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Experts Analysis

Rookie Report, Volume Five

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: January 21, 2021, 5:44 pm ET

Before this season even began we knew that it would be unlike any other in NBA history, as it was the first time that the league would be playing in the midst of a global pandemic. After a relatively smooth start postponements have picked up the last two weeks, and as a result the NBA has adjusted its approach to dealing with depleted rosters. Memphis is a sign of this, as the team’s next three games have been postponed.

According to multiple reports there was just one positive test for COVID-19 within the team, but the postponements are an attempt to limit (if not eliminate) the possibility of the virus spreading. And this decision has impacted the strides made by the Grizzlies’ two rookies, which is where we will begin this week’s Rookie Report.

COVID-19 interrupts progress of Bane, Tillman: First-round pick Desmond Bane has been a part of the Memphis perimeter rotation from the start, playing 11 minutes in the regular season opener and no fewer than 17 minutes in any game since. The same can’t be said for second-round pick Xavier Tillman Sr. but that was due to his missing the first five games due to a knee injury. Since then he’s played at least 17 minutes in each of his eight appearances, starting the last for the absence of Jonas Valanciunas (health and safety protocols).

Tillman, who’s rostered in 15% of Yahoo leagues, has been the more impactful of the two when it comes to fantasy value. With averages of 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.5 blocks in 20.8 minutes per game, he’s providing ninth-round value in 9-cat formats. And over the last week, Tillman has approached top-50 status in 9-cat. Bane is averaging 8.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.8 3-pointers in 21.9 minutes per game, and over the last week he’s produced on the level of a 12th-round player in 9-cat.

Under normal circumstances both would be worth a look, but especially Tillman due to the absence of Valanciunas. However, with the Grizzlies on hold until January 27 at the earliest it wouldn’t make much sense to pick up either at this point in time. Tillman and Bane are names worth remembering however, as they have played well enough to earn consistent rotation minutes.

Anthony drills game-winner for Magic: Orlando point guard Cole Anthony was thrust into a tough spot when Markelle Fultz suffered a season-ending torn ACL. And shortly after that happened, Evan Fournier was sidelined due to back spasms. While Anthony had some positive moments in the nine games that Fournier missed, Orlando’s lack of consistent scorers outside of Nikola Vucevic proved to be quite problematic. Well, Anthony may have had a breakthrough Wednesday night, at least in the efficiency department.

He posted a line of 13 points, seven rebounds, three assists, one blocked shot, three 3-pointers and just one turnover in 28 minutes. And Anthony was responsible for the game’s biggest play, as his 3-pointer as time expired gave the Magic a one-point victory. Shooting 5-of-7 from the field and making all three of his attempts from deep, this was arguably his most efficient showing of the season to date. Getting Fournier back in the mix should help matters, increasing Anthony’s fantasy value in the process.

Over the last week he provided 12th-round value in 9-cat, with the field goal percentage (38.5%) being the biggest reason why Anthony ranked so low.

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Wiseman bounces back from rough outing: Warriors center James Wiseman has been one of the better rookies in this class thus far, but that doesn’t mean that he’s avoided having any frustrating moments. He played just 13 minutes in Monday’s comeback win over the Lakers, with the Warriors making their charge while he was on the bench. But to his credit Wiseman bounced back Wednesday night, scoring 20 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists in a win over the Spurs. Seven of Wiseman’s eight made field goals were dunks, which was a season-high along with the point total. He was more aggressive, and that paid off for both Wiseman and the Warriors.

"I'm just studying film, asking questions, being patient with my mind," Wiseman said according to NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kendra Andrews. "I'm making sure I slow down up here, making sure I just read the floor, and being patient with my moves and being way more precise with the basketball.”

Being able to lean on Draymond Green for advice/mentorship has been critical for the rookie, who, lest we forget, played a grand total of three games at the college level. This is still a work in progress, as evidenced by a second half play in which Wiseman’s failure to read the Spurs defense resulted in a turnover. But he’s making strides, and that’s the most important thing. Over the last week Wiseman is hovering around top-100 territory, cracking that threshold in 8-cat formats.

Quickley to remain in reserve role: More than a few Knicks fans have wondered why Immanuel Quickley hasn’t been installed as the team’s starting point guard, which is understandable when taking into consideration Elfrid Payton’s offensive struggles. But don’t expect Tom Thibodeau to make a change anytime soon. There hasn’t been much of a difference between the two when it comes to their individual defensive ratings (Payton is at 111, Quickley at 108), but the majority of Payton’s minutes have come against starting point guards. That makes a difference in the eyes of Thibodeau.

“I love both guys — they’re different and bring different things to the team,” Thibodeau said Sunday according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. “Elfrid, when you look at his defense and size, a lot of these guards, particularly point guards in the NBA today, they’re a load to deal with. Elfrid has a good understanding how to defend them.”

Could the dynamic change down the line? Who’s to rule that out. But for now Quickley has made the backup point guard job his own, and the return of Alec Burks should help matters. New York has struggled offensively, with Julius Randle being the team’s most dependable scoring option, and the perimeter has lacked consistent shooting. Burks was playing well at the time of his injury, and if he can pick up where he left off that should help Quickley when it comes to the assist tally. Rostered in 42% of Yahoo leagues, Quickley provided fifth-round value in 9-cat formats over the last week.

Rockets’ Tate sticks in the rotation: Once the Rockets finalized their roster by moving James Harden, it appeared as if rookie Jae'Sean Tate wouldn’t have many opportunities to continue to prove himself. But he has made a positive impression in Houston, remaining in the rotation and even starting three of the Rockets’ last four games. During that stretch, Tate averaged 10.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers in 31.7 minutes per game. Rostered in just 5% of Yahoo leagues, he still isn’t worth rostering in standard formats.

But Tate deserves a look in deeper leagues, especially with Houston having a back-to-back scheduled for Friday and Saturday (at Detroit, at Dallas). Christian Wood (ruled out for Friday) is dealing with an ankle injury, John Wall is still sidelined due to knee soreness, and Victor Oladipo, Eric Gordon and DeMarcus Cousins all have past medical issues that coach Stephen Silas will need to take into consideration. The end result could be even more opportunities for Tate, making him an intriguing streaming option depending upon how limited Houston’s rotation will be for those games.

Past Columns

Volume OneWiseman’s debut a solid first step

Volume TwoAll aboard the Haliburton bandwagon

Volume Three: Fultz injury thrusts Anthony into the spotlight

Volume Four: Opportunity knocks for Maxey

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.