angelo Russell is in the same kind of position that Okafor is, just not quite as much. Russell performed like a star at Ohio State, was drafted second overall and will play in one of -- if not the -- biggest markets in the league. He's very popular for obvious reasons, and he'll likely start the year off at point guard for the Lakers. The opportunity is there, but is the value?
The 6'5" combo guard, as Yahoo's 107th ranked player this season, currently has an ADP of 100.7 and is owned in 85% of Yahoo fantasy basketball leagues. That's not all that surprising, but it's definitely a reach for many. According to our numbers, Russell will finish his rookie season as the 169th best fantasy player and the 92nd best guard. That would call for Russell going undrafted in standard leagues.
Of course, there is upside to target with Russell in the latter stages of fantasy drafts. He's a very talented passer and can crash the board unlike most point guards. Our projections forecast Russell scoring over 10 points a game while contributing over 5 assists and 4 rebounds per game as well. Consider that Russell's average play, and you can see what a little bit of improvement could do as the season goes on.
Stanley Johnson, Small Forward, Detroit Pistons
Based on play alone, who was the most talked about rookie this summer? No, not Towns, Okafor, Russell, Mudiay or even Turner. Stanley Johnson was, and rightfully so. The former Arizona Wildcat lit up Summer League to the tune of 16.2 points (on 57.7% shooting), 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 27.4 minutes of action. But that was just summer league right? No.
In the preseason, the 6'7" small forward is averaging 13.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 28 minutes per game. His field goal percentage has dipped to 39.4%, but he's still shooting over 44% from three and 81.8% from the free throw line. The drop in field goal percentage might just be a few buckets not falling his way in the lane. His shot is there and so is the production across other categories. This type of production is why Johnson is a legitimate sleeper candidate.
Our numbers don't really trust Johnson, as he falls outside our top 250 fantasy players. In fact, he's just 149th among all forwards. For a rookie though, he has a decent O-Rank (114) and his ADP of 131.2 is in the draftable range. Something's got to give -- he is owned in 62% of leagues and is currently one of the most added players after drafts. So, take it from me -- I drafted Johnson in our very own #nFHoopsDraft -- Johnson is worth a late pick and could have one of the more consistent rookie seasons of this year's crop.