Although we are only one week into the season, there have already been numerous injuries, both long and short-term. It would be tough to find a fantasy team that hasn’t had at least one player out due to an injury of some kind. A coach has already been fired, players are requesting to be traded, others are being cut from rosters while some still don’t even have a team to play for.
However, amongst all this carnage, there have been plenty of highlights. Crazy stat-lines, buzzer-beaters and players making an early run at the Most Valuable Player award. The one I am going to go over in this article however, is the outstanding play of a number of rookies.
There was a lot of hype coming into the season about the crop of rookies that was about to hit the hardwood. I can’t remember so many coming in together who were ready to make an immediate impact, both in reality and fantasy. The injuries that have plagued the league to begin the season have allowed some of these rookies to see more court time than we had anticipated. And for some of the weaker teams, this means they will be forced to develop sooner than they had hoped, which bodes well for the future.
I’m going to list off a few of the rookies who have come in and made themselves known to fantasy owners. Some of these players came in with high expectations, and have delivered on most accounts. Others were less heralded, but have taken their opportunities and run with them. Keep in mind, we are only one week into the season. It is still very early and as we have seen, anything can, and apparently does, happen in the NBA.
Simmons has had an immediate impact in the league, and is probably the early favorite to take home rookie of the year honors. When watching him on the court, he appears to be more advanced than the other rookies in this year’s class. Although he didn’t see the floor last season, you can be assured that he spent his time off the court, watching and studying the game. He is in tune with what is required at NBA level, both mentally and physically. His combination with the other players is evident and when their full squad is on the floor, they look very dangerous.
The injury from last season seems to be a non-issue, and there haven’t been any restrictions that we have seen. The comparisons have been there since he was drafted last season, and you can imagine that this would be a lot of pressure to put on any young player coming into the league. However, he has lived up to the hype so far, and looks set to be a fantasy stud for many years to come.
Ball was probably the most talked about rookie, if not player, coming into this season. While a lot of this chatter was due to the sideshow that is his father, LaVar Ball, his style of play and court awareness were the main reasons he was drafted by the Lakers. There were also some questions coming into the season, mainly regarding his unorthodox shooting style and potential floors in scoring the ball.
His first game of the season did not go to plan, you would have to think, but the vision and smarts were definitely there. His second game, albeit against a much easier opponent, saw him live up to all the hype. His third game was somewhere in the middle of the first two. Clearly there are going to be ups and downs, but the minutes are going to be there. He will be an elite passer, that we can be sure of, and he rebounds extremely well from the point guard position. His percentages will be a concern at times, and the scoring and defensive numbers will come in time. He basically has the keys to the city and owners should enjoy the ride, but be ready for some bumps in the road.
Dennis Smith Jr
Smith was seen by many people as the steal of the draft, after being taken with the ninth pick by the Dallas Mavericks. He was excellent in the Sumer League and all signs were pointed north heading into the regular season. His first game was a solid outing, by no means flashy. He controlled the team well, got to the basket and found his teammates throughout the contest. However, he sustained a minor knee injury and unfortunately had to miss the next two games.
So, gauging his performance is going to be hard as we have only had a small sample size compared to the other rookies. He has since returned to action and was solid again, without standing out at all. Like Ball, he appears to have the confidence of the coaching staff, and is going to be given every opportunity to perform on a nightly basis. His outlook is not as clear as Ball and Simmons, however he has every chance to be a standout player for a team focusing on a youthful rebuild.
There were some concerns for Tatum heading into the regular season. He was very good in summer league, able to create his own shot and score with ease. But like with most performances during the summer league, it came with an asterisk. Once the season proper began, he was going to be playing behind Gordon Hayward, looking at only 15-18 minutes per game. As fate would have it, Hayward went down in the first game of the season, and will now likely miss the entire season.
Tatum is now going to have to be brought along a lot quicker than had been anticipated. He has looked good in his first three games of the season, whilst not being outstanding. He has played about 35 minutes per game, however that might drop when Marcus Morris eventually returns. I wouldn’t really factor this in too much though, as Morris is not the best player in reality, and given the combinations that will have formed, Tatum should still see significant run.
Markkanen is another player who has benefited from a teammate’s injury. Even if it was an injury inflicted by his own teammate during a practice scrimmage. The Bobby Portis – Nikola Mirotic story is one of the stranger things to have come out of the early part of the season. Whilst Mirotic was seen as somewhat of a sleeper heading into the season, that was swiftly derailed by one blow from Portis’ left fist.
The oddity of the situation has given Markkanen a nice opportunity to slide straight into fantasy relevance. Now, the Bulls have only played two games so far, so it is another small sample size. He has looked good though, and basically plays the Mirotic role but with less defensive stats. He has rebounded well for a guy who was not seen as particularly strong in that area, and has looked confident from beyond the three-point line. Given the Bulls have a severe lack of talent all over the floor (hello darkness, my old friend), he has a great chance to carve out a role before both Mirotic and Portis return to the line-up.
Collins is a guy who flew under the radar to some degree, partly due to only being taken with the 19th pick in the draft. He came in with a lot of upside but plenty of questions as well. He was another player who impressed during the summer league and came into the season with some momentum. He was going to be coming off the bench behind Ersan Ilyasova, and the question of how many minutes he would get was really the only thing holding him back from being fantasy relevant.
It seems that question has been answered, and he is locked in at around the 20-minute mark. In his limited time, however, he has made a big impression. He plays with a tonne of energy and is clearly the future at that position for the rebuilding Hawks. He has put up two consecutive double-doubles, whilst maintaining high efficiency and picking up some nice defensive stats. If his minutes increase as we would all expect, he is going to be an excellent fantasy asset to any team.
Kuzma garnered a lot of fanfare after his performance at the summer league. He was largely unheralded coming out of the draft, going late in the first round to the Lakers. While all the fuss has been around Lonzo Ball, Kuzma has found his way in the big city, and has quickly become a favorite with both the fans and the media.
Across his first three outings, his minutes have increased every game, as has his output. His efficiency seems unsustainable, however as they say, so far, so good. He seems to have a knack of getting to the bucket and failing this, shooting the long ball. He provides a tough cover for most defenders and given the rebuilding nature of the Lakers, he could see minutes at the expense of Julius Randle, who has been invisible so far this season. His outlook is not as certain as some of the other rookies, but if he is available, he is worth a look while he remains hot.
Jackson came into the season with much less talk around him, in comparison to some of the other rookies. He still has amazing promise, but seems very unassuming alongside the hoopla of the Lonzo Ball show or Dennis Smith hype train. He landed in an ideal situation, like others, of playing for a team that is rebuilding and has the capacity to give him minutes right out of the gate.
Over his first four games in the NBA, he has been the most consistent out of all the rookies. He has scored in double figures in all four games, he steals the ball well and has the ability to step outside the three-point line. His field goal percentage is going to be an issue, but his shot seems to be progressing well. Earl Watson was fired and it looks likely that Eric Bledsoe is going to be traded, but this should not have an effect on Jacksons prospects. He is still going to get his minutes and is a nice late round option, even in standard leagues.
So, the rookie class is clearly, very deep. There are a number of other rookies who are also relevant in a lot of fantasy formats. These players include D’Aaron Fox, Jarrett Allen, Jonathan Isaac, T.J Leaf and Jordan Bell. All guys who could sneak into consideration as the season moves forward.