Fantasy Basketball: Rookie review, lottery pick edition

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Lakers rookie <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5764/" data-ylk="slk:Lonzo Ball">Lonzo Ball</a> disappointed fantasy owners from the 3-point arc. (via AP)
Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball disappointed fantasy owners from the 3-point arc. (via AP)

By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

A quick look back at each of the key Fantasy rookies from the 2017-18 season.

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Prospects listed in order of draft selection.

Ben Simmons, 76ers*

Even if you want to argue that he benefited from a gap year after going No. 1 in 2016*, there’s no debate that Simmons was the best rookie in Fantasy Basketball this season. Leading all first-year players in rebounding, steals and assists, while ranking third in scoring, Simmons has put together a historic rookie season that ranks him 19th overall in Yahoo leagues.

Markelle Fultz, 76ers

He’s only played in eight games heading into Tuesday night, so the jury is still very much out on Fultz’s long-term outlook. But for as frustrating and downright strange as his rookie season has been, Fultz has shown enough flashes since making his return late last month that owners in keeper formats shouldn’t be panicking. HIs career is off to an unconventional start, especially by No. 1 overall pick standards, but Fultz should enter next season with a relatively clean slate, assuming he continues to demonstrate progression into the postseason.

Lonzo Ball, Lakers

Ball’s rookie season has vacillated between stretches of very good and very, very bad shooting numbers, but there have been a few constants. For one, Ball’s passing ability (7.2 APG) is as good as advertised, and his strong rebounding (6.9 RPG) has translated from the college level. More surprisingly, though, has been Ball’s activity on the defensive end, where it was generally believed he’d a liability early on in his career.

Considering his slight frame and relatively average athleticism for the position, Ball’s 2.5 combined steals/blocks per game have been a pleasant surprise. That said, his current profile as a high-volume, low-efficiency three-point shooter has been a thorn in the side of owners in leagues that value outside shooting. Due in large part to injuries — Ball is on pace to miss roughly 30 games — he’ll finish the season outside the top 100 in Yahoo leagues, but in terms of per-game fantasy production, Ball has been closer to a top-70 player.

Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Perhaps the most consistent rookie outside of Simmons and Donovan Mitchell, Tatum has started 76 games for the Celtics and holds averages of 13.9 points (5th among rookies), 5.1 rebounds (8th), 1.6 assists and 1.7 steals/blocks. Tatum spent much of the first half of the year as the NBA’s leader in three-point efficiency, and while that number has regressed, he still leads all qualified rookies at 43.4 percent.

Looking ahead, Tatum is a tough player to project. The Celtics will get Gordon Hayward back next season, meaning one of Tatum and Jaylen Brown will likely have to move to the bench. A reduced role would run contrary to what Tatum’s shown as a rookie, but given Boston’s overall talent, he may be stuck waiting another year or two before eventually moving into a lead role — in Boston or elsewhere.

Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson (via NESN)
Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson (via NESN)

Josh Jackson, Suns

After a rough first half, Jackson has been much more aggressive over the last two months, averaging 18.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals since Jan. 29. Outside shooting (26.2% 3PT during that stretch) remains an issue, as does free throw shooting, but Jackson is trending in the right direction heading into a pivotal offseason for the Suns organization.

De’Aaron Fox, Kings

Like Jackson, Fox has had his struggles as a shooter (29.7% 3PT), but that was a known weakness coming out of Kentucky. Fox has been efficient enough around the basket to keep his overall field goal percentage north of 41 percent, and he’s added 4.3 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game. Nonetheless, Fox has been a fringe player in most leagues (177th overall).

Jonathan Isaac, Magic

Isaac has missed enough time to almost declare his rookie season a wash. The sixth overall pick is on pace to play fewer than 30 games for one of the league’s worst teams, though on a more positive note he’s averaging 6.6 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes. The 20-year-old is probably still another year or two away from being an impact fantasy player, but if he can stay healthy next season, his defensive contributions could make him a steal in the later rounds.

Lauri Markkanen, Bulls

Markkanen has been good enough as a rookie that he’s become a casualty of the Bulls’ tanking efforts. The Arizona product ranks fifth in scoring (15.0 PPG) and second in rebounding (7.5 RPG) among rookies, and perhaps most importantly, he hasn’t been the defensive liability some expected he’d be. To date, Markkanen has been a top-100 fantasy commodity, providing roughly the same value as Carmelo Anthony, despite playing 10 fewer games.

Frank Ntilikina, Knicks

Considering the fan base in question, expectations were shockingly reasonable for Ntilikina coming into the season. For the most part, he’s struggled where we thought he’d struggle (scoring, three-point efficiency) and excelled where we thought he’d excel (defense, passing). Ntilikina is too underdeveloped as an offensive player — 5.7PPG, 35.9% FG, 31.4% 3PT — to make an impact in most season-long leagues, but his upside on the defensive end alone makes him a player to watch heading into Year 2.

Dennis Smith, Jr., Mavericks

Like most rookie point guards, Smith has fought through ups and downs, but playing in Dallas has provided him with a relatively long leash. While Smith has been more consistent since the All-Star break — 16.3PPG, 5.3 APG, 3.1 RPG in 30.1 MPG — he still has a ways to go as a shooter. His sub-40 percent mark from the field has relegated him outside of the top-140 in Yahoo leagues.

Zach Collins, Trail Blazers

Collins has occupied a consistent spot in the rotation since December, but he’s been mostly an energy big man for a team with no shortage of scoring options. Collins got off to a slow start shooting the ball, but he’s hitting nearly 36 percent of his 2.1 three-point attempts per game since the All-Star break.

Malik Monk, Hornets

Back in June, Monk looked like he might be the steal of the draft, but in hindsight we may have overlooked just how raw he was coming out of Kentucky. Monk has shown flashes of the score-in-bunches mentality that characterized his lone amateur season, but he’s struggled to adjust to playing a bit role on a veteran-laden team.

With a week to go, Monk is shooting a ghastly 33.9 percent from the field. He’s just the third rookie — Andrew Harrison, Nikoloz Tskitishvili — since the mid-1960s to shoot lower than 34 percent on at least 300 field goal attempts. Of course, it’s far too early to close the book on Monk’s career, but he’s been perhaps the league’s most disappointing rookie — particularly when you consider his cumulative ADP across CBS, ESPN and Yahoo leagues was virtually the same as Donovan Mitchell’s.

Luke Kennard, Pistons

Kennard’s production hasn’t warranted much fantasy consideration (231 in Yahoo leagues), but he’s managed to earn the trust of Stan Van Gundy and looks to be part of Detroit’s future core. Even later in his career, Kennard doesn’t project to contribute much outside of shooting, but he’s off to an encouraging start in that department, hitting 40 percent of his threes and better than 87 percent of his free throws.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) had a breakout year as a rookie. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) had a breakout year as a rookie. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

Just when it looked as if Simmons would cake-walk his way to the Rookie of the Year award, Mitchell took off and emerged as the savior of a franchise mourning the loss of its best player in nearly two decades. Mitchell is going to end the season leading all rookies in scoring (20.3 PPG) by more than four points per game, and he’s done it relatively efficiently (43.7% FG, 33.7% 3PT) considering his age and volume. Mitchell is a score-first guard, but he’s already a decent playmaker (3.5 APG) who plays hard and generates turnovers (1.5 SPG) on the other end. As of Tuesday, Mitchell has outplayed his ADP (162) by a borderline-ridiculous 130 spots.

Bam Adebayo, Heat

I’m equally guilty of underrating Adebayo as I was of overrating Monk. The 14th pick hasn’t been much of a fantasy consideration, but he’s been a much bigger factor for the Heat than anticipated. Part of that can be chalked up to Hassan Whiteside’s injuries, but Adebayo has been a ball of energy on both ends, even if he remains relatively unpolished.

Adebayo ranks sixth among rookies in rebounding (5.5 per game), and while his shot-blocking has been inconsistent, he’s had a few head-turning games, including a 16-point, 15-rebound, five-block effort in an early-January win over Toronto.


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