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Experts Analysis

Rookie/Sophomore Report, Vol. 7

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: November 24, 2021, 7:52 pm ET

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This past week in the NBA was headlined by a coaching change, as the Kings fired Luke Walton and named Alvin Gentry the interim head coach. That's where this week's edition of the Rookie/Sophomore Report will begin, as we take a look at how the change will impact two of the Kings' young guards. 

How will coaching change impact Haliburton, Mitchell? 

Tyrese Haliburton, a finalist for Rookie of the Year last season, has been a starter all season long for the Kings, while rookie Davion Mitchell has been one of the first players off the bench. The former has been a positive asset as far as fantasy basketball is concerned, providing top-50 value in 9-cat formats per Basketball Monster. As for Mitchell, he's currently ranked outside of the top-200, with his shooting struggles being a big reason why. 

He's shooting just 36.6% from the field and 58.8% from the foul line, as his stellar junior season at Baylor has not carried over. Mitchell is still rostered in 15% of Yahoo leagues, which is way too high of a percentage given his production (or lack thereof). Monday's home loss to a depleted 76ers squad was our first opportunity to see how things may change under the leadership of Gentry, but both Haliburton and Mitchell finished the game close to their minutes per game averages. 

Haliburton (0/4/9/1) played 33 minutes and Mitchell (4/3/0/1) 25, with the changes to the rotation coming in the frontcourt. What helps both is that they're solid defenders, so removing them from the rotation would make little sense for a team that needs to get better on that end of the floor. If you have Haliburton rostered there's nothing to be worried about, even with his going scoreless Monday night. For those who still have Mitchell, I have to ask: why? 

Hornets' Ball continues to mesmerize 

Of the top-10 players in 9-cat formats, only three have point guard eligibility: Stephen Curry (1st), LaMelo Ball (6th) and James Harden (9th). Just over a month into the season, it's safe to say that fantasy managers who rushed to select Ball within the first 25 picks of their drafts were not taking that big of a gamble. The second-year floor general is averaging 19.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 2.8 3-pointers and 3.2 turnovers in 33.2 minutes per game, while shooting 41.7% from the field and 90.0% from the foul line. 

Outside of the blocks (which have held steady), turnovers and field goal percentage, those numbers all represent improvements when compared to Ball's rookie year numbers. At this point, it's fair to say that expecting a top-25 season out of Ball would be to sell him short. The question now: can he crack the top-5, and stay there? To do so would require Ball to surpass one of Ball, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jimmy Butler or Kevin Durant, which is a lot to ask. And behind him are high-usage players such as the aforementioned Harden, Paul George and Anthony Davis

Looking for a top-5 season out of Ball may be a lot to ask at this stage in his career. But it is not far-fetched. At all. 

Grizzlies' Bane surges after lull 

After getting off to a good start in his second NBA season, Desmond Bane hit a bit of a rough patch in early November. During a three-game stretch, he shot just 27.8% from the field and 5.9% from three, averaging 8.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks and 0.3 3-pointers in 28.4 minutes per contest. After hitting double figures in each of his first nine games, it's safe to say that Bane was a shell of himself during this brief period. 

But he's turned things around since, scoring 12 points or more in each of his last six games. His best effort of the bench came in Monday's road win over the Jazz, with Bane accounting for 28 points, four rebounds, four assists, two steals and four 3-pointers. Bane established a new season-high in points, putting up a career-high 20 field goal attempts (making 12) in the process. Over the last week, he has been a top-20 player in 9-cat according to Basketball Monster. 

All that being said, Bane is still rostered in just 59% of Yahoo leagues. And this is with the Grizzlies dealing with some injuries on the wing. De'Anthony Melton is currently sidelined due to a right groin injury, and Dillon Brooks has missed Memphis' last two games with a right hamstring issue. Bane remained in the starting lineup once Brooks returned from offseason hand surgery, but there was a bit of an adjustment period. He's managed to turn things around, and the Grizzlies' recent injuries have added to Bane's fantasy value. 

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Can Nets' Thomas stick in the rotation? 

Despite his being a prolific scorer during his lone season at LSU, Cameron Thomas entered the NBA in a difficult spot. With the Nets selecting him in the first round, it was going to be very difficult for the rookie to crack the rotation. In front of him is one of the game's all-time great scorers in Kevin Durant, and Brooklyn can also use James Harden off the ball. Even the absence of Kyrie Irving didn't change the equation for Thomas, as Brooklyn remains in "win now" mode. 

The opportunities have been few and far between for Thomas, who has played no more than 15 minutes in any of the 11 games that he's appeared in. But he took full advantage of his opportunity in Monday's win over the Cavaliers. Shooting 4-of-7 from the field and 1-of-1 from the foul line, Thomas scored 11 points, while also contributing three rebounds, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers in 15 minutes. With the absences of Joe Harris (left ankle) and Bruce Brown (left hamstring) freeing up some minutes on the back end of the rotation, Thomas managed to crack double figures for the first time in his NBA career. 

Is Thomas worth taking a flier on in fantasy? Probably not, as Patty Mills and DeAndre' Bembry have seen their minutes/responsibilities increase the most due to the injuries mentioned above. But the rookie guard is worth keeping an eye on, if not for this season, then definitely 2022-23.  

Thunder's Giddey shines with SGA sidelined 

Many expected Josh Giddey to be one of the top fantasy rookies, and that's how things have played out thus far. Providing 12th-round value in 9-cat formats, he ranks fifth among all rookies (Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes, Franz Wagner and Cade Cunningham being the top four). With the ability to play either on or off the ball, Giddey has formed a solid partnership with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. However that progress hit a bump in the road recently, as SGA was sidelined due to a sprained right ankle. 

In Monday's loss to the Hawks, Giddey played 31 minutes and recorded a line of 15 points (6-of-13 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs), seven rebounds, eight assists, one steal and two blocks while committing three turnovers. While his shooting percentages (39.7/25.4/63.6) have left something to be desired, Giddey's overall game has made him a player worth rostering in most leagues. And for DFS players, the rookie is a very attractive option with Gilgeous-Alexander set to miss his second straight game Wednesday night. 

Over his last four games, Giddey is averaging 14.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, 1.0 3-pointers and 2.5 turnovers per, shooting 46.2% from the field, 25.0% from three and 66.7% from the foul line. The improved field goal percentage is a welcome development, while the free throw number doesn't hurt too much as he's attempted just 2.3 per game during this stretch. Giddey is continuing to make strides, and the time as Oklahoma City's unquestioned lead playmaker has enhanced his fantasy value (rostered in 76% of Yahoo leagues).   

Injuries mean opportunity for Nuggets' Nnaji 

There aren't many teams in the NBA with worse injury "luck" than the Denver Nuggets, who are in the midst of a five-game losing streak with multiple key players sidelined. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (right wrist), Michael Porter Jr. (back) and Bones Hyland (right ankle) all missed Tuesday's loss to Portland, and P.J. Dozier (left knee) may be done for the season after going down in the first half. Add in Jamal Murray (left knee), who's still working his way back from a torn ACL, and the Nuggets look nothing like the team that it was expected to be before the season began. 

These injuries open up minutes and opportunities for the remaining players, however. And one who may be able to take advantage, provided he stays healthy himself, is second year forward/center Zeke Nnaji. After missing the prior four games due to a sprained right ankle, he played 15 minutes in Tuesday's defeat. And it was an effective 15 minutes, as Nnaji recorded a line of eight points (3-of-6 FGs), seven rebounds, two blocks and two 3-pointers. He isn't in a great spot as far as fantasy is concerned, as Denver still has Jeff Green and JaMychal Green to call upon as they account for Jokic's absence. However, given the Nuggets' misfortune with injuries, Nnaji is worth keeping an eye on. 

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.