March 20, 2019, 2:29 pm
When thinking through a rookie dynasty draft, it is easy to get enamored with the big name lottery prospects, and rightly so. An analysis on the outcome of picks one through eight since 1980 reveals that 77 percent of players picked number one overall make an All-Star team at some point in their career. However, that number drops of precipitously as you move on from the number one pick: No. 2 (34 percent); No. 3 (49 percent); No. 4 (29 percent); No. 5 (31 percent); No. 6 (20 percent); No. 7 (20 percent); No. 8 (11 percent).
While those numbers still do indicate that – in general – the higher the draft selection the more likely that player is to excel in the NBA, there are plenty of instances of non-lottery players and even second-round selections that went on to become All-Star caliber players. Draymond Green, Nikola Jokic, Marc Gasol, Isaiah Thomas, Manu Ginobili and Paul Millsap are just a few recent second-round selections that fit that bill.
If we look even further down the list of second-round selections, you will see plenty of solid rotation-level players (and regular top-100 fantasy contributors) like Trevor Ariza, Khris Middleton, Patrick Beverley, DeAndre Jordan and Jerami Grant. Of course, for every one of these players there are at least two that never play meaningful minutes in the NBA, but I say all of this to point out that there can still be fantasy gold buried outside of the relatively small list of blue chip prospects that enter the league each year.
There isn’t any one reason why these types of players escape the keen eye of NBA front office scouts, but often it can come down to measurables and perpetuating group-think. Some players’ stocks may have slipped due to a general reluctance to draft European prospects over perceptions of them being “soft” (a trend that is fading). For others, it may be that they are deemed “too old, too short, position-less, or un-athletic.” Whenever we see these tags haphazardly slapped on players without much qualification, it is wise to do some digging and see for yourself if unique and transcendent talent may allow these players to shine in the NBA regardless of their perceived shortcomings.
In this first installment looking at rookie sleepers, we will focus on two North Carolina players that I think are flying a bit below the radar and have the potential to make an impact in dynasty leagues within their first few years in the league. As the tournament rolls on, stay tuned for additional deep dives on players outside of the lottery, big name player profiles and an overview on how I attempt to project fantasy value from college stats.
Before we get into it, you can build a FREE bracket and compete for your share of $64,000 during this year’s tournament! That’s right, NO DEPOSIT REQUIRED, thanks to our partnership with DraftKings. Make sure to submit your bracket by tipoff on March 21st. Sign up right here!!!
Coby White, G, North Carolina
2018-2019 Per-Game Averages: 28.2 minutes, 16.3 PTS, 2.4 3P, 3.4 RBS, 4.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.3 BLK (43.1% FG / 36% 3P / 81.4% FT)
If White has a strong performance in the tournament, there may not be much room for upside on White as a “sleeper” prospect in dynasty rookie drafts. The 19-year-old freshman guard has exceeded all expectations this season with his dynamic offensive contributions and continued evolution as a lead guard.
He came into the season billed as a scoring-centric combo guard, not quite skilled enough of a facilitator to be considered a point guard, but not quite long enough to play effectively off the ball on the wing at the NBA level. However, as the season wore on, White has continued to demonstrate an improved ability to run the point and orchestrate the Tar Heels’ offensive attack. Is he ready to be a starting point guard in the NBA at this point? Probably not, but his development over the season gives me some optimism that he could eventually take on that role in the NBA.
White can be prone to some stretches of tunnel vision, and when he is looking to get his teammates involved he sometimes telegraphs his passes and gets a bit careless with the ball (his subpar 1.49 assist/turnover ratio as evidence), but these are hopefully issues that NBA coaching can address. His growth as a point guard is not a neat linear trajectory, but instead a bumpy landscape with many segments of taking two steps forward, and then one step back. With that said, the trajectory is still pointing up, regardless of setbacks, and that is due in large part to his White’s commitment to filling holes in his game and evolving into more than just a scoring threat.
Despite the improvement, White’s play as a facilitator won’t land him in the lottery, but his natural ability as a scorer just may. As a 36 percent shooter from beyond the arc, he isn’t exactly the picture of true value-added efficiency like his teammate Cameron Johnson, but a few big outlier games are largely to blame for the somewhat pedestrian shooting percentages that were hovering closer to 39 percent prior to ACC tournament play. He has demonstrated the range to pull up and bury big shots from well beyond the 3-point line and excels at creating his own space to score at all three levels.
While he won’t likely be profiled as one of the more “elite” athletes in the draft, White has a quick first step and the ability to stop and change direction just as quickly, an ability that frequently puts opposing defenders off balance and on their heels. He excels at pushing the pace and his offensive ability truly shines when running in transition.
While White can be a dominant offensive force playing off the ball in halfcourt sets and leading with the ball in transition, he may never be an elite pick and roll player at the NBA level, and that’s okay. Even if he never thrives as a lead guard, White has plenty of ability as a floor spacer, natural scorer, and secondary wing facilitator to contribute at the next level.
White is one of my favorite high-upside prospects currently sitting outside of the lottery discussion, and I’d easily consider drafting him in the 15-25 range for dynasty rookie drafts. There are certainly safer options out there available in that range, but White’s untapped upside and potential to blossom into a multi-category fantasy producer is worth the gamble, especially if his draft price stays relatively cheap.
Cameron Johnson, F, North Carolina
AGE: 23 years-old
2018 – 2019 Per-Game Averages: 29.7 minutes, 16.9 PTS, 2.6 3P, 5.8 RBS, 2.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.3 BLK (50.8%/46.5%/80.4%)
The most recognizable NBA draft prognosticators are all over the map on Cameron Johnson. The most recent Sports Illustrated big board (as of 3/19/19) has Johnson at number 60; ESPN has him at number 21; and CBS Sports slots Johnson in at number 33. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that he has battled several knee and hip injuries and is one of the older prospects in this draft at 23 years old after playing five years of NCAA basketball. I still think there is room for Johnson to grow at the next level, but even if he is nearing the top of his development curve, he still has the look of a solid rotation-level NBA player who knows his role and plays it well.
The first thing that immediately jumps out looking at Johnson is his elite, and I mean seriously elite, 3-point shooting. He is knocking down an absurd 46.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, which contributes in large part to his 64.6 true shooting percentage (a metric that combines 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage and FT percentage to more accurately reflect a player’s overall scoring efficiency). Johnson’s gravity from beyond the arc is hard to overstate, however it almost always seems to come within the flow of the Tar Heels’ offensive scheme. He has proven capable of providing a spark when the offensive attack sputters, but is able to do so without bludgeoning his way into the flow of things.
While I would consider his mostly complimentary style of offense to be generally a positive aspect of his game (weird to say about someone who leads his team in scoring), he does have an extreme reliance on others get looks from beyond the arc. He is assisted on 92 percent of his 3-point conversions, indicating a general lack of ability to create his own shot. I’m not sure he needs to become a dominant offensive force at the NBA level to be a successful rotation player, but expanding his ability to create space for himself and hit more pull-up shots would add another level to his game.
There are also concerns about Johnson’s athleticism and ability to defend at the next level, but he has shown some improvement on the defensive side of the ball this season with his 0.8 increase in steal percentage (now up to a respectable 2.1 percent) and two-point increase in his defensive box plus/minus score (now up to 3.4). He may never become an elite wing defender at the NBA level, but his length combined with a steady improvement in that area throughout his college career gives me some hope that he can develop into a plus defender in the NBA depending on which players surround him.
His fantasy profile is currently that of a 3-point specialist with some added upside as a rebound and steals generator (averaging 5.8 and 1.2 per game respectively). I generally tend to downgrade pure 3-point specialists in my rookie rankings, but as players like Landry Shamet continue to show, there is a place in the league on just about any team for an efficient 3-point scoring threat regardless of real or perceived defensive shortcomings. For dynasty managers, I wouldn’t necessarily peg him as a worth a top-20 pick in rookie drafts, but if you are risk averse and are looking for a player that has a chance at making an impact right away, Johnson can be slotted in the pick 20-30 range.
May 26, 2019, 11:48 amOG Anunoby - F - Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are expressing optimism that OG Anunoby will be able to see the floor for their NBA Finals matchup with the Golden State Warriors.
Anunoby's size and defensive versatility could make for a very valuable weapon against the Warriors' small-ball lineups. That being said, he has been out for nearly a month and a half, and the Raptors' eight man rotation has hit its stride in the crux of this playoff run. It remains to be seen if he will make it back, but in the event that he can, there is no guarantee that he will be able to crack meaningful minutes in Toronto's tight rotation.
Source: Ryan Wolstat on Twitter
May 26, 2019, 11:19 amMichael Porter Jr. - F - Denver Nuggets
As a symptom from his back surgeries, Michael Porter Jr. developed drop foot, and will wear to a leg brace to help stabilize it when he makes his professional debut in Summer League according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post.
Drop foot makes it hard for one to lift the front part of their foot and is a common symptom of back related ailments, of which Porter Jr. has had two surgeries to address over the last year and a half. Porter Jr. remains an unknown commodity with a laundry list of health concerns as an NBA player. There has been some recent success with young guys being able to bounce back in big ways after suffering year-long injuries, but Porter Jr. will remain a mystery until we see him on the court for his inaugural season.
Source: The Denver Post
May 26, 2019, 11:04 amJonas Valanciunas - C - Memphis Grizzlies
Jonas Valanciunas said that he wants to see who the Memphis Grizzlies hire as their next head coach before deciding on his $17.6 million player option.
Valanciunas saw his role increase in Memphis after being traded from Toronto, and actually played to compete with the Grizz trying to win enough games to convert their, at the time, low-end lottery pick to Boston. Valanciunas made it clear that he doesn't want to return to Memphis if their plans are to pivot to a rebuild and not compete again next year, saying, "I want to know, how we gonna look in 82 games. I don't want to be a tourist. I want to win.". The Hoop Ball favorite will be hard pressed to find a situation that will give him as much run, and fantasy value, as Memphis did, making this a decision fantasy owners everywhere should monitor.
Source: Dontas Urbonas on Twitter
May 26, 2019, 10:06 amKawhi Leonard - F - Toronto Raptors
Kawhi Leonard held Giannis Antetekounmpo to just .353 shooting from the floor with an offensive rating of 89.4 when guarding him in the Eastern Conference Finals.
This is needed to emphasize just how dominant of a defensive player Leonard really is. For reference, Giannis shot .578 from the floor with an offensive rating of 121 through the regular season. A total swing of nearly 23 percent and 32 less points per 100 possessions is preposterous for any player, especially an MVP caliber offensive juggernaut in Antetokounmpo. Keep these numbers in mind as the debate over Leonard being the league's best player continues to heat up.
Source: Micha Adams on Twitter
May 26, 2019, 1:17 amKawhi Leonard - F - Toronto Raptors
Kawhi Leonard posted a monster line in Saturday's 100-94 Game 6 win, scoring 27 points with 17 rebounds, seven assist, two steals, two blocks and six turnovers.
Leonard put the Raptors on his back and carried them into their first NBA Finals appearance. After losing the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals the Raptors stormed back to take the next four to seal the series. Kawhi has been simply marvelous for this team and found a way to crank it up another notch, averaging almost 30 points per game this series. He was all over the court this game and dominated the Bucks from inside the paint. A 4th quarter dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo punctuated this dominance and sent the hometown crowd in a frenzy. The Raptors will try to keep their hot streak going as they face the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
May 26, 2019, 1:14 amGiannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks
While Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a five-year supermax contract worth over $247 million, ESPN's Malika Andrews is reporting that the 2020 playoff run could swing whether or not Antetokounmpo stays with the Bucks long-term.
The Bucks have three of their starters and two key bench pieces heading into free agency this summer, so they might have to make some bold choices to keep the necessary parts around while also improving the team on a budget. It's possible that this is the Antetokounmpo camp's way of encouraging Milwaukee to empty the wallet and keep the current group together, but it goes against what Giannis has said publicly about the team and city from day one. The Bucks were eliminated mere hours ago but we're already having this conversation. The NBA news cycle is perpetual.
May 26, 2019, 12:59 amKyle Lowry - G - Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry posted a solid line in Saturday's Game 6 win scoring 17 points while adding five rebounds, eight assists, three 3-pointers, one steal and only one turnover.
After a pedestrian series against the 76ers, Lowry stepped it up against the Bucks, averaging almost 20 points per game in the Eastern Conference Finals. He did a great job making smart plays for the Raptors and they will need him to continue to operate at this high level as they head off into the NBA Finals next week.
May 26, 2019, 12:48 amMarc Gasol - C - Toronto Raptors
Marc Gasol scored six points, all from behind the arc, in Saturday's Game 6 win, adding three rebounds, two assists and a block/steal in 26 minutes.
Gasol continues to do what the Raptors ask of him though the years of grinding in the paint for Memphis are long gone. He has adjusted his game play and now acts as a facilitator for the rest of the team. Gasol continues to split time in the post with Serge Ibaka (25 minutes, nine points) and will see his minutes fluctuate based on the Raptor's offensive scheme heading into the NBA Finals.
May 26, 2019, 12:24 amFred VanVleet - G - Toronto Raptors
Fred VanVleet was a difference maker for the Raptors' series clinching Game 6, scoring 14 points off the bench on 5-for-6 shooting while adding two assists.
VanVleet played 34 minutes off the bench and continues to be a menace from behind the 3-point line (4-for-5 today). In the past three games he has gone an unbelievable 14-for-17 from behind the arc. The Raptors will continue to rely on his ability to stretch the floor as they head into their first NBA Finals and will square off against the Warriors and their own formidable shooters.
May 26, 2019, 12:08 amGiannis Antetokounmpo - F - Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 21 points in Saturday's Game 6 loss while contributing 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals, three blocks and two turnovers.
Antetokounmpo did all that was asked of him on both sides of the ball but could not get past the Raptors this series. Giannis continues to operate at an MVP-level but his freethrow woes continue to plague him. He was "Shaq-esque" this series (55%) and shot 5-for-10 in tonight's loss. This is a tough break for Antetokounmpo and the Bucks as they head into the offseason with four of their five starters entering free agency.