Ryan Knaus

The Numbers Game

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Rookie Ranks: 2005 to Present

Monday, June 23, 2014

The 2014 NBA draft will be held on June 26, and as usual it's been preceded by a deluge of speculation about drafts orders, potential trades, team needs, and a prospect's ability to contribute immediately and/or develop into a quality NBA player.


Here at Rotoworld, Aaron Bruski has already examined the fantasy potential for players drafted by the top-eight teams: the Cavaliers, Bucks, 76ers, Magic, Jazz, Celtics, Lakers and Kings.


Steve Alexander also offered a mock draft on June 15, before Joel Embiid's foot surgery shook up the top of the draft, and Ed Isaacson has ranked this summer's available talent for PG, SG, SF, PF and C.


Today's colum explores the recent fantasy-league success and failure of rookies since the 2005-06 season. This column is indebted to data drawn from BasketballMonster.com -- you're doing yourself a disservice if you haven't explored their site, which balances deep statistics with a simple user interface and incomparable functionality.


I came into this analysis with low expectations for rookies' fantasy values, even lottery picks, and the numbers below justify my standard disclaimer that "most rookies are more trouble than they're worth in fantasy leagues." Keep in mind that the 2014-15 rookie class is unquestionably more talented than many (or most) of the years under discussion in this column. There is also the caveat that while a rookie may not provide season-long value, they often emerge with value as the season progresses -- Gorgui Dieng ranked No. 243 overall last season, but he surged to No. 34 with Nikola Pekovic injured in the final month of the season.


I'm assume a 'standard' fantasy format with 12 teams and 13 roster spots per game which places the cut-off for fantasy usefulness at 156, but I give it some leeway by using 'top-170' as my default 'line in the sand'. I am also looking at nine-cat values, and the statistics cited are per-game rather than cumulative. Nine-cat leagues are typically more forgiving for rookies, whose turnovers are typically limited due to low playing time, so in general these are somewhat generous rankings. I try to point out specific instances where a player's value was much higher in eight-cat leagues, such as John Wall in 2010-11.


Before we whisk through nine draft classes, stopping to examine some highlights and lowlights, let's take a look at the cumulative results:


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I was somewhat surprised to find that power forwards were the most prevalent group among rookies who turned in top-170 fantasy value but failed to crack the top-100. Point guard was the second-easiest position to find, and both guard positions produced more top-100 rookies than the forward or center positions (granted, we're dealing with a tiny sample size with high year-to-year variability).


A major takeaway is that only 62 rookies in the past nine seasons have produced top-170 fantasy value on a per-game basis, and only 15 of them cracked the top-100. That's 6.9 viable fantasy options (and only 1.7 top-100 options) per rookie class. The biggest culprit is limited playing time -- again and again we see players like Serge Ibaka, David Lee and Paul Millsap marginalized during their rookie campaigns. Inefficiency is another bugaboo for first-year players, as even an elite talent like Kevin Durant, who averaged 35 minutes per game as a rookie, struggled to score with efficiency against NBA defenders. With these caveats in mind, let's proceed on a year-by-year basis.




No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut had a solid 82-game season as a rookie, averaging 13.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.8 blocks while shooting 53.0 percent from the field and a career-best 62.9 percent at the FT line (he was just 34.4 percent at the line last season).


No. 2 pick Marvin Williams immediately looked out of his depth, and didn't crack the top-200 for fantasy value, while No. 3 pick Deron Williams eked out top-170 value in 29 minutes per game. Chris Paul, drafted No. 4 overall, was the only rookie in 2005 who averaged at least 30 minutes per game, and he was easily the most productive fantasy option at No. 17 overall.


Only five other rookies cracked the top-170 in fantasy leagues: Charlie Villanueva (83), Danny Granger (120), Channing Frye (126), Raymond Felton (127) and Luther Head (137).


In total, eight rookies made a sustained impact in 2005, and six of them were lottery picks.


No thanks: Marvin Williams was the biggest bust at No. 2 overall, but we shouldn't overlook Ike Diogu (No. 9), Fran Vasquez (No. 11), Yaroslav Korolev (No. 12) or Sean May (No. 13).


Diamonds in the Rough: The Pacers found value with Danny Granger at No. 17 and Nate Robinson was a deal at No. 21, while David Lee (No. 30), Ersan Ilyasova (No. 35), Monta Ellis (No. 40), Amir Johnson (No. 56) and Marcin Gortat (No. 57) all turned out to be steals.




Much like Chris Paul the year before him, Brandon Roy was easily the most productive rookie for fantasy owners in 2006-07. He averaged 35 minutes (the only rookie to top 30 per game) and piled up averages of 16.8 points, 1.0 threes, 4.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He ranked No. 51 overall for nine-cat fantasy value, though his cumulative value was heavily damaged by 25 missed games.


The Blazers, who stole Roy by flipping the No. 7 pick (Randy Foye) to the Wolves in a draft-day trade, also landed LaMarcus Aldridge with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Despite his present-day fantasy dominance, LA was a marginal option as a rookie -- he played only 22 minutes per game, yielding 13th-round value.


Andrea Bargnani, the No. 1 overall pick, was also a 13th-round value in 25 minutes per game for the Raptors. No. 3 pick Adam Morrison received plenty of minutes but quickly proved to be a fantasy albatross, shooting 37.6 percent from the field with negligible supporting stats. Most 2006 lottery picks were no better than Morrison, who only appeared in three NBA seasons during his injury-shortened career.


Other rookies to crack the top-170 include Jorge Garbojosa (106), Kyle Lowry (119), Paul Millsap (161), Rudy Gay (164) and Rajon Rondo (170).


In total, eight rookies made a sustained impact in 2006, and four of them were lottery picks.


No thanks: Adam Morrison (No. 3), Tyrus Thomas (No. 4), Shelden Williams (No. 5), Patrick O'Bryant (No. 9) and Mouhamed Sene (No. 10).


Diamonds in the Rough: Rudy Gay (No. 8), Rajon Rondo (No. 21), Kyle Lowry (No. 24), Paul Millsap (No. 47)




Greg Oden was taken No. 1 overall ahead of Kevin Durant and the rest is history. He missed the entire 2007-08 season following microfracture knee surgery, so he should technically surface again as a 'rookie' for 2008-09, but I'll limit his mentions to this section. The oft-injured and much-maligned big man has appeared in 105 games since being drafted into the NBA, an average of 17.5 games per season, but he fully intends to play again in 2014-15.


Kevin Durant immediately assumed a major role for the rebuilding Supersonics in 2007, averaging 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in nearly 35 minutes per game. He was plagued by low shooting percentages, however, and his 43.0 percent shooting on 17.1 attempts per game dragged him down to a 7th-round fantasy value.


That was still tops in his draft class, however, and only five other rookies cracked top-170 value: Al Horford (91), Ramon Sessions (133), Thaddeus Young (135), Joakim Noah (164) and Luis Scola (170). Other players would eventually emerge as fantasy forces to be reckoned with, such as Mike Conley Jr., Jeff Green, Spencer Hawes and Arron Afflalo, but none of them got the job done as first-year NBA players.


In total, six rookies made a sustained impact in 2007-08, and four of them were lottery picks.


No thanks: Greg Oden (No. 1), Yi Jianlian (No. 6), Acie Law (No. 11), Julian Wright (No. 13).


Diamonds in the Rough: Joakim Noah (No. 9), Thaddeus Young (No. 12), Wilson Chandler (No. 23), Tiago Splitter (No. 28), Marc Gasol (No. 48), Ramon Sessions (No. 56). Note: Marc Gasol didn't play in the NBA until 2008-09.

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Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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