Fantasy Basketball Rookie Watch: Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Kuzma continue to outperform more highly drafted peers

Every few weeks, we'll check in on the exploits of the rookie class. Most rookies don't manage to make much of an impact, but their development bears watching as the season goes on, because you don't want to miss the latest breakout star. Check out our last installment to see how they've progressed

Ben Simmons, 76ers

Simmons continues to be in a class of his own and should coast to Rookie of the Year honors, provided he stays even relatively healthy over the course of 82 games. He's coming off of arguably his worst game of the season Tuesday in Cleveland, a 10-point, eight-rebound, two-assist, three-steal, one-block effort that would be a solid night for just about any other rookie. Through 18 games, Simmons leads all first-year players in scoring (18.1), rebounding (9.1), assists (7.4) and steals (2.1) per game and has been the No. 7 overall Fantasy player under the NBA's new standard scoring system.

Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

In terms of per-game averages -- 14.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 SPG -- Mitchell has been as impressive as any rookie not named Ben Simmons, but his value is hampered by poor overall shooting efficiency (38.3%). That said, Mitchell's three-point shooting is starting to come around -- 41.4% over the last five games -- and he hit a career-best six threes in Saturday's win over Milwaukee. The Louisville product has a tendency to over-dribble and settles for too many pull-up threes, but when you watch the Jazz play it does feel like somewhat of a necessity with Utah still struggling to replace Gordon Hayward's playmaking. As of Wednesday, Mitchell ranks second on the team in usage rate (28.0%), despite posting the 11th-best true shooting percentage (48.5%).

Lonzo Ball, Lakers

Shooting efficiency remains a major issue for the No. 2 pick. Ball has hit six three-pointers over his last three games, but those have come on 19 attempts, and he's shooting just 28.6 percent overall during that span. On the other hand, Ball continues to assist at a high rate (7.1 per game), and he's climbed to third among rookies in rebounding (7.1), behind only Simmons and Lauri Markkanen. It almost goes without saying, but Ball is significantly more valuable in leagues that don't count percentages. Under the standard scoring system, Ball is the league's 48th-best Fantasy player, ahead of names like Klay Thompson, Myles Turner and Jrue Holiday.

Kyle Kuzma, Lakers

Kuzma remains the NBA's second-leading scorer among rookies (16.7 PPG), while rebounding at a strong rate (6.1 RPG) and offering well-above-average percentages (50.4% FG; 37.9% 3PT). The 22-year-old benefited from Larry Nance missing time with a broken thumb, moving into the starting five and seeing nearly 36 minutes per game over an 11-game stretch.

Nance returned to action Monday against the Clippers and regained his starting spot, while Kuzma was relegated to just over 19 minutes off the bench, his lowest total since opening night. Nance's return will put a dent in Kuzma's role, but the drop-off likely won't be as drastic going forward, considering Kuzma was averaging roughly 27 minutes per game off the bench before Nance went down.

De'Aaron Fox, Kings

Fox had a nice run prior to Thanksgiving but has regressed a bit in the three games since, totaling just 14 points during that span, despite starting all three games. The Kentucky product leads the Kings in minutes (26.3), but that's not saying much considering Sacramento is the NBA's most bench-reliant team. Fox remains a sub-40 percent shooter on the year and doesn't provide much from beyond the arc, so like Simmons and Ball, he's more valuable in non-percentage leagues. However, Fox is a few tiers below those two in terms of overall Fantasy utility.

Josh Jackson, Suns

Given his fairly limited role and so-so scoring ability, Jackson was never much of a Fantasy commodity but he's firmly an afterthought after averaging fewer than 19 minutes over his last six games. That includes Tuesday's win over the Bulls, in which Jackson saw a season-low eight minutes of action off the bench. Long-term, Jackson remains an intriguing prospect due in large part to his defensive potential, but he's not rosterable in season-long leagues right now.

Lauri Markkanen, Bulls

Despite some recent struggles, Markkanen is still fifth in rookie scoring (14.3 PPG), though his field goal efficiency has dipped below 40 percent. After a strong stretch in the middle of the month, Markkanen has hit just 13 of 50 shots over his last four games. The 20-year-old isn't much of a passer and contributes just over one combined steal/block per game, though his strong rebounding (8.2 per game, second among rookies) remains a pleasant surprise.

Dennis Smith, Jr., Mavericks

One of the more frustrating rookies to evaluate, Smith continues to vacillate between playing like a Rookie of the Year candidate and playing like, for lack of a better term, a rookie. Over a three-game span from Nov. 17 to Nov. 20, Smith turned 25.1 minutes per game into averages of just 7.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists, while hitting 9-of-36 field goal attempts and 1-of-12 threes. He then followed that up with 17 points in a win over Memphis, 15 in a win over Oklahoma City and 19 in Monday's loss to the Spurs. During that stretch, Smith shot 43.1 percent from the field, a healthy number for a rookie, and handed out 4.0 assists per game.

Smith's field goal percentage isn't helping any Fantasy teams, but he remains a lower-tier option with some tangible upside should the Mavs increase his workload (28.5 MPG, seventh among rookies) as the season progresses. Per 36 minutes, Smith is averaging 18.4 points, 5.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 combined steals/blocks.

Jordan Bell, Warriors

Bell warrants a brief mention after he erupted for six blocks in 26 minutes last week against the Bulls -- coincidentally, the team that drafted and subsequently sold him to Golden State. While the Oregon product has looked good in limited minutes, he shouldn't be owned in season-long leagues, though he's an interesting dynasty prospect.

Dwayne Bacon and Malik Monk, Hornets

Neither Bacon nor Monk have been all that Fantasy-relevant, but since the return of Nic Batum neither player has been worthy of a roster spot. Over the last seven games with Batum in the lineup, Bacon is averaging fewer than 13 minutes per game, while Monk is at risk of being dropped from the rotation altogether. The 11th overall pick had a pair of 20-point games earlier in the month but is averaging just 8.1 minutes per game over the last two weeks, which have included a pair of DNP-CDs.

Frank Mason, Kings

Recently, Dave Joerger has integrated Mason into the regular bench rotation, carving out more than 20 minutes per game for the reigning Naismith Award winner over the last six contests. While Mason is still very much a wait-and-see Fantasy commodity, the early returns -- 10.3 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.2 RPG, 53.3% FG -- are encouraging.

Other rookies to watch: Jayson Tatum, BOS; Mike James, PHO; John Collins, ATL; Bogdan Bogdanovic, SAC; Dillon Brooks, MEM; Luke Kennard, DET

Our Latest Stories