Fantasy Basketball Rookie Report: How the top names are faring entering December

By Jason Shebilske, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Now that the calendar is turning to December, rookies from around the NBA continue to be impactful in fantasy as we reach the quarter-way mark of the season.

One of the top stories from the last several weeks was a seven-game absence for Paolo Banchero due to an ankle sprain. He returned to the court on Nov. 25 against the 76ers and has played at least 30 minutes in his four games since, but the absence impacted his fantasy standing and he hasn't been as involved on the boards over the last four appearances.

Jaden Ivey is in a three-game absence of his own due to a sore knee, but he was a stellar contributor leading up to his injury. He scored 15-plus points in nine of the 11 games before his absence, a span that included a pair of double-doubles and plenty of well-rounded performances in points, rebounds and assists. Jabari Smith Jr. also seems to have found his way recently, scoring in double figures in six of the last seven matchups while averaging 7.6 rebounds per game during that time.

As rookies continue to jostle for fantasy positioning amongst one another, let's analyze how some of the most prominent first-year players' production over the last few weeks impacts their appeal.

Biggest Names

Paolo Banchero, Magic

Banchero looked like the best rookie in the 2022 draft class from the moment he stepped onto the hardwood in the Summer League — he was shut down after just two games, given his strong performance — to when he began the regular season with six consecutive 20-plus point performances.

The 20-year-old maintained that production over his first 11 appearances, averaging 23.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 34.5 minutes per game while posting three double-doubles over that span. These results put him among the top 100 players in nine-cat value, but he sustained a left ankle sprain in early November. Although the Magic evaluated him game-by-game, he missed nearly three weeks.

He's continued to garner plenty of playing time since returning to the court, scoring 20-plus points in two of his four appearances since being deemed healthy. However, he's averaged just 2.8 rebounds in 35.3 minutes per game over his last four outings, which has limited his fantasy value despite his consistency on the scoreboard. The No. 1 overall pick continues to reach the charity stripe at an elite clip — his 8.5 free-throw attempts per game are tied for eighth in the league — but his recent absence and decrease in rebounds means that he now ranks 154th overall in nine-cat value this year.

It's unclear whether Banchero's decrease in production on the boards correlates with a more timid style of play following his absence, but he's proven to have the talent to compete at an elite level when he's fully healthy.

Jabari Smith Jr., Rockets

Smith has experienced more growing pains than Banchero early in the year, logging single-digit scoring totals in six of seven appearances between late October and early November. However, he's become a more reliable source of scoring and rebounds in recent weeks, as he's scored in double figures in six of the last seven games while averaging 14.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in 30.7 minutes per game.

His recent uptick in production puts him just ahead of Banchero in nine-cat value (138th overall), but Smith isn't as productive in the plethora of categories in which Banchero can contribute. However, Smith has been much more effective from beyond the arc recently, draining 41.2% of his attempts after converting 29.7% of his 3-point tries over his first 13 NBA appearances. The recent increase in efficiency has also come with increased 3-point volume, as his 7.3 attempts per game are up from his 5.7 attempts over the first 13 matchups of the year.

While Smith has been slightly less consistent than Banchero when each player is playing up to their full potential, Smith is quickly becoming a much more appealing fantasy option now that he's getting some more experience under his belt.

Rockets rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr. is quickly gaining appeal as a fantasy basketball option.
Rockets rookie forward Jabari Smith Jr. is quickly gaining appeal as a fantasy basketball option. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) (Douglas P. DeFelice via Getty Images)

Keegan Murray, Kings

Murray had a hot start to the season that earned him a starting role for Sacramento early on, but he went through a cold stretch for most of November. He scored in double figures in just five of his 13 appearances last month and averaged 8.0 points and 3.9 rebounds in 26.0 minutes per game over that stretch. The decrease in production can be partially attributed to a lack of efficiency. He shot 49.3% from the floor over his first five professional appearances but converted just 33.9% of his field-goal attempts in November.

Like Smith, Murray's main contributions came in the scoring and rebounding columns early in the year, but the Sacramento forward hasn't had the same efficiency numbers to prop up his fantasy value, which puts him outside the top 200 players in nine-cat value. Murray still has some glimpses of production but hasn't been a must-roster fantasy player like some of his counterparts drafted in the top five picks this year.

Jaden Ivey, Pistons

While Murray cooled off in November, Ivey has hit his stride over the last month after putting up some inconsistent performances over the first few weeks of the season. Ivey has missed the last three games due to right knee soreness but has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 11 appearances and has averaged 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 32.2 minutes per game during that time.

Ivey doesn't have the same production on the boards as some of the other top picks in the rookie class, which is to be expected from a shooting guard. Still, he's posted three double-doubles over his first 19 appearances with the Pistons and has also been a reliable source of assists in addition to his scoring and rebounding abilities. If the 20-year-old can return to form once he's back on the hardwood, he'll likely have a chance to contend for top-150 fantasy value, especially if Cade Cunningham's injury sidelines him long-term.

Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers

Mathurin has come off the bench for the Pacers over the first month and a half, but he's averaged 28.0 minutes per game. He's scored 20-plus points in five of his last six appearances, and while he isn't a powerful source of rebounds, averaging just 4.0 per game to begin the season, he's shooting 40.3% from 3-point range to start his career.

Buddy Hield has been mentioned as a trade candidate early in the season. However, the Pacers may try to keep most of their team intact if they continue to contend for a playoff spot, which is currently the case as Indiana ranks fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 12-9 record. Even if Mathurin continues to serve as a bench player for Indiana, the team has shown a desire to get the No. 6 overall pick involved, and he's proven to be valuable in various areas despite his lack of production as a distributor.

Other Notables

Tari Eason, Rockets

Eason has also come off the bench early in the season, but he hasn't had as much playing time as Mathurin. Eason has been a relatively underrated fantasy player considering his lack of gaudy numbers in any given category. Despite his lack of upside, the 21-year-old can still be an option for fantasy managers in slightly deeper leagues looking for a reliable source of scoring and rebounds. He's shot just 31.4% from the floor over the last six games and has scored in double figures just five times this season, but he still has some fantasy appeal as an under-the-radar option.

Jeremy Sochan, Spurs

Sochan has taken on a starting role for the Spurs early in the regular season, although he's in the middle of a week-long absence due to a right quadriceps contusion. The No. 9 overall pick was starting to hit his stride before the injury, scoring in double figures in seven of his last 10 appearances while shooting 49.4% from the floor and showcasing occasional production in rebounds, assists and steals. It wouldn't be surprising to see San Antonio exercise caution with Sochan's recovery given the rebuilding nature of the team, but he's proven to have fantasy value, especially for those in deeper leagues.

Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan is proving to have fantasy value early in his rookie campaign.
Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan is proving to have fantasy value early in his rookie campaign. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) (Alika Jenner via Getty Images)

Jalen Williams, Thunder

Williams started just two of his first nine NBA appearances but has now taken on starting roles in five of the last nine matchups. He's been a more effective fantasy contributor recently, especially on the scoreboard, logging double-digit scoring totals in seven of the previous nine games. He also averaged 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 29.2 minutes per game during that time. Despite his lack of consistent time with the starting unit, the 21-year-old has displayed some upside while performing well in several areas.

Jalen Duren, Pistons

Duren had a chance to carve out additional work in the frontcourt over the last few weeks with Isaiah Stewart sidelined, but the No. 13 overall pick was held to single-digit scoring totals in five of the seven games Stewart missed. Duren averaged 7.1 rebounds per game during that time, but it was discouraging to see a lack of upside even with Stewart out. Duren put up 12 points during Tuesday's blowout loss to the Knicks even though Stewart was back in action, but the rookie needs to be more reliable to be much more than a streaming option in most formats.

Quick Hits

Chet Holmgren, Thunder: Holmgren remains out of the picture in redraft leagues due to his season-ending Lisfranc injury, but he's slated to undergo a procedure in the coming weeks to remove hardware from his foot. While he'll still miss the entire year, his smooth recovery should encourage those rostering him in dynasty/keeper formats.

MarJon Beauchamp, Bucks: Beauchamp was a productive player for Milwaukee for a few weeks in November while the team was shorthanded, but he's been out of the rotation in recent games. The Bucks will get another boost when Khris Middleton returns to action in the coming days, so Beauchamp shouldn't have a fantasy-relevant role and could wind up in the G League to continue his development.

Shaedon Sharpe, Trail Blazers: Sharpe had a stretch between late October and early November in which he scored in double figures in eight of 11 appearances, but he's been less involved for the Trail Blazers since mid-November. The seventh overall pick has topped 10 points just once over his last seven outings while shooting 31.8% from the floor during that time, and he's not much more than a streaming option.

AJ Griffin, Hawks: Griffin doesn't contribute much in secondary categories, but the Hawks have dealt with multiple absences over the last few weeks, allowing the rookie to take on a slightly increased role. He's posted double-digit scoring totals in five of the last seven games and is a decent streaming candidate while the Hawks are shorthanded.

Andrew Nembhard, Pacers: Nembhard recently missed four games due to a knee injury and came off the bench during his first game back on the court, but he reclaimed his starting role Wednesday against Sacramento. He's started seven of the last eight matchups, averaging 8.8 points, 2.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 25.1 minutes per game during that time, and has had enough well-rounded output to give him some fantasy appeal.

Johnny Davis, Wizards: Davis has been with the Wizards over the last few weeks after spending some time in the G League, but he still hasn't been part of the NBA club's rotation after disappointing performances in the Summer League and preseason.

Walker Kessler, Jazz: Kessler has had consistent playing time off the bench and has made modest contributions in the scoring and rebounding columns, but he needs to display more upside to make him a very appealing option outside of deeper leagues.

Christian Koloko, Raptors: Koloko took on a starting role in early November while the Raptors were shorthanded but has returned to a bench role over the last few weeks. The second-round pick has seen inconsistent minutes since reclaiming a bench role and doesn't have much fantasy value while Toronto is near full strength.