Fantasy Basketball: NBA Rookie Watch
There are already an impressive group of rookies making an impact or working themselves into position to do so.
We're now more than two full weeks into the NBA season, and it's been an encouraging start for much of the 2018 draft class. Each of the first 12 picks in the draft have been consistent rotation players in the early going, while a number of non-lottery rookies have also made tangible impacts.
While rookies tend to be highly volatile commodities when it comes to Fantasy Basketball, players like Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Trae Young have already established themselves as must-own players in most formats.
Let's take a closer look at how the key rookies in the class have fared thus far:
Deandre Ayton, Suns
With the exception of a five-point, eight-rebound, five-foul outing against the Nuggets in the second game of the season, Ayton has looked as good as advertised. He came out of the gates with an 18-10-6 line on opening night and heads into Wednesday's matchup with the Spurs averaging 20.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 0.8 blocks over his previous four games.
The lack of shot-blocking is a bit of a concern -- Ayton has four games with zero blocks already -- but the 20-year-old wasn't an elite rim-protector at Arizona, and he's made up for it with better-than-expected assists and free throw (84.6% FT) contributions. We'll see if that latter number, especially, holds up over the course of a full season.
Marvin Bagley, Kings
The Kings have looked like a shockingly competent basketball team, and while there's an argument to made that they should be doing more to develop Bagley, he's been a key contributor off the bench. The No. 2 overall pick had 10 points -- including a pair of 3s -- nine rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in Tuesday's win over Orlando, and he holds averages of 12.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks through eight games.
For now, his upside is somewhat capped by the presence of Nemanja Bjelica, of all people, but if/when Sacramento ultimately falls out of the playoff race, Bagley could claim a starting spot, or, at the very least, a bigger night-to-night workload.
Luka Doncic, Mavericks
Doncic entered the season with outsized expectations and has, by most accounts, exceeded those through seven games. Entering Thursday's showdown with the Lakers, Doncic leads all rookies in scoring (20.4 PPG), while ranking third in rebounds (6.4 RPG) and second in assists (4.0 APG). He's looked comfortable as essentially the Mavs' No. 1 option, attempting nearly 16 shots per game, almost half of which have come from beyond the arc. If there's a knock on Doncic, it's that he's shooting just over 72 percent at the line, but that's something Fantasy owners who took a chance on Doncic are more than happy to live with.
Jaren Jackson, Jr., Grizzlies
Jackson began the season as the first big man off the bench, but JaMychal Green's broken jaw enabled him to move into the starting five more quickly than expected. Jackson averaged 16.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks over a three-game stretch against the Hawks, Jazz and Kings, but he's cooled down more recently
Over the Grizzlies' past two games, Jackson has played just 25 total minutes, due in large part to foul trouble. He picked up five fouls in 15 minutes against Ayton and the Suns on Saturday and followed up with four fouls in 10 minutes Tuesday against Washington. Jackson remains a high-upside Fantasy commodity in the long-term, but his season-long value is difficult to gauge, especially with Green expected to return to the rotation sometime in November.
Trae Young, Hawks
Relative to my own expectations, Young has impressed me more than any other rookie. He'll still be prone to inefficient nights, but he's yet to put up a true dud in any of the Hawks' first seven games. While Young is shooting below 35 percent from 3, he's been able to buoy his production by getting to the line 5.3 times per game, which leads all rookies. Turnovers were also expected to be an issue -- as they are for most young, high-usage guards -- but thus far Young has committed a very palatable 3.0 per game, and he already has two games with one or fewer turnovers.
Mo Bamba, Magic
Like Bagley in Sacramento, Bamba is currently stuck behind a veteran, but the rotation could end up favoring the young center as the season progresses. Bamba has played at least 20 minutes off the bench in each of the past three games, and he's coming off of his best Fantasy performance of the season Tuesday against the Kings, throwing up seven points, seven rebounds and five blocks in just 24 minutes.
While rim-protection will always be Bamba's calling card, part of the appeal is his rare ability to stretch the floor at his size. Bamba hasn't been launching away at a Brook Lopez-eque rate, but he's taken at least one 3 in every game thus far and is 5 of 13 (38.5%) overall on the season.
Wendell Carter, Bulls
Carter has officially taken over as the starting center on what feels like a permanent basis. Amid injuries to Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn, the Bulls have entered full tank mode even earlier than expected, which has meant four straight DNP-CDs for veteran Robin Lopez. In an affront to the sport of basketball, Carter has still had to split time with Cristiano Felicio, but he's played an average of 25.8 minutes over the last five games. Carter had his first career double-double against the Hawks on Saturday and followed up with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a steal in 27 minutes Monday against Golden State. Carter's shot-blocking has translated to the NBA level (1.6), though his 3-point shooting (1-6 3PT) remains a work in progress.
Collin Sexton, Cavaliers
Changing coaches two weeks into the season is rarely good for rookies, but Sexton is in position to benefit from the ousting of Tyronn Lue. Sexton was still penciled in for 20-plus minutes on most nights, but with Lue out of the picture, the eighth overall pick has an even clearer path to more playing time and, perhaps, a starting role down the road.
In the Cavs' first game post-Lue on Tuesday, Sexton played a season-high 28 minutes and finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one 3 -- his first of the season -- in what was easily his best game to date. Sexton will likely hover around 40 percent shooting for much of the year -- and he'll be significantly worse from 3 -- but, like Young, he's been able to bail himself out by getting to the line. Sexton is averaging 4.6 free-throw attempts per game -- more than Ayton and Carter combined -- and he has attempted 18 free throws over his past two games alone.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Clippers
The Clippers took a pair of guards in the lottery, and Gilgeous-Alexander is clearly ahead of Jerome Robinson in terms of development. Even on a guard-heavy roster, Gilgeous-Alexander has managed to play at least 22 minutes in each of the Clippers' first seven games. He hasn't done quite enough to warrant ownership in every format, but Gilgeous-Alexander looks like the same, all-around producer he was for most of last season at Kentucky. Entering Thursday, Gilgeous-Alexander holds averages of 8.4 points, 3.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game.
Miles Bridges, Hornets
The Hornets' rotation has been difficult to read, and Bridges' playing time has vacillated on a night-to-night basis. He played 26 and 30 minutes in back-to-back games over the weekend but was limited to 16 minutes in a win over Miami on Tuesday. While Bridges appears locked into a rotation spot, he's probably still an injury away from being Fantasy-viable in most formats.
Josh Okogie, Timberwolves
Circumstances have forced Tom Thibodeau to do the unthinkable and play a rookie. With Andrew Wiggins banged up and Jimmy Butler's future looking more clouded by the day, Okogie has been a fixture in the rotation of late, averaging 27.8 minutes over the past five games. He's coming off of his best game of the season Monday against the Lakers, when he put up 17 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block in 30 minutes. Okogie's minutes will likely regress when Wiggins returns -- which could be as early as Wednesday night -- but he'll be in position to benefit whenever the Wolves bite the bullet and trade Butler.
Mitchell Robinson, Knicks
This time last year, Robinson had left Western Kentucky and was training independently for the NBA Draft. Fast forward 365 days and he's the starting center for the New York Knicks. That title may not carry the same weight it did two decades ago, but Robinson has supplanted veteran Enes Kanter much earlier than expected. Even in reduced minutes, Kanter is still the far superior Fantasy commodity of the two, but Robinson could end up being a decent deep-league add if he's able to earn consistent minutes. In his first start of the season, Robinson played 29 minutes in a blowout loss to the Warriors, but he followed up with only 15 minutes in Monday's win over the Nets. In that contest, Robinson had a career-best 11 points to go with three rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block.
Kevin Knox, Knicks: Knox remains out with an ankle injury, but he took part in non-contact work earlier in the week and appears on track to return within the next week or two. In the two games he played, Knox saw 24 and 28 minutes, and picking up where he left off in summer league and the preseason, Knox launched 30 shots over that span.
Mikal Bridges, Suns: Bridges was a DNP-CD on opening night, but he's been part of the bench rotation for the past five games. Devin Booker's hamstring injury has allowed Bridges to played 24 and 22 minutes over the last two games, but he's yet to make much of a Fantasy impact.
Donte DiVincenzo, Bucks: Credit Mike Budenholzer for rolling with DiVincenzo from the start. The rookie out of Villanova has scored in double-digits in back-to-back games and is a much better fit for Budenholzer's system than Matthew Dellavedova. For now, DiVincenzo is only a deep-league consideration, if that, but he already looks significantly better than any of the Bucks' past three first-round picks.
Harry Giles, Kings: Giles showed some encouraging flashes during the preseason, but the Kings haven't made a point to find a spot for him in the rotation. After seeing double-digit minutes in each of the first four games, Giles has played just 11 total minutes since Oct. 23 -- a four-game span that has included a pair of DNP-CDs.
Kevin Huerter, Hawks: The Maryland product has essentially been the Hawks' version of DiVincenzo. He has some appeal as a 3-point specialist in deeper formats, but right now he doesn't contribute enough elsewhere to warrant attention in most leagues.
Landry Shamet, 76ers: Shamet was the primary initiator at Wichita State last season, but the Sixers have turned him into mostly an off-ball, catch-and-shoot threat. Through eight games, Shamet is averaging 18.3 minutes per game off the bench, but he hasn't been nearly efficient enough -- 34.9% FG, 35.5% 3PT -- to warrant much Fantasy consideration.
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