Generally, in fantasy basketball, novices are not picked until the middle or end of the rounds. Yes, from time to time there is a hyped player who makes it to the third round, but in most seasons, the best rookie does not make it until the fourth or fifth round at the earliest. And again this season.
This opens up great opportunities for the savvy fantasy manager who dedicates the early rounds to building the core of his team, with one or two rookies in mind for the mid and late rounds. Find the right newbies and that could be the winning formula.
But who are the newcomers this season? And which of the other dormant freshmen should you keep an eye on as the season progresses?
Paolo Banquero, guard, Orlando Magic
Banchero was the top choice and played the same in the Summer League. His size, skill and athleticism allow him to score at will and control his offense when dribbling the ball from the frontcourt. He has the size of an NBA and will be relied upon to produce as much as possible for a desperate Magic team.
Settlement line: 20 points (46% FG, 34% FG, 74 ft.), 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 3-pointers, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks
Keegan Murray, defenseman, Sacramento Kings
Murray has the best chance of challenging Banchero for top scorer in that class. He is a combo forward who plans to play as a more powerful forward in the NBA, with a strong three-pointer and a quick first step after dribbling. Murray has shown this summer that he is capable of scoring 20 points every night if he gets the chance. The big question is whether he can make enough shots to do so in a team that includes De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Harrison Barnes.
Predicted Line: 18 points (49% FG, 38 3%, 75 ft), 7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.7 3s, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks
Jabari Smith Jr., PF, Houston Rockets
Smith is arguably the best downtown shooter in this draft class, and he has the length and time in defense to become one of the top defensive players. Smith is in contention to be the Rockets’ starting forward at the net, and on offense he’ll play off the ball as a three-point shooter or athletic finisher at the rim. Smith is a strong defender with the ball in the stance, he quickly switches to the defensemen and interrupts the pick and roll. This guard style should generate some stats, but not the number of blocks it would get as a pure rim guard.
Predicted Stats: 14 points (43% FG, 39% FG, 80ft), 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 3 assists, 1.5 assists, 1.1 blocks, 0.7 assists
Jayden Ivey, PG/SG, Detroit Pistons
Ivey is considered the best defender in this rookie class. He should start as a shooting guard alongside Cade Cunningham this season and has explosive speed and jumping ability to set the stage for himself and his teammates. This summer, Ivey did a great job playing pick and roll as a handler until he got injured. Since Cunningham is also a combo defender, they could share the role of general/scorer for the Pistons. Ivey has good potential as a scorer and distributor, with three-point streaks that he seems to be working on and fast enough hands to also be involved in steals.
Predicted stats: 16 points (45% FG, 36% FG, 75 FT%), 4.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.7 triples, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks.
Benedict Maturin, SF, Indiana Pacers
Maturin looked like a pro in the Summer League and could have been called up from day one with the rebuilding Pacers team. It’s unclear if veterans like Buddy Heald or Miles Turner will remain on the team after the start of the season, but Maturin will join Tyrese Haliburton, Chris Duarte and Jalen Smith as potential building blocks for Indiana going forward. The chemistry between Maturin and Duarte was one of the Pacers’ summer league highlights. Mathurin has a big size and explosive power to flank with a strong three-point shot. He doesn’t create much on dribbling, so he will have to rely on his teammates to prepare him for open shots or finishes around the ring.
Predicted Stats: 14 points (44% FG, 37% FG, 80 FT%), 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.8 triples, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks.
Other newbies to watch out for
Tari Eason, SF, Houston Rockets
Eason managed to become one of the Rockets’ top scorers this summer, playing alongside Jabari Smith Jr. and Josh Christopher. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and also contributed heavily to steals, three-pointers and blocks. He is one of the older newcomers in this class, he is 21 years old, so if asked he will be able to contribute immediately. The Rockets are one of the youngest teams in the league, currently consisting of four players aged 22 and under…and 33-year-old Eric Gordon. It looks like Eason and J’Shawn Tate may be able to start at small forward before the season ends, and if Eason gets a call, he could make his way onto the fantasy radar.
Walker Kessler, C, Utah Jazz
Kessler has a real opportunity to start rebuilding the Jazz this season. Although technically outclassed by recently traded center Kelly Olynyk on the depth chart, Kessler is a 21-year-old first-round rookie who was traded by the Jazz for Rudy Gobert as part of a deal. He’s an elite shot blocker, scoring 4.6 points per game for the Auburn Tigers last season, and his 40-minute stats were mind-blowing: 17.9 PP40, 12.6 RP40 and 7.1 BP40. He has never shown he can play many minutes and still needs to earn minutes in the jazz rotation, but if he does start he will be a potential sleeper as a quarterback in the category leagues.
Schaedon Sharp, SG, Portland Trail Blazers:
Sharpe was one of the best rookies in the class, but he also needed to develop a lot since he didn’t play in college. Sharp also suffered an injury almost immediately on his Summer League debut, so he didn’t even get to compete with the pros this summer. With Damian Lillard and Anferny Simons in the backcourt and veterans like Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkić in the front line, it’s unlikely that Sharpe will get important minutes or an opportunity to start the season. But if the Trail Blazers have a season like last, where they go into off-season mode early, they might want to see what they have at Sharp later in the season.
Mark Williams, C, Charlotte Hornets
Williams has a legitimate opportunity to challenge Mason Plumlee for a starting center spot this season. He’s one of the best big-man blockers this draft has, and the Hornets need it. Plus, having 21-year-old LaMelo Ball as the team’s centerpiece gives the Hornets a youthful edge, and if Williams can build a relationship with Ball, it could boost his chances of earning more minutes as the season progresses.
Jalen Williams, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
While all eyes were on Chet Holmgren, number two overall, Williams was another lottery pick for the Thunder. And on his ever-changing team, Williams has the opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation. Williams is a sharp three-point shooter, so if he earns the minutes, he could be worthy of long-term consideration in the category leagues as a role-playing three-point shooter.
Johnny Davis, Gee, Washington Wizards
Davis was an All-American first team last season with college averages of 19.7 points per game, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 assists per game while 34.2 miles per game. But he had a disastrous Summer League in which he seemed unable to keep up even with the speed in Las Vegas… which does not bode well for his chances of quickly acclimatizing to the NBA. With that said, the Wizards lack talented depth in the backcourt, and Davis has the opportunity to play himself in the rotation. If he can prove that what I saw in Vegas was an accident, then he can take his All-American potential to the next level instead.
Dyson Daniels, PG/SG, New Orleans Pelicans
Daniels is a plus size combo defenseman who played in the NBA G-League last season, so he already has professional experience. He is expected to play point guard as a pro and once he develops he can fit in well alongside 6-3 combo guard CJ McCollum. But the Pelicans have serious aspirations this season, with an impressive starting five and former players like Graeme Devonte and Larry Nance coming off the bench. With the exception of injuries, it is unlikely that he will run enough for a fantasy.
Jalen Duren, center, Detroit Pistons
Duren is the youngest member of this draft class, but he grew to a man’s height and eventually developed into a dominant two-way center. He’s had stretches during the Summer League where he’s been dunking, owning multiple balls in a short amount of time, and his ability to finish at the rim is probably ready to go now. However, the rest of his game is not. The Pistons are a young team, but they played well last season and will want to use their veterans to help create a winning culture. Düren is more like a developing player this season, but I’m still keeping an eye on him in case they decide the best way for him to develop is to play alongside other young central players.
Malachi Branham, G/F, and Jeremy Sochan, SF/PF, San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are rebuilding after trading their best players since the start of last season. They retain Keldon Johnson and Jakob Poeltl, with young guard Devin Wassel expected to play a big role this season. But the door is clearly open for their rookies, Branham and Sochan, to start getting minutes before the end of the season. Branham is a 3-and-D type and Sochan is a quarterback with a noticeably weak jumper. None of them are likely to show big numbers, but if any of them end up starting, it will be enough to make them worth keeping an eye on.