Ranking rookies this year is difficult. The decision between DeAndre Ayton and Luka Doncic is like the decision between sweet and savory: I don’t wanna choose between cheeseburgers and milkshakes, can’t I just have both?? I have a friend who has the #1 pick in his fantasy draft (which is mainly rookie only); he is legit trying to trade for the #2 overall pick, as well, so that he doesn’t have to choose between Ayton and Doncic.
I sympathize. Ayton vs. Doncic is like some kind of riddle: choose wisely and you’ll unlock the future of basketball! Choose poorly and your friends won’t EVER let you forget about it (and your face might melf off). I’m surprised there haven’t been Internet-permeating personality quizzes based around one’s choice between Ayton and Doncic. (Choosing Ayton means you’re a Summer, an Optimist, Conservative, Jupiter is in your ascendant, and your birthstone is, I dunno, Adamantium. You’re great at parties, but like to be by yourself; BIG events are in your future! And, so on. You also probably live in the Phoenix area.)
Plus, your choice of rookie may expose how you really feel about the NBA. Do you think that we’re moving towards positionless basketball, wherein elite wings who can do everything are the foundation upon which all good teams are built? Or, do you (still) think that elite Centers are the most valuable type of player you can have, especially if they can shoot like a wing? (Both Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns were top 5 players in fantasy last year. The other three were generally some combination of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Sergeant Russell Westbrook, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.)
How you feel about the future of basketball is probably going to be the deciding factor in whether or not you draft Ayton #1 overall. In other words: do you want Joel Embiid or do you want Ben Simmons? For fantasy purposes, I’ll say this: Karl-Anthony Towns, who is quickly becoming my fantasy basketball crush, was a top 5 player in almost every fantasy league I’ve seen. He’s 22 years old, he’s a Center, and he can shoot from outside. Defense DOES NOT MATTER in fantasy (unless you have defensive value stat categories, of course). So, unless Ayton’s SOOOO bad at defense that the Suns literally cannot play him (which doesn’t seem likely, especially since they aren’t trying to win this year), he’s going to be the starting Center in Phoenix.
If Ayton can fall assbackwards into 20 points and 10 rebounds (and, he looks like can, just like Embiid), then he’ll be one of the best fantasy resources in our imaginary orange-in-the-bucket leagues.
HOWEVER, if Luka can play like Ben Simmons, the Chosen One, except with an actual jumpshot, then why can’t he approach 10+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 5+ assists on a regular basis? Only 14 guys did that last year (including Lonzo Ball, by the way), and all of them are top 50 draft picks this season, except for Tyreke Evans and Boogie Cousins.
If Luka’s as promised, and he really is some generational player, then we could be looking at a dude who can win you weeks in fantasy all by himself with all-around stat lines. His floor could be MUCH more valuable than Ayton’s ceiling, only because it helps you in more stat cats.
We can also address other differences: Ayton couldn’t win a game in the NCAA tournament, which, get real, if you’re really that good, then you should be able to advance in the bracket; Luka’s coach, Rick Carlisle, is probably better than Ayton’s coach, Igor Kokoskov (who is also Doncic’s old coach, hmmmm, so why didn’t they draft Doncic?), which can only help; big men have a sad history of injuries (just tough to be that big and run that much); Luka has more experience, and against better opponents, so he has a bit of a head start in terms of basketball miles; Ayton’s going to a team that doesn’t exactly have a great recent history with Centers, whereas Luka is going to the team with the best European player in NBA history; and, finally, there’s a real chance that Ayton can’t close games if his defense is as bad as advertised.
I mean, let’s be honest, both Luka and DeAndre could be “busts,” by which I mean, “anything less than elite.” What if Ayton’s a new Greg Monroe? What if Luka’s a new Bojan Bogdanovic? Both are good, useful players, but no one’s going to say they’re perennial All Stars, or could be the best player on a championship team.
I don’t envy fantasy players who have the #1 pick. This is a tough goddamn decision to make. I might even lean towards trading the pick in dynasty drafts, just to avoid the dilemma, lol. I think most people will end up drafting Ayton, but I think Luka will end up being the more valuable player. I was convinced that Doncic should be the #1 pick in real life, and I feel that way in fantasy, too. Ayton could be beast, but Doncic will be sweet.
Personally, I think Doncic should be drafted over Ayton. Did you know that he’s younger than DeAndre Ayton! And, while Ayton was busy losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Buffalo (by 21 points!), Luka was busy winning the EuroLeague, AND earning EuroLeague MVP. I’m ranking Doncic first because he’s accomplished more, he’s younger, and I’d rather depend on a guy who hasn’t lost the biggest game of his career to a 13-seed.
For what it’s worth, the ADP for DeAndre Ayton is 39th, right between Marc Gasol and Klay Thompson. That’s some high goddamn expectations. Luka’s being drafted in the top 50, too, at 49th, in between Ricky Rubio and Brandon Ingram. That is a strange pairing to be sandwiched between.
But, anyway, if the rooks DO meet expectations, or even approach them, then the ultimate decision is between two top 50 or top 60 players, and thus you may not be able to make a bad choice.
So, take heart, fantasy basketball fans, odds are that the rookies won’t be as good as we hope, nor will they be as bad as we fear. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t win a championship if you miss on your pick.
Who are you picking? Who do you think should be ranked third among rookies? Let me know in the comments.
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