Aah…the NBA Draft.
Unlike baseball where drafted players may take years to develop, if they develop at all, or the NFL, where late-round picks exist almost entirely for the purpose of creating depth at non-fantasy relevant positions, the NBA offers an influx of immediate (sometimes immediately gratifying) talent. While the gratification varies from year to year, and certainly from player to player, there is a heightened level of excitement that flows from this annual incursion of new and potentially exciting players into the league.
While it can be easy to get a bit distracted by this new wave of talent, there is potential value among this year’s class of NBA novices, providing you know where to look.
One might think it’s as simple as selecting the highest pick available, but not every draft pick is created equally, and sheer skill alone does not guarantee professional success. A savvy fantasy basketball owner will also take the time to evaluate a player’s age, basketball IQ, potential spot on the depth chart, playing time, and even a given coach’s proclivity for using (or not using) young players.
The following list represents a synthesis of that very analysis, presented in short form, for the approval of this audience. Hopefully, this will shed some light on the potential impact for this season’s crop of NBA rookies.
Fantasy Basketball Top-10 Rookies
1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves, PF/C
Townes was the first overall pick for a reason, and while plenty of number one overall draft picks have fallen far short of expectations in the past, there is little reason to believe that the former Kentucky Wildcat will disappoint. While fantasy owners may have to prepare for a potential slow start, the 6’11”, 250 lb. Townes possesses all the physical tools to be a dominant front-court player in the NBA by season’s end. He’s a double-double waiting to happen, even if he isn’t asked to do much in the way of scoring for Minnesota. He’s also a player capable of averaging better than two blocks per game, something only seven NBA regulars did last season.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers C
Prior to the 2015 NCAA Tournament, it was all but assured that Okafor was going to be the top selection in the 2015 NBA Draft. His offensive talent alone still warrants that kind of praise, as he’s immediately capable of averaging 15-18 PPG at the professional level. His upside is well beyond that too, probably in the 20-24 point range. He should also provide at least adequate enough rebounding to be a legitimate starting front court player in all fantasy formats. He doesn’t have Townes’ shot-blocking potential, nor does he play as well away from the basket, but a high ceiling and even higher floor make him among the safest fantasy prospects entering the 2015-16 season
3. Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets PG
Mudiay has maintained that he sees himself as an NBA point guard, and following the trade of Ty Lawson to Houston, it appears as though he’ll be given every chance to prove himself. While it won’t always be smooth sailing for the 19-year old lottery pick, there will be flashes of occasional brilliance to offset those 2-for-12 shooting, 8-turnover nights (which WILL happen). Almost every rookie point guard struggles at points during his inaugural season, but with the Nuggets focusing squarely on Mudiay’s development, he’ll have enough latitude to learn on the job, likely to the benefit of fantasy owners.
4. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers PF
Both David West and the plodding Roy Hibbert are gone, and that means the Myles Turner “era” can begin with few obstacles. General Manager Kevin Pritchard has been quite vocal about his 11th draft pick is going to play a significant role for the Pacers almost immediately, pointing to how Turner should be a mainstay in the front court almost immediately. That’s not good news for Ian Mahinmi, but fantasy owners can’t be overly concerned with Mahinmi’s happiness. Turner is simply the more complete player. While Mahinmi is a defensive specialist with a great deal of blocked-shot potential, Turner can score, rebound, as well as block his fair share of shots. In fact , if everything goes as planned, don’t be shocked if Turner posts 11 points, eight rebounds and nearly two blocks every time on the floor while also garnering some consideration for Rookie of the Year.
5. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers PG
There is authentic star potential in Russell’s body and in his game. The key to his immediate success will be rooted in finding a rhythm with the Lakers offense and finding shots when Kobe Bryant is on the floor (assuming he is). Kobe is still among the NBA leaders in usage rate, meaning there are few opportunities for his teammates to get involved in a Kobe-dominated offense. That can be a problem for a player like Russell, since he was drafted austensibly to be the eventual facilitator of the Los Angeles offense. Given the chaotic context into which he’s been thrown, Russell could still overcome adversity to the tune of 12-14 points and five assists a night, but that’s far from a sure thing.
6. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks PF
— ESPN New York (@ESPNNewYork) October 6, 2015
Kristaps Porzingis is 7’2, has a 7’5 wingspan, a 38-inch vert, a relatively polished outside game, superior footwork, and all the physical attributes you’d want in a future star. What he lacks is experience playing physical, American basketball—a common criticism of European imports. And, due to the stark dissimilarities between Euro-basketball compounded by how he will or will not fit into the Knicks offense (see: Carmelo Anthony), it’s hard to know. Alas, he’s a scorer first and foremost and the composition of the Knicks roster will limit his ability to do what he should eventually do best. Look for something in the neighborhood of 13 points and five rebounds a night, perhaps with a surprising number of blocks (the Porzingis wild-card).
7. Frank Kaminsky, Charlotte Hornets PF
The Hornets have rebuilt their entire roster from a year ago, and despite being offered a king’s ransom for the pick that would become Kaminsky, Charlotte opted instead for the Wisconsin alum. His four-year college experience should allow him to step right in and be a major contributor from day one, presumably stealing minutes from the disappointing Cody Zeller and the non-factor that is Tyler Hansborough. Frank the Tank owners can look forward to solid, if underwhelming numbers from the forward: 10-12 points, 5-6 rebounds and one 3-pointer per contest, but with fairly solid percentages, making him a low risk, low reward prospect.
8. Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic SF
The Magic front court is a chaotic mess at the time of this article’s publication, and that could be a good thing or a bad thing for Hezonja in 2015-16. Tobias Harris is capable of playing either forward spot and seems suited to occupy the role of primary scorer. Aaron Gordon and his upside can’t steal minutes from the disappointing Channing Frye soon enough or in sufficient abundance, but he is yet unproven and it’s still unclear as to how minutes will shake out. Even in a bench role, Hezonja is still capable of double-digit scoring, and his outside touch should allow for at least one 3-point shot made per game.
9. , Detroit Pistons SF
Johnson was not among the more celebrated picks of the 2015 NBA Draft. But from a pure fit standpoint, the selection made a lot of sense. Johnson is 6’7” with incredible reach to go with an NBA-read body. He also slides in at the SF spot for the Pistons, where the only real competition is Marcus Morris and whatever Danny Granger has left in the tank (see: not much). While the presence of those other players will limit Johnson’s minutes to a degree, he should still play 36-30 minutes, with averages of 10-12 points and 5-6 rebounds well within his reach (no pun intended). There may not be a lot of superstar potential here, but he should offer depth on standard 12-team rosters, especially with the relative shortage of wing players in today’s game.
10. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat SF
At Duke, Winslow did a little bit of everything, averaging 12.6 points, 6.5 boards, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.9 blocks and 1.2 3-pointers on 48.6 percent from the field. This isn’t Duke, and with Luol Deng still in Miami, playing time could be hard to come by for the consensus “steal of the draft”. The Heat know what they have, however, and as the season progresses, don’t be surprised if the team finds a way to secure additional playing time for Winslow as he learns the nuances of playing in the NBA. He has the talent to be an authentic contributor, it’s really just about Erik Spoelstra finding a way to integrate Winslow into the Heat offense.