Fantasy Basketball: What to expect from DeAndre Ayton, and the rookie class
The NBA Draft is now in the rear-view, but before free agency kicks into high gear, let’s look back at the draft through a Fantasy-focused lens.
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The NBA Draft is now in the rear-view, but before free agency kicks into high gear, let's look back at the draft through a Fantasy-focused lens. Focusing on the top 14 selections, let's assess how each lottery pick is positioned to provide Fantasy production in 2018-19:
Deandre Ayton, Suns: As you'd expect, the top overall pick is also in one of the best Fantasy situations heading into his rookie season. All indications are that Ayton will step in as the starter from Day 1, and while the Suns probably have misguided hopes to make a push for the eighth seed, Ayton will still have a long leash. Phoenix still has Tyson Chandler under contract for one more season, but he'll turn 36 in October and hasn't played more than 46 games since 2015-16. Predicting a 20/10 rookie season is a bit lofty, but Ayton has a compelling case to be the No. 1-ranked Fantasy rookie at this point.
Marvin Bagley, Kings: Bagley's overall fit at the NBA level remains in question, and he'll step into a relatively crowded frontcourt in Sacramento. Willie Cauley-Stein will be the regular starter at center, while Bagley will contend with veteran Zach Randolph and Skal Labissiere for minutes at the four. Randolph turns 37 in a few weeks, while the Kings appeared to sour on Labissiere last season after an encouraging rookie year, so Bagley should be in the driver's seat. After the draft, Vlade Divac hinted that the Kings may try Bagley at small forward, as well, but chances are that experiment will end in short order.
Luka Doncic, Mavericks: Atlanta may have been a slightly better Fantasy destination for Doncic, but Dallas is a close second. While the Mavs have more complementary talent, Doncic will immediately step in as the crown jewel of a rebuild that's suddenly been kicked into high gear. There may be some growing pains in terms of Doncic's fit alongside Dennis Smith, Jr., but the Mavs essentially played two point guards for much of last season, and at 6-8 with extended range, Doncic is versatile enough to make an impact at three positions. Doncic's numbers likely won't be gaudy in Year 1, but he'll enter the season as the best all-around Fantasy rookie, and he projects as a much more efficient scorer than the other guards in this class.
Jaren Jackson, Jr., Grizzlies: Jackson fell into the Grizzlies' lap at No. 4, and he'll immediately fill a major need for a team set on returning to the playoffs next season. Memphis has two foundational — albeit aging — pieces in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, but the Grizzlies' depth at both forward spots is as bleak as any team in the league's. Jackson may not be ready for a major role right away, but he could end up pushing JaMychal Green for the starting power forward spot and, at the very least, should be the first big off the bench. Jackson's ability to space the floor — 39.6% 3PT at Michigan State — would be a bit more valuable at the five, but he'll still be a significant upgrade for a team in desperate need of an infusion of young talent.
Trae Young, Hawks: Hawks GM Travis Schlenk made the biggest splash of the first round, trading back to grab Young at No. 5 and picking up a lightly protected future first-rounder in the process. Atlanta now has a few decent young pieces in Young, John Collins, Taurean Prince and Kevin Huerter, but the Hawks will still be among the worst teams in the league next season. The low expectations should bode well for Young's Fantasy prospects, especially if/when the Hawks part ways with Dennis Schroder, who is as available as any player in the league this summer. In all likelihood, Young will go through stretches of inefficiency, but the Hawks are prepared to hand him the keys to the offense, something Young essentially requires to play his unique, freewheeling style. He's likely to be a drag on field goal percentage and turnovers, but Young should play a ton of minutes and rack up Fantasy-relevant totals in made threes and assists. He also got to the line more than eight times per game at Oklahoma last season, but whether that ability to draw contact will translate to the NBA remains to be seen.
Mo Bamba, Magic: Had Bamba landed a spot higher in Dallas, he'd be in an outstanding Fantasy situation, but he'll settle for a more inauspicious fit with the Magic. At this point in his development, Bamba is the type of big man who would greatly benefit from playing alongside a competent point guard. Orlando doesn't have one these days. The hope is that GM John Hammond addresses the position in free agency — or more likely, via trade — but Bamba's Fantasy outlook will still be clouded by the presence of veteran Nikola Vucevic, who enters the final year of his four-year, $53 million deal. All signs point to another rough year for the Magic, with Bamba looking like a significantly more promising Fantasy commodity in 2019-20 and beyond. That said, Vucevic missed significant time last season, so if the minutes are there, Bamba could be one of the better per-minute shot-blockers in the league.
Wendell Carter, Bulls: We can quibble about how Carter fits alongside Lauri Markkanen on the defensive end, but the Bulls believe they have their frontcourt pairing of the future. While Carter will undoubtedly play significant minutes for a team that could make a run at the eighth seed, it's hard to imagine he'll start over Robin Lopez — at least to begin the season. At age 30, Lopez is still a productive player — so much so that the Bulls rested him for several games down the stretch — but his deal is up next summer, and at that point the path will be cleared for the stretchier Carter to take over. In the more immediate future, a wait-and-see approach is probably best, but it's not crazy to think Carter could take over the Bobby Portis role next season (13.2 pts, 6.8 reb, 1.1 3PM), though Carter likely won't come anywhere close to matching Portis' 26% usage rate.
Collin Sexton, Cavaliers: Until LeBron makes his decision, Sexton is in a holding pattern. If LeBron stays, Sexton could be relegated to an energy-guy-off-the-bench role. There's also a chance he could be dealt as part of a package to bring in veteran talent. In the other scenario where LeBron bolts, Sexton could find himself as the focal point of a multi-year rebuild. Sexton has the motor and intensity to be a terror on the defensive end, but his offensive game is still a work in progress, and, like most rookie point guards, he'll probably struggle to play efficient basketball. He shot nearly 45% from the floor as a freshman but was prone to stretches of reckless play. If LeBron leaves, Sexton could have some Fantasy relevance in deeper formats, and something like De'Aaron Fox's rookie numbers — 11.6 pts, 4.4 ast, 2.8 reb, 41% FG, 31% 3PT — seems realistic.
Kevin Knox, Knicks: If Kristaps Porzingis misses as much time as some fear, the Knicks will be a bottom-five team next season. As is the case with Trae Young, that may play to Knox's advantage. Knox certainly won't have the ball in his hands as much as Young, but the Knicks' projected struggles should mean a longer leash. Tim Hardaway, Jr. stands in the way of Knox at small forward, but Knox has the size to play the four, as well, and he'd have a chance to earn a starting role if New York opts to part ways with free-agent-to-be, Michael Beasley. Production-wise, Knox was only a points, three-pointers and rebounds contributor at Kentucky, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.
Zhaire Smith, 76ers: Smith probably shouldn't be drafted in most season-long leagues, but he's an incredibly intriguing prospect in dynasty and keeper formats. With J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli likely out of the picture next season, the Sixers' depth chart will clear out a bit, but Smith will still have to compete with Robert Covington, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson and Furkan Korkmaz for minutes. If Philly is unable to find a taker for Jerryd Bayless, he'll be another complicating factor. Smith's long-term Fantasy intrigue lies in his all-around production. He shot better than 55% from the field and hit 18-of-40 (45%) three-point attempts as a freshman at Texas Tech en route to 11.3 points per game. On top of that, Smith added 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks — impressive numbers for a 6-5 prospect who spent much of the year playing out of position.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Clippers: Heading into free agency, the Clippers have a suspicious number of guards on the roster. Austin Rivers, Milos Teodosic, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Tyrone Wallace, Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell, Avery Bradley and C.J. Williams each had roles last season — some due to injuries — so LA's decision to add two more guards on draft night was a bit of a surprise. Reading the tea leaves, Bradley is an unrestricted free agent and is likely gone, and the Clips will almost certainly have to consolidate when it comes to Evans, Thornwell, Wallace, and Williams; the latter two were two-way players last season. Regardless, barring another injury-plagued season — or a trade involving Beverley, Teodosic or Rivers, who just opted into the final year of his deal — it's difficult to envision Gilgeous-Alexander finding enough of a role to be Fantasy-relevant in most leagues as a rookie. He'll be a much more attractive prospect two years from now, when Rivers, Beverley and Teodosic can all come off the books.
Miles Bridges, Hornets: I wasn't a huge fan of this pick with Gilgeous-Alexander and Michael Porter both on the board at No. 11. Reluctant as they may be to accept it, the Hornets are about to enter a rebuild, and while Bridges is a nice prospect who's probably been unfairly knocked for going back to school, Charlotte needed to shoot for superstar potential. And, yes, you could argue that Gilgeous-Alexander's ceiling isn't sky-high, but at the very least the Hornets would have a young point guard to lead the potential post-Kemba era. Still, Charlotte doesn't have a ton of depth on the wing, so Bridges should be a rotation player off the bench as a rookie. Like Knox, Bridges was mostly a points/rebounds player at Michigan State — though he did add 2.7 assists per game — and those categories are where he's likely to add modest contributions in deeper leagues next season.
Jerome Robinson, Clippers: Robinson's outlook is virtually the same as Gilgeous-Alexander's, though Robinson's ability to effectively play both guard spots could give him somewhat of an advantage in Year 1. The Clippers need to clear at least some of the clutter before we get a clearer picture of what to expect from both rookies.
Michael Porter, Nuggets: Looking ahead to next season, Porter is the biggest question mark of any player in the draft due to his hip and back issues. Nuggets president Josh Kroenke indicated after the draft that Porter's status for Summer League, as well as next season, is very much up in the air. Those are two very different timelines, but Denver appears completely content with the possibility of Porter redshirting. Even if he's cleared at some point, the Nuggets would likely exercise caution, as they have enough talent on the roster to be a playoff contender even if Porter doesn't play a second of NBA basketball as a rookie. That makes him little more than a late-round lottery ticket in re-draft leagues.
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