• Hey Hoop-Ballers! Welcome back to the second installment of my segment discussing the process of projecting incoming rookie players as long-term fantasy contributors. Last week, we ended with a bit of a tease on evaluating how much impact draft age actually has on fantasy production. I’m sure after that nearly Game of Thrones-magnitude cliffhanger, you are all waiting on pins and needles, so let’s dive right in.

    I’ve always held the belief that age and “upside” are overrated in both the real NBA draft and in fantasy hoops circles – particularly in dynasty formats. There are circumstances where it makes sense to go for a younger option a veteran purely on upside. For instance, if a 21-year-old junior is producing roughly equivalent to an 18-year-old freshman, then it does seem wise to pick the younger player as their rough development curve will likely have a higher ceiling. However, as a general rule, I still think youth and upside is largely overvalued. We will likely hear plenty of debate around this subject as some likely first round and lottery draft selections are well into their early 20s, but how much attention should fantasy managers pay to a rookie’s age in dynasty drafts?

    Until now, I hadn’t done much to answer this question beyond some anecdotal observation, but as I was prepping for this article I decided to try to objectively test how much a players draft age correlates with future fantasy production. To test this, I looked at each draft class since 2013 and tracked the average per-game 9-cat ranking of rookies in each age group (18-23) through each of their first three NBA seasons. One of the first issues I encountered was the fact that plenty players of all ages barely see the floor in each draft class. To limit the possibility of small sample errors, and to hone in those players that would be fantasy relevant, I looked only at the 9-cat rankings of players that averaged at least 18 minutes per game in 41 or more games throughout the season (a few exceptions were provided on games played for injured players).

    A quick disclaimers before we go into the results. It is far from a perfect methodology, and by virtue of there being less players drafted at either extreme end of the age spectrum, those results are less statistically significant. For instance, Frank Ntilikina was the only 18-year-old that met 41-game/18-minute bar in the 2017 draft class, while Giannis was the only 18-year-old in the 2013 class, so the “average” for that age in the class is… just Frank Ntilikina or Giannis’s ranking. I’ll continue to work on through adding in additional draft classes and seasons of experience to expand the accuracy, but as a rough starting point for this discussion there are some interesting outcomes to note.

    Rookie Year 9-Cat Rankings

    Age 13-14 Draft Class 14-15 15-16 16-17 17-18 18-19 Average 9-Cat Ranking
    18 Years 225 339 204 258.5 353 N/A 275.9
    19 Years 302 202.5 192.4 277 201.33 157.82 235.046
    20 Years 235.4 224.33 290 303 171.25 166 244.80
    21 Years 110 195 173.5 264 175 229 183.5
    22 Years 241.3 285 202.5 288.5 280.33 332 259.53
    23 Years 211.5 N/A 186 169.5 316 292 220.75

     

    Across all of the five draft classes analyzed, the worst fantasy performing rookies by average are the 18-year-olds with an average 9-cat ranking of roughly 276. As I mentioned above, the “Ntilikina Effect” probably explains some of this, but there were also some now standard league relevant players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Aaron Gordon and Devin Booker included in the average who just had really bad rookie years from a fantasy perspective.

    Thanks in large part to strong rookie years from Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo, the best rookie performers across each draft class were 21-year-olds with an average ranking of 184. In second place were 23-year-olds at 221, followed by 19-year-olds at 235, then 20-year-olds at 245, then a fairly steep decline to the bottom two age groups of 22-year-olds (260) and the aforementioned 18-year-olds (276).

    Second Year 9-Cat Rankings

    Age 13-14 Draft Class 14-15 15-16 16-17 17-18 18-19 Average 9-Cat Ranking
    18 Years 86 90.5 127 214 345 N/A 172.5
    19 Years 165 124 196.36 139.33 144.16 N/A 153.77
    20 Years 184.3 186 276.33 211 148.25 N/A 201.18
    21 Years 197.25 104 150.6 132 209 N/A 158.57
    22 Years 243.43 258 127 169.9 226 N/A 204.87
    23 Years 155.5 N/A 104 92 405 N/A 189.13

     

    In their second year in the NBA, the gaps between the best and the worst performing age groups (still based on draft age) start to tighten up a bit and each class shows improvement. The best performing age group over the second year by a tight margin was 19-year-olds (154), followed closely by 21-year-olds (158). Again, after these two there is a drop off, though not as precipitous as the rookie years. 18-year-olds make a big come back up to third place thanks in large part to a top-100 season from Giannis (173), followed by 23-year-olds (190). Rounding out the last two spots are 20-year-olds (201) and 22-year-olds (205). *One disclaimer – this data does not have any input from this year’s impressive rookie class for obvious reasons*

    Third Year 9-Cat Rankings

    Age 13-14 Draft Class 14-15 15-16 16-17 17-18 18-19 Average 9-Cat Ranking
    18 Years 27 170.34 48 308.5 N/A N/A 138.46
    19 Years 134.33 101.17 164.73 177 N/A N/A 144.31
    20 Years 172.7 159 123.66 179.5 N/A N/A 158.72
    21 Years 145.8 175.33 187.13 158.5 N/A N/A 166.69
    22 Years 177.33 228 175.67 154 N/A N/A 183.75
    23 Years 92.5 N/A 160 49.5 N/A N/A 100.67

     

    By their third year in the league, the draft classes eligible for consideration (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) are generally higher ranked fantasy producers with somewhat less of a stark contrast in value between age groups. Interestingly, the 23-year-olds (still considering age when they were drafted, not in this season) hold the distinction of best fantasy producers with an average 9-cat ranking of 101. While this is an interesting data point, I need to note that the sample size has become incredibly small as there were no 23-year-old players qualified for this analysis in the 2014 draft class. That makes this the average ranking of only six players across the 2013, 2015 and 2016 classes – Mason Plumlee, Gorgui Dieng, Delon Wright, T.J. McConnell, Buddy Hield and Malcolm Brogdon. The remaining are pretty tightly clustered with the Giannis and Jokic-led 18-year-olds as the second best producers (138 ranking), followed by 19-year-olds (144), 20-year-olds (159) 21-year-olds (167) and 22-year-olds (184).

    What can we learn from this? The first is that – in general – rookies of all age groups make pretty bad fantasy assets regardless of age. The fact that, on average, 21-year-old rookies were far and away the best fantasy producers is does lend some credence to the notion that older players enter the league more ready to contribute immediately. 23-year-olds holding down the second ranked spot, with 18-year-olds being the worst ranked rookie performers only further backs up that hypothesis.

    As time goes on, the average difference in ranking between age groups does tighten up generally, most significantly as we jump from second-year to third-year players. That makes intrinsic sense, and does show general progression throughout different draft classes. 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds have a bit of a lag time, but go on to be generally more productive fantasy players if we exclude the small sample size of third-year 23-year-olds.

    21 and 22-year-olds fare about as well as the 19 and 20-year-olds in their first two years in the league, but hit a wall in term of statistical growth across different classes once we get to the third year in the league compared to the big leap that the 20-year-olds in particular make.

    Where things start to get interesting is if we zoom in even further beyond the average rankings and start looking at the number of top-100, top-50 and top-10 players that each age group produced over these various draft classes.

    Rookie Year Top-100 Players

    Age Top-100 Players Top-50 Players Top-10 Players
    18 Years 0 0 0
    19 Years 8 3 1
    20 Years 3 0 0
    21 Years 1 0 0
    22 Years 0 0 0
    23 Years 0 0 0

    Despite the overall poor average ranking, 19-year-olds produced eight top-100 rookies (including top-50 and top-10 players), three top-50 rookies and one top-10 rookie (KAT). No other age group came close to that with 18, 22 and 23-year-olds all failing to produce a single top-100 rookie.

    Second Year Top-100 Players

    Age Top-100 Players Top-50 Players Top-10 Players
    18 Years 2 0 0
    19 Years 11 5 1
    20 Years 3 2 0
    21 Years 4 0 0
    22 Years 2 0 0
    23 Years 3 1 0

    Looking at these prospects as they enter their second year, every age group does manage to produce at least two top-100 players. 19 year-olds continue to dominate with 11 top-100 players, five top-50 players and one top-10 player (you guessed it… KAT, again). 18 and 22 year-olds each produce two top-100 players, 20 and 23-year-olds produce at least three top-100 and two top-50 players and 18 and 22-year-olds continue to stay behind with only two top-100 player.

    Third Year Top-100 Players

    Age Top-100 Players Top-50 Players Top-10 Players
    18 Years 2 2 0
    19 Years 7 2 1
    20 Years 4 0 0
    21 Years 2 0 0
    22 Years 2 0 0
    23 Years 2 0 0

    I’ll let the chart do the talking for third year players, but the main interesting note is that 18-year olds finally catch the 19 year-olds with two players in the top-50.

    Overall, I’m surprised by how well 19-year olds fare even in their rookie years in terms of producing fantasy-relevant players across these five draft classes. The average ranking of 19-year-old rookies is clearly dragged down by a number of poor performers in large minutes, but they still manage to exceed the number of fantasy-relevant players compared to other age groups by a longshot.

    I expected 18 and 19-year-olds to lag behind the older players early on and eventually surpass them by the third year.  They do end up surpassing some of the older players as time goes on, but can’t quite manage to knock off the dominant third-year play of the Buddy Hield/Malcolm Brogdon led 23-year olds in their third year.

    The results of this show generally that older prospects tend to have a fairly steady floor, but rarely evolve into elite top-50 fantasy options, while the youngest prospects take time to develop as an overall unit in each draft class, but produce more elite talent. I think that the general takeaway from this data set is that age is still an important tool to evaluate prospects (especially if you are looking to find those with the highest ceilings), but probably gets more consideration in rookie rankings and big boards than is warranted. How much each manager should weigh age as a contributing or detracting factor to a player’s draft stock needs to be an individually calculated tolerance for risk. If you are like me, and tend to lean toward players with a more stable floor, this data confirms that older players make appealing low-price draft targets. If you are looking for a home run, this data confirms that you will need to spend up for an 18 or 19-year-old prospect that may take a few years to develop.

    I’m not sure that this data set is large enough to be statistically significant, and there are issues within the data that probably lead to some skewed results. That is especially true when we start counting the number of top-100 prospects that each age group generates, as 19 and 20-year-olds represent a larger portion of the draft classes in general than the fringe 18, 22 and 23-year-olds do.

    Treat this as not much more than conjecture and fun with numbers to enter the doldrums of fantasy season. However, as we approach the draft I’ll continue to add additional draft classes into the data set and work on refining my parameters for which players to include to get as complete a picture as possible as we enter rookie draft season in dynasty leagues.

Fantasy News

  • Ricky Rubio - G - Utah Jazz

    Ricky Rubio put up 17 points with four rebounds, nine assists and four steals in a loss to the Rockets in Game 2 on Wednesday.

    He shot 7-of-17 from the field and had the unfortunate matchup against James Harden for much of this game. Harden hit him with a crossover that sent Rubio to the floor, but he missed the shot. The Jazz have been getting good performances from Rubio and Derrick Favors, but the inconsistent play from the remainder of their roster has left them with a two-game series deficit. The Jazz are heading back to Utah for Game 3 as they will try to steal their first game of the series.

  • Donovan Mitchell - G - Utah Jazz

    Donovan Mitchell had another poor shooting night as he went 5-of-18 from the field on his way to 11 points in a Game 2 blowout loss to the Rockets on Wednesday.

    Mitchell shot just 1-of-8 from 3-point territory and 0-of-2 from the stripe. He also had five fouls and four turnovers while playing a team-high 37 minutes. He did add six assists and two steals, but this was a disappointing performance from the second-year rising star. Eric Gordon has been outshining him, but Mitchell has a chance to rectify things as the Jazz head home for Game 3.

  • Derrick Favors - F/C - Utah Jazz

    Derrick Favors played well in his 22 minutes of action in a Game 2 loss to the Rockets on Wednesday, with 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.

    Although Favors is putting up good numbers in such limited minutes, you should not expect to see him go above 25 minutes at all in this series. He shot 7-of-11 from the field and missed both of his attempts from deep. Also, the Rockets play a lot of small ball as PJ Tucker is their power forward, so Favors is often at a defensive disadvantage when on the court.

  • Rudy Gobert - C - Utah Jazz

    Rudy Gobert did not have a great showing in Wednesday's Game 2 loss to the Rockets as he managed just 11 points and 12 rebounds on 3-of-6 shooting.

    He made five of his seven attempts from the stripe and added one assist and two steals to the stat sheet. He did not record a block in this one which is rare to see from Gobert as he averaged 2.3 blocks per game on the season. Clint Capela has been defending Gobert well, which is making things a lot tougher on the Jazz to score and rebound the ball. Gobert will look to bounce back as the Jazz head home for Game 3.

  • Royce O'Neale - F - Utah Jazz

    Royce O'Neale played well on Wednesday in a Game 2 blowout loss to the Rockets as he had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with three triples and four assists.

    O'Neale stepped up as Joe Ingles managed just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting with five steals. He saw 27 minutes of action in this one after seeing just 15 minutes in Game 1. He has guarded James Harden on numerous possessions thus far and it seems as though Harden goes at him every chance he gets. This may be the best game we see from O'Neale all series, but he has given the Jazz some solid run off the bench thus far.

  • James Harden - G - Houston Rockets

    James Harden dominated the Jazz in Game 2 on Wednesday as he triple-doubled with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

    Aside from his eight turnovers, there was not much to complain about Harden’s performance. Rather, there were elements of Harden’s showing that deserve high praise such as his six triples, one block and toughness throughout the entire game. He would not back down from Ricky Rubio and actually crossed him up in the first half. The Beard is continuing his MVP-like season into the playoffs, which is no surprise given how truly great his 2018-19 campaign was.

  • Chris Paul - G - Houston Rockets

    Chris Paul put up 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting with two steals and two blocks in a blowout win over the Jazz on Wednesday.

    He made just one of his six 3-point attempts and turned the ball over six times. However, he did add four rebounds and three assists to the box score as well. James Harden is clearly the dominating force for the Rockets, but Paul's stability will be crucial for the team to continue their playoff success.

  • Eric Gordon - G - Houston Rockets

    Eric Gordon outplayed Donovan Mitchell once again in Game 2 as the Rockets beat the Jazz 118-98 on Wednesday.

    Gordon scored 16 points on an efficient 6-of-11 shooting and 3-of-6 shooting from long-range. He also contributed one rebound, two steals and one block to the stat sheet. Gordon is tasked with guarding Mitchell, which is the toughest defensive assignment on the Rockets and he is thriving in that role. He has held him to 30 points on 37 shots in the series thus far. This series could potentially end in four games if Gordon continues to play at this high of a level.

  • PJ Tucker - F - Houston Rockets

    PJ Tucker drilled four triples on his way to 16 points in a blowout win over the Jazz in Game 2 on Wednesday.

    He added two steals and four boards while converting five of his eight shots from the field. The Rockets have confidence in Tucker to fire from deep and he proved them right as he drilled four of his seven attempts from 3-point territory. Surrounding James Harden with 3-and-D wing players has been their formula for success and Tucker fits that mold perfectly. When Tucker is hitting his shots, the Rockets are likely to dominate the way they did tonight.

  • Clint Capela - C - Houston Rockets

    Clint Capela did not have to do much in the Rockets’ Game 2 blowout win over the Jazz on Wednesday as he had just seven points and 10 rebounds with three blocks.

    He shot 3-of-4 from the field and added one assist and one steal to the box score. Although the numbers were down in this one, he did what he had to do in his 29 minutes of action as he kept Rudy Gobert in check as well. Capela is an important cog in the Rockets’ formula for success, so even when he is not scoring as much he is still impacting the game in other ways.