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Experts Analysis

Rookie Report, Volume Three

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: January 8, 2021, 1:00 am ET

Still less than a month into the 2020-21 season, we’ve already seen some significant injuries impact team rotations. In some instances, rookies have been thrust into more prominent roles. In others, the rookies themselves are forced to sit out. Orlando and Detroit are two teams of interest right now, as both teams have lost their starting point guards for lengthy periods of time. Below is the third edition of the Rookie Report, beginning with the son of a former NBA point guard likely being thrust into a starting job.

Key injury thrusts Anthony into starting role: Magic point guard Cole Anthony is rostered in 28% of Yahoo leagues, with that number having increased significantly in the last 12 hours or so. The reason: Markelle Fultz left Wednesday’s win over the Cavaliers in the first quarter after suffering what turned out to be a season-ending torn ACL. With a full roster, Fultz’s injury would likely result in veteran Michael Carter-Williams being handed the keys in the short-term. But he’s currently out with a foot injury, which leaves Anthony as the only healthy point guard currently in the rotation (Jordan Bone will be added to the mix).

Anthony played 32 minutes off the bench Wednesday night, finishing with eight points, four rebounds, three assists, one blocked shot and three turnovers. The turnovers shouldn’t be much of a concern, because he’s generally done a good job of taking care of the basketball. Where Anthony will need to be better, for both the Magic and fantasy managers who have him rostered, is as a shooter. He’s making just 29.7% of his shots from the field overall, and 23.5% of his 3-point attempts with an average of 0.6 made 3-pointers per game.

Anthony has shared the court with star center Nikola Vucevic for an average of just over six minutes per game, and that number stands to increase substantially with Fultz sidelined. While Anthony has shot better from three in those spots, making 33.3% of his attempts with Vucevic compared to 13.3% without, his overall field goal percentage, rebounding and assist numbers have all been worse.

Okoro, Haliburton return to action: Two rookies made their returns to action Wednesday night after missing time due to injury. Cleveland’s Isaac Okoro and Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton were back on the court filling their usual roles, with the former starting and the latter coming off the bench. Okoro played 28 minutes in the Cavaliers’ loss to Orlando, scoring 10 points and dishing out two assists. Rostered in 11% of Yahoo leagues, the rookie wing ranks outside of the top-200 in both 8- and 9-cat formats.

Considered by more than a few analysts to be the best defender in this draft class, that hasn’t translated into fantasy production just yet. Okoro did not register a steal or a blocked shot on Wednesday, and for the season he’s averaging just 0.3 steals per game (and no blocks). Given Okoro's status within the rotation, and the fact that he’s played in just three games, look for the production to improve soon enough.

As for Haliburton, it’s amazing how the Sacramento went back to their “Kangz” ways with him sidelined due to a wrist injury. To say that his absence was the only reason why the Kings struggled so much last week would be a bit too simplistic, but there’s no denying that Haliburton’s ability as a creator was missed. He played 35 minutes off the bench in Wednesday’s win over Chicago, posting a line of seven points, two rebounds and three assists.

What was noteworthy about this game was De'Aaron Fox leaving in the first quarter due to tightness in his hamstring. A top-50 player in 9-cat, Haliburton was rostered in 50% of Yahoo leagues as of Thursday morning. And with the Kings playing the second game of a back-to-back Thursday night, they could very well be without Fox. Regardless of what happens with Sacramento’s starting point guard, Haliburton is a must-add if he hasn’t been snagged off of the waiver wire already.

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Pistons lose Hayes to hip injury: Killian Hayes has struggled thus far, which is commonplace for most rookie. Add in the fact that he’s learning the ropes as a point guard, and the learning curve has been a bit steeper for him that other first-year players filling different roles. Unfortunately for Hayes and the Pistons he’s going to be sidelined for a while, as it was announced on Wednesday that he is out indefinitely due to a torn labrum in his right hip. It hasn’t been decided whether or not Hayes will need to undergo surgery to address the issue, hence the “indefinite” timeline.

Currently rostered in 24% of Yahoo leagues, and that number will decrease even more, Hayes is ranked outside of the top-400 in 9-cat formats and just outside of the top-350 in 8-cat. At that point it was fair to question if there was any benefit to hanging onto him, even with Hayes being firmly entrenched as the starter. And Detroit has been hit hard by injuries at the point guard spot, as Derrick Rose left Wednesday’s game with a right knee contusion.

As a result we got our first look at second-round pick Saben Lee, who’s on a two-way contract. Lee played 12 minutes, accounting for four points, one rebound, one assist and two steals. There’s no need to pick him up, as Detroit also has veteran Frank Jackson (who was inactive Wednesday) on a two-way deal. I think we see more of Jackson than Lee, especially if Rose has to miss an extended period of time.

Wiseman experiences the “Green effect”: Warriors center James Wiseman began his rookie season on a positive note, showing few (if any) signs of rust after appearing in just three games at Memphis. But, it had to be noted that the on-court presence of Draymond Green was bound to have an impact on the rookie. Green was finally cleared to return from a foot injury, and playing alongside the veteran has helped Wiseman especially on offense. He’s averaging 9.5 points per game when playing alongside Green, and his shooting numbers have increased as well.

With Green on the court, Wiseman has an effective field goal percentage of 53.1% and a true shooting percentage of 54.2%. Without Green, those figures decrease to 47.8% and 50.8%, respectively. And Wiseman’s usage is higher with Green on the court (26.4) than off (22.1). Instead of sharing the court with just one player capable of setting up others consistently in Stephen Curry, Wiseman now has two to work with in the starting lineup. That will help the rookie when it comes to his production, whether we’re talking raw averages of efficiency numbers.

Pritchard locks down rotation minutes: While there were some raised eyebrows when the Celtics selected Oregon point guard Payton Pritchard with the 26th overall pick in the draft, in hindsight the move made some sense. This is a team built to win now, so it makes sense that Boston would go with a more experienced player. And while there are other young point guards on the roster, it can be argued that neither Tremont Waters nor Carsen Edwards had done enough to separate themselves and earn consistent rotation minutes.

Add in Kemba Walker’s knee issues, and there was room for Pritchard to come in and earn immediate playing time. He’s done just that, and through nine games he’s averaging 8.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.9 3-pointers in nearly 23 minutes per night. Wednesday night Pritchard tallied the first game-winner of his NBA career, as his putback with two-tenths of a second remaining gave Boston a two-point win in Miami. He played 20 minutes, finishing with six points, six rebounds and four assists. With Jeff Teague (left ankle) currently sidelined Pritchard has even more time on the ball with the second unit, but it isn’t as if Brad Stevens has ever had an issue using multiple lead guards at the same time.

Ranked just outside of the top-150 in 9-cat, and just inside of that “line” in 8-cat, Pritchard is rostered in 16% of Yahoo leagues. Boston has two more games to play this week, but four next week, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to grab Pritchard off of the waiver wire.

Ball continues to shine in Charlotte: One of the NBA’s most improved players last season, Hornets guard Devonte' Graham has gotten off to a very slow start in 2020-21. He shot 2-of-14 from the field in Wednesday’s win over the Hawks, finishing with a line of 11 points, four rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two 3-pointers in 39 minutes, with the non-scoring categories making up for his poor shooting. But even with that being the case, it’s fair to wonder if there will come a point when James Borrego looks to insert LaMelo Ball into the starting lineup. He played 24 minutes Wednesday, finishing with 16 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two 3-pointers.

Rostered in 86% of Yahoo leagues, Ball has been one of the more productive rookies thus far. Even though he’s coming off the bench, Ball has been a top-100 player in both 8- and 9-cat formats. Will there come a point when the rookie moves into the starting lineup? Who’s to say, especially with Borrego being far more concerned with his frontcourt due to the injuries and lack of production. But at the very least, Ball continues to produce in his current role.

Quickley making waves in the Big Apple: The Knicks have been one of the league’s early surprises, with Tom Thibodeau’s team moving to 5-3 with a comeback win over the Jazz Wednesday night. While he didn’t play a starring role in the team’s most recent triumph, guard Immanuel Quickley has been solid since returning from a left hip pointer. Rostered in 9% of Yahoo leagues, he’s averaging 7.5 points, 1.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.8 3-pointers in just under 13 minutes per game.

Quickley isn’t a must-have right now, but he will continue to get his chances especially with the Knicks being shorthanded on the perimeter. Alec Burks (left ankle) will miss another 7-10 days, and Frank Ntilikina (right knee) remains sidelined as well. Dennis Smith Jr. was active for Wednesday’s game, but he picked up a DNP-CD and it appears quite obvious that Thibodeau has more trust in Quickley.

Past Columns

Volume One: Wiseman’s debut a solid first step

Volume Two: All aboard the Haliburton bandwagon

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.