February 22, 2018, 2:36 pm
Hey Hoop Ballers! Normally Thursday’s are devoted to Deep League Digging, my weekly column scouring the depths of the Association for deep league fantasy value, but today we are going to mix things up. Instead of the usual look at under-appreciated and under-owned players in the NBA, we turn our gaze towards the future and see what might come of the incoming rookie class for dynasty owners out there. This is an early look, and there will almost certainly be significant shake-ups to this list before draft day, but it is never too early to start planning for next year, right?
Much to dynasty owners’ delight, the 2018 draft class is absolutely loaded with talent. In many ways, this is a stronger class than the much touted 2017 class which brought us names like Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum and… of course… Lonzo Ball. While 2017 was a deep class, the talent at the top was not as strongly delineated from the mid-round selections.
2018 is a different story. The top of this class is stacked – you could make a compelling argument for picking any of the top-seven players at number one. Just because the top of this class is richer with talent doesn’t mean that things completely fall off a cliff after the top-10. Don’t be surprised if a few unheralded late-first round or early-second round selections end up making a big splash in the fantasy world. I’ll touch on a few of those sleeper picks that I have my eye on in my next full Dynasty Dose article coming out later this month over on the premium side here at Hoop Ball. But for now, let’s stick with the big names.
- DeAndre Ayton, F/C, Arizona
33 minutes, 19.7 points, 0.4 threes, 10.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.9 blocks, 61/33/74
Ayton is one of the higher ceiling players in this draft class with one of the safest floors. He is close to the most NBA ready player in the draft (Doncic takes that honor by a hair), and should be able to contribute right away. At his ceiling, the physical tools are there already for Ayton to make the leap from above-average starter to future All-Star, but I’m not convinced that will become apparent for a few years.
The knock on Ayton has always been his defense, but he’s demonstrated measurable improvement as a rim protector already this season, and is a capable defender on the perimeter for a 7’1” player. On offense, his rangy skill-set is perfect for a center in the modern NBA, as he has the potential to be deadly in the pick and pop, and is a strong enough finisher in the pick and roll. His combination of NBA ready size and strength, jump shooting ability and potential to develop into a formidable shot blocker gives him the sort of fantasy potential deserving of the top spot in the 2018 rookie class.
- Luka Doncic, G/F, Real Madrid CF
25 minutes, 16 points, 1.6 threes, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 48/32/82
While preparing this list, I watched A TON of Luke Doncic highlights and continuously had to remind myself that he is only 18 years old. There are plenty of players in the NCAA at that age, but Doncic is playing against full-grown men at the highest level of competition in Europe (arguably higher than NCAA power conference play) and not only holding his own, but excelling.
He is by far the most NBA ready player in the draft, and will likely contribute immediately as a starter on a lottery team. He is a more than capable perimeter shooter, with exceptional ball handling ability and vision on the court. The tools are there for him to play point guard at an NBA level, but he has the physical profile to play at the two or three as well. So, after all of the gushing over Doncic, why isn’t he number one?
He has the size to play in the NBA, but he lacks the explosiveness and raw athleticism that many other top prospects ooze. That may limit his ceiling defensively as a point guard against quicker players, and there will probably be an adjustment period as he learns to create shots for himself inside against stronger rim defenders, but his fantasy potential is simply too high to drop him much lower than this.
- Trae Young, G, Oklahoma
35 minutes, 28.3 points, 3.7 threes, 3.9 rebounds, 9.2 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, 5.3 turnovers, 43/37/86
Despite his recent struggles, Trae Young is lighting the college basketball world on fire this season. He is currently leading the NCAA in both points (28.3) and assists (9.2) per game. If you have been following Young’s ascendant rise, you will also know that he is one of the more controversial prospects on analysts’ mock drafts. I’ve heard him compared to both Steph Curry and Jimmer Fredette in the same breath in terms of his NBA outlook. Given that he is currently my third ranked rookie prospect for fantasy, you can probably guess which camp I am more closely aligned with (no I’m not saying he is the next Steph Curry).
If you look up “in the gym” range in the dictionary, you would see Young’s picture next to the definition. He is a deadeye shooter from just about anywhere inside his opponent’s half court, and has an extremely quick release, allowing defenders little time to close out and contest despite his short stature. Beyond his gravity outside the arc, he is a strong ball handler with the ability to create his own shot and uses the space he creates down low, combined with his exceptional vision and natural ability as a passer, to set up his teammates for easy looks. I’m not quite as concerned about his size and athleticism as others are, but when combined with his defensive limitations, it does paint at least a shadow of doubt about his ability to contribute at the next level. He is far from a sure thing, but the upside is too high to not take a chance on at this point.
- Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Michigan State
22 minutes, 11.4 points, 1.2 threes, 5.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 3.3 blocks, 1.9 turnovers, 54/43/79
Jackson is averaging 3.3 blocks in only 22 minutes per game this year for the Spartans. That should give you an idea of his ability to absolutely dominate on the defensive end. He is a strong, but not elite rebounder, with relatively raw offensive skillset that does include an ability to knock shots down from deep.
He may have a slightly lower ceiling than a few guys below him on this list, but my belief in his reliably high floor gives him the slight edge over players like Bagley, Bamba and Porter below. Similar to DeAndre Ayton above, Jackson profiles as an ideal big man in the modern NBA with his ability to play the pick and roll and pick and pop well. His shot is probably a bit further out than Ayton’s but it isn’t hard to see him developing into a strong stretch big in the NBA. His post-game is also a work in progress, but his offensive skillset is versatile enough to make up for it.
Defensively, standing at 6’11” with a 7’4” wingspan Jackson has the potential to be an imposing defender at the next level. His athleticism and shot blocking ability are not in question, however his inability to defend without fouling is one of the reasons that he is only playing 22 minutes per game this season. His per 40 numbers are on par with numerous number one selections, but he can’t put up numbers if he is not on the court. Triple J has huge fantasy potential, and if he moves from the fourth spot on this list as we draw closer to the 2018 NBA draft, it will probably only be up.
- Marvin Bagley III, F, Duke
32 minutes, 21.2 points, 0.7 threes, 11.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks, 2.4 turnovers, 60/35/62
Bagley has missed the Blue Devils’ last three games with a knee sprain, but we don’t know much else at this point about the injury or his projected timeline to return. It is something to keep an eye on, but at this point isn’t something that is likely to impact his draft stock.
In terms of pure potential and raw athletic ability, Bagley is near the top of this draft class. He has all of the physical tools to excel in the NBA, but the development of his game and offensive polish lag a step behind. He is great rebounder on both ends of the court and is a solid shot blocker with plenty of room for improvement given his size and athleticism. I’m fairly certain that those two skills will translate well to the NBA, but his consistency and versatility as a scorer are more in question. He has demonstrated the ability to stretch out to the 3-point line but is not much of threat beyond the arc at this point. He is a natural slasher and is great at getting to the rim and drawing fouls. However, his 62-percent conversion rate at the charity stripe leaves much to be desired. If Bagley reaches his ceiling, he could boast an incredibly rich fantasy stat set with nightly double-double and triple-one money counter potential, but is still too raw at the moment to warrant a higher spot on this list.
- Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas
31 minutes, 13.6 points, 0.5 threes, 11.1 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 4.0 blocks, 54/28/68
Add Bamba’s name to what is already a draft class rich with frontcourt talent near the top. He already fits the mold of a dominant shot blocker with his 7’0” frame, 7’9” wingspan and 9’6” standing reach. Given his size and early returns on the defensive end (he is four blocks per game this season) it isn’t hard to see why Bamba is drawing comparisons to Rudy Gobert.
He certainly has the potential to get there, but like Gobert, has some pretty serious limitations on the offensive end that may limit his ceiling as a fantasy asset (though he may come into the NBA as a more polished scorer than Gobert). At this point, a majority of his offense comes as the recipient of catch and finish opportunities around the rim, and he doesn’t have much of a post game to fall back on. Despite his deficiencies, he should step in as an NBA ready shot blocker next year with all of the physical tools to become an early-to-mid round fantasy asset at his ceiling.
- Michael Porter Jr., F, Missouri
FIBA Junior Stats: 21 minutes, 15.8 points, 1.2 threes, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.0 blocks, 53/30/100
Porter had a legitimate claim to the number one spot on this list prior to suffering a back injury which required surgery after only one minute of college action. It his hard to speculate too much about his strengths and weaknesses at the NCAA level, but in his senior season of high school he posted impressive averages of 36.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.7 blocks.
Those numbers would have almost certainly regressed at the next level, but the scouting report on Porter out of high school shows elite size and athleticism with a near NBA-ready offensive game. His jump shot is the primary weapon in his arsenal, but he needs to expand his ability to create shots around the rim given his athleticism and size. There is a chance that we see Porter return to action this season, but until then he remains one of the higher risk lottery options for fantasy owners with the potential for a sky-high reward if he returns unhindered by the injury.
- Collin Sexton, G, Alabama
29 minutes, 18.1 points, 1.3 threes, 3.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.1 blocks, 43/33/78
Sexton is an intriguing prospect from a fantasy perspective. He is an explosive athlete with a score-first mentality and serious competitive fire. This isn’t to say that he is the next Russell Westbrook, but he is one of the few players I have seen that exudes the same type of fire that Westbrook does with the lethal slashing ability and jump shooting to back it up on offense. Sexton is not a knock-down shooter in the same vein as Trae Young, but his jumper is consistent enough to keep defenses off balance when combined with his innate ability to get to the rim and finish through contact inside.
While Sexton has proven to be a capable scorer able to put a team on his back for stretches, the rest of his stat set has yet to round out. He is more of a combo guard than a true point guard at this point in his career, and his ability to facilitate and run an offense is still lacking. They have different skill sets and play styles, but from a stat set perspective, he is not too far off from a first year Jamal Murray, or a less prolific version Donovan Mitchell without as many steals. We’ve seen both evolve over the season to take on more responsibility at the one, but don’t be surprised is Sexton plays more off the ball early on and doesn’t give you much more than points and threes with inconsistent percentages out of the gate. With that said, you can’t teach his will to win and raw athletic ability, so I am inclined to believe that he will put in the work to evolve his game at the next level and develop into a solid second-tier guard option for fantasy owners over time.
- Wendell Carter Jr., F/C, Duke
27 minutes, 14.4 points, 0.6 threes, 9.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.2 blocks, 58/49/70
Carter has spent most of this season in the shadow of his teammate Marvin Bagley, but has taken center stage lately after Bagley has missed the Devils’ last three games with a knee injury. Carter does not display the freakish athleticism that Bagley has, but is still above average in that department given his large 6’10” frame.
He is a very strong rebounder and rim protector with a smooth jump shot that can extend out to the three-point line. He is a tier below other big men on this list, but I’m not sold on the fact that he can’t develop further into a reliable early-to-mid-round fantasy asset if he hits his ceiling. He could easily be scoring closer to 18-20 points per game if his 22.7-percent usage was closer to the 30-percent mark.
His versatility on offense and ability to stretch defenses out to the 3-point line gives me some degree of confidence that his game will translate well to the NBA, but I am most intrigued by his development as a passer. I don’t think he will ever become as prolific a big man passer as Nikola Jokic, but he is a strong passer out of the post with the vision to find cutters for easy assists when the defense slides over to help or doubles him. It isn’t a stretch to see Carter developing into a big man in the mold of Al Horford or Marc Gasol at his ceiling, but he probably further out from that ceiling than other players higher on this list.
- Mikal Bridges, G/F, Villanova
32 minutes, 17.1 points, 2.4 threes, 5.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, 51/42/83
This year marks Bridges’ third year of college action, making him the oldest prospect to crack the top-10 in these early rankings. That certainly does knock him down a peg in dynasty formats, but his stat set potential is simply too rich to discount him too much. Bridges has been a pretty consistent force on the defensive end, posting a steal rate of around 3-percent (percentage of opponents plays he forces a steal, not just accumulated stats) and a block rate of over 3.5-percent throughout his entire college career. However, it is his offensive evolution that has me most intrigued about his potential ceiling.
Bridges has nearly doubled his scoring output from last season (9.8 PPG) so far this season, averaging 17.1 points in only two extra minutes played per game. The gains in scoring output have only come at the expense of marginal decreases in efficiency, despite attempting nearly three more shots per game from outside. He has the potential to be a solid two-way asset at the next level, but I do think that his ceiling is capped out at the “role player” level in the NBA.
Despite the inflated stats this year, his per 100 and advanced metrics don’t show much evolution over his three years at Villanova outside the scoring column, which was also the case for another recent “college veteran” lottery pick, Buddy Hield. Bridges offers more from a fantasy perspective than Hield, but I use Hield as a comparison for his ceiling because their trajectory in college is very similar. That is far from definitive, as we have seen role players take their game to the next level after several years in the NBA, but it does slide him down to the back of my very early top-10 list despite the already rich stat set that he provides.
That is it for this preview of my very early 2018 rookie draft class rankings. If you want to read more, be sure to check out my dynasty content over on the premium side here at Hoop Ball.