Loading scores...
Experts Analysis

Rookie/Sophomore Report, Vol. 12

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: December 29, 2021, 5:34 pm ET

Editor’s Note: Enjoy 15% off our NEW NBC Sports EDGE+ Subscription this holiday season and get every tool (Fantasy, DFS & Betting) for every game at a great low price. Use promo code HOLIDAY15 at checkout. Click here to Buy Now.

We had to have expected the holiday season to be like this, no? The process of putting together a roster, be it for fantasy leagues or DFS, gets more complicated by the day as teams add to their lists of players sidelined due to health and safety protocols. The NBA and its players' association have adjusted the rules, cutting down the amount of time that vaccinated players have to quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. But this still leaves fantasy managers in a tough spot as far as accounting for those absences is concerned. 

We've seen rookies and grizzled veterans alike make the most of first or second (or more!) chances to make a name for themselves in recent weeks. A couple of those names will be found in this week's edition of the Rookie/Sophomore Report. But we begin with a rookie coming off of a career night, and he may be worthy of more Rookie of the Year chatter than he's received thus far. 

Magic's Wagner continues to shine 

Most of the conversation regarding early Rookie of the Year candidates has been focused on Cleveland's Evan Mobley and Toronto's Scottie Barnes, and with good reason. The two lottery picks have been the most impactful players in their class thus far, and the betting odds seem to support this. As of Wednesday morning, PointsBet gave Mobley -110 odds to win the award, with Barnes getting the second-best odds at +240. But there's another option on the board that is definitely worthy of consideration, especially in the aftermath of his career night against the Bucks. 

Orlando's Franz Wagner put on a show in the losing effort, going off for a career-high 38 points, while also tallying seven rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block, and four 3-pointers with just two turnovers in 38 minutes played. And Wagner was very efficient in recording that line, shooting 12-of-20 from the field (4-of-8 3-pointers) and 10-of-10 from the foul line. With the Magic decimated by both injuries and the health and safety protocols, he has been one of the few constants for Jamahl Mosley's team. Wagner has started each of the Magic's 35 games, averaging 15.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 1.4 3-pointers in 32.4 minutes per contest. And he's putting up solid percentages, shooting 44.8% from the field, 36.4% from three, and 82.9% from the foul line. 

That production is good for 8th-round value in 9-cat formats per Basketball Monster, with Wagner closing in on top-50 value over the last week. There should be no issue with Mobley and Barnes being the betting favorites to win the award; as noted above, they've earned that. But maybe Wagner's name should come up a bit more often in the Rookie of the Year conversations. And, in addition to the numbers noted above, he's responsible for three of the five highest-scoring nights by a rookie this season. PointsBet has Wagner at +1000 to win the award, ranking fourth (Cade Cunningham is third at +350). That wouldn't be a bad bet to make at this point in the season. 

The App is Back! Don’t forget to download the NBC Sports EDGE app to receive real-time player news, mobile alerts and track your favorite players. Plus, now you can check out articles and player cards. Get it here! 

Kings' Haliburton shines sans Fox 

With De'Aaron Fox missing four games last week due to health and safety protocols, Tyrese Haliburton was thrust into the role of unquestioned point guard for the Kings. And the second-year guard out of Iowa State was outstanding, scoring at least 21 points in each of those games and averaging 23.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 11.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 2.8 3-pointers per. Haliburton did also average 4.5 turnovers per game, but that's easy to overlook when taking the averages and his shooting splits (52.9/50.0/84.6) into consideration. He played so well that some have opined that the Kings need to move Fox, and let Haliburton serve as the focal point of the franchise's seemingly unending rebuild. 

The more immediate question to answer was what would happen once Fox was cleared to return. Haliburton's production hasn't dropped off much in the two games that Sacramento has played since, as he's accounted for 21.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.5 blocks, 3.5 3-pointers, and 2.5 turnovers per. A top-25 player in 9-cat formats for the season, Haliburton has been producing at a top-15 level over the last two weeks. His production across the board makes Haliburton a very good foundation piece for any single-season league, and dynasty league managers have to love what they've seen as well. As for the future of the Fox/Haliburton partnership in Sacramento, we'll have to wait and see if anything happens ahead of the February trade deadline. 

Cavaliers' Mobley returns to action 

Evan Mobley, a top-50 player in 9-cat this season, has exceeded the preseason fantasy expectations of many. As noted above he's the clear betting favorite to win Rookie of the Year, serving as a key building block for arguably the most surprising team in the NBA. After missing four games due to health and safety protocols Mobley was able to make his return to action Tuesday night, and he looked sharp in a four-point loss to the Pelicans. 

Despite not arriving in New Orleans until Noon, Mobley played 30 minutes and recorded a line of 22 points (9-of-12 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs), seven rebounds, and one 3-pointer. The lack of defensive production on this night was a surprise, but keep in mind that this was just the second game in which Mobley failed to record a steal or a blocked shot (October 30 vs. Phoenix). Frontcourt sidekick Jarrett Allen (protocols) should be cleared to play soon, so the Cavaliers will be in good shape in the post. The concern is who will get players such as Mobley and Allen the ball, at least in the short term. 

Darius Garland is currently out due to health and safety protocols, and Ricky Rubio injured his left knee during Tuesday's game. Wednesday afternoon it was announced that Rubio suffered a torn ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Losing him definitely hurts the Cavaliers, as the veteran point guard is one of the reasons why the team has exceeded expectations. Garland's eventual return will certainly give Cleveland a boost, but being down two point guards puts the team in a tough spot for the time being. Mobley remains a fantasy standout, but the absences of Garland and Rubio could limit his production for a few games. 

Rockets' Green also returned to action Tuesday

Jalen Green missed 14 games due to a hamstring injury before making his return Thursday night against the Pacers. And the second overall pick looked good, scoring 20 points (7-of-14 FGs) while also accounting for one rebound, two assists, two steals, one block, and six 3-pointers in 25 minutes. Held out of Monday's loss to the Hornets, as it was the first game of a back-to-back, Green put forth another quality performance in Tuesday's loss to the Lakers. Playing 38 minutes, he finished with 24 points (8-of-16 FGs, 4-of-5 FTs), two rebounds, four assists, two steals, and four 3-pointers. 

Green's shot 50% from the field and 10-of-18 from three in the two games that he's played, scoring 20 points or more in consecutive games for the first time this season. Inconsistency torpedoed his fantasy value before the hamstring injury, but the time off may have benefitted Green beyond simply getting healthy. Sometimes being able to watch the game from a different perspective can have a positive impact, and that appears to be the case here. Green is still rostered in 72% of Yahoo leagues, and that percentage should increase in the coming days. In the two games that he's played since returning, Green has shown signs of being the rookie that many expected to see when the season began. 

Pelicans' Jones has a career night   

Going back to that Cavaliers/Pelicans game, one of New Orleans' rookies had a career night and helped lead the team to the win. Herb Jones, a second-round pick out of Alabama, played 36 minutes and shot 10-of-18 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line. His stat line: 26 points (a career-high), seven rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and two 3-pointers. And Jones did not commit a single turnover. 

Much has been made about his defensive prowess and rightfully so, as Jones was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season. But his offensive skill set continues to improve, and he was able to put it all on display for a Pelicans team that was without both Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart due to injury. Tuesday's effort came on the heels of Jones' 15/6/1/1/1 line in Sunday's loss to the Thunder, making this the fourth time this season that he's hit double figures in consecutive games. Rostered in 21% of Yahoo leagues, Jones is providing 12th-round value in 9-cat formats. 

Close to a top-100 player over the last two weeks, the rookie forward is certainly worth rostering in standard leagues. And with Zion Williamson still without a timeline for return, Jones will be a fixture in the Pelicans' starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

Heat's Yurtseven thrust into starting role 

With Dewayne Dedmon injuring his knee and joining Bam Adebayo on the injury list, Omer Yurtseven made his first start of the season Sunday afternoon against the Magic. And the rookie out of Georgetown had a career day, posting a line of 16 points, 15 rebounds, and one assist in 33 minutes of action. Yurtseven would follow that up with another double-double Tuesday night, accounting for 10 points, 14 rebounds, one assist, and three steals in 32 minutes. The double-doubles are the first two of the rookie's NBA career, and he's proven to be a very good rebounder in extended minutes. 

Now on a run of six straight games with at least 12 rebounds, Yurtseven has grabbed at least five offensive rebounds in four of those outings (including seven vs. Washington). Also of note during this six-game run has been Yurtseven's defensive averages, as he's contributing 1.0 steals and 0.7 blocks per. That isn't "great," but it's fine enough for a player as productive on the boards as Yurtseven has been. The biggest concern in the short term is the fact that Miami has been hit hard by health and safety protocol issues. 

While this would mean more minutes for Yurtseven if he can avoid joining that list, one has to be concerned about possible postponements (Wednesday's game against the Spurs met that fate), and who besides Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro will get him the ball (Kyle Lowry and Gabe Vincent are among those sidelined). For now, fantasy managers should not hesitate to pick up Yurtseven if he's available. It will be difficult for the rookie to crack the rotation once Adebayo and Dedmon are both healthy enough to play, but there's no denying the fact that Yurtseven has made a good case for himself. 

Timberwolves' Edwards close to a return? 

Anthony Edwards, who missed five games after entering health and safety protocols, was cleared ahead of Tuesday's game against the Knicks. However, the Timberwolves made the decision to hold him out for another game, as there are also conditioning concerns to take into consideration. Practice time in normal seasons can be tough to come by once the season is in full swing; getting players the work needed to get back into game shape in the midst of a pandemic is even more difficult to do. 

As a result, Edwards missed a sixth game, with the Timberwolves next scheduled to play Friday night against the Jazz. Making a return after that much time on the shelf can be difficult, especially when doing so at altitude. So we'll see what the Timberwolves decide, as that will be the first of three straight games that they'll play on the road (Sunday/Monday against the Lakers and Clippers). Edwards is providing 4th-round value in 9-cat formats this season, ranking second on the team behind Karl-Anthony Towns when considering players who have been in the Timberwolves' rotation all season long. 

Celtics' Pritchard experiences a minutes boost 

With the changes to the Celtics organization, from a new head coach to some signings made during free agency, Payton Pritchard's minutes took a noticeable hit. After averaging 19.2 minutes per game as a rookie, he's getting just 12.9 minutes per night this season. However, due to injuries and illness Pritchard has played more recently, logging 21 minutes or more in each of Boston's last five games. He played 45 minutes in Monday's loss to the Timberwolves, scoring 24 points (8-of-22 FGs, 3-of-3 FTs) with eight rebounds, six assists, one steal, and five 3-pointers. 

Pritchard has scored 14 points or more in four of his last five, averaging 15.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, and 3.2 3-pointers in 29.1 minutes per game. And he's shot the ball well during this run, posting splits of 46.8% from the field, 43.2% from three, and 100% from the foul line. That's been good for 10th-round value over the last two weeks and makes Pritchard a player worth streaming for as long as Dennis Schroder and Jayson Tatum remain sidelined. Pritchard is rostered in just 20% of Yahoo leagues, so he won't be too hard to find on most waiver wires. 

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.