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NBA rookie rankings: Are they worth the investment?

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Rookie projections for the most Fantasy relevant NBA freshmen for the 2014/15 season...

Jabari Parker tips his cap for the honour of being named my Fantasy Basketball ROY.
Jabari Parker tips his cap for the honour of being named my Fantasy Basketball ROY.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, virginity.

The state of perfect imperfection.

When everything is new and clean and unsullied.

This is the time of year when all teams are undefeated, KG's famous "Anything is possible!" lives on Vine in NBA pre-season locker rooms, when every rookie has the chance to be the next MJ in grade 10 (the year after he famously got cut from the high school team).

It's also the time when inexperienced Fantasy Basketball managers buy into the hype machine - reading all about the current draft class and deluding themselves into thinking that drafting a team full of rookies is the secret recipe to Fantasy success...

Let's be clear about this: Most NBA rookies are going to suck.

I don't mean to denigrate potential. I don't wish to invalidate the vital progress that NBA rooks make learning complex NBA defenses, and acclimating themselves to gruelling, grinding 82-game schedules. But for Fantasy Basketball purposes, you're better off taking an established NBA rotation player than last year's ACC sweetheart.

There are certainly exceptions, but it's usually pretty clear who the studs are going to be. Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Nerlens Noel are the 3 rooks who SHOULD be in the top 100 Fantasy performers for the season. Anything less would be disappointing. And there are a couple other candidates who should provide sneaky value. But by and large, rookies are only useful in dynasty leagues...

With that said, rookies DO surprise. Not often, but it does happen. For the sake of pragmatism and sanity though, always assume that sweet little virgin you found for yourself likely has a 9pm curfew...

The following are the NBA rookies I feel will be Fantasy-relevant this year. (NOTE: In one of the deepest drafts in NBA history, many players - especially 2nd rounders - could come out of nowhere to provide value. But even these hidden gems will likely only be relevant in deep leagues and dynasties.)

So kick up your heels, heel up your kicks, and let's take a look at the rookies who won't break your heart as much as the first person you ever loved...

Current season value:

1. Jabari Parker, MIL, SF

Pretty much the consensus #1 rookie Fantasy performer. If anyone is going to yield mid-round Fantasy value in a standard, 12-team league, it's this bad boy. On a horrible team, he has the chance to be The Man.

(Relevant stat projections: 16.4 PPG, 4 RPG, not much of anything else.)


2. Andrew Wiggins, MIN, SF

If anyone is gonna shock and surprise, it's Andrew Wiggins. Conservatively, I think he'll make a minor impact on Fantasy rosters this year. But the Canadian phenom has the situation and motivation to really take the league by storm. LeBron's rearrival has sort of turned Wiggins into a punchline, and there's nothing better in Fantasy Basketball than a high upside player with a chip on his shoulder...

(Relevant stat projections: 15.0 PPG, 3 RPG, 2 APG.)

3. Nerlens Noel, PHI, PF/C

After an impressive Summer League, social media has been pumping out mythic tales of Fantasy goodness before he's even played a meaningful game with the best hoops players in the world. If you don't know about him, he will be a pleasant surprise. If he's your "sleeper" this year, he likely won't return well on his perceived investment value. He's a defensive specialist - and a pretty good one - but his offense will be limited to putbacks and <10 foot jumpers. He is closer to Bismack Biyombo than the hype machine will have you believe...

(Relevant stat projections: 8.0 PPG, .540 FG%, 6 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.5 BPG.)


4. Julius Randle, LAL, PF

The Lakers suck. And suckage leads to opportunity... Randle is basically fighting with Jordan Hill to see who will play beside the overrated Carlos Boozer. Those 3 bigs are going to get the most usage on an aging, horrible team. Randle has the highest upside of all of them, and will likely get the most run once the Lakers realize they're going nowhere this year. (Likely a couple months into the season.) Not sure he'll be a beast, but I think he'll be ownable in standard formats by the end of the year. (TIP: Follow rookie splits from month to month. Those guys on an upward swing start to become very useful as they figure out the NBA game...)

(Relevant stat projections: 7.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, .550 FG%.)


5. Marcus Smart, BOS, PG

I didn't think much of Marcus Smart's 2014/15 Fantasy value until about a week ago - when it was announced Rondo would be out for the next 2 months... Marcus Smart is being given a real opportunity to steal the franchise away from Rajon. Yeah, you heard me: THE FRANCHISE. If Marcus shows enough poise and potential, Rondo could be on another team's roster by December. I'm ambivalent on Smart's potential to usurp one of the best PGs in the game, but he's certainly got the skill set and opportunity to do just that...

(Relevant stat projections: 8.0 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.8 SPG.)


6. Dante Exum, UTA, PG

Here's what I know about Australians: Crocodile Dundee, rugby and apparently Dante Exum. International players are always difficult to project - as discerning their level of competition is an exercise in extrapolation and theory. With that said, by all accounts, Dante Exum is a baller. The only difficulty with said baller is that he's going into a team with somewhat of a logjam in the guard spot. Trey Burke and Alec Burks (I'm one of thousands who have mixed these guys up from time to time) will get the bulk of the usage right now, and even the underrated Gordon Hayward plays in the backcourt from time to time... So where does that leave Exum? It's hard to say. In a rotation that is far from solidified, Exum could become a mainstay if he plays his way into the starting PG job. But he could also end up as the first guard off the bench - which isn't entirely useless, but doesn't guarantee ANY sort of return on your Fantasy Basketball investment... As I tend to guess conservatively for first year players, I'll rank him low and hope for more...

(Relevant stat projections: 6.0 PPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG.)

7. Nik Stauskas, SAC, SG

I'll admit it: I'm Canadian, and I have a weakness for other Canadians. With that said, I absolutely LOVED Nik's game in college. He is surprisingly athletic, and can flat out shoot the basketball. I also think he'll get more assists than many pundits predict - as his court vision is off the charts... Still, Sacramento is pretty much the place where swings go to die... With the overrated Rudy Gay and the perpetual locker room nightmare DeMarcus Cousins sharing usage, where does Nik Stauskas fit into the equation? Is he going to be little more than a 3-point specialist, or will the Kings give this multidimensional player the opportunity to show off his many gifts? As a rook, I'm opting for the former. But keep your eye on this kid's monthly splits...

(Relevant stat projections: 5.0 PPG, 1.0 3PM, 85% FT, 40% from 3.)

8. Elfrid Payton, ORL, PG

I find Payton enigmatic. He's a defensive-minded point who got drafted higher than predicted. He rebounds very well for a guard, but has problems hitting his J consistently. He's basically Rondo 2.0. He also finds himself with a potentially MASSIVE opportunity in front of him: Dishing the rock in one of the NBA's biggest rebuilding efforts. While he's gotta share usage with almost-ROY Oladipo, all reports are that Victor Oladipo will shift over to the 2-spot to accommodate Elfrid. So this is gonna happen. It's just a question of WHEN... While he does have a career NCAA FG% of .485, he was also a career .268 from 3, and a horrifying .611 from FT. Depending on your league's stats, he could hurt you as much as he helps you. First year PGs are pretty notorious for being rookie turnover machines. Throw in the fact that he's not a great shooter, and Payton could put up some ugly stat lines (high volume though, if that's useful to you)...

(Relevant stat projections: 10.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, negatives in FT% and TOs.)

9. Aaron Gordon, ORL, PF

Here is another enigmatic Orlando Magic freshman. While he does have the pedigree of being drafted #4 overall, and is by all accounts an athletic FREAK, I don't see a clear role in the rotation for him yet. Not a significant one anyway. Not right away... The Magic's frontcourt is surprisingly deep. Tobias Harris and Channing Frye are gonna play. Let's throw Vucevic in there too. Gordon's gonna get PT, but how much? And what is his role gonna be? He's got Fantasy Beast potential, but he's quite raw right now. And I'm not high on his first year projections... But if/when this guy figures out the NBA game, he's got Blake Griffin potential...

(Relevant stat projections: 7.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG.)


10. Shabazz Napier, MIA, PG

For my 10th and final rookie analysis, I'm gonna go a little off the board. Shabazz Napier was my favourite NCAA player last year. I always find that championship players are a little underrated. Napier was the heart and soul of the NCAA championship winning Huskies. Anyone who watched him play knows how electric and clutch he can be. He could end up like another brilliant college player/mediocre NBA player Juan Dixon, but I like Shabazz a bit more. While Miami is still going to contend, they are rebuilding their team image. You can't lose a high-usage icon like LeBron, and not be forced to reevaluate when he leaves. While Shabazz is clearly the 2nd backup PG right now, that could change in a hurry. If he's given the opportunity, he could put up numbers - bad Summer League aside. If you've got a spot with your final draft pick, Napier might be worth a flier...

(Relevant stat projections: 5.0 PPG, 1.0 3PM, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG.)

Relevant rooks:

TJ Warren

Noah Vonleh

Doug McDermott

Zach LaVine

Rodney Hood

Cleanthony Early

TJ Warren was the great find in Summer League, but will he get enough minutes in Phoenix' crowded backcourt? Noah Vonleh is starting out his NBA career with a hernia surgery, but could make an impact on a growing Hornets team. Doug McDermott is one of the best shooters in his draft class, but how many touches will he get on a contending Bulls squad? Zach LaVine has electric potential, but Minnesota's rotations are a complete mystery to me... Rodney Hood joins a congested swing collection in Utah, but was an underrated draft pick. Cleanthony Early is an intriguing prospect in my mind, and the Knicks have never shied away from giving quality minutes to rookies...

Rookies are always the most difficult to project. Statistical extrapolations are tough. The NBA has the biggest, baddest players in the world. Let's not forget that the useless Adam Morrison went #3 overall in 2006. (Although Shaq memorably mock-congratulated Morrison on Twitter, for getting no PT on a championship Lakers squad. Two rings, in fact.)

This is a DEEP NBA draft class, all. For sure, guys are gonna come outta nowhere and make noise. But will they be Fantasy relevant? Not really. Not unless you're in a 14+ team league with deep rosters. For standard, 1-year, 12-team leagues, you'll likely not be interested in any rooks beyond my top 3.

Still, it's always nice to dream on the possibilities of the NBA virgin. What the hell else are you gonna do - now that Fantasy Baseball is over?

Bobman