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Experts Analysis

Rookie Report, Volume Four

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: January 15, 2021, 3:09 am ET

The NBA lived a bit of a “charmed life” during the first two-plus weeks of the season in relation to COVID-19. Just one game, Houston’s opener against Oklahoma City, had to be postponed due to a team not being able to suit up the minimum number of players. That all changed this past week, as multiple games had to be scrapped for this very reason. This was to be expected to a certain extent, with holiday season having just concluded.

Limited rosters have meant increased opportunities, both for rookies who may have been forced to “wait their turn” and journeymen who were signed more as emergency options than as players expected to receive rotation minutes. This week’s edition of the Rookie Report begins with a guard in Philadelphia who made franchise history.

Opportunity knocks for Maxey: Upon his being selected with the 21st overall pick in November’s draft, 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey was viewed as a capable defender whose perimeter shot was a question mark. During his lone season at Kentucky, the 6-foot-3 guard shot just 29.2% from three on 3.6 attempts per game. However he did shoot 83.3% from the foul line, which is considered to be an indication of whether or not a player can develop into a capable shooter. The jury is still out on Maxey in that regard, but he was able to earn rotation minutes even before the 76ers roster was hit hard by the league’s health and safety protocols.

Given the chance to play starter’s minutes, he has played quite well over the last week. Of course the best showing was his 39-point effort in a January 9 loss to the Nuggets, falling one point shy of Allen Iverson’s franchise record for points in a game for a rookie. Shooting 18-of-33 from the field, Maxey also tallied seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and three 3-pointers in nearly 44 minutes. And he also turned the ball over just two times on the day. In the three games that Philadelphia has played with its depleted roster, he’s averaged 23.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.7 blocks,1.3 3-pointers and 1.7 turnovers per while shooting 49.2% from the field and 50.0% from the foul line.

Over the last week, Maxey has approached top-50 value in both 8- and 9-cat formats. When players such as Seth Curry and Tobias Harris will be able to return hasn’t been determined just yet, but Maxey (who’s rostered in 56% of Yahoo leagues) should be in all lineups until that time comes. Fellow 76ers rookie Isaiah Joe is worth a short-term look for those in need of 3-point production. Over the last week he’s averaged 11.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.8 3-pointers per game, sitting just outside of the top-100 in 9-cat. Joe is currently rostered in 5% of Yahoo leagues.

How does KAT’s return impact Edwards: Minnesota’s franchise cornerstone, Karl-Anthony Towns, made his return from a dislocated left wrist last week, a huge deal for a team that struggled mightily in his absence. KAT’s presence impacts that entire roster, including first overall pick Anthony Edwards, even though the rookie is still coming off the bench. In the four games that both Edwards and Towns have been available for, they’ve shared the court for 12.1 minutes per game. And while Edwards is a more efficient player during those periods, his usage decreases significantly.

Edwards’ usage when playing alongside Towns is 14.9; that number shoots up to 26.6 when he isn’t. The opposite occurs when it comes to Edwards’ offensive rating (122.9 with Towns; 93.7 without), effective field goal percentage (60.0% with, 41.6% without) and true shooting (60.0% with, 44.7% without) percentage. Of course, one also has to account for the presence of D'Angelo Russell, so Edwards isn’t going to have many opportunities to attack defenses as the primary scoring option.

Over the last week he’s struggled shooting the ball, making just 32.6% of his field goal attempts, and the lack of consistent production outside of points and rebounds is why Edwards (who’s rostered in 56% of Yahoo leagues) sits outside of the top-300 in 9-cat during this stretch. Getting Towns back certainly helps the Timberwolves, but they’re going to need more from Edwards if they’re go make any kind of move up the West’s pecking order.

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Haliburton continues to flourish: After missing two games due to a left wrist injury, Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton made his return to the court on January 6. His minutes have increased, playing nearly 31 minutes per game in Sacramento’s last five games, and on most nights he is a part of the team’s closing lineup. Haliburton had one of his best games of the season Wednesday, posting a line of 17 points, five rebounds, nine assists, one steal and three 3-pointers in a loss to Portland. The only negative in this one was the four turnovers, the first time that he’s had more than two in a game this season, but that isn’t a concern when it comes to Haliburton.

Over the last week, he’s been a top-50 player in both 8- and 9-cat formats, which matches his production for the season as a whole. Luke Walton’s insistence that either Haliburton or De'Aaron Fox be on the court at all times bodes well for the rookie guard. And as discussed in a prior edition, there may come a time when Haliburton is moved into the starting lineup. His presence in the Kings’ closing lineup has meant fewer minutes for Marvin Bagley, which could be an indication of what would happen if the rookie were to start.

Williams holds his own in Los Angeles: Bulls forward Patrick Williams had to deal with two extremely difficult matchups during the team’s games in Los Angeles over the weekend. Friday night it was the Lakers, with LeBron James being a lead guard whose build does not match that of the traditional point. On Sunday, Williams saw a lot of Kawhi Leonard with a little Paul George mixed in. After struggling offensively in the loss to the Lakers, Williams was much better against the Clippers, as he scored a career-high 17 points to go along with two rebounds, two assists, two steals and three 3-pointers.

Thus far, Williams has proven to be capable of taking on a variety of defensive matchups, which was a big reason why he was selected fourth overall. And over the last week, he’s ranked just outside of the top-50 in both 8- and 9-cat formats. The key for Williams now is to ensure that the energy expended on defense doesn’t limit him on the other end. He did a better job of that on Sunday, which is something that the rookie can build on. Williams is currently rostered in just 15% of Yahoo leagues, and given his recent play that number is a bit low even with Lauri Markkanen (health and safety protocols) expected to return very soon.

Now healthy, Tillman earning rotation minutes in Memphis: Grizzlies power forward Xavier Tillman Sr. did not make his season debut until January 3, missing the team’s first five games due to a case of patellar tendinitis in his left knee. Yet even with the time off he’s moved right into the rotation, taking the minutes that were being given to Gorgui Dieng. Tillman had his best game of the season Wednesday night, scoring 12 points while also tallying five rebounds, three assists and two steals in a win over the Timberwolves. Rostered in just 1% of Yahoo leagues, he isn’t a must-have just yet, even in deeper leagues. But over the last week Tillman ranks just outside of the top-100 in 9-cat, while his value drops a bit lower than that in 8-cat. His name is one worth stashing away, either for later this year or the 2021-22 fantasy season.

Maledon, Pokusevski getting rotation minutes: Oklahoma City’s rebuilding project has freed up valuable minutes for many of the team’s young talents, most notably point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Included in that group are rookies Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski, who are averaging 20.5 and 16.4 minutes per game, respectively. Neither is worth rostering in any fantasy format right now, but both have shown flashes of their potential at various points this season.

Pokusevski hit double figures for the first time in his career Wednesday night, scoring 10 points, while also accounting for four rebounds, two assists, three blocks and two 3-pointers in a loss to the Lakers. The slender forward is averaging 1.2 blocks and 0.6 steals per game, a solid starting point especially when considering what he could be as his body matures. Maledon wasn’t as impactful Wednesday night, but he did dish out four assists while committing just one turnover.

Maledon’s path to more minutes later this season could be a bit clearer than Pokusevski’s, as George Hill has a contract that may be easier to move to a contender than Al Horford's should lead executive Sam Presti decide to make a deal at the deadline.

Past Columns

Volume One: Wiseman’s debut a solid first step

Volume Two: All aboard the Haliburton bandwagon

Volume Three: Fultz injury thrusts Anthony into the spotlight

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.