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Tyrese Haliburton
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Experts Analysis

Rookie Report, Volume Two

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: December 31, 2020, 12:01 pm ET

We’re just over a week into the season, and when it comes to this year’s rookie class there have been some early standouts. While Golden State's James Wiseman (the focus of the first edition of the Rookie Report) and Washington's Deni Avdija have produced as starters, Sacramento's Tyrese Haliburton and Charlotte's LaMelo Ball have done so as reserves. The second edition of the rookie report will begin with Haliburton, who is already being trusted to close out games for the resurgent Kings. 

All aboard the Haliburton bandwagon: The general consensus on draft night was that Sacramento got itself a steal in Haliburton. There were questions about his perimeter shot, as his form is a bit methodical, and whether or not it would translate to the NBA level. But there was no denying Haliburton’s ability to play either on or off the ball, an especially valuable trait given the presence of De'Aaron Fox.

Through the first week of the season Haliburton has been the best rookie in the NBA when it comes to fantasy impact, as he ranks just outside of the top-60 in 9-cat and just outside of the top-80 in 8-cat. No other rookie is currently providing top-100 value in both formats, although the aforementioned Ball (more on him below) is a top-100 player in 8-cat. Through four games Haliburton is averaging 10.5 points, 2.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 2.0 3-pointers and 0.8 turnovers in 27.0 minutes per game.

And he’s shooting the ball extremely well thus far, posting splits of 56% from the field, 50% from three and 100% from the foul line.

Haliburton and Fox have shared the court for an average of 14.4 minutes per game, which has helped the rookie when it comes to getting quality looks. According to the NBA’s stats, Haliburton boasts an effective field goal percentage of 87.5% and a true shooting percentage of 89.3% when playing alongside Fox. Those numbers drop significantly when the two aren't on the court together (57.5 eFG%, 64.4 TS%), but Haliburton's offensive rating increases from 102.5 to 111.3.

Haliburton makes sound decisions with the basketball in his hands, and he has been more formidable in catch-and-shoot situations that many expected him to be during the pre-draft process. A question worth pondering is whether or not there will come a point this season when Luke Walton decides that Haliburton should start. And if so, who sits? While some may rush to point to Harrison Barnes, he’s a plus defender who’s capable of taking on a variety of assignments. Buddy Hield? While he was productive coming off the bench last season Hield didn’t care for the sixth man role, and he had no problem letting people know either.

Maybe Haliburton, for this season, is best suited to come off the bench with Walton making sure that he and Fox are on the court together in crunch time. Down the stretch of Tuesday’s win over the Nuggets, it was Marvin Bagley who lost out in this scenario. Whether or not Haliburton starts games doesn’t mean whole lot. But there appears to be a willingness to let the rookie close out games, which is good to see at this point in his career. Haliburton is still rostered in just 47% of Yahoo leagues, and that number should increase significantly.

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Edwards’ role with Towns, Okogie sidelined: Minnesota has taken a somewhat measured approach when it comes to Anthony Edwards, despite the fact that he was the first overall pick. He’s come off the bench in each of the team’s four games, playing just over 25 minutes per. Edwards is averaging 15.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks and 2.0 3-pointers per contest, while shooting 41.8% from the field, 33.3% from three and 100% from the foul line. With the Timberwolves playing without their best offensive player, as Karl-Anthony Towns is out due to a dislocated left wrist, Edwards will be called upon for more offensive production.

But he will likely have to do so as a reserve, even with Minnesota also losing Josh Okogie (left hamstring). With both Towns and Okogie sidelined for Tuesday’s game against the Clippers, Edwards played nearly 25 minutes off the bench while Jarrett Culver moved into the starting lineup. Culver had a rough night offensively, shooting 0-of-10 from the field and going scoreless, while Edwards hit four 3-pointers and finished with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting.

Culver’s the better defender of the two, and there is a need for Edwards’ scoring ability with that second unit. So I’m not expecting Ryan Saunders to move the ballyhooed rookie into the starting lineup anytime soon. Edwards ranks a bit outside of the top-100 in both 8- and 9-cat formats, and he’s currently rostered in 67% of Yahoo leagues. That percentage feels about right for the time being, even with Towns sidelined.

Pistons rookies don’t lack for opportunities: In our Rotoworld Fantasy Basketball Draft Guide, I took Killian Hayes as my top fantasy option in this class. Why? Because he had already been anointed the starting point guard in Detroit, and he was also one of the few rookies to play a full season last year. Things have not worked out well for Hayes thus far, and he sprained his ankle during Tuesday’s loss to the Warriors. Hayes’ biggest issue has been his shot, as he currently has shooting splits of 27.6% from the field, 23.1% from three and 50.0% from the foul line.

Hayes doesn’t have the “INJ” designation in Yahoo leagues, as he’s considered to be day-to-day, so it isn’t as if he can be stashed in an IL spot. While I like to exercise patience, especially with starters, it may be time to abandon ship in this instance.

He’s one of three Pistons rookies who saw action in Tuesday’s loss, with Isaiah Stewart playing 23 minutes off the bench and Saddiq Bey 15. Bey started Monday’s game against the Hawks, as both Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin were given the night off, and in 30 minutes he accounted for 10 points, seven rebounds, one assist and two 3-pointers. Rose’s absence pushed Delon Wright down to the second unit, which in turn freed up a spot for Bey.

As for Stewart, after being a DNP-CD in Detroit’s first two games he’s played rotation minutes in each of the last two. A lot of that has to do with Griffin, who entered the team’s concussion protocol during Tuesday’s game. Should he have to miss additional time Stewart, the 16th overall pick in the draft, will have more opportunities to show that he belongs in the rotation even when Griffin is healthy.

The rookie out of Washington is averaging 4.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.0 blocks in 19.0 minutes per game. There’s no reason to pick up Stewart right now, but file his name away for later in the season. If Detroit struggles as many expect, players such as Stewart (and Bey) should get to play more with an eye towards the future.

Avdija’s role with Hachimura returning: Wizards forward Deni Avdija has started each of his team’s four games, posting averages of 7.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks and 1.8 3-pointers in 26.3 minutes per. Compared to his time in Israel Avdija’s usage is quite low at 9.7%, but that’s to be expected given how much he’s been used alongside Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. To his credit the rookie is shooting the ball well, as he’s above 50% from both the field and from three. And as noted above, Avdija is currently ranked second among rookies in 9-cat formats.

Something worth considering in relation to Avdija’s fantasy value is the return of Rui Hachimura, who missed time to a nasty case of conjunctivitis. Originally given a timeline of three weeks, Hachimura has been cleared to play Thursday, albeit with a minutes restriction of 20 minutes. Should Hachimura be thrust into the starting lineup immediately, that would likely relegate Isaac Bonga to the bench and shift Advija into the small forward role.

Washington has used the rookie exclusively at the four so far, and a move to the three could make for some difficult defensive matchups. But spacing has been an issue for the Wizards, and that may be the best argument for keeping Avdija with the starters. He’s been a better shooter than Bonga, and the winless Wizards are in dire need of a positive result. If Avdija is moved to the bench, it would likely be because the Wizards don’t have much in the way of consistent bench scoring outside of Davis Bertans.

Currently rostered in just 26% of Yahoo leagues, Avdija’s percentage should increase even with his modest scoring average.

Ball helping to ramp things up in Charlotte: With regard to tempo the Hornets were one of the slowest teams in the NBA last season, ranking dead last in the league in pace. Through four games this season Charlotte ranks seventh in pace, and the addition of LaMelo Ball has helped matters. He currently ranks third on the team in pace (107.6), behind Miles Bridges and Caleb Martin. And Ball is also third among Hornets regulars in assist percentage, behind Gordon Hayward and Devonte' Graham.

Ball isn’t the only reason why Charlotte is playing faster and leads the NBA in assists, but he certainly hasn’t hindered the Hornets’ efforts to ramp things up. Wednesday night he had the best game of his young NBA career, posting a line of 22 points, eight rebounds, five assists, one steal, one block and four 3-pointers in Charlotte’s win over Dallas. Ball is currently rostered in 77% of Yahoo leagues, and he’s fitting in quite well with his new teammates.

Clock strikes midnight for Tate: Houston will welcome back a few key players for Thursday’s game against the Kings, including John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Gordon. And that’s bad news for Jae'Sean Tate, who made the most of his opportunity after spending all of last season in the G-League. In two games he averaged 9.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers in 31.5 minutes per off the bench. Not worthy of being included in any fantasy roster for either of the Rockets’ first two games, Tate’s minutes will drop significantly moving forward. It was fun while it lasted.

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.