Mike Gallagher

Offseason Beat

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Top Five for 2017 Draft Class

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


For years in the fantasy hoops world, rookies would almost always get overdrafted in just about all leagues. People would draft a player they thought would be the next Damian Lillard, but most years those players wouldn’t wind up turning a profit for the aggressive fantasy owners. That stings even more because usually fantasy owners will give rookies a very, very long leash before cutting them. As a result, you would really miss out on some difference-making pickups.

 

Things are a little different now. Yeah, we all know Karl-Anthony Towns had one of the best rookie seasons of all time in 2015-16, and it led to him being a first-round pick last year and arguably the top guy this year — he’s my No. 1 in nine-category leagues, for what it’s worth. That monster rookie KAT campaign may not happen ever again, but that's OK.

 

Last year, we saw just a ton of rookies turn in value for owners in fantasy leagues in March and April. In fact, a whopping 13 rookies turned in top-150 total value in nine-category leagues in that span. Sure, there wasn’t a major impact guy like KAT with the leader in that span, Marquese Chriss, as only a sixth-round guy — I love Chriss this year.

 

If you couple that info with how the 2017 class is expected to be one of the best in recent memory, there could be a lot of value to be had. Plus, there are a lot more teams willing to Trust The Process (#TTP), so there could be even more minutes going to the young players.

 

For instance, the Suns made some very interesting points when they announced James Jones as their vice president of basketball operations last week. The fact that the created a new position for a player who essentially retired the same day is cool and all, but Suns owner Robert Sarver’s comments are what jumps out, especially for us fantasy owners.

 

Sarver said he was a bit spoiled by his early success as an owner with the Steve Nash, Seven Seconds or Less Offense made him a bit impatient. Now, he’s embraced a slow approach and it sounds like they’re not going to pursue free agents until 2019. The owner said he thinks the best way to win for the Suns is through the draft and player development. He added NBA teams need three or four stars to be a championship contender, which is absolutely true unless you a generational superstar. 

 

Of course, the Suns are perhaps the most open about their new plan — it’s known as #TheTimeline in the 602, 480 and 623. They're the most extreme case, but you can bet other teams like the Nets, Hawks and a handful of others will go this route. The Suns were very bold in shutting down Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler, which is part of the reason why Chriss had some value last year. Basically, the Suns are just a little late to the party that Sam Hinkie started.

 

In the haves, have-nots world of the NBA, we can still expect a lot of teams to roll with their version of #TTP and #TheTimeline. In fantasy re-draft leagues, that factor may be just as important as the actual talent. For instance, you could argue Jayson Tatum is the best player in the draft — Danny Ainge would — but his value is destroyed because the Celtics won’t be trusting a process. They’ll be trusting all of their All-Stars and look to get the top seed in the Eastern Conference again. They just gave Gordon Hayward a max deal to play Tatum's position and also they're expected to play Jaylen Brown more. Plus, the Celtics have talked about putting Tatum on a similar path to Brown for his rookie minutes.

 

In case you missed it last week, I went in depth on the top rookie on my board for the upcoming season: Dennis Smith Jr. For today, we’ll hop to the other end of the spectrum with some shorter analysis and go through 2-5 for the top rookies in the 2017 NBA Draft class.

 

1. Dennis Smith Jr. - In-depth breakdown from last week is right here. All in.

 

2. Lonzo Ball - Despite what LaVar says, the Lakers aren’t going to make the playoffs. Coach Luke Walton had a fantastic podcast with Zach Lowe last week, so absolutely check that out for his thoughts on how he sees Ball. Walton wasn’t quite as emphatic as the Suns with their approach on tanking, but he made it clear Lonzo will have his fingerprints all over the offense.

 

Some key points on Ball from Walton is that the team loved how he pushed the ball with his long passes — Longzo Ball? “When you’re a wing player or you’re a big man, and you know if you run the floor, that ball is going to hit you, and he does it 100 percent of the time,” Walton said. He then talked about how he wants the perimeter players to get out and run, so that should also help his dime total. Walton added he doesn’t “give a damn” about the risk of those passes because he would rather have the transition points. All that said, it's Lonzo's world and he sounds like he'll get a free pass on just about all his mistakes. Plus, it's not like the Lakers have a backup to push him, especially now with Derrick Rose in Cleveland. Keep an eye out for Ian Clark, though.

 

The point is Ball is the new identity of the Lakers offense. They should be in the top three for pace and could also be in the top three for frequency of transition possessions — they were sixth in pace and just 12th in percentage of possessions run in a transition play type.

 

So we know the minutes will be there and we know he’ll be running the offense, but what can we expect stat wise? Perhaps no rookie has ever been a lock as big as Lonzo to lead his class in dimes per game, so he has a decent chance at 10 dimes. He should also wind up in the teens for scoring and he should have some solid rebounding numbers. Two triple-doubles in Las Vegas Summer League! Woo! Plus, the steals should be there based on how aggressive he is, and also the picked-up pace should also create some sloppy positions, which means there should be more steals overall just with the style.

 

DFS wise, Ball is probably going to be a bigger impact than DSJ, but Lonzo’s turnovers and efficiency issues should really pull him down. He should still have some monster stat lines and it’s no surprise he’s the Las Vegas favorite for Rookie of the Year.

 

3. Markelle Fultz - He’s probably the most talented player in the draft and there’s a reason why the 76ers gave up the No. 3 pick and what should be another very high first. However, he’s not in a favorable position compared to DSJ and Ball. MF Doom is going to be third banana at best and that’s a little worrisome. 

 

Joel Embiid was a usage monster just before his season came to an end. In January, only Russell Westbrook and DeMarcus Cousins had a higher usage rate than Embiid’s 37.4. Plus, coach Brett Brown has really talked up Ben Simmons as a ball-handler. While Fultz was elite for combined points and assists, his usage rate at Washington was a whopping 33.2. He may not even get half of that in Philly, and the addition of J.J. Redick does actually hurt Fultz slightly because Redick will be used a bunch to help unclog the paint.

 

Still, Fultz is a superb prospect and he should be solid for defensive stats. It is going to take some time, and another negative on this is that the 76ers should actually be good and make the playoffs. There’s a reason why they added J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson. Trust the Product.

 

4. Josh Jackson - For reasons stated above, player development is clearly the top priority during the season for the Suns. As far as performance goes, Jackson's averages from Kansas are somewhat promising: 16.3 points, 7.4 boards, 3.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 1.0 treys. Sure, he isn’t exactly the best shooter, but he should get the opportunities and the Suns even allowed T.J. Warren to let it fly from deep despite how his shot needs some work.

 

Speaking of T.J. Warren, he is definitely going to be in the mix and Warren’s 2016-17 season probably doesn’t get talked about enough. He was great on both ends of the season with the head injury keeping him out of the lineup for about half of December and half of November. Warren was also really good as a defender, especially with his 1.2 steals to have it reflect on his fantasy value — a career-high 0.6 blocks is nice, too. However, given Warren’s style for scoring, it makes a lot of sense to bring him off the bench. That's obviously fine for Warren and he could be a sneaky fantasy target.

 

Coach Earl Watson says he likes Jackson 1-5 for position, but he’s just talking him up. #PositionWatch is the new #MuscleWatch. Still, he should get run at three spots, which should get him to around 25-27 minutes once he’s got his feet wet.

 

5. De’Aaron Fox - Yes, the arrival of George Hill does take away from Fox a bit. On the other hand, keep in mind that Hill is not your typical ball-handler. Two years ago, he ranked 28th for time of possession with the basketball and he’s never been in the top 15 since the NBA tracked that stat. Plus, we all know how often Hill is on the sidelines, so the Kings probably won’t be giving him over 30 minutes per game.

 

Perhaps a bigger negative on Fox is his jumper. He made just 24.6 percent on college treys and just 36.2 percent on his two-point jumpers. He is saying he’s working hard on his jumper, but he looked like he wanted to live in transition and get to the rim in Las Vegas.

 

The steals upside should be the headline for Fox. He had 2.3 per game in Vegas and 1.5 per game in his 29.6 minutes per game at Kentucky. He will probably be a Elfrid Payton-esque guy in his rookie season, but at least he did make a very respectable 73.9 percent at the line.

 

 

We'll be talking more about the rookies in the podcast with Ryan Knaus tomorrow!



Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.



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