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Experts Analysis

Rookie Report, Volume One

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: December 24, 2020, 1:17 am ET

Assessing a rookie class with an eye towards fantasy basketball can be difficult in any season, but the 2020-21 campaign may take that to another level. The shortened offseason meant no summer league, which can be critical in getting first-year player acclimated to the differences between the college (or overseas) and the NBA styles of play. Add to that the fact that multiple rookies haven’t played competitively since March, when the NCAA shut things down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it can be difficult to gauge just how much of an impact that these players can have in fantasy basketball.

With that in mind every Wednesday a Rookie Report will be published, taking a look at some of the NBA’s young talents and what they can potentially add to your fantasy rosters. This week’s edition will begin with the second overall pick in November’s draft, who had a good night in the midst of his team getting blown out.

Wiseman’s debut a solid first step

Warriors rookie center James Wiseman has waited even longer than many of his fellow rookies to play in a competitive game, as he appeared in just three contests at Memphis before being given a nine-game suspension by the NCAA. Instead of wait things out he made the decision to leave school and focus on getting ready for the draft, as he was already considered by many to be a high-lottery pick. With Wiseman also missing out on much of the preseason after being diagnosed with COVID-19, he entered Tuesday’s season opener against the Nets with just an intra-squad scrimmage to use as an NBA “reference point.”

Add in the fact that Golden State was without defensive anchor Draymond Green, and it would have been understandable if Wiseman served up a dud. But to his credit the 7-foot-1 center didn’t, and he was ultimately one of the few bright spots for the Warriors in their 125-99 loss. Wiseman played 24 minutes, finishing with 19 points (7-of-13 FGs, 4-of-8 FTs), six rebounds, two steals, one 3-pointer and one turnover.

Thrust into the starting lineup, Wiseman played 12 minutes in each half and looked more comfortable offensively during the second. There were some defensive lapses, most notably a couple occasions where he allowed the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations to get downhill without much resistance, but that’s to be expected from a rookie. The lack of blocked shots was a negative, but that should not be a common occurrence for Wiseman. And defensively, the opportunity to play alongside Green (once he’s healthy) should help address the lapses that were seen Tuesday night.

Wiseman did little, if anything, to dissuade those who grabbed him in the middle rounds of their fantasy drafts with his play Tuesday night.

Editor’s Note: If you’re on the hunt for rankings, projections, strategy and advice on how to dominate your fantasy drafts, check out the 2020-21 Rotoworld NBA Draft Guide. And while you’re at it, be sure to save while on your way to victory. Use code HOLIDAY20 through January 3, 2021 to get 20% off any EDGE+ package. Click here to learn more!

Detroit's Hayes, Chicago's Williams poised to start

With 13 games on the schedule, DFS players won't lack for options Wednesday night. In the case of the rookie class, the first look should be at those who are practically guaranteed spots in their teams’ starting lineups. And the Central Division has at least two of those in Pistons point guard Killian Hayes and Bulls wing Patrick Williams. Hayes was anointed the starting point guard by coach Dwane Casey before Detroit even played a preseason game, and as one would expect he endured his fair share of struggles.

In four starts, Hayes averaged 7.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.0 3-pointers and 3.0 turnovers in 21.7 minutes per game. What may be even more worrisome were Hayes’ shooting splits, as he shot 28.6 percent from the field, 22.2 percent from three and 87.5 percent from the foul line. As the saying goes Rome wasn’t built in a day, and having the confidence of his head coach should go a long way with Hayes. I grabbed him in the tenth round in a couple of my leagues (12-team), with the hope that having a starting job from Day 1 will give him immediate value. Following that up with either Delon Wright or Derrick Rose wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially in the early going.

As for Williams, while Billy Donovan hasn’t officially named him the starting small forward things appear to be trending in that direction. He started the Bulls’ final two preseason games, averaging 11.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 0.8 3-pointers and 3.0 turnovers in just over 27 minutes per. Williams produced solid shooting numbers from the field  and from three, finishing the preseason with splits of 48.6/42.9/54.5. He will need to improve that free throw percentage, which came on 2.8 attempts per game, but there is some value to be had here.

Playing alongside Coby White and Zach LaVine means that Williams won’t have the ball in his hands as much, but that may be a good thing in the short-term. He’ll have ample catch-and-shoot opportunities, and with neither White nor LaVine being known for their defensive abilities that should ensure that Williams offers some production in the steals and blocks categories.

Ball, Okoro and Avdija among the other possible standouts

Not starting doesn't necessarily mean that a rookie can’t have an impact that would make him a fantasy-worthy option, and that could be the case for Hornets guard LaMelo Ball. With Terry Rozier and Devonte' Graham appearing to have the starting guard roles locked up heading into Wednesday’s opener, Ball will be one of the first players off the bench. He played nearly 22 minutes per game in the preseason, posting averages of 8.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 1.5 3-pointers and 3.5 turnovers per. Ball’s shooting percentages left much to be desired, as he made just 26.2 percent of his attempts from the field and 27.3 percent from three, but to get five rebounds per game from a guard is a decent starting point.

By coming off the bench, he won’t be a part of a starting lineup that includes one of either Rozier or Graham and free agent signing Gordon Hayward, who stands to have the ball in his hands a lot. That could change as the season progresses, but for now Ball’s fantasy value may be higher as a reserve than it would be if he were starting.

Cleveland wing Isaac Okoro appears to be a lock to start given the defensive deficiencies of starting guards Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. The rookie out of Auburn started each of the Cavaliers’ four preseason games, averaging a team high 27.5 minutes per night and accounting for 11.3 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 3-pointers. Okoro’s perimeter shot was seen as a weakness of his during the pre-draft process, but he shot a more than respectable 45.4 percent from three during the preseason.

Don’t expect a figure that high now that the games truly mean something, but the combination of his skill set and the situation that he finds himself in make Okoro one of the top fantasy rookies in this class. I ranked him eighth among the top fantasy rookies in the Rotoworld Draft Guide (the code HOLIDAY20 gets you 20% off until January 3), and in hindsight that is far too low for Okoro.

Washington forward Deni Avdija was part of a three-man competition for the starting small forward role, with Isaac Bonga and Troy Brown Jr. being the others. Brown Jr. may be better served coming off the bench, as it would get him more time on the ball as a primary playmaker. But the eye injury suffered by starting power forward Rui Hachimura could open the door for Scott Brooks to start two of the three players mentioned above. Avdija had the benefit of playing in competitive games this summer, as Israel’s professional league resumed play after going on hiatus due to COVID-19, something that many of the other rookies were unable to do.

Minnesota rookie Anthony Edwards came off the bench in each of the Timberwolves’ three preseason games, due in part to the team’s need for a bonafide catch-and-shoot option (Malik Beasley) next to D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns. Edwards averaged nearly 12.7 field goal attempts per game in the preseason, and staying with the second unit may be his only chance of hitting that number in the regular season. I like Wiseman and Ball a bit more than Edwards when it comes to fantasy potential, but he should still be one of the top players in this class.

Other rookies to keep in mind

PG Immanuel Quickley (New York): Elfrid Payton appeared to have the inside track on the starting point guard job, and he will likely be the man to start. But Quickley, who played off the ball for much of his career at Kentucky, was New York’s best performer at the lead guard spot during the preseason.

PG/SG Tyrese Haliburton (Sacramento): Haliburton came off the bench during the preseason and played quite well, but it’s worth nothing that veteran backup Cory Joseph appeared in just one of the team’s four games. Those two sharing the court with Sacramento’s second unit shouldn’t be much of an issue however, as Haliburton is capable of playing both on and off the ball. Why he slipped in the actual draft who knows, but the Kings got themselves a good one.

SG/SF Devin Vassell (San Antonio): The Spurs don’t lack for young wings, but in time Vassell may turn out to be the best when it comes to what he brings to the table on both ends of the floor. In 27.6 minutes per game off the bench, he averaged 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.0 steals, 0.3 blocks and 1.7 3-pointers with shooting splits of 51.7/50.0/66.7. Even though he’s a guard and not a wing, Derrick White being out for the time being frees up a few more minutes in that rotation. That is good news for those who made the late-round plunge for Vassell.

Not everyone got a mention in this week’s column, but there is plenty of time to touch on the entire rookie class. Thanks for reading.

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.