I think all three of us a Give Me The Rock tend to agree that analyzing rookies for fantasy potential is probably one of the most overrated fantasy-related activities there is.
I mean, last year, one rookie finished the year in the Top 50 on the GMTR player rater, another finished in the Top 75 and a couple more broke the Top 100. Trying to pick four guys out of a group of 30+ is almost as bad as trying to decide where those four will end up among 100+ other players.
That said, it’s much quicker and easier to analyze the other 96% of players since they have career stats that we can look at. So perhaps it does make sense to spend little more time on the guys that are a little more unpredictable, but could make the difference between a bad fantasy draft and a playoff contender. Onto the 2012 draft…
1. New Orleans – Anthony Davis (C)
You know the oldest saying in basketball? Well, it’s probably actually “He nailed it!” but since that originated after Naismith nailed up the peach basket, let’s pretend that the oldest saying is “You can’t teach height.” And Anthony Davis is 6′ 10″. Of course, height doesn’t guarantee success, but when you combine it with athleticism and many years of practice, it often leads to a #1 overall draft pick.
The Hornets cleared out Emeka Okafor to make room for Davis, so don’t get hung up on the fact that guys like Gustavo Ayon, Carl Landry, and Jason Smith came through as free agent pick ups near the end of last season. Anthony Davis will be thrust to the fore of New Orleans’ lineup. But, even with big hunks of playing time coming his way, be careful with Davis for fantasy drafts. He’s a shot-blocker and rebounder first and a scorer second. You’ll probably get high single-digit rebounds and maybe two blocks a game, but Anthony only scored 14.2 points for Kentucky, so low double-digit scoring is probably where his potential tops out – at least for his rookie season. He’s probably worth a higher pick in keeper leagues, but stick to the 70′s or 80′s if you’re in a single season league.
2. Charlotte – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (SF)
Leave it to the Bobcats to zig when everyone expected them to zag by taking Kentucky small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second overall pick. It’s not that MKG isn’t going to be a good player in the league; it’s just that he appears to be the ultimate glue guy on a team that lacks any other talent to glue together. Kidd-Gilchrist is a very athletic player with good instincts on the court and he will immediately bring some toughness, hustle and defense to Charlotte. The downside is that he’s not exactly a dynamic offensive player, averaging 11.9 points and shooting only 25.5% from three with Kentucky last season. In terms of his fantasy value in 2012-13, the Bobcats’ recent trade of Corey Maggette (for Ben Gordon) means that Kidd-Gilchrist could immediately jump into the Bobcats’ starting lineup and – he if gets 30 minutes a game – could do what someone like Andre Iguodala or Kawhi Leonard did in their rookie seasons. He might not blow anyone away as a 19-year old his first season, but he could have decent low end fantasy value driven by some very good defensive numbers at the SF position. Consider him a decent late-round pick in fantasy drafts as long as he’s in position to get good minutes for the Bobcats.
3. Washington – Bradley Beal (SG)
It must be hard for college players to shoot four feet behind where they need to be to actually have a shot counted as a three-pointer just to impress NBA scouts. But Beal must have impressed somebody with his range to go at #3 overall. With shoes, he gets credit for being 6′ 5″, a very nice height for a Shooting Guard with his skills. He should be able to get his shot off against in the NBA, which is important since he’s better at isolation type plays. His height and wingspan should also help him keep up his frantic rebounding pace. DraftExpress says he has some trouble with pick and roll, but hopefully John Wall will be able to take care of those kinds of plays. Wall will also be able to provide excellent table setting for Beal to make threes.
His lack of assists is a bit of a red flag and will probably keep him lower down on the rankings, but that’s really more the responsibility of the PG on your fantasy team. It also means that Beal, with his rebounding numbers and the potential for some decent blocks for a SG, will be a good match for Big Ball teams. The real question for me regarding Beal is how much time he’ll get. With the Wizards picking up Trevor Ariza in their trade with New Orleans, they should have the SF position covered meaning that Beal will compete with Jordan Crawford at the SG position. Sure, Crawford wasn’t exactly lighting it up last season (or even glowing like a small paper match) but his 14 points were second on the woeful Wizards and he’s got NBA experience and endurance. Okay, what am I saying? Beal will be the real deal with Points, Threes, Rebounds, and maybe a Steal. (I am a poet, and yes, I know it.)
4. Cleveland – Dion Waiters (SG)
Another surprise pick early in the draft; the general consensus with Cleveland’s choice of Waiters is, “huh?”. Waiters is a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who was Syracuse’s sixth man during his sophomore season. He was projected to go in the 8-12 pick range, but the Cavs loved his upside enough to place him second overall on their board despite not working him out or interviewing him before the draft. Given his size and play style, he projects as a combo guard in the NBA, so it remains to be seen how well he’ll fit alongside Kyrie Irving in the Cavs’ backcourt. But Walters is an offensive talent who can create off the dribble, catch a shoot, hit the three (1.1 per game) and also finish around the rim. He has the ability to become a go-to scorer in the league, which always plays well in fantasy leagues. According to a Western Conference general manager, “He’s athletic and he can stroke it… But I’m not certain about the intangibles. Still, he fills a need for them because he can fill it up.” And who doesn’t love a guy who can stroke it? With Anthony Parker retiring, Waiters could be in line for big minutes right out of the gate for the Cavs and there is a lot to like about his fantasy prospects this season. He’ll be worth a look in the later half of a draft.
5. Sacramento – Thomas Robinson (PF)
Robinson is an NBA-ready PF, but he’s coming into a lineup that feature DeMarcus Cousins at Center, Tyreke Evans at PG/SG, and Marcus Thornton at SG/SF. Isaiah Thomas is the only left in the Kings probable starting lineup who seems like he’ll be willing to take less shots. Those other three can easily combine for half the teams shots every game. That said, Robinson’s rebounding ability should get him some put back attempts, and the range on his jump shot and ability to execute on the pick-and-roll/pop should also get him some nice looks (Evans and Thomas are both pretty good passers despite taking so many shots). Robinson’s knock, though, is that as a big man, he isn’t great at blocking shots. If you could combine him with Anthony Davis, you’d have a fantasy beast, but as it is, Robinson looks to be another Points and Rebounds kind of big man, which unfortunately, is the most common kind. I can see him being like Kenneth Faried, with 10 points and high single-digit rebounds and maybe a block per game. Faried ended up at #107 last season on the Player Rater, so while Robinson definitely seems like a draftable rookie, I’d hold out until the 8th or 9th round.
6. Portland – Damian Lillard (PG)
As every Raymond Felton owner from last season knows, the Blazers desperately needed a PG and went with arguably the best one available in Lillard (in an admittedly weak year for PGs). He comes with one big question mark however – can he handle the big jump to the NBA after spending his college career beating up weaker competition at mid-major Weber State? Lillard carried the scoring load there, averaging 24.5 ppg on 47% shooting from the floor, 88% from the line and 41% from three, but the flip side is that he wasn’t really a distributor, averaging only 4 assists per game. With Felton all but gone as a free agent this offseason, Lillard could be in line to become team’s starting PG job in October (unless the team brings in another veteran). However, rookie PGs not on the Chris Paul/Kyrie Irving level typically struggle for fantasy purposes their first year in the league, so be prepared for some major rookie PG ups and downs as he learns how to run an NBA offense. Rotoworld suggests that he could be the poor man’s Kyrie Irving this season; the question is just how poor?
7. Golden State – Harrison Barnes (PF/SF)
The Warriors made a great pick to go with their team. Barnes is a big, athletic scorer. He can hit shots from outside, but also good off-the-dribble with a Luol Deng like mid-range game. And he’s big enough and strong enough that he should be able to post up some SFs in the NBA. He’s a decent-but-not-great free throw shooter, which should help his scoring totals while not hurting fantasy owners too much. He’s not a great ball handler or passer though, so don’t expect many assists, but do expect a lot of turnovers. So, like I said, a perfect fit for the Warriors (boom, roasted). If Golden State goes with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Barnes as their PG, SG, SF starters, they’ll have some ridiculous ability to stretch defenses. If Andrew Bogut can stay healthy down low, he’ll create some good opportunities for all three of them. If this was 2011, I’d say that Barnes would have to compete with Dorell Wright for the starting SF position, but after Wright’s huge regression in 11-12, I think he’s the one who has to compete with Barnes for the starting job. Because much of Barnes’s fantasy value relies on his scoring and threes, I’d be hesitant to take him until close to the end of the draft.
8. Toronto – Terrence Ross (SG)
Yet another guy who went higher than many experts expected, Ross is a solid offensive and defensive player with very good athleticism. And the guy can obviously shoot – he averaged 16.4 points and 2.1 threes a game on 37% from three with Washington. NBAdraft.net calls him an irrational confidence guy, which not only is awesome, but should allow him to step right into the NBA and start taking big shots his first day on the court. Unfortunately, he’ll have to compete for minutes alongside Demar DeRozan and a few of the other Raptors’ wings (James Johnson, Linas Kleiza) next season, which could limit his fantasy usefulness his rookie year.
9. Detroit – Andre Drummond (C)
This is a bit of a toughie. I know we started things off by saying You Can’t Teach Height, but don’t the Pistons already have a potential franchise Center in Greg Monroe? So, there’s that, but also, how will Drummond’s game translate to the NBA? He seems like one of those college players who basically took advantage of his size and the fact that there aren’t as many seven-footers in the NCAA as there are in the NBA. I mean, there are big guys in the NBA who don’t block shots, but they do other things… I’m not sold on Drummond being able to do much besides muscle up shots in the post. He doesn’t have a jump shot, and his “ability” to grab rebounds over shorter guys will be greatly reduced at the next level. And even if he grabs an offensive rebound, what’s to stop a defender from grabbing his arms and sending him to the line where he shot a truly remarkable 29.5%. I mean, Serge Ibaka is an offensive rebounder and shot blocker, but at least his free throw percentage of 66% put the odds in the favor of the offense.
Also, Ibaka worked hard on his jump shot, and it’s showed, especially in the playoffs for the Thunder. Drummond seems to have a questionable work ethic and lack of focus. Is he going to be able to turn into something more than just a guy with a huge wingspan and decent defensive skills who’s a rather large liability on the other end? He’ll obviously have a chance since Detroit’s only other options up front are Jason Maxiell, Jonas Jerebko, Charlie Villanueva, and Ben Wallace. Still, I would stay away from him in fantasy drafts, and wait to see if he shows he can still block shots and grab rebounds in the NBA.
10. New Orleans – Austin Rivers (PG/SG/SF)
Is this an Eric Gordon hedge? Rivers certainly has the pedigree being the son of Doc Rivers and playing at Duke. Plus, he’s a talented scorer who excels at creating his own shot and with the ball in his hands. His numbers – 15.5 points, 1.7 threes, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists – are decent, but his deep, dark secret is that he shot just 43% from the field and 66% from the line with Duke.
There is also the issue of where Rivers will play on this team. His natural position is probably SG, but the team looks to be bringing Eric Gordon back. He could play PG, but that doesn’t really play to his strengths as a scorer and the team already has Jarrett Jack and General Greivis Vasquez. SF might be his best bet on this team (sorry Al-Farouq Aminu), but he’s definitely small for the position. Of course, this will all be moot when Eric Gordon blows out his knee in the second game of the season and Rivers starts getting 35 minutes a game, but I’d avoid Rivers in fantasy drafts until that happens.