2017 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball lead exciting rookie class
Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson were the first to be drafted, but other rookies might be much more productive Fantasy options as NBA rookies.
While last season's lackluster crop of first-year players didn't inspire much excitement, the 2017 draft class is poised to eradicate that memory.
Last season, only three rookies -- Malcolm Brogdon, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric -- finished among the top 50 at their position in CBSSports.com leagues. While it's somewhat rare for first-year players to emerge as elite Fantasy contributors, a number of rookies project be difference-makers in 2017-18, headlined by a group of high-upside point guards.
All eyes will be on Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith and De'Aaron Fox, who each project to step right into heavy-usage roles. Josh Jackson should also be a significant factor in Phoenix, while an impressive showing in Las Vegas has John Collins looking like a potential sleeper for the rebuilding Hawks.
With that in mind, let's take a look at which rookies to consider in drafts this season, as well as others to keep in mind for longer-term and dynasty formats.
Markelle Fultz, 76ers
Fultz projects to serve as Philadelphia's primary ball-handler, and he should see plenty of assist opportunities playing alongside a group that includes Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Robert Covington, not to mention veteran offseason acquisition J.J. Redick.
The biggest question mark facing Fultz is how he'll split offensive responsibilities with Simmons, a fellow Rookie of the Year candidate, as well as Embiid. The latter was one of the highest-usage players in the league last season, when healthy, and if he's able to stay on the floor, he'll command his fair share of touches.
Lonzo Ball, Lakers
The Ball hype reached a fever pitch in July, with Ball taking home the Las Vegas Summer League MVP award and looking every bit the part of a No. 2 overall pick. While he didn't shoot the ball well from three, Ball's ability to dictate pace and rack up assists from all over the floor was on full display.
Of course, summer league results should always be taken with a grain of salt, but the Lakers will give Ball every chance to succeed as a rookie. If things break right, Ball could be a significant source of assists, and he projects to rebound well for his position. However, his jumpshot remains a bit of an unknown, and he doesn't get to the free throw line at a high rate.
Dennis Smith, Jr., Mavericks
The No. 9 overall pick out of North Carolina State, Smith should step into the starting lineup from Day 1 and is in perhaps the best position of any rookie to provide immediate Fantasy returns. While Dallas still has veteran talent on the roster, the franchise has clearly shifted focus toward a rebuild, and Smith should have no shortage of opportunities as a rookie. An aggressive operator out of the pick-and-roll and a blur in transition, Smith will have his ups and downs, but there's a reason he was voted by his peers as the most likely to take home the Rookie of the Year award.
Josh Jackson, Suns
One of the most versatile defenders in the country last season, Jackson will immediately compete for a starting spot on the wing, and his ability to guard three positions should keep him on the court for the rebuilding Suns. While his overall offensive game is still a work in progress, Jackson is a better scorer than he's given credit for, and he showed flashes of impressive vision in the halfcourt at Kansas.
While Jackson should provide above-average defensive production for a rookie, his percentages loom as potential pitfalls. Jackson was up-and-down as a three-point shooter last season, and he converted only 57 percent of his free throws, a ghastly number for a wing.
De'Aaron Fox, Kings
Fox comes into the NBA with a solid freshman season at Kentucky -- 16.7 points, 4.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals per game -- under his belt, but he also carries significant question marks. While Fox gets to the rim as well as any player in the class, he's iffy in the mid-range and converted only 25 percent of his three-points as a freshman. Those struggles carried over to the Las Vegas Summer League, and expecting Fox to make significant strides from beyond the arc in Year 1 is unrealistic.
Nevertheless, Fox is penciled in as the starter in Sacramento, although the somewhat-curious addition of veteran George Hill means the Kings will have a more stable option to turn to should Fox struggle out of the gate.
Wait and See
The 19-year-old is still in need of some seasoning after one year at Florida State, but his upside is as high as just about any player's in the class. Whether that upside will translate to Fantasy-relevant production as a rookie remains to be seen, especially after Isaac struggled to assert himself, at times, last season.
Isaac also steps into somewhat of a precarious roster situation in Orlando. Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross are all better players right now, so how the organization prioritizes immediate results versus future development could ultimately determine Isaac's fantasy ceiling.
John Collins, Hawks
Collins slipped out of the lottery on draft night, but he landed in perhaps the best Fantasy situation of any rookie. Whether Collins is able to win the starting power forward job or not, he'll be in line for a significant role, as the Hawks enter a full rebuild following the departures of Dwight Howard and Paul Millsap. As a result, Collins could be a surprise source of scoring and rebounding production as a rookie.
Had Tatum landed just about anywhere but Boston, he'd be an easy choice as one of the top rookies to target. However, even after dealing Jae Crowder, the Celtics are one of the deepest teams in the league. With Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown ahead of him on the wing, Tatum is much more appealing as a dynasty prospect.
Maybe the most exciting player in college basketball last season, Monk has as much upside as any player taken outside the top 10. A bit of a tweener guard with a slight frame, Monk's adjustment to the pro game won't be seamless, but he'll be counted on for instant offense off the bench and would be next in line if anything happens to Jeremy Lamb.
Ntilikina remains the biggest mystery of 2017 draft. The 19-year-old has excellent size and potential on the defensive end, but no one is quite sure just how polished he'll be as a scorer and distributor. As a result, Ntilikina isn't someone to rush out and grab in season-long leagues, though the Knicks' point guard depth chart makes Ntilikina a bit more appealing.
Swanigan was the best all-around player in college basketball last season, and while his ceiling at the NBA level is considerably lower, he does enough things well to project a future as a productive role player. However, the Purdue product will have a tough time cracking a deep Blazers front-court rotation as a rookie.
Mitchell was one of the standouts of summer league but, like Tatum, he'll have trouble leapfrogging experienced veterans for Fantasy-relevant minutes as a rookie.
Justin Jackson, Kings
At 6-foot-8, Jackson can be deployed at both shooting guard and small forward, but he'll virtually be locked into a reserve role as a rookie. The North Carolina product has some appeal as a 3-point shooter in deeper leagues, but for the most part he's firmly in dynasty consideration.
Kyle Kuzma, Lakers
Kuzma's impressive summer league showing offered credence to the belief that he's one of the draft's biggest steals, but he'll initially face an uphill climb for minutes, despite his ability to play up to three positions.
Adebayo was bit of a surprise choice for Miami with the last pick in the lottery, but he carries major upside as a rebounder and low-block scorer. The Kentucky product will likely be a bit piece as a rookie, but he's a top-tier athlete with a great motor that could propel him into the rotation later in the season,
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