The NBA season starts in just a few weeks! So while you’re enjoying MLB playoffs and autumn football weekends let’s not forget that we have a brand new rookie class of NBAers arriving this season. Remember, this was a top-heavy draft, but perhaps a deep one in terms of (eventually) solid vets with maybe a few All-Stars. There are only a few teams in the tank this season, so not as many teams will have the inclination to allow their rookies to make mistakes and hurt the team’s record. That means fewer minutes and fewer shots, which is suboptimal for fantasy value.
So, where are the rookies getting drafted in fantasy? Let’s look at the first 10 players who are getting drafted in ESPN drafts, as well as a few other notable rooks.
-Cade Cunningham, PG, DEEEEETROIT PISTONS, #59 Average Draft Position (ESPN), #1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft
A top 60 finish in fantasy is asking a lot of a rookie, BUT: the Ant Man, Anthony Edwards, ended up being #62 on the ESPN Player Rater (basic rules) last year, AND: Tyrese Halliburton, my man, was #71. So, it’s not impossible, and Cade certainly has the opportunity in Detroit to amass volume. He’ll be running point on a rebuilding team with players who complement his game. He’s a big guard, he was the #1 overall pick, and he’s on a team designed to give him massive fantasy value. Cade’s getting drafted ahead of players like John Collins, my man Haliburton, D’Angelo Russell, Cade’s own teammate Jerami Grant, even Richaun Holmes, who was a top 35 player in fantasy last year! The future looks bright for Cade and the ‘stons, so I’m not going to hate on how high he’s going in drafts, even though I personally think that for redraft leagues top 60 is a touch optimistic.
-Jalen Suggs, PG/SG, Orlando Magic, #64 ADP, #5 NBA Draft
So, it’s not that I dislike Suggs, it’s just that I’m skeptical. Again, this is an optimistically high pick for a rookie, especially one who actually has competition for minutes at his position. The Magic’s guards are Suggs, Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz (when he returns from an ACL tear sometime later this year), and RJ Hampton, Gary Harris, and Michael Carter-Williams (maybe, he’s out recovering from ankle surgery). That’s suddenly a lot of mouths to feed in the backcourt. Presumably, Suggs and Anthony will share the point until Fultz returns, and perhaps that’s enough time for Suggs to entrench himself as a starter, but it’s not a sure thing—especially considering the Magic’s, umm, less than magical player development over the past five years. I think this is a stretch to pick him in the top 75. I mean, he’s a good defender who maybe can’t shoot. Sounds kinda familiar to me, Magic fans, no? Suggs will get a ton of run early in the season, I think, but that may trend down if he doesn’t find success before Fultz returns. Risky to pick him so high.
-Jalen Green, SG, Houston Rockets, #77 ADP, #2 NBA Draft
THIS is the Jalen you want to draft. Green can shoot from anywhere, the Rockets are just as trash as the Magic so they’ll give Green as many minutes as he can handle, and he doesn’t have NEARLY the amount of competition at his position as Suggs does. Houston might be fun to watch this year, despite the fact that they’ll be the youngest team ever. I think Green probably has the inside track on Rookie of the Year, just because of his scoring potential and safe volume.
-Scottie Barnes, PF/SF, Toronto Raptors, #108 ADP, #4 NBA Draft
I’m a big fan of Barnes, and I L.O.V.E. that the Raptors took him. But, Pascal Siakam is the starting power forward for Toronto, so I didn’t have big expectations for Barnes’s fantasy value (OG Anunoby is even more firmly entrenched as the starting small forward; you could argue that the Raptors are actually his team more so than Siakam’s). Siakam should be out until November due to shoulder surgery in June, so Barnes has until his return to impress the TDot. He’s a player who you don’t draft for immediate results; Barnes isn’t a project, but he does need more playing time to refine his game. I think he’s a really strong dynasty draft pick, but a high risk one in redraft leagues. He may get a lot of minutes early in the season, though, for sure.
-Evan Mobley, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers, #137 ADP, #3 NBA Draft
Mkay, don’t draft Evan Mobley before Kyle Anderson (#140 ADP) or Duncan Robinson (#144), mkay yall? Mkay? I don’t really care about Mobley’s talent level or how much you like him: he’s in one of the worst situations out of all the rookies this season. He has Jarrett Allen in front of him, he has Lauri Markkanen in front of him, Isaac Okoro will play the 4 sometimes, and Kevin Love is still technically on this team.
Mobley is a young big, and he’s not a starter. That’s not a recipe for a good fantasy player. He’s a fine dynasty pick, but I think you’ll have to wait for real results. Young bigs take time to develop, they need multiple seasons to put on the muscle to actually contend in the paint (just like Jarrett Allen did), and even if he was the starter, and even if he was dynamic, you still have two score-first guards in the backcourt whose NBA careers are at pivotal junctions. I just don’t see how the Cavs focus on Mobley’s development and minutes more than they focus on Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and their extremely expensive front court of the Finnisher and Jarrett. Folks want Mobley to be the next Deandre Ayton, but unless he gets Ayton-esque minutes, it ain’t gonna happen for a season, at least.
-Alperen Sengun, C, Houston Rockets, #157 ADP, #16 NBA Draft
This dude’s from Turkey and I’ve only seen him play against NBAers in Summer League, which is, yknow, not really a type of play that tells you too much about future NBA success. What I can tell you is that he plays for a Rockets team that is NOT concerned with winning this season, so they’ll play their youths as much as they can. Daniel Theis, Houston’s nominal starting 4, is not the sort of guy who can block a good rookie, so if Christian Wood and Sengun can play together, then that might just be the Rockets’ front court moving forward. I absolutely love that Sengun is going this high because he’s not a stretch big (yet). He’s a young, old school paint-dancer, really, and he’s a good passer. He won MVP in the Turkish league, which may not sound like much, but MVP of any league suggests dominance (at that level, at least). Again, if he and Wood can play at the same time, then he could start looking like a double-double machine. He’s 18 years old, and he shoots well from the charity stripe. Steep learning curves for young bigs may not apply to MVPs, right? I wouldn’t take him this high, definitely not before Josh Giddey, but I don’t hate it.
-Josh Giddey, PG/SG, Oklahoma City Thunder, #171 ADP, #6 NBA Draft
Giddey’s gonna start for OKC, I have no doubt in my mind. SGA, Lu Dort, Giddey, POKU, and Roby, and y’all can go sit on your thumbs & spin if you don’t like it. This team is NOT! designed to make the playoffs, but it IS designed to be fun, fast, and chock fucking full of mistakes. Giddey’s a good passer and a strong finisher; the shooting needs some work. In other words, welcome to the Thunder! Sam Presti loves athletic players who maybe have some questions with their shot, and if Giddey can develop his mechanics to where he’s a reliable outside shooter, then he’ll mesh nicely with the strange assortment of mid-lottery players they’ve assembled. I don’t think this team is anywhere close to being good, but if SGA is really an All-Star, then maybe OKC will look better than I think. Giddey will get volume and he’ll get leash. He’s a much stronger pick for this year than Mobley, goddamn.
-Jonathan Kuminga, SF/PF, Golden State Warriors, #177 ADP, #7 NBA Draft
An excellent athlete with suspect shooting. Basically, he’s a younger Andrew Wiggins. Which is great for a team with some of the best outside shooting in the league! I actually think we’ll see quite a bit of Kuminga this season, but he’s not a starter. I don’t think he’ll be a valuable fantasy player for several seasons, not until he A) becomes a starter, and B) develops a reliable shot. You can’t be a 3-and-D player if you can’t shoot threes. I think Kuminga will get a fair amount of minutes, but won’t actually deliver that much fantasy stat volume. Both of Giannis’s brothers are going five picks later in fantasy drafts, so I think the fantasy community agrees with me.
-Davion Mitchell, PG, Sacramento Kings, #186 ADP, #9 NBA Draft
Davion Mitchell is a short scoring guard, the kind of guy who just screams scoring off the bench. He’s undersized, and he’s not great from the free throw line, but he’s fast, he can distribute, he’s a good defender, and he maybe found his outside stroke in his final year in college. I don’t know if he’ll share the second unit with My Man Haliburton or with Buddy Hield, but he should be exciting to watch from the get-go. I don’t think he’ll ever be a starter in the NBA if his three-point shot isn’t falling, but I feel like he could have a fairly long career as a sixth man. He’s getting drafted before Cam Reddish, which I find confusing since Reddish’s ceiling is MUCH higher than Mitchell’s, IMO, and Cam really came on towards the end of last season. I’d rather have Franz Wagner (#8 NBA Draft, #871! ADP) to be honest with you.
-Luka Garza, C, Detroit Pistons, #189 ADP, #52 NBA Draft
Now THIS is exciting! Luka Garza won the Wooden Award in college, so he was a damn good college player. Now he’s in Detroit, backing up Beef Stew (Isaiah Stewart) and Kelly Olynyk. The minutes won’t be there for Garza to start of the season, but if/when Olynyk gets traded, Garza might inherit all his PT. He’s not a great defender, but he can stretch the floor as a big, and that’s gold in today’s NBA. I think this is WAY too high to draft him, but I appreciate the love for a Piston! (I’d still rather take Franz Wagner than Garza.)
The 10th pick in the NBA Draft, Ziaire Williams, is getting drafted 221st in fantasy drafts. He’s on a Miami Heat squad with a lot of mouths to feed and not much time for rookies.
And, as a mentioned above, Franz Wagner, the 8th pick in the NBA Draft, isn’t even really getting drafted, even though he’s on a Magic squad desperate to find talent. I think they’re going to give a top 10 draft pick some opportunities.