Drafting rookies in fantasy basketball always carries with it an inherent risk.
Predicting the performance of players that have yet to set foot on an NBA court can be tricky, and oftentimes frustrating. However, after these players have a season of NBA experience under their belt, we have a much better feel of how their individual games translate to the big leagues, and how they fit in on their team. As a result, these players can sometimes present buy-low opportunities to savvy GM's that have done their homework. Drafting a player that may be on the precipice of expanding his role and developing into an important contributor is often highly rewarding...
Kyrie Irving is ready to build on a great rookie season
Kyrie Irving - Cleveland Cavaliers: For most of the players listed below, the jury is still out and there are obvious concerns about whether they will develop into stars, or even above-average NBA players. However, Irving effectively answered those questions last season. As the runaway choice for 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year, Kyrie proved he was ready to play from the moment he shook hands with David Stern on draft night. A few factoids and statistical highlights, which speak for themselves: Among first-year players, Irving ranked first in scoring (18.5 ppg) with a field goal percentage of .469 and free throw percentage of .872, while placing second in assists (5.4 apg) and three-point FG percentage (.399). Among all players, Irving ranked tied for fourth in fourth-quarter scoring (6.4 ppg). Furthermore, Irving joined Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Allen Iverson, and LeBron James as the only no. 1 overall draft picks to average at least 18.0 points and 5.0 assists. In addition, he is one of only six rookies
in league history to average at least 18.0 points, 5.0 assists, and 1.0 steal while shooting at least .450 from the field, joining Johnson, Jordan, Alvan Adams, Grant Hill, and Tyreke Evans... Not bad company to keep, huh? At this stage of the game, the one knock on Irving is his durability. He played just 11 games during his lone season at Duke as a collegian and missed 10 games in April due to a sprained right shoulder. Irving then broke a bone in his hand over the summer, which required surgery. However, the latest word out of Cleveland is that he is progressing and on track to be 100 percent healthy by the start of next season.
Klay Thompson - Golden State Warriors: Thompson came into the league with the reputation of an elite shooter and gifted scorer; and once Golden State traded Monta Ellis, Klay proved the praise was on point. Thompson stated each of the Warriors final 27 games last season and during that stretch he averaged 18.8 points per game, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.2 three-pointers, and 1.1 steals; while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor and a scorching 90.3 percent from the free-throw stripe. I feel confident projecting similar numbers and potentially steady progress from the sharp-shooting youngster in his second season.
Isaiah Thomas - Sacramento Kings: 'Lil Zeke was the last player selected in the 2011 draft, but finished the season first in the hearts of many fantasy leaguers who were smart enough to scoop him off the waiver wire early on. By outplaying lottery pick Jimmer Fredette, Thomas was given an opportunity to start in mid-February and he never looked back. In fact, Thomas only got better as the year progressed. Here are his month-by-month scoring and assist averages, from December through April: 4.5 ppg and 1.3 apg; 7.6 and 2.6, 12.2 and 4.4, 13.6 and 4.9, and finally, in April he averaged 14.7 points and 5.4 assists. Not bad for a guy who wasn't owned in a single fantasy league on January 1. It's testament to the undersized Thomas' skill-set, as well as his determination. Sacramento did sign PG Aaron Brooks this summer, which is cause for concern regarding Isaiah's playing time. However, Thomas has proven doubters wrong before, and by now the Kings realize they have a uniquely talented individual quarterbacking
Kenneth Faried - Denver Nuggets: I have discussed "The Manimal" on numerous occasions already this offseason, as there is a lot to like about the energetic and athletic forward going forward. Last season, he started 39 games and averaged 11.0 points, 8.2 boards and just less than 1 block in those contests. In addition, he played 20+ minutes on 34 separate occasions, averaging 11.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg and 1.03 blocks in those games. Among rookies, he ranked first in rebounds and field goal percentage (58.6 percent), and third in rejections. Now that Al Harrington has been traded, and Chris "Birdman" Anderson has flown the coup as well, it's safe to assume Faried will see both his playing time and his production increase in 2012-2013.
Tristan Thompson - Cleveland Cavs: Thompson's number's don't jump off the page at you (8.2 ppg and 6.5 rpg); but, to be fair, we have to remember that he was just 20 years old for the majority of the 2011-12 season. While undeniably raw, Thompson certainly showed flashes of excellence. For instance, on March 19th, in just his second NBA start, he poured in 27 points and grabbed 12 boards in win over the Nets. And with Antawn Jamison (who was the Cavs starting power forward and second leading scorer last season) signing with the Lakers, plenty of minutes and scoring opportunities opened up for the young, bruising big man.
MarShon Brooks - New Jersey Nets: Although the Nets have superb starting five (D-Will, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez), they have very little in the way of depth, especially with DeShawn Stevenson, Jordan Farmar, and Anthony Morrow traded to Atlanta; and Gerald Green leaving via free agency. Brooks is one of the very few reliable wing players Coach Avery Johnson can bring off the bench to spell Johnson and Wallace, which could mean solid 6th Man minutes for Brooks. Keep in mind, MarShon's Per-36 minutes averages last season were impressive: 15.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.9 assists.
Nikola Vucevic - Orlando Magic: Vucevic's lone season in Philadelphia was somewhat disappointing. The 7-footer out of USC had some opportunities to play, even starting 15 games in place of the injured Spencer Hawes. However, Nikola averaged just 4.3 ppg and 4.5 rpg in those 15 starts (to be fair, he played only 15 minutes a night). Nonetheless, with the Magic roster essentially gutted this summer - not only did Orlando lose Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson also left town - there is a major minutes up for grabs down low. Vucevic has a good chance to be named the starting center on opening night.
Kwahi Leonard - San Antonio Spurs: Leonard was quietly solid and remarkably consistent in San Antonio last year. His numbers don't jump off the page, but he was defiantly an asset in deeper fantasy leagues, as he contributed across the board. Kwahi chipped in nearly 8 points, over 5 rebounds, and 1.3 steals a night. In addition, he shot 49.3 percent from the floor and 37.6 percent from behind the arc. Moreover, check out this recent ringing endorsement from the Coach Gregg Popovich, in which Pop says Leonard will develop into a star and that at some point in the future will be seen as the "face of the fanchise."