Rookies are the sirens of fantasy basketball. Sirens are, of course, the dangerously seductive sea nymphs in Greek mythology who lured sailors to their deaths on rocky shores with their singing. When assessing the potential fantasy value of NBA rookies, it’s easy to get caught up with their ceilings while ignoring the basements of potential. This, along with the fact that most rookies can be had in the bottom half of drafts, makes them seem pretty alluring.
But consider this: Last season, in a draft class that was arguably more talented than the one we’ll see next season, only about six or seven rookies (Blake Griffin included) turned out to be worth drafting in 2010-11. There were a handful of others that had fantasy value for spurts of last season, but they didn’t turn out to be worth spending a draft pick for. Let this be a cautionary tale for fantasy owners licking their chops at the thought of drafting a rookie when fantasy basketball drafts roll around again.
Now that excessive optimism has been put in its place, let’s take a quick look at which NBA rookies are actually worth looking at come draft time (assuming nine categories and 12-team leagues):
- Kyrie Irving (PG, Cavaliers): Irving would be a lot more appealing if Baron Davis and Ramon Sessions weren’t still in Cleveland. Until that changes, Irving’s minutes and ceiling for production are limited. Expect him to be a mildly appealing source of across-the-board production for the Cavs who won’t be too much of a liability in any particular category. If he can keep his shooting percentages at healthy marks and hit some threes, Irving will be a solid backup point guard for fantasy squads next season. (Projected draft position: Rounds 7-8)
- Ricky Rubio (PG, Timberwolves): He’s finally arrived to the NBA, just in time for the lockout. It’s hard to definitively peg Rubio’s fantasy value, but it’s safe to say that he’s the Timberwolves’ much-awaited darling and will be given plenty of opportunities to develop his skills. Fantasy owners shouldn’t expect more than 6-7 assists a game along with inconsistent production in other categories, which means he won’t be more than a spot starter in head-to-head leagues. (Projected draft position: Rounds 8-10)
- Derrick Williams (SF/PF, Timberwolves): Some have compared Williams to Al Harrington, and from a fantasy perspective, that seems about right. It’s tough to see Williams blow up in Minnesota this season, mostly due to the glut of players at both forward spots (Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Randolph). If he can get a steady diet of 25 minutes a night, he should approach what Harrington did last season. That means about 10-11 points, 4-5 rebounds and a three per game, along with decent shooting percentages. (Projected draft position: Rounds 12+)
- Brandon Knight (PG, Pistons): The Pistons’ point guard situation is far from pretty. Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum will contend for minutes at that spot this season, which means Knight will be hard-pressed to find many minutes there, regardless of how much Joe Dumars wants to crown the rookie as the team’s point guard of the future. Until a trade or move happens to open things up in that backcourt, fantasy owners shouldn’t expect much more than meager helpings of points, assists and threes from Knight next season. If, however, the Pistons find themselves in a helpless situation late next season, Knight could get more run and become a helpful option for some owners. (Projected draft position: Rounds 12+)
- Jimmer Fredette (PG/SG, Kings): All real-life excitement aside, Fredette’s fantasy prospects for his rookie season aren’t all that thrilling. The Kings’ offense is securely placed in the hands of Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, J.J. Hickson and DeMarcus Cousins. At best, Fredette will be a solid source of threes in the upcoming NBA season. (Projected draft position: Rounds 12+)
Other rookies worth keeping in mind: Kemba Walker (PG/SG, Bobcats), Klay Thompson (SG, Warriors), Tristan Thompson (PF, Cavaliers), Kawhi Leonard (SF, Spurs), Norris Cole (PG, Heat)
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