Fantasy Basketball

2015-16 Fantasy Basketball: Two-and-a-Half-Month Rookie Review

About three weeks ago, I brought you my fantasy basketball rookie review. I made pseudo-rankings that listed all the rookies that I felt deserved either recognition or notoriety and promised to keep updating them.

Now that we’re almost two-and-a-half months into the season, I present to you, well, my “Two-and-a-Half-Month Rookie Review” (normally I’m more clever with the headlines).

This season has been rather slow for first-year players; a handful at the top stand out, but overall, 2015-16 has been pretty weak on the rookie front. Regardless, the following are my rookie rankings and commentary. The number in the parentheses next to their name denotes last month’s ranking and their rise/drop.

(All stats through Saturday’s games)

The Upper Echelon

#1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves (1, NC)

As I mentioned in my previous rookie article, KAT is unlikely to ever leave the top spot, barring injury. The 20-year-old has played fantastic ball all year long, with averages of 16.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He’s rarely slumped too, with double-digit scoring in 29 of 37 games and at least one block in 30 of 37 games.

#2. Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks (2, NC)

Porzingis has been a fantasy force all season, but he’s really picked it up lately, averaging 17.8 points (46.4 FG, 93.3 FT), 8.3 boards, 1.0 blocks and 1.3 triples over his last four games, three of which are Knicks’ victories. He’s a top 50 player in 9-category leagues and should maintain that the rest of the season.

#3. D’Angelo Russell, Lakers (5, +2)

It’s been a bumpy ride for the Lakers rookie. Coach Byron Scott seems to be doing everything in his power to limit Russell (and sophomore Julius Randle). After all, it IS Kobe’s farewell tour, so why should they help the future of their team grow? Sarcasm aside, these are the 2015-16 Lakers. When he HAS gotten playing time, Russell hasn’t disappointed; he dropped a career high 27 points on Sacramento Thursday night, though he sprained his ankle in the process. Fantasy owners have every right to be skeptical, but Russell SHOULD see minutes in the 30s after the All-Star break. Notice the emphasis on “should”, because lord knows what’s going through Scott’s simple mind.

#4. Jahlil Okafor, 76ers (3, -1)

Okafor is averaging just 15.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 0.6 blocks over his last eight games. The good thing is he’s shooting 51 percent from the field, but those numbers have him ranked 110th in that span. The scoring should rise again, but he wasn’t a shot blocker in college and his first-month swatting success was a mirage. If you can still sell him at reasonable value, I’d recommend doing so. If the rookie class were a little bit better this year, he’d be out of my top five.

#5. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets (7, +2)

For a player who wasn’t expected to contribute much this year, Nikola Jokic has really impressed. The 6-foot-10 Serbian was a real “project” heading into the season, but injuries to the Nuggets’ frontcourt thrust him into action, and he’s responded with 8.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks. He’s been even more impressive over his last 12 games, putting up 9.9 points and 6.3 boards. He’s also knocked down four 3-pointers in that span. He’s still more of a deep league guy this season, but the future is bright for this one.

#6. Devin Booker, Suns (11, unranked)

Booker wasn’t even on my list last month, but Eric Bledsoe‘s torn meniscus has made him the Suns’ default shooting guard. His first three games after landing the starting gig didn’t go so well — he averaged 10.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and made zero threes — but he’s been excellent over his last four, scoring 16.0 points with 5.3 boards, 1.8 steals and 1.5 treys. Booker won’t be a high-end guy this season, but he’s a must-own player nonetheless.

#7. Larry Nance Jr., Lakers (19, +12)

He has a ways to go before he can be compared to his dad — the elder Nance averaged 17.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks during his 13-year career — but Junior has been a satisfying addition to fantasy owners in deep leagues. Though he’s slowed down over his last three games, with just 8.7 points and 5.7 boards, he’s been pretty decent since taking over for Julius Randle as the Lakers starting power forward. He’s not gonna provide more than low-end points and mid-tier boards, so he’s not anywhere close to a must-own player in normal leagues, but deep league and dynasty owners can do worse.

#8. Bobby Portis, Bulls (unranked)

Putting Portis at No. 8 probably has more to do with the lack of fantasy talent in this year’s rookie class than it does his stats. The #FreeBobbyPortis movement was started by a very popular fantasy blurb site (that shall go unnamed), but I was never fully on board. The talent is DEFINITELY there, but the Bulls frontcourt is packed to the gills with depth. Joakim Noah‘s shoulder injury was supposed to remove the final roadblock standing in Portis’ way for playing time, and he began the Noah-less Era with a bang, averaging 11.3 and 6.9 through the first seven games, but the emergence of Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic over the past four have limited Portis to just four points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes in those contests. Once Noah is back, which could come as early as Monday, Portis will go back to seeing VERY limited minutes, or may not even see the court at all. He’s one of the more promising dynasty prospects from this year’s draft, but will need a Gibson/Noah trade to regain any fantasy value this season.

#9. Cameron Payne, Thunder (unranked)

Oklahoma City was a tough landing spot for Cameron Payne. Anywhere else and he’d be seeing decent minutes, but the rookie out of Murray State has his fantasy value capped in his role as Russell Westbrook‘s backup. He’s had a decent run of late, with 10.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 threes over his last six games, and that’s leapfrogged him over D.J. Augustin on the depth chart. Unfortunately, the 18.4 minutes he’s seen in that span is likely close to his ceiling. He’s a decent add in leagues of 16 teams or greater, and has been a DFS darling for me over the past week, but that’s where his fantasy value ends.

#10. Emmanuel Mudiay, Nuggets (12, +2)

I really, really hate that I’ve put Mudiay here. He’s been arguably the worst everyday player in fantasy this season…buuuuut now that he is back from an ankle injury, his minutes should be safe for the remainder of the season. He’s really more of a points-league guy, but if you’re in a much deeper category format, he’s worth stashing as someone who can only go up from what was a miserable first 23 games of his career. To be clear, he’s not a must-own by any means, so tread carefully.

#11. Stanley Johnson, Pistons (8, -3)

In games where Johnson plays 25 minutes or more, the rookie averages 11.8 points and 5.2 rebounds. In the remaining games? 6.3 points and 3.4 rebounds. The key for Johnson is obviously getting more playing time. He even had a double-double versus the Celtics last Wednesday in just 23 minutes, so he’s proven what he can do with added opportunities. Marcus Morris really isn’t that great of a player, and he’s cooled off considerably since his hot start, so Stan Van Gundy would be smart to continue to increase Johnson’s minutes as the season goes on. Until then, though, fantasy owners should really only be looking at him from afar.

The Rest of the Group

#12. Kelly Oubre Jr., Wizards (unranked)

Oubre got a boost in minutes when Bradley Beal was forced to the sidelines with a leg injury, but the rookie from Kansas hasn’t done a whole lot with the opportunity. He’s shown his versatility — he’s shot 3s and free throws well while rebounding at a nice rate — but with Beal possibly due back this week and Gary Neal already back, Oubre has no fantasy value going forward.

#13. Frank Kaminsky, Hornets (20, +7)

The Hornets top pick continues to be a disappointment. He’s shown flashes, like when he dropped 23 and seven on the Celtics back on December 23, but he’s failed to take advantage of the hole at center with Al Jefferson on the sidelines. Jefferson is a free-agent-to-be, so it’s looking more likely that Kaminsky becomes fantasy relevant next year rather than now.

#14. Myles Turner, Pacers (9, -5)

There simply aren’t enough minutes to go around in the Pacers’ frontcourt to make Turner worth owning. He was a fantasy draft day darling, but we’re gonna have to wait till 2016-17 to see his true potential. Leave him on the wire.

#15. Boban Marjanovic, Spurs (unranked)

This is a fun one. Marjanovic has gotten extra playing time with Tim Duncan sitting out a few more games than expected and he’s done a remarkable job in limited minutes. In those six games, the 27-year-old Serbian has averaged 10.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 13.8 minutes! He’s a great guy to stream when you know Duncan is sitting, but otherwise he’s not worth owning in fantasy. On a lighter note, just look at the size of those hands!

#16. Richaun Holmes, 76ers (16, NC)

Holmes probably should be getting more playing time. He’s done a fine job when given the opportunity (15.9 PTS, 5.9 REB, 1.2 STL, 2.6 BLK per 36 minutes), but the Sixers seem intent on playing guys like Carl Landry and signing fossils like Elton Brand. It’s really hard to get a grasp on what this organization is doing, so until we see Holmes getting the call night in, night out, he’s best left on waiver wires in shallower leagues.

#17. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Nets (6, -11)

RHJ has been out since the first week of December with a fractured ankle, so the fact that he’s still in my top 20 should tell you something about the quality of this year’s rookie class.

#18. Jonathon Simmons, Spurs (15, -3)

I really like Simmons a lot. He brings energy to an often older Spurs lineup. When given the chance, he’s performed well, but we can never predict when that chance will come. Because of this, he’s not worth owning in fantasy leagues.

#19. Jerian Grant, Knicks (14, -5)

I really swung and missed on this one. Grant was one of my higher ranked rookies coming into the season. This was based on the fact that Jose Calderon was slow and old and that Grant was gonna be part of a youth movement in NYC. What I didn’t expect was Calderon getting 28 minutes per game, so until that changes, Grant is hard to own in any format, as he’s statistically been one of the worst rookies up to this point.

#20. Justise Winslow, Heat (10, -10)

Winslow has the makings of a legit wing scorer and defender, but the Heat have lots of depth in that area right now. Once Luol Deng and Co. move on from Miami, Winslow will be a solid fantasy contributor. Until then, he shouldn’t be owned anywhere.

#21. Mario Hezonja, Magic (18, -3)

The 20-18 Magic have been much better than expected, and that’s forced Hezonja to the bench. With just 3.5 points in 17.1 minutes over his last four games, the Croatian stud is best left on the wire in all re-draft leagues.

#22. Raul Neto, Jazz (unranked)

The Brazilian import is coming off a career high-tying 13 points in Saturday’s game versus the Heat, but that alone should tell you how little fantasy value his has. Owners in leagues of 16 teams or more could consider him if they’re desperate for assists, but even then he’s probably a streamer at best.

#23. T.J. McConnell, 76ers (4, -19)

Sooooo a 19-spot drop in the rankings isn’t too great. McConnell gave owners a real boost over the first month of the season, but with Ish Smith back in Philly for his second tour of duty, the rookie out of Arizona has been reduced to nothing. And by nothing, I mean just 14 minutes per contest in the eight games since.

#24. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings (17, -7)

As a defense-first player, WCS was never a great fantasy proposition, but the broken hand that kept him off the court for 14 of the last 17 games set him back even further on the depth chart. As long as DeMarcus Cousins is in town, Cauley-Stein’s value — and even his DYNASTY value — is close to nil.

#25. Nemanja Bjelica, Timberwolves (13, -12)

Sam Mitchell finally decided to (rightly) play Gorgui Dieng bigger minutes, and that’s rendered Bjelica useless. With just 2.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 12.9 minutes since the beginning of December, Bjelica has zero fantasy value. He’ll be turning 28 in May too, so he’s probably not worth owning in dynasty leagues either.

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