You’re excited to draft Zion Williamson next fall, aren’t you? Well, here are his per-36 stats that I posted last week:

If you loved The Matrix: Reloaded and P.O.D. as unabashedly as I did 15 years ago–and you definitely didn’t–then this song immediately jumps into your head when gazing upon those numbers, as the chorus goes: “Dreaming of Zion…”

Okay, we know those numbers aren’t happening… at least not for a few seasons (winky face). But even the slight possibility of two-thirds of that production and all the hype around him is enough to get people reaching for him in… I’m guessing the second round? Is that smart? How about Luka Doncic? Seems like he’s bound for a second-round ADP, too. Will that be wise?

Today we’re looking at rookie production once again, as well as that of this season’s sophomores in hopes of remembering how risky it is to gamble on young and/or unproven players regardless of how exciting they may be. My general advice is to stay away. I know, I know. They’re so shiny and full of upside. And if you’re in a keeper/dynasty league, you can sit back and enjoy watching the young players as they improve. But in a redraft league, here’s why you’re better off letting someone else overpay/overdraft rookies.

First, my handy-dandy chart from this preseason that shows the top five rookie rankings in total 9-category stats over the previous five seasons.

Keeping in mind that they were likely more valuable on a per-game basis over the second halves of seasons, that looks… well, unpredictable. And even moreso when I remind you that not many rookies picked as a top-5 rookie finished as one of these top-5 rookies. Mr. 8 up there was Karl-Anthony Towns and 27 was Ben Simmons. So, some of the surefire guys have been pretty safe. That give us hope for Zion, but there’s still too much risk for me. I think he’ll be better than 90th, the spot where the top rookie finished two seasons back (the unexpected Malcolm Brogdon), but that stuff happens. This season has actually been a little more predictable when it comes to the top five rookies returning top-five rookie value. Let’s see how they’re shaking out:

Highest Rookie Ranks 9-cat #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
2018-19 Totals 29 68 88 93 97
DeAndre Mikal Luka Mitchell Trae
Ayton Bridges Doncic Robinson Young

As in many years, injuries or shut-downs have been the cause of some poor returns on rookies. You’re more likely to be dropping and adding some of these guys throughout the season, so their per-game numbers might be more relevant. Here are the top five in per-game value followed by per-game value over the last month.

Highest Rookie Ranks 9-cat #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
2018-19 Per-Game 34 58 85 95 98
DeAndre Mitchell Jaren Luka Mikal
Ayton Robinson Jackson Jr. Doncic Bridges
Highest Rookie Ranks 9-cat #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
2018-19 Per-Game 25 40 48 61 74
Last Month Mitchell Trae DeAndre Marvin Shai
Robinson Young Ayton Bagley III Gilgeous-

There’s definitely some good value in there, but aside from Ayton, none of the top rookies have consistently outplayed their draft position (Mitchell Robinson wasn’t one of the early rookies off the board).

And why are people salivating over Luka, again? Well, because they’ve seen him play and/or his high-scoring triple-double stat lines, of course. Hopefully this shows you why he’s unlikely to be worth next season’s draft slot in 9-cat leagues. However, if you play in an 8-cat league and you think Luka can get to league average percentages (I think he’s likely to get close) with similar counting stats, he could be in the 20-30 neighborhood overall. Trae Young, Mitchell Robinson, and DeAndre Ayton also look like no-doubt top-50 players in either format in their sophomore seasons, with Jaren Jackson Jr. likely to join them.

Speaking of sophomores, let’s see how this season’s sophs have followed up that rookie season. Once again, here are the top five in total and per-game stats:

Highest Sophomore Ranks #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
2018-19 Totals 36 41 42 56 58
Jayson Ben De’Aaron Donovan Jarrett
Tatum Simmons Fox Mitchell Allen
Highest Sophomore Ranks #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
2018-19 Per-Game 40 48 49 57 60
Lauri Jayson John Donovan Ben
Markkanen Tatum Collins Mitchell Simmons

So the second year stars are, for the most part, climbing and solidifying their spots as reliable fantasy options. But remember that we’re coming off of two drafts considered to be much stronger than this upcoming draft, so there’s likely to be even less certainty with the rookies. The moral of the story is, as always, don’t reach for the hype. Go with mostly steady, old, boring guys that come at a discount because of those traits. They become the sleepers. Sure, grab some upside, but definitely not early in drafts. If you can identify next season’s Mikal Bridges and Mitchell Robinson, guys that you can grab late or off the wire, that’s the way to go.


This week’s classic fantasy line:

One more caution on reaching for Zion. Now he wasn’t quite as hyped up as Zion, but it was pretty close for fellow Blue Devil Jabari Parker as he entered the league. Here’s Jabari’s rookie line:

Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Jabari Parker (Duke) tips his cap to the crowd while standing with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number two overall pick to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

  1. Jep says:

    Great read Tad.

    Next season’s sophmore question, where do you see Trae and Bagley drafted in a 9cat H2H league?

    • Tad

      Tad says:

      Thanks Jep. Personally, I would think it would be smart to take Trae and Marvin around those ranks they have for the past month (40-ish and 60-ish). They’ve both been hot, so they may not keep it up, though they should improve with a full off-season with their teams, and Marvin should be getting more minutes and usage in a starting role. However, where I think they WILL go is different. People will be excited to take young break-out kind of guys like that, so I could see Trae going in the top 30 and Bagley around 50. Could be worth it, but it’s unlikely they’re worth more than that. I’d rather pick less risky players that have higher floors for a few more rounds.

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