Usually, rookies aren’t drafted until the middle to late rounds in fantasy basketball. Yes, every now and then there is a player that slips into the third round, but most seasons a rookie player won’t go until the fourth or fifth round at the earliest. And that is the case again this season.
This presents a huge opportunity for the clever fantasy manager, who is dedicated to the early rounds to create the foundation of his team with a particular rookie placement or two in the middle and late rounds. Find the right rookies, and this can be a winning formula.
But who are the rookies they will have this season? And who are the other first-year sleepy players to watch as the season progresses?
Juniors who deserve to be recruited
Paolo Banchero, PF, Orlando Magic
Banchero was the better choice overall and played like him in the Summer League. His size, skill and sportsmanship allow him to score at will and control the attack away from dribbling from the front zone. He has the size of the NBA and will be counted on to produce as much of the Desperate Magic team as possible.
Expected font: 20 PPG (46 FG%, 34 3P%, 74 FT%), 8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 3PG, 1.0 SPG, 1.0 BPG
Keegan Murray, PF, Sacramento Kings
Murray has the best chance of challenging Banchero for the leading scorer in this category. He’s a combo striker who plans to play more power forward in the NBA, with a solid 3-point shooting range and a quick first step of dribbling. Murray showed this summer that he can score 20 points every night if given the chance. The main question is whether he can get enough shots to do so, in a team that includes De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Harrison Barnes.
Expected streak: 18 PPG (49 FG%, 38 3%, 75 FT%), 7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.7 3PG, 1.0 SPG, 1.1 BPG
Jabbari Smith Jr., BF, Houston Rockets
Smith is arguably the best downtown shooter in this draft category, and he has the length and defensive timing to develop into one of the best defenders as well. Smith is in line to be the Rockets’ starting force out of the gate, and when attacking he’ll play off the ball as a three-point karma or sporting scorer around the edge. Smith is a solid defender on the ball at the post, and has the speed to turn guards and disrupt pickups and rolls. This defensive style should generate some stats, but not the number of blocks he would get as a pure edge protector.
Expected stats: 14 PPG (43 FG%, 39 3P%, 80 FT%), 6.5 RPG, 2.0 3PG, 1.5 APG, 1.1 BPG, 0.7 SPG
Jaden Ivey, PG/SG, Detroit Pistons
Ivey is considered the best goalkeeper in this junior class. He’s set to start shooting a guard next to Cade Cunningham this season and has explosive speed and the ability to leap as a creative away from dribbling for himself and his teammates. Ivy was skilled at pick-and-roll as a ball player this summer before he got injured. Since Cunningham is also a combo keeper, the two can share the common/recorder role for the Pistons. Ivey has good potential as a scorer and distributor, with a zigzag 3-point shot that seems to work on him and fast enough to contribute to steals as well.
Expected stats: 16 PPG (45 FG%, 36 3P%, 75 FT%), 4.5 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.7 3PG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG
Benedict Mathurin, 6th, Indiana Pacers
Mathurin looked like a summer league pro and could be called upon from day one rebuilding the Pacers. It’s not clear if veterans like Buddy Hield or Myles Turner will remain on the team once the season begins, but Mathurin joins Tyrese Haliburton, Chris Duarte and Jalen Smith as potential building blocks for Indiana in the future. The chemistry between Mathurin and Duarte was one of the highlights of the Pacers’ summer league squad. Mathurin has a great size and wing blast with a powerful 3-point shot. He doesn’t do a lot of dribbling, so he’ll have to rely on his teammates to set him up for open jumps or finishes around the edge.
Expected stats: 14 PPG (44 FG%, 37 3P%, 80 FT%), 4.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.8 3PG, 0.8 SPG, 0.2 BPG
Other rookies you should keep an eye on
Tarry Eason, SF, Houston Rockets
Eason managed to be one of the most productive players on the Rockets this summer while playing alongside Jabari Smith Jr. and Josh Christopher. The 6-foot-8 striker averaged a double with 17 points and 10 rebounds and was an over-contributor to steals, triples and blocks. He’s one of the oldest rookies in this class and is 21, so if called up he can contribute right away. The Rockets are one of the youngest teams in the league, currently starting with four players aged 22 or younger… and 33-year-old Eric Gordon. It looks like Eason and Jae’Sean Tate might have the chance to start from a junior striker before the season ends, and if Eason gets the call, he can play his way up the fantasy radar.
Walker Kessler, C, Utah Jazz
Kessler has a realistic opportunity to start rebuilding jazz this season. Although he’s technically a latecomer to recently traded Kelly Olynyk center on the depth chart, Kessler is a 21-year-old first-round rookie who traded with Jazz as part of a Rudy Gobert deal. He is one of the strongest shot-blockers who produced 4.6 BPG in the last season of the Auburn Tigers, and his 40-minute stats were a pretty impressive 17.9 PP40, 12.6 RP40 and 7.1 BP40. He’s never been shown to be able to play key minutes and still has to earn minutes in the jazz rotation, but if he starts he’s a potential sleeper as a defensive role player in the category tournaments.
Sheldon Sharp, SG, Portland Trail Blazers:
Sharpe was one of the highest-grossing rookies in this category, but he also had a great deal of development because he didn’t play in college. Sharp was also injured almost immediately on his summer league debut, so he couldn’t even compete with the pros this summer. With Damien Lillard and Inverney Simmons in the backcourt and veterans like Jeramy Grant and Joseph Nurkic on the front line, it is unlikely Sharpe will get big minutes or a chance to start the season. But, if the Trail Blazers have a season like last, going into offseason mode early, chances are they might want to see what they have at Sharpe in the latter part of the season.
Mark Williams, C, Charlotte Hornets
Williams has a legitimate opportunity to compete with Mason Plumlee for the starting position at some point this season. He’s one of the best defensive blockers out of that recruit, and the Hornets need that. Plus, having the 21-year-old LaMelo Ball as a fixture on the team gives the Hornets a youthful flair, and if Williams can develop a relationship with Ball, it could boost his chances of earning heavier minutes as the season goes on.
Jalen Williams, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
While all eyes were on Chet Holmgren’s second pick, Williams was the other lottery pick for Thunder. And on the permanent rebuilding team, Williams has the opportunity to earn a place in the rotation. Williams is a three-pointer scorer, so if he gains minutes, it might be worth thinking long-term in the leagues as a three-point turn player.
Johnny Davis, J, Washington Wizards
Davis was a consensus All-American First Team last season, averaging 19.7 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.1 APG and 1.2 SPG at 34.2 mpg. But, he had a disastrous summer league where he didn’t show he could keep up with the pace in Las Vegas… which doesn’t bode well for his chances of quickly acclimatising to the NBA. With that said, the Magicians lack talented depth in the backcourt, and Davis has the opportunity to play his part in the spin. If he can prove that what I saw in Vegas was just a fluke, he is instead able to translate his all-American potential to the next level.
Dyson Daniels, PG/SG, New Orleans Pelicans
Daniels is a great size combo guard, and he played in the NBA last season so he already has professional experience. He is expected to play a guard in the Pro, and once he develops he could fit in well next to the 6-3 combo guard CJ McCollum. But, the Pelicans have serious post-season aspirations this season, with a great start for the five and former players like Devonte Graham and Larry Nance on the bench. Except for the injury, he’s not likely to get enough of the fantasy.
Galen Doreen, C, Detroit Pistons
Duren is the youngest member of this recruiting class, but he grew the size of a man with the upside to eventually develop into a two-way dominant position. He spanned during the summer league as he drenched in multiple possessions in a short span, and his ability to finish around the edge is probably ready to go now. But the rest of his game is not. The Pistons are a young team, but they played so well that they finished last season and will want to use the vets to help nurture a winning culture. Duren looks more like the evolutionary player of the season, but I’d still stay vigilant in case they decide the best way to develop him is along with the other young central pieces.
Branham, J/F, and Jeremy Suchan, SF/BF, San Antonio Spurs
Tottenham are in the midst of rebuilding after replacing their best players since the start of last season. They retain Keldon Johnson and Jacob Boltle, and young goalkeeper Devin Fassel is expected to play an even bigger role this season. But the door is clearly open for their starters, Branham and Sushan, to start getting minutes before the season is over. Branham is a Type 3 and D, while Susan is a defender with a noticeably weak jump. Neither of them is likely to deliver big numbers, but if both/both ended up doing so, it would be enough for them to be worth watching.