It’s fitting that my rookie contribution to Razzball would be focused on this year’s rookie crop. I may tend to start off posts with a heavy Kevin-centric focus. I’ve been obsessed with fantasy basketball for 15 years. Have I won chips? More than zero. Are my fantasy prognostications correct? Ride with me for a solid 50/50 shot at accuracy. What about real basketball? Was I a scrappy D3 player that really understands the game? I’m in the bottom half of bad pickup games, but I can dunk on an 8-foot rim. So yeah, you could call me an expert. Let’s begin!
The promise, upside, and mystery of rookies entice us Fantasy GMs every season. Yet there is statistical history that proves love, like Jon Arbuckle for Veterinarian Liz, generally goes unrequited. Last season there was a boon in productive rookies, with 8 being standard league relevant (12 team, 13 player roster): Ben Simmons (27), Donovan Mitchell (39), Jayson Tatum (42), Lauri Markkanen (66), Lonzo Ball (78), John Collins (92), Kyle Kuzma (116), Jarret Allen (143). While that rookie class surpassed the hype, what’s in store for this year’s group? These youngsters carry a lot of weight in dynasty leagues, but for the purposes of this article, we will focus on standard redraft leagues.
Factor in Pre-ranks
When drafting, it’s important to be aware of players’ predraft rankings, as they can affect most drafts and help shape impressions for most GMs. Understanding that, you can leverage this information to give you an advantage on that upside rookie that is buried 400 deep on the pre-ranks. One thing you’ll notice is that ESPN seems to currently be more on point with their rookie ranks, whereas Yahoo has rookies in the 500s. Let’s take a look at these rookies in terms of standard redraft leagues and see where we can find value.
Elite Rookies That Are Safe To Count On
This group represents rookies with a positive combination in both skill/ability and team opportunity. They should have as consistent an opportunity as you can expect for a rookie.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 65, Yahoo – 130
Ayton is a physical beast of a man who should immediately own the paint in Phoenix. With only Tyson Chandler and the Twins of Disappointment (Chriss and Bender) to contend with, Ayton should see big minutes and usage right away. While fitting the mold of the more traditional big, Ayton has all of the tools to be a consistent double-double producer. He performed well enough in Summer league. Phoenix has no reason to not turn him loose and be the immediate 2nd option behind Booker.
Verdict: Has the potential to be a top 40 player, assuming blocks and efficiency are solid. With the lack of big men, Ayton has value and can be drafted in the 6th round with confidence.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 72, Yahoo – 146
Luka enters the league as the rookie with a ton of professional experience. He’s already a good shooter and playmaker, and he has the chance to be special. Having him rostered his rookie year definitely has a high fun factor. He should see starter minutes right away, running with DSJ, DAJ, and Barnes. He didn’t play in Summer League, as he was busy with Real Madrid. Doncic seems to be one of the few sure things in this rookie class.
Verdict: He’s worth it on fun alone. Grab him in round 6 and hope for a top 50 season.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 105, Yahoo – 121
He will kill you some nights with field goal percentage, but the upside and opportunity are definitely there. He showed in college that he has the potential to be a really good scorer, playmaker, and 3-point threat. His efficiency from the field and defensive play will be liabilities. Young’s summer league was a mixed bag, as he seemed to wilt under pressure. He adjusted quickly and began to flash the skills that can make him special. Atlanta is going young, wants to follow the Golden State recipe, and are crossing their fingers that Trae can be a Steph Curry-lite.
Verdict: If you are punting FG% and turnovers, his value skyrockets. Take him in round 8 before people start searching for him.
Could Be Good But With Murky Situations
This group has a mix of upside and decent situations, but could be hit or miss for investing in this season. Their value will probably fluctuate a lot as the season progresses.
Wendell Carter Jr
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 114, Yahoo – 118
WCJ made quite an impression in Summer league and showed more skills than he was able to showcase in the crowded frontcourt at Duke. He looks ready to contribute double-doubles with some extras, but word so far from the Bulls make it sound like he may be brought along a little slower than expected. Chicago still has Rolo, who is solid, and may be showcased for a trade. For now, Carter is definitely one to keep an eye on, but not a shoe-in for consistent standard league relevance.
Verdict: Rather than draft Carter in the 9th or 10th round, wait for someone to reach, grow impatient when he doesn’t start, and then swoop in after he’s dropped in the first month.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 102, Yahoo – 123
One of the more raw elite prospects, JJJ could be a block machine, with easy triple one potential. He showcased these skills well in summer league with some ridiculous block parties. He will be coming off the bench behind, and learning from, Marc Gasol. With Memphis looking to rebound with a healthy Gasol and Conley, they might not have as much room for error with playing Jackson big minutes, at least until one or both of their stars gets hurt.
Verdict: If he slips into the 11th round, he’s nice for those with gambling problems. He doesn’t need a ton of minutes to be productive.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 176, Yahoo – 244
Another Summer League head turner, Knox got all the NY fans hyped and dreaming about the next Jayson Tatum. On a rebuilding NY team, Knox should demand minutes, possibly starting on the wing with Hezonja playing the 4. He brings a strong scorer’s mentality, should grab a few boards, but hasn’t shown potential in most of the other cats so far. He will also struggle with efficiency, but he should get buckets at a minimum.
Verdict: These aren’t awful pre-ranks. If your team is lacking scoring and you are punting FG%, feel free to ride the lightning with this exciting rookie later in the draft.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 69, Yahoo – 197
I’m personally lower on Bagley than a lot of people. I don’t see the elite physicality of Ayton, the intelligence of WCJ, or the defensive/athletic upside of JJJ. He should be a good scorer, but nothing to get too excited about. His summer league was pretty underwhelming, and looking back into the Sacremento draft history does not bode well for the #2 pick. He also enters an uncertain and deep frontcourt occupied by WCS, Randolph, Koufos, Labissiere, and Giles.
Verdict: Definitely let someone else take him in the 6th round. If he slips to the last 3 rounds of your draft and you want to take a swing, be my guest.
Might Be Worth Taking A Shot
This group has rookies with either more uncertain situations or less than elite skills. Take one later in the draft if you’re feeling cocky.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 346, Yahoo – 574
MitchRob entered the draft and Summer league as one of the biggest mysteries. After missing his entire freshmen season due to possibly questionable decision-making, as well as skipping the combine due to some questionable advice from his now-fired agent, Robinson wowed in Summer League, showcasing elite athleticism, averaging 4 blocks a game, and drawing DeAndre comparisons. He could definitely turn out to be a steal for the young Knicks. He’d clearly behind Kanter, though with Enis’ complete lack of defense, I would bet on Robinson getting solid minutes that could grow as the season progresses.
Verdict: Depending on the craftiness of your league, you might be able to wait to pick Robinson off of waivers due to his comically low pre-ranks. I won’t take that risk and plan to grab him around round 11 or 12 if I’m in need of a big with nice stocks potential.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 216, Yahoo – 577
Displaying the shooting touch, but not the defensive prowess of the coveted unicorns, Wagner showed out in Summer League, overperforming to the tune of 12.5 points, 1.2 3’s, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1.7 blocks across 7 games. He enters an interesting situation in the LeBron-led Lakers, where shooting will definitely be needed. Things could change during the preseason, but he could be splitting and getting the better part of minutes with McGee and Zubac. Despite what he showed in Summer League, his defense will still be a liability, but his shooting keeps him relevant on this roster.
Verdict: We all know how Lakers fans love to reach for their guys. Like the previous 2 guys, he has value, and if you’re in a Yahoo league you can be patient for him. I love him around round 12.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 118, Yahoo – 215
Sexton was drafted into a pretty good situation, with a LeBron-less Cavs. While the initial assumption was that they were going to tank and go young, the resigning of Kevin Love has made for a confusing direction for the team. They still have solid vet George Hill, so unless he’s bought out or traded, Sexton will probably be splitting minutes. Add in a decent but unspectacular Summer League where he showcased high but inefficient scoring, average rebounds, and steals, but low assists, high turnovers, and not much in the 3-point department, Sexton might be overhyped by fans both in opportunity and current skill set.
Verdict: I can tell I won’t be taking him in ESPN leagues. I probably won’t have him in Yahoo leagues either because someone will bite early.
Late Round Fliers
These rookies should be fun/frustrating to own and at the last few rounds of your draft, you might as well take a swing on some of this upside. You can always drop them later.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 109, Yahoo – 153
A 7’ 10″ wingspan doesn’t come along very often. Bamba’s pterodactyl wings should be a serious deterrent for anyone driving into the paint. He showed how effective he could be when on the floor with fellow young upside big Jonathon Issac. These guys could form a multi-headed unicorn, swatting everything in sight, while stepping out and hitting 3’s. They both need to get stronger. There’s also the issue of newly re-signed and also young with upside big, Aaron Gordon, as well as the reliable vet Nic Vucevic to contend with. Bamba will probably be the 4th big on the team and his minutes will be limited early in the season. That said, he may not need more than 12-14 minutes to rack up 5 boards and 2 blocks.
Verdict: Like JJJ, Bamba doesn’t need a ton of time to produce. Also, Vuc will probably be traded sooner rather than later. I’m not crazy about the value in these ranks though. If he slips to the end of the draft, he’ll be a fun lottery ticket.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 182, Yahoo – 537
After trading Zhaire Smith and a coveted 2021 1st, Mikal appears to be highly valued by Phoenix, which is obviously good. The team is hoping to continue their youth movement, but he still has established starter TJ Warren, former number 3 pick Josh Jackson, as well as newly signed vet Trevor Ariza to contend with. Summer league was disappointing, where the only positive stat that stood out was his 1.6 steals in 20 minutes.
Verdict: Last round flier, but probably only if you need a wing.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 233, Yahoo – 533
On a team that plans to start Brandon Knight at the point, Okobo has entered one of the ideal landing spots for a rookie. Knight will be showcased around in hopes that Phoenix can move his awful contract. When they give up that pipe dream or he gets injured, the starting gig should go to Okobo. He does have an underrated defensive pest, Shaq Harrison, to contend with, but unless they experiment with Booker at the point, the smart money is on Okobo to gain the starting gig at some point this season. He’s a wait and see flier that could definitely pay off later in the season.
Verdict: Until we hear otherwise, Okobo is a last round flier if you’re not happy about your point guard situation.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 204, Yahoo – 228
The Walmart Klay to Trae’s Curry, Huerter missed all of Summer League due to an injured wrist. At Maryland, he was an excellent 3-point shooter with solid playmaking abilities. With Bazemore currently in about 20 trade rumors, the path could soon be cleared for the red rocket to take off. If given minutes, which a rebuilding Atlanta team should do, he could provide solid numbers in 3’s, points, and assists (in that order).
Verdict: These pre-ranks are closer than most, but I think he has value in standard leagues. Huerter might be best served as a wait and see. Be ready to pounce as soon as the Bazemore rumors start to heat up. By the end of the season your league might be begging, Please Kevin, don’t Huerter.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN -unranked, Yahoo – 229
An example of elite skills, but buried on a deep backcourt, SGA impressed in Summer League, and looked like the best point guard of this rookie class. With good scoring, assists, and steals, he showed off a smart and well-rounded game that was only hurt by poor free throw shooting. He looks ready to contribute now, but PatBev, Milos, LouWill (we need some better nicknames), and Avery Bradley all stand in the way of SGA getting enough minutes to be relevant.
Verdict: Strangely unranked in ESPN, so he might not even be draftable at the moment. He faces an uphill battle, but taking a last round flier is a fun bet on his huge upside.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 207, Yahoo – 542
With the most punchable face in basketball, Allen surprised everyone with smart, gritty, and athletic play during summer league. Though extremely inefficient, he fed us solid numbers in boards, assists, and steals that could translate into some decent glue guy minutes. Utah’s backup shooting guard position is up for grabs and Allen has a shot to win it.
Verdict: Feel free to hatepick him in the last round and see if he can round out your roster with some surprising counting stats.
Pre-Ranked: ESPN – 356, Yahoo – 558
Melton was considered a lottery talent before some sketchy stuff happened and he was suspended his sophomore season. None of that matters now as he’s in the league and should beat out Michael Carter Williams for the 4th guard spot. He came in with a reputation for being a dynamic defensive presence but lit it up in Summer League and showed off his scoring and playmaking as well. The Melton Pot averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.4 3’s, 3 steals, and 0.8 blocks. The upside is there. He’s one CP3 injury away from minutes and relevance.
Verdict: Melton probably will take some time to get minutes. He’s more of one to keep a close eye on, but if you are in need of some upside and or guard depth, you could do worse in the last round.
Rookies That I’m Not Even Considering
Whether it’s situation or skills, here are guys that some GMs like that will not even enter my mind on draft day:
- Jerome Robinson
- Michael Porter Jr
- Lonnie Walker
- Zhaire Smith
- Donte Divincenzo
- Aaron Holiday
- Robert Williams
- Troy Brown
Want to dive deeper on a certain rookie? Feel free to drop a line in the comments.