To the NBA rookie class of 2022: sorry. History says this will not work. At least not in the imagination.
In Fantasyland there is no riskier investment of fantasy draft capital than an acclaimed novice. Rookies are the siren song of fantasy basketball. They beckon with a heady mix of novelty, buzz, and hype…not to mention the clout a manager gains on draft night.
History and data prove that the majority of newbies, quick-tempered enough to hit the fantasy radar, rarely give managers a return on their investment. I get it. It’s fun to be enthusiastic about new and unknown things. But all of the factors building the hype — draft comps for HOF legends, the baseball cap, the Adam Silver hug, the empty Summer League box-score stats, and breathless PR-managed preseason reports — are exactly why most fantasy rookies go broke.
Luckily, at the end of each NBA season, there can be three rookies in the top 100 of our final Player Rater rankings. Four top 100 rookies is a great rookie season. But here’s the catch; Half of those rookies will be either endgame picks or waiver wire additions.
Don’t let the class of 2021 fool you. 2021 is Bigfoot. A myth. Sighted every 20 years by someone on a camping trip in the hazy middle distance.
I contend that six rookies from 2021 have made the top 100. These nine 2021 rookies finished the season draft-worthy (top-130): Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Evan Mobley, Franz Wagner, Davion Mitchell, Jalen Green, Josh Giddey and Herbert Jones.
The 2020 class is closer to the norm, ending with Anthony Edwards clearly presenting himself as our fantasy ROY. Two names in second place (LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton). Two names for third place (Saddiq Bey, Jae’Sean Tate.)
For 2022-23, we’ve already coined our impact rookie: Paolo Banchero. Banchero arrived in Orlando with heavy skill and polished court presence. As I mentioned last week, a young player’s free throw attempts per game is a good gauge of feel. After a month, Banchero is already averaging 8.3 FTAs per game.
Another key indicator of Banchero’s skyrocketing fantasy value: its usage rate. Right at the Utilization Rate tipping point (30.0), a player is designated as having an All-Star role on their team. 30.0 usage rates for rookie point guards are intoxicating enough. It’s special to get there so early as a power forward.
Jaden Ivey demonstrates another key rookie fantasy indicator: diversification. He’s adjusting to an adapted role to star alongside Cunningham in Detroit. Despite being a point guard, Ivey is playing at a lower than expected usage rate. But Ivey shows star quality in the variety of his game. The proof is in the box scores. Ivey is scoring goals, hitting 3s and providing assists in a steady, reliable clip.
But the 0.5 blocks per game impresses me even more. Any PG, beginner or not, that averages over 0.5 BPG takes it to fantasy. But his resurgence is the statistic that heralds Ivey as a rising star. This is a 6-foot-4 rookie point guard who has already fielded two double-doubles, including Monday night’s all-you-can-eat line with 15 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, two 3-pointers , two steals and three blocks.
But can a beginner repeat that?
Don’t be fooled by per-game averages when assessing the true worth of a rookie. When assessing how a player is performing against their ADP? Don’t use per-game stats. Use overall statistics. Because overall stats represent what a player actually delivered versus their ADP in an 82-game campaign. (In 2020, Ball played 51 games. Haliburton played 58. Edwards played 72.)
Beginner injury susceptibility comes with territory. It takes a season for the mind and body to adjust to an 82-game marathon. The risk of injury is just one factor that contributes to the lack of reliability among beginners at night and night.
In 2022 we’ve already lost a prime fantasy ROY contender for the season to injury. Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren suffered a Lisfrac injury while defending LeBron James in a Pro-Am game. (Lisfranc injuries used to be a scary and career-threatening thing regardless of the sport. It’s a far less scary proposition these days. Holmgren should be ready for action in 2023.)
Which underscores: Being a hyped NBA rookie is a lot. High lottery picks must contend with the pressure of being called the savior of a struggling franchise. Navigating the NBA ecosystem. manage wealth. Teams with long-standing problems end up with a multitude of ping-pong balls, so the most desirable rookie tends to end up with franchises that are in flux. Which means rotations and rolls are in flux.
Bennedict Mathurin is a prime example of a rookie dealing with a lot of franchise-driven change. Nearly half of Indiana’s starting lineup is circulated in trade rumors on a daily basis. Mathurin seemed guaranteed a regular role at some point this summer. Instead, he came from the bank. Being seen as an instant insult can be very empowering for a newbie. Mathurin’s high usage rate, points per game, and solid efficiency prove it.
But the franchise and the flow of rotation will see him post clunkers like Wednesday night’s 8-point dud against the Pelicans. However, if any of those deal rumors materialize, Mathurin is in for a dynamic second half.
Again, repetition is the secret key to beginner fantasy success. How many games in a row can a player expect not to change roles? How many games in a row can he replicate his production?
Repetition leads to the next rookie stage: rookie growth. Because of this, sometimes the most prolific fantasy rookies show up later in the season when struggling teams let the kids ride to see what they’ve got. More than anything, a regular 28-33 MPG diet fuels beginner fantasy production.
So if/when Mathurin sees an extended beginner slump, consider him an excellent buy-low candidate.
As I write this, Jabari Smith Jr.’s fantasy stock is plummeting. He’s being dropped left and right as he learns to adjust and iron out his mini slumps. But this is #3 overall pick last June. He plays in a team that is designed for his long-term development. Smith is dropped for being overrated. But the role and replay remain solid. Smith will start assembling at a not too distant point.
Josh Giddey is a prime example of how over-the-top hype turns a beginner’s actual imagination on its head. The hype has nothing to do with situation and repetition. Giddey was my most listed player last season because he was a rookie with professional experience on a small, underperforming team that guaranteed him minutes in a position that required a high utilization rate. Giddey was hypeless. I knew this because Giddey’s draft comps were lying around everywhere.
If we don’t play in a goalkeeping league, we’re only interested in the first year. All those Kevin Durant comps linked to Brandon Ingram in 2016? It didn’t force me to feed him. But in 2019, after being shipped off to the Pelicans? I knew this was when these comps would look more forward looking…so I pounced.
Of all the scouting reports I’ve read about Keegan Murray, Al Horford fascinated me the most. Because Horford is the fantasy poster child for reliability and dependability. A Horford comp tells me I’m an accomplished veteran, a player capable of figuring it out and making huge leaps in development.
Right now Murray is struggling. He posted four poor boxing results to offset the four look at me boxing results that opened the season. Historically, Sacramento is not known for its lack of dysfunction. But something tells me Murray will prove the rookie exception and not succumb to my rookie rules.
https://www.espn.com/fantasy/basketball/story/_/id/34980068/mens-fantasy-basketball-rookies-paulo-banchero-jabari-smith-jr-jaden-ivey-bennedict-mathurin-nba Too early to drop Jabari Smith Jr.?