Fantasy Basketball: Rookie sleepers to target in 2018
Who might be this year's Donovan Mitchell? We take a look at post-lotto rookies who could become impact players.
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If you're a veteran Fantasy basketball player, you know how difficult it can be to get tangible value out of first-year players. While there are certainly exceptions — Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum some of the most recent examples — navigating the waters when it comes to rookies can often be risky.
For the most part, the players who are drafted the highest tend to have the best chance at being productive Fantasy commodities. That projects to be the case again this season, with players like Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Trae Young set to take on significant roles for their new teams. But finding the outlier or two in every class can be the difference between contending for a league championship and playing for next year.
While history suggests there probably won't be another Donovan Mitchell in this draft class, let's take a look at some under-the-radar draftees who you may find yourself plucking off the waiver wire this season:
Troy Brown, Wizards: The Wizards snuck in this pick in the wake of Michael Porter landing at 14, which put a bit of a damper on the first non-lottery selection. Brown isn't the flashiest prospect, but he's clearly a player Washington had high on its board and thinks could contribute next season.
Like most of the league, the Wizards will have limited flexibility this summer to improve what was one of the shallowest benches in the league. The John Wall-Brad Beal-Otto Porter trio is formidable, but other than Kelly Oubre — and Tomas Satoransky, for a month — it was difficult to get excited about any of the Wizards' bench pieces. Washington has 10 players currently under contract for next season, including Oubre and Jodie Meeks, who stand as Brown's primary competition for minutes.
GM Ernie Grunfeld implied on draft night that the 18-year-old Brown may not be in the rotation right away, but the hope is that his length and defensive capabilities will help him force his way into the mix as the season progresses. Brown certainly won't overtake Oubre, but if he catches on quickly, he could ultimately be an upgrade, at least on defense, over the veteran Meeks, who's coming off of a down year and faces a PED suspension that could sideline him until December.
Lonnie Walker, Spurs
Sometimes we may give the Spurs too much credit — they don't turn everyone they draft into a productive NBA player — but San Antonio is the perfect organization for a player like Walker to develop. While injury concerns played a part in his slide down to No. 18, Walker's upside remains considerably higher than that of most prospects who come off the board in that range.
In the immediate future, Walker's value is rather difficult to assess. His health is obviously something to keep an eye on, but so is the direction the Spurs organization takes after the dust settles on the offseason. If San Antonio ends up parting ways with Kawhi Leonard and doesn't return another high-level veteran or two in a potential deal, the Spurs could do the unthinkable and enter a rebuild. In theory, that could push up Walker's timeline in what would presumably become a more youthful rotation. Even in that scenario, Walker would be far from a guaranteed, productive Fantasy player, but he'd certainly be an appealing target in dynasty and keeper formats.
The Hawks are not going to be a good basketball team next season, but unlike some bad teams, they know what they're in for. GM Travis Schlenk took a pair of guards in Huerter and Trae Young with his first two picks, giving the rebuilding Hawks their own, Walmart-brand version of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Of course, Curry and Thompson are the absolute, borderline-impossible best-case outcomes for both players, but at the very least it looks as though Atlanta is going to do its best to replicate the Warriors' bombs-away offensive style.
Huerter was one of the best shooters in the country last season, and he'll have an opportunity to step in as a rotation piece from Day 1 for a team that's depth chart at shooting guard currently includes the names Antonius Cleveland, DeAndre' Bembry and Damion Lee. As is the case with most rookie guards, Huerter will likely see a dip in efficiency, but he could be a Fantasy-relevant source of made three-pointers from the jump.
At Maryland, Huerter also offered decent contributions in rebounds (5.0 per game) and assists (3.4), but it's probably asking too much for that production to translate to the next level right away.
Aaron Holiday, Pacers: Holiday is my favorite of this group. Not only is he arguably the most NBA-ready of any post-lottery pick, but he enters a strong Fantasy situation in Indiana. The Pacers declined Lance Stephenson's team option Monday, and while they'll likely keep Darren Collison around, Holiday will still have a clear path to earning a spot in the rotation.
Holiday can play both guard spots, and he shot at least 41 percent from three in each of his three years at UCLA. As a junior, he got to the line nearly six times per game. While he won't have the ball in his hands as often as a rookie, and will have to contend with Cory Joseph for minutes off the bench, Holiday could conceivably step into the role vacated by Stephenson, which last season meant more than 22 minutes per game. That may be a bit too optimistic, but Holiday is another player whose value should spike in 2019-20, when both Collison and Joseph come off the books.
Dzanan Musa, Nets: I'm not going to pretend that I watched a ton of Musa's games over the last few years, but anyone who has will tell you the same thing: Musa can fill it up. While he's rail thin at 6-9 and a reported 195 pounds, Musa averaged 12.3 points in 23.1 minutes per game last season, while converting 47 percent of his field goals. His outside game is still a work in progress (31% 3PT), but Musa isn't shy with the ball in his hands and has the microwave scoring ability teams covet off the bench.
While the Nets' roster is in decent shape compared to recent years, it's still devoid of high-end talent on the wing, so the hope is that Musa — who fell on draft night due in part to his insistence on coming over from Europe for 2018-19 — can work his way into the mix behind DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe. Musa shouldn't be drafted in most leagues, but he's a name to keep an eye on, particularly if the Nets struggle and begin to open up the rotation after the All-Star break.
Keita Bates-Diop, Timberwolves: Yes, the Timberwolves are maybe the last team to target when it comes to finding Fantasy value in rookies — especially second-rounders. But Bates-Diop is one of the more NBA-ready prospects in the class, even if his long-term ceiling is relatively low. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year averaged 19.8 points, 8.7 assists and 1.6 blocks per game as a senior, while shooting nearly 36 percent on 5.4 three-point attempts per game.
Minnesota has one of the better starting lineups in the Western Conference, but the bench is incredibly shallow, and while Tom Thibodeau has rightfully inspired little confidence in his willingness to incorporate young players, at some point he has to have more than six players he can trust. Both Bates-Diop and Josh Okogie, the Wolves' first-round pick, will probably struggle to find minutes early on, but Bates-Diop could be a player who blossoms as the year progresses, given his ability to play and defend multiple spots on the wing.
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