The NBA's Rookie Class Is Not as Good in Fantasy Hoops as You May Think
While trying to rank draft classes in real life would be a largely anecdotal undertaking, when it comes to fantasy hoops, you can look at it through the lens of standard fantasy rankings, based on value derived from the nine standard statistical categories (points, threes, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and turnovers).
Rookies are largely overvalued in general in fantasy sports, as the promise of upside and the unknown nature of how any given player will actually work out in the pros has people drafting rookies far too early in fear of missing out on a big-time stud.
For a recent example, last year's Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, had an average draft position (ADP) of 69th but finished his award-winning rookie campaign ranked 130th in nine-category leagues. He offered above-average points but little else. Meanwhile, his efficiency numbers (both percentages and turnovers) were below league average.
And that's what generally happens to rookies. They might start out their careers with an above-average contribution in one of their biggest strengths (in Wiggins' case, points) but generally lack in the areas of efficiency and require development in the other areas of their game before they can become true multi-category threats. Even perpetual top-fivr finisher Kevin Durant was the 84th-ranked player in nine-category leagues his rookie season.
This year, though, rookies are all the rage.
Karl-Anthony Towns looks like one of the best prospects this decade, Kristaps Porzingis is right there with him (which no one expected), Jahlil Okafor is all over the headlines (and sometimes for his playing ability), and D'Angelo Russell's minutes and role on the Lakers during Kobe Bryant's farewell tour is one of the buzziest topics in the Association these days.
Those four -- the first four picks from this year's draft -- have sky-high ownership rates in fantasy hoops and are all posting standard-league value (where standard-league value is defined as being within the top-156 players in nine-category leagues because the default league size is 12 teams with 13 players each). While stories about those four (and a few others) are making this seem like the best rookie class we've seen in a while, it's actually pretty average from a fantasy perspective.
In the table below, you'll see the last decade of rookies in fantasy basketball, including how many first-year players finished in the top-156, plus a look at the Rookie of the Year and highest-ranked rookie, along with their nine-category ranks:
|Season||Std-Lg Rooks||Rookie of the Year||9-Cat Rank||Best Fantasy||9-Cat Rank|
|05-06||7||Chris Paul||17th||Chris Paul||17th|
|06-07||4||Brandon Roy||51st||Brandon Roy||51st|
|07-08||3||Kevin Durant||84th||Kevin Durant||84th|
|08-09||8||Derrick Rose||125th||Brook Lopez||51st|
|09-10||8||Tyreke Evans||71st||Stephen Curry||11th|
|10-11||5||Blake Griffin||83rd||Blake Griffin||83rd|
|11-12||8||Kyrie Irving||38th||Kyrie Irving||38th|
|12-13||5||Damian Lillard||51st||Anthony Davis||25th|
|13-14||2||Michael Carter-Williams||96th||Michael Carter-Williams||96th|
|14-15||5||Andrew Wiggins||130th||Nerlens Noel||56th|
As you can see, this year's rookie class is on track to be perfectly average. The average number of standard-league rookies per year over the past decade is 5.8, and this year we have six: Towns (16th), Porzingis (50th), T.J. McConnell (114th), Russell (135th), Okafor (136th), and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (140th). The first four picks are living up to expectations, but the only other fantasy-relevant rookies are an undrafted point guard playing in Philly (McConnell) and a late first-rounder who is injured and whom we won't see again until February (Hollis-Jefferson).
In other words, the class hasn't proven to be that special yet, at least not from a fantasy perspective in year one. What's skewing the perception, perhaps, is the fact that Towns is on track to be the best fantasy rookie since Stephen Curry and Porzingis is on track to be the best "runner-up" since Damian Lillard.
The cream of the crop is certainly extra creamy this year, but the middle and bottom are pretty much on track with any other season in recent fantasy history.
(All ranks per BasketballMonster.com.)