March 14, 2019, 8:07 pm
Hey Hoop Ballers! Welcome to a special super-deep, not even in the NBA yet, edition of Deep League Digging. Selection Sunday for that big spring college basketball thing (Spring Equinox Insanity, or something like that) is this week, so what better time to take a look at the 2019 rookie class and highlight some players worth keeping an eye on through the madness. A few disclaimers before we jump right in. This is an early list that will be refined based on tournament play and offseason scouting information that comes to light as the 2019 NBA draft approaches. Also, keep in mind that these rankings are solely based on projected fantasy value, and not necessarily indicative of where I think players will be drafted. Finally, this is a look at players in a vacuum. Where players are drafted and the situations surrounding them will inevitably have an impact on the immediate fantasy returns that we can expect.
So, without further ado… let’s get into it!
- Zion Williamson, F, Duke (19 yrs old) – There isn’t much to say about the tantalizing upside of Zion Williamson that hasn’t already been said. Prior to his shoe literally exploding and the subsequent injury scare that followed as a result, Zion was averaging a ludicrous line of 21.6 points per game on 68 percent shooting with 0.5 threes per game, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks in 28 minutes per game. Perhaps even more impressive than those box-score-stuffing stats is his NCAA leading 21.3 box plus/minus and 42.3 player efficiency rating. A few recent players to post those sorts of advanced metrics in college… Anthony Davis and Karl Anthony-Towns. There is no doubt that the locked-in number one overall selection lives in a tier of his own for fantasy drafts as well.
- Ja Morant, G, Murray St. (19 yrs old) – Largely thanks to playing for a mid-major program at Murray State, not known for producing elite NBA talent, Morant started the season under the radar. However, stellar production throughout the year elevated Morant well into top-5 draft consideration despite his lack of blue-chip prospect credentials. At 6’3”, Morant fits the model of a prototypical NBA lead guard. His stats this season (24.6 points on 50 percent shooting with 1.6 threes, 5.5 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks) are impressive; however, what encourages me the most is his growth this year compared to his rookie season. In nearly the same minutes played, Morant has increased his assist percentage by 18.5, boosted his steal percentage by 1.2 (that is significant growth in a stat that can indicate NBA readiness in guards), and increased his true shooting percentage from .569 to .612 while doubling his box plus/minus. Short of a disastrous tournament showing, Morant is locked in to the number two spot in my rookie rankings.
- R.J. Barrett, F, Duke (19 yrs old) – Barrett is where things start to get interesting. I’m worried about him as a top-tier fantasy prospect, but watching him it is impossible to deny that the talent and upside to become a top-50 fantasy player is there. First, the downside. His shooting percentage of 45.8 percent this season fails to fully convey how inefficient he can be at times. He is far from a consistent threat outside (shooting 31.5 percent from beyond the arc), and he seems determined at times to continue chucking, even when his shot isn’t falling. He also doesn’t do much as a peripheral stat collector, averaging only 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks per game this season. However, if you can look past his streaky shooting and stat set issues, he is a talented, albeit unrefined scorer (averaging 23.4 points per game). Barrett is also a very strong rebounder (averaging 7.5 rebounds) and facilitator (averaging 4.2 assists) for a wing. I’m not sold on his floor as a fantasy asset, but his sky-high ceiling gives him a slight edge over Brandon Clarke if you are rebuilding and need a home run.
- Brandon Clarke, F, Gonzaga (22 yrs old) – Clarke is one of my favorite prospects in this class outside of the top-tier names like Morant and Zion. His age may scare away some lottery teams looking for the more craftable upside that an 18 or 19 year-old brings to the table, but don’t let it deter you from selecting Clarke early in fantasy drafts. This season at Gonzaga, Clarke is averaging 16.6 points per game on 68.8 percent shooting with 8.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 3.1 blocks in roughly 27.6 minutes per game. He has almost no outside game to speak of (shooting 30 percent on only 13 threes attempted all season) and his 68.5 percent efficiency at the line is a detriment, but Clarke has the look of a potential future perennial NBA All-Defensive Team candidate. While he will be one of the older rookies in the league, he has shown some considerable growth as a two-way player this season. Clarke has managed to boost his block percentage by three percent from last year to post a ludicrous 11.1 percent, increased his offensive rebound percentage by 3.6, shot 11.3 percent better at the line this year and is second only to Zion Williamson with a box plus/minus of 18.9. That offensive growth – in particular his increased efficiency at the line – gives me some reason to believe that he can develop at least a serviceable outside game. Barrett’s ceiling gives him the slight edge over Clarke overall, but If you are looking for a high-floor fantasy prospect, Clarke is your guy.
- Jarrett Culver, G, Texas Tech (20 yrs old) – Similar to Morant, Culver is another second-year player that has enjoyed a stratospheric rise in draft stock thanks to his play this season. The sophomore guard is currently scoring 18.3 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting with 1.4 triples, 6.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.2 steals. Culver has grown considerably as a scoring threat, is a strong passer and rebounder for his position, but still is missing a consistent 3-point shot and is a lackluster defensive stat collector. He has taken significant strides forward from his rookie year, but I’m a bit discouraged by his lack of growth on the defensive side of the ball. The potential is there, but at the moment, Culver is tier below Clarke and Barrett as a fantasy prospect.
- Bol Bol, C, Oregon (19 yrs old) – Standing 7’2” tall with a deadly efficient 3-point shot and the ability to send shot after shot into the bleachers, Bol Bol has some shades of Porzingis to his game. Unfortunately, the comparison doesn’t stop there, as Bol has missed a majority of the year after suffering a season-ending knee injury only nine games into his career with the Ducks. Similar to the Barrett/Clarke discussion above, if you really want to roll the dice on upside and look past obvious durability concerns, Bol Bol can be comfortably slotted ahead of Culver. It is a small sample size, but his per-40 minute averages are the stuff of fantasy dreams – 28.2 points on 56 percent efficiency (78 percent at the line), with 1.9 threes, 12.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.6 blocks. He could realistically have a top-25 fantasy ceiling, but the likelihood of him reaching it is far from certain.
- Nickeil Alexnder-Walker, G, Virginia Tech (20 yrs old) – In what is becoming a trend at the top of this class, Nickeil Alexander-Walker is another non-freshman player who has made a big leap in his second year of NCAA play. He has a super well-rounded game that doesn’t have any glaring deficiencies (averaging 16.6 points per game on 48 percent shooting with 1.8 threes, 4.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.5 blocks). He has improved nearly every aspect of his game compared to freshman numbers, and is probably one of the more NBA-ready players outside of the top-5 on this list. I’m not enamored with his ceiling, but can reasonably predict a few early top-150 seasons out of the gate if he lands in the right spot. He is not currently projected to go in the lottery on most big boards, so you may be able to get him at a discount in fantasy drafts.
- Cameron Reddish, F, Duke (19 yrs old) – Oh boy, Cam Reddish may be one of the more divisive prospects in the class. He has the blue-blood bonafides of a top-5 fantasy rookie draft pick, but I see more bust potential than upside in Reddish. Let’s start with his dreadful 35.6 percent efficiency from the floor this season on 12.8 shot attempts. Reddish tends to live and die by his 3-point shot, and when it isn’t falling it can get ugly for him in a hurry. He is averaging a solid 2.6 threes per game this season, but is only managing to convert his outside shot at 33 percent clip. Reddish has the natural athleticism and size to become a competent NBA scorer, but doesn’t demonstrate much polish in his offensive game and tends to over-rely on his 3-point shot. Reddish is a capable defender (his 1.8 steals per game as evidence), possessing the length and quickness to shut down opposing guards and wings alike. Reddish has the appearance of a capable 3-and-D fantasy option with the ability to explode when his shot is falling, but I’m just not sure he provides enough outside of threes and steals to take near the top of a rookie fantasy draft.
- Jontay Porter, C, Missouri (19 yrs old) – If Punxsutawney Phil has a last name it is, without a doubt, “Porter.” Jontay Porter, younger brother of Michael Porter Jr., finds himself in a strikingly similar situation to his older brother: seemingly bound for a lottery selection on draft night only to be hampered by season-ending injury troubles (torn ACL and MCL) and a relatively incomplete resume of college play. Injury concerns aside, Porter was probably destined to be a more polarizing prospect than MPJ, primarily due to the fact that he is underwhelming as an NBA-level athlete. However, what he lacks in quickness and highlight reel athleticism, he more than makes up for in basketball IQ and vision. He is a talented rebounder, not due to sheer physical dominance, but rather due to a tuned combination of timing and anticipation. The same can be said for his ability to block shots at respectable clip. As a 36 percent shooter from deep, he is at least a threat that needs to be honored from downtown. However, what I like most about Porter as a potential fantasy option is ability to provide out-of-position assists. Porter may not be a Jokic-level passing big (but really… who else is right now?), but you can expect a steady stream of assists from Porter to supplement the more traditional big-man-dominated categories. Placing him at this spot may be generous, as we have no idea how he will return from a significant knee injury for a player of his stature, but his game is not predicated on dominant athleticism, so I’m less worried about his ability to come back strong from injury.
- Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas (18 yrs old) – Hayes is a bit of a mystery. He is one of the youngest players in this draft class with the least amount of high-level basketball experience, only significantly committing to basketball following a growth spurt late in high school. However, the undoubted physical gifts he possess, combined with the fact that he can appear so dominant at times despite a lacking pedigree, makes him one of the more intriguing options further down the draft board. At the moment, he is little more than a rim-running, shot blocking big. Demonstrating a very rudimentary offensive game (10.3 points per game on 73 percent efficiency), with an emphasis on highlight dunks and blocks (2.3 blocks per game in only 23.6 minutes). If you draft Hayes in dynasty, patience will be a must, but there is almost certainly a spot in the league for a player like him. As is the case with many players on this list, feel free to bump Hayes above Porter if you are risk averse and want to avoid the injury tag that Porter carries – Hayes’ upside alone certainly justifies that decision.
- Grant Williams, F, Tennessee (20 yrs old) – Here is where things start to get really interesting. Williams was pretty far off the radar as a top-15 dynasty prospect to start the year, but he simply is playing too well to not justify serious consideration at this point. As a 6’7” power forward, the biggest concerns are around his size, athleticism and ability to match up with bigs at the next level, but as Draymond Green (also standing at 6’7”) has proven, measurables sometimes must take a back seat to raw talent in player evaluation. Of course, Draymond Green is probably the high water mark of what to expect from Williams, but the numbers he is putting up (19.3 points on 56.9 percent shooting with 7.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks) are nonetheless encouraging. Beyond the traditional box score stats, Williams is also posting at 14.7 box plus minus, good for fourth in the NCAA and in close company with Zion Williamson and Brandon Clarke. You can probably get him at a discount on draft day, though if he posts a strong showing in the tournament the chances of that may become slimmer.
- Darius Garland, G, (19 yrs old) – Discussing Garland as a prospect makes Jontay Porter feel like a known commodity in comparison. Garland played only five games this season before ultimately missing the rest of the season with a meniscus tear. He was considered a likely lock for the lottery prior to the injury, and still could wind up going in that territory based on what he flashed – albeit inconsistently – prior to the injury. He’s got a considerable bag of tricks on offense, including elite level production from beyond the arc. However, in the traditional categories you would hope to get from a lead guard beyond points and threes (assists and steals), he falls flat. The blueprint is there for a future top-100 fantasy producer, but the uncertainty, small sample size to work from and stat set issues give me some pause to move Garland much higher than this spot. With that said, if you are looking for a home run over a safer bet, I could see the argument for Garland in the top-10 given how weak this class appears compared to other years.
- De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia (21 yrs old) – To start the season, Hunter was still flying a bit under the radar, but his contributions this season have started to draw attention as he can be found comfortably inside the top-10 on numerous mock drafts and big boards. The meteoric rise in his draft stock is not necessarily due to eye-popping statistics or highlights, but his impact on winning games that is backed up by some advanced metrics (12.2 box plus minus, 4.2 defensive box plus minus, and 26 player efficiency rating – not exactly Zion or Brandon Clarke territory, but the picture of a well-rounded player is there). He fits the modern NBA well as a forward who can stretch out defenses (shooting 47 percent on 2.5 attempts from deep) and guard just about any position on the floor, including opposing centers. The downside for fantasy managers is that despite his defensive prowess, those traits don’t necessarily translate to the box score as he is only averaging 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks in 31 minutes played per game. However, the most important category for fantasy is minutes, and Hunter stands a strong chance at seeing plenty of those at the next level given his high defensive IQ and contributions on both ends of the floor.
- Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland (20 yrs old) – This may be an aggressive ranking for a player that is barely scratching first-round consideration in a lot mock drafts floating around, but the combination of raw ability and growth this season has me optimistic on Fernando’s outlook. In 29 minutes per game, Fernando is averaging a cool 14.0 points on 62 percent shooting with 10.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.6 steals and 1..9 blocks. He has managed to find a bit more efficiency, which will be essential to his fantasy value as a rim-running, athletic big with a limited scoring arsenal outside of the restricted area. He is still very raw, having only started playing basketball a few years before college, but has NBA-ready athleticism with a frame to match. At his absolute ceiling, I could see Fernando developing into a Clint Capela-like player with an at least neutral, if not slightly positive impact at the line (he is shooting 76 percent from the stripe this year), which is to say, a very good fantasy asset. The less optimistic, and probably more likely, trajectory is an underwhelming year or two early on (depending where he lands), followed by an eventual top-100 ceiling. Considering the fact that you may be able to grab Fernando outside of the top-20 in rookie drafts, he’s someone to keep an eye on as a potential draft day sleeper.
- Goga Bitadze, C, International (19 yrs old) – Bitadze is an interesting prospect who may require a bit of patience from dynasty managers. At 6’11” with a 7’2” wingspan, he’s got plenty of length and size, but a lack of mobility, defensive instincts (prolific foul collector) and offensive polish could hold him back at the next level. While his per 36 minute states are impressive for a 19 year old playing the top-tier European league (17.5 points, 0.3 triples, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 3.9 blocks and 5.4 fouls), he still may need to extend his offensive game and learn to block shots without fouling to earn rotation minutes in the NBA. Despite his issues, Bitadze has played very well against tough competition, continued to improve throughout the season, and appears to become capable of posing a threat from deep. He may currently have exhibit more of the right skillset for a past NBA era, but his youth and continued improvement leads me to believe he can continue to grow and compete at the next level.
Players on the Bubble (in no particular order)
Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga – Hachimura appears to have legitimate star potential, and needs to be on everyone’s radar for that very reason. He is drawing national attention for his contributions to a talented Gonzaga squad, and could elevate his draft stock further with a strong tournament performance. He was right on the cusp of making the top-15 in these very early fantasy rookie rankings, but I’m just not sure his stat set is complete enough to warrant a higher spot on this list. He is averaging 20.1 points per game this season, but only doing so while adding 6.6 rebounds (that’s fine), 0.5 threes, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks. That is not bad by any means, but I’d like to see a little bit more pop in money counters before moving him up into the top-15.
Romeo Langford, G, Indiana – Langford is likely a lottery draft selection, and probably rightly so. However, similar to Hachimura, there just isn’t quite enough categorical pop outside of points to warrant a higher spot. The 0.8 blocks and 5.4 rebounds per game in 34 minutes are nice to see from a guard, but his 27 percent efficiency from downtown is concerning to see from a wing. There is plenty of upside here, and if you are rolling the dice on potential he should probably be in the top-15, but I’m not quite there yet at this point.
Shamorie Ponds, G, St. John’s – Ponds is another interesting mid-major player to keep an eye on as a potential late-first or early-to-mid second-round type of prospect who could outperform his draft position. He is currently averaging 19.7 points per game on 46 percent efficiency with 5.3 assists and 2.6 steals per game. The biggest knock to his draft stock is his size. Measured at only 6’1”, Ponds is definitely a bit undersized. He also is not the most explosive athlete and has fairly capped upside. However, there is the chance that he could carve out an eventual top-175ish role as a backup in the NBA, making him worth a look in deeper leagues.
Sekou Doumbouya, F, international – As one of the youngest players in the draft with an already impressive physical profile, Doumbouya has plenty of untapped upside. While he carries that label well at times, he is still a long way away from making a consistent impact at the NBA level. He is probably worth a flier around the 15-20 mark in dynasty rookie drafts on upside, but managers will need plenty of patience as he continues to develop.
Nassir Little, F, North Carolina – Little has had a poor season by all accounts compared to the hype surrounding him entering the year. He will still probably be drafted fairly highly if he declares for the draft due to his physical tools, but I wouldn’t consider him in dynasty drafts anywhere close to the top-10 due to how unproven he is and the stat set issues we have seen so far.
March 18, 2019, 10:53 pmKyrie Irving - G - Boston Celtics
Kyrie Irving dropped 30 points with five rebounds, four assists, two threes, four steals and a block in 36 minutes in Monday's loss to the Nuggets.
Irving was also 8-of-8 from the line. Even when the Celtics are a little flat, Kyrie is a top-10 stud. Expect it to continue as the Celtics jockey for playoff position.
March 18, 2019, 10:52 pmDeMar DeRozan - G - San Antonio Spurs
DeMar DeRozan led the Spurs in their 111-105 win over the Warriors with 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting while adding nine rebounds, eight assists and a steal.
DeRozan didn't attempt any 3-pointers and went 8-for-9 at the line. When the game was on the line, the Spurs turned to DeRozan and he delivered, scoring six of the Spurs' last nine points.
March 18, 2019, 10:50 pmRudy Gay - F - San Antonio Spurs
Rudy Gay came off the bench on Monday and scored 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting to go with six rebounds, three assists, a steal and a 3-pointer.
Even though Gay isn't starting, he's finishing games which is what matters. The 27 minutes are still in line with his season averages and as long as he's healthy he shouldn't be on any waiver wires.
March 18, 2019, 10:48 pmLaMarcus Aldridge - F - San Antonio Spurs
LaMarcus Aldridge double-doubled on Monday with 23 points and 13 rebounds while adding three assists, a steal, two blocks and a 3-pointer.
Aldridge attempted as many 3-pointers tonight as his last four games combined in an effort to keep the Warriors' defense honest. The Spurs are riding a nine-game winning streak and Aldridge has been a top-10 player during that span, averaging 23.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.4 blocks on .554 shooting.
March 18, 2019, 10:47 pmAl Horford - F/C - Boston Celtics
Al Horford had an efficient 20 points on 8-of-15 field goals including four threes on Monday vs. the Nuggets.
Horford added six rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block for a well-rounded line that just lacked free throws. He's provided top-40 value on the season, though it's been a bit outside that over the last month.
March 18, 2019, 10:46 pmDerrick White - G - San Antonio Spurs
Derrick White scored 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting while adding two rebounds, four assists, two steals, a block and two 3-pointers against the Warriors on Monday.
White continues to bring the goods in all peripheral stats and is going to be a key reason for a lot of fantasy championships. If there's one thing that coach Popovich loves, it's players who play defense and White has proven to be an elite asset on that end.
March 18, 2019, 10:44 pmJakob Poeltl - C - San Antonio Spurs
Jakob Poeltl scored six points on 3-of-6 shooting with seven rebounds on Monday.
Poeltl cooled off on the defensive stats, but we expected that, given he tallied 10 blocks in his last two games. Coach Popovich has taken a liking to Poeltl and it looks like he's finally getting consistent rotational minutes which means he's a must-own player going forward.
March 18, 2019, 10:43 pmStephen Curry - G - Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry led the Warriors in scoring with 25 points on 9-of-25 shooting while adding seven rebounds, eight assists, three steals, a block and six 3-pointers.
Curry started the game 0-for-7 and his first 3-pointer was a 61-foot attempt to end the first quarter. Even though it looked like his night was going to be awful, he recovered and delivered a full-line. Coach Kerr may rest Curry given that the Warriors play a back-to-back set tomorrow and have another back-to-back set to end the week, but we're still looking at a big week for Chef Curry.
March 18, 2019, 10:41 pmKevin Durant - F - Golden State Warriors
Kevin Durant returned to action on Monday and scored 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting while adding five rebounds and three assists.
The good news is that he's back in action, but tonight's line was a letdown considering he tallied zero peripheral stats. He's potentially looking at four more games for this week so there's a lot of time for him to make up ground in that department.
March 18, 2019, 10:39 pmJake Layman - F - Trail Blazers
Jake Layman will start in place of C.J. McCollum on Monday vs. the Pacers.
McCollum is out for at least a week, so Layman may be in line for quite a few starts here. When he's started this season, he's provided solid late-round value.
Source: Jason Quick