Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Rookies preview starts with imposing Zion Williamson, of course
Who are the rookies to know for Fantasy players? Nick Whalen breaks down those you need to know.
As the countdown to the regular season nears the one-month point, it's time to consider which rookies are worth targeting in Fantasy drafts.
One of the most anticipated prospects in recent NBA history, Williamson is the consensus No. 1 Fantasy rookie, and the gap between he and the rest of the field is fairly significant. While Ja Morant or RJ Barrett or even Brandon Clarke could close that gap as the season goes on, Williamson has earned incumbent status after a dominant freshman year at Duke.
The 6-7, 285-pound Williamson steamrolled his way to 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and a staggering 3.9 blocks/steals per game, while shooting 68 percent from the floor. Chances are, it'll take some time for Williamson's 3-point stroke to translate -- and he could be a drag at the free throw line -- but Williamson should be a steady source of points and rebounds, with his sky-high defensive potential looming as the true catalyst.
It's true that there's a case to be made Williamson's Fantasy ceiling would be even higher had it not been for the Pelicans' eventful summer. Rather than joining an undermanned roster, as most No. 1 picks do, Williamson will step right into a team stocked with productive veterans and young players alike. Given Williamson's skillset, he should have trouble fitting in, but the Pelicans won't ask him to put the franchise on his back -- at least not right away.
An electrifying point guard out of Murray State, Morant should be the second rookie targeted in most leagues. A gifted passer and excellent athlete for the position, Morant figures to be a high-level assists producer right away, and he'll also add value in points, 3s, steals, and perhaps even rebounds (6.1 per game in two years at Murray State).
The worry with Morant, and with most rookie guards, is he could struggle to shoot the ball efficiently. And while his slight frame could lead to difficulty finishing around the rim, Morant is well worth the risk given the value he projects to provide elsewhere. He'll also step into a nearly ideal situation in Memphis, where he'll be given a long leash and heavy workload right away. In all likelihood, the Grizzlies won't come close to being a playoff team, but Morant will have enough talent around him to help foster his long-term development.
Earlier this summer, I would've been tempted to rank Barrett as the No. 2 rookie in the class, but he'll enter a complicated situation in New York. The Knicks added depth all over in free agency, bringing in, among others, Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, Wayne Ellington, and Marcus Morris -- all players who could impede Barrett's path to minutes. The expectation is that Barrett will start alongside Dennis Smith Jr. but, on paper at least, that could be a questionable pairing -- especially considering the likely starters in the frontcourt.
At the end of the day, Barrett is one of the Knicks foundational pieces, so even with the crowded depth chart, minutes shouldn't be a major issue. Beyond that, though, Barrett's flaws as a prospect could hamper his value in certain formats. While he projects to be a strong counting stat contributor, his 3-point shot is shaky at best, and he shot just 66.5 percent from the line at Duke. Barrett was also inconsistent as a finisher, though that's par for the course for 19-year-old guards.
As far as domestic top-five picks go, Garland is about as much of an unknown as it gets. A torn meniscus cost him all but five games of his freshman year at Vanderbilt, but he intrigued the Cavs enough that they were willing to take a smaller guard in the lottery for the second straight year. Figuring out how Garland fits alongside Collin Sexton will be priority number one, but both figure to play heavy minutes. While Sexton is coming off of a better-than-expected offensive season, Garland has the potential to be the better Fantasy asset, and the prevailing belief -- at least at this point -- is he'll operate as the primary ball-handler.
The Japanese big man put together a strong year at Gonzaga, averaging 19.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.7 blocks/steals while hitting nearly 60 percent of his field goals. The hope is that Hachimura will continue to extend his range (15-36 3PT last season), but even if that takes some time, he'll be in arguably the best position of any rookie in the class to produce right away. One of the shallowest teams in the league, Washington's front court depth is borderline-embarrassing, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Hachimura ends up starting over Davis Bertans at power forward. While the 21-year-old may not be fully ready for that level of responsibility, it might not matter. Target Hachimura in deeper leagues for points, rebounds, steals, and the potential for some blocks and 3s.
Neither Hunter nor Reddish project to be immediate Fantasy contributors, but the plan is for one of the two to hold down the starting small forward spot for the foreseeable future. The Hawks gave themselves two chances at landing another foundational piece, and that will likely mean Hunter and Reddish sharing time as rookies. Even after a shockingly inconsistent season at Duke, Reddish is the better offensive option of the two, while Hunter projects as more of a true 3-and-D player with a low Fantasy ceiling. The bottom line: neither player warrants a draft pick, but if one begins to emerge over the other as the season progresses, the minutes distribution could be worth monitoring.
I get the sense that I'm higher on Culver than most, but he'll likely have to win the starting small forward job over Jake Layman and Josh Okogie to be Fantasy-relevant as a rookie. A do-it-all star at Texas Tech, Culver's 3-point shooting regressed as a sophomore, and he'll have to prove he can adjust to function as a complementary piece, rather than the focal point of an offense on most possessions. Culver is probably a better player to target in dynasty formats for the time being.
Outside of the stars at the top of the lottery, Clarke is easily the most intriguing Fantasy rookie in the 2019 class. While he's an older prospect who just turned 23, Clarke is one of the best athletes in the class, and at the college level he was a monster around the rim, shooting 68.7 percent from the floor, while grabbing 8.6 rebounds and blocking 3.2 shots in just 28.1 minutes per game. The Las Vegas Summer League MVP has some major work to do on his jumpshot, but his high field goal percentage and penchant for racking up defensive statistics could propel him toward top-150 status right away. Clarke projects to be the primary backup to Jaren Jackson at the four, but he can also slide down to the three, as well as play some small-ball five.
Other rookies to watch
Coby White, Bulls: The Bulls signing Tomas Satoransky and hanging onto (for now) Kris Dunn complicates things for White, but the North Carolina standout figures to get some opportunities off the bench. If Satoransky were to get hurt, White could have value in deeper formats.
Cam Johnson, Suns: Johnson was an elite 3-point shooter at the college level, and that should be his primary area of contribution as a rookie. However, the Suns already have a young 3-and-D wing in Mikal Bridges, and they brought back Kelly Oubre in free agency, while also adding Dario Saric. Johnson will likely work his way into the rotation, but it's hard to imagine him holding any standard-league value in 2019-20.
Tyler Herro, Heat: From the moment Herro took the court in his first summer league game, it was clear he'll have a chance to contribute right away in Miami. The Kentucky product will likely begin the year as the backup to Dion Waiters, but he could eventually emerge as a source of 3s -- just don't expect him to provide much else.
Matisse Thybulle, 76ers: Perhaps the best defender in the draft, Thybulle racked up blocks and steals at an alarming rate in college (5.8 combined per game). If he can crack the Sixers' regular rotation and translate that defensive mastery to the next level, Thybulle could be a two-category specialist who also adds a bit of 3-point shooting.
Ty Jerome, Suns: Jerome shouldn't be considered in most leagues, but the point guard position has been a mess for the Suns in recent years. Ricky Rubio is the latest band aid, but if he gets hurt, the keys could be handed to Jerome, who averaged 13.6 points, 5.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.1 3s (39.9% 3PT) in Virginia's ultra-conservative system as a junior.
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