April 6, 2019, 3:48 pm
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.
October 17, 2019, 1:01 amLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James scored 18 points with 11 dimes, four rebounds, a triple and a steal in Wednesday's 126-93 win over the Warriors.
James might have played his last preseason game tonight, but he delivered for the fans in his 25 minutes of action. He bullied the Warriors tonight and dished out some beautiful dimes, including a backwards overhead toss straight into Danny Green's shooting pocket which ended up with a bucket. The King has his help this year with Davis so the numbers will come, but we can expect him to take a bit of a backseat and more rest days as he saves his body for the playoffs.
October 17, 2019, 1:00 amAvery BradleySG, Los Angeles Lakers
Avery Bradley scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting with four triples against the Warriors on Wednesday.
Bradley did nothing but score the ball tonight and if he isn't red-hot from deep, he isn't worth owning in fantasy leagues. Danny Green (eight points, two triples, two assists and a steal) isn't a sexy option, but provides more for fantasy owners and Quinn Cook (16 points, four triples, two rebounds and three assists) is going to have to prove he can produce when the Lakers play their full rotation.
October 17, 2019, 1:00 amJaVale McGeeC, Los Angeles Lakers
JaVale McGee scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with six rebounds, a steal and a block vs. the Warriors on Wednesday.
McGee looks solid in short spurts and the Lakers look like they have a solid rotation at center between he and Dwight Howard (13 points and seven rebounds). McGee is the man to own here, but both are decent options at the end of your drafts.
October 17, 2019, 1:00 amAnthony DavisPF-C, Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis scored eight points on 3-of-9 shooting with 10 boards, eight assists, a steal and two blocks in Wednesday's preseason game against the Warriors.
It doesn't matter what position he plays, Davis will put up huge numbers this season as he looks ready to go after a thumb injury scare. The eight dimes are a nice wrinkle and the Lakers are going to generate a lot of open looks for their role players with Davis and LeBron James drawing all of the attention.
October 17, 2019, 12:59 amD'Angelo RussellPG, Golden State Warriors
D'Angelo Russell scored 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting with three rebounds, three assists and three 3-pointers in Wednesday's preseason match against the Lakers.
Russell played 27 minutes, which was near the 30 minute mark that the Warriors said they'd play him. He was one of the few productive Warriors players in tonight's game and should slot in as the second highest usage player behind Stephen Curry (rest) which means he'll be someone to target in the earlier rounds.
October 17, 2019, 12:59 amDraymond GreenPF, Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green scored 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting with four rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block against the Lakers on Wednesday.
Green went 0-for-5 from deep and if he can't get his 3-point shooting right, it'll hurt his fantasy value a bit. He's still going to get it done defensively and the Warriors are going to hand him more shots this year so his baseline counting stats production is still safe.
October 17, 2019, 12:37 amMarvin Bagley IIIPF, Sacramento Kings
Marvin Bagley scored a game-high 30 points in Wednesday's 124-110 win over Melbourne United to go with 14 rebounds, one assist, three steals and a block.
Bagley went 12-for-17 from the floor and missed both free throw attempts, but he continued his impressive play in the preseason tonight. He went 6-for-10 at the line which highlights one of the few deficiencies in his fantasy game, but the numbers across the board make up for it.
October 17, 2019, 12:35 amRichaun HolmesPF, Sacramento Kings
Richaun Holmes started on Wednesday and scored two points with eight rebounds, two assists and a block.
Holmes got the starting nod as Dewayne Dedmon (rest) sat this one out. He'll be a great play whenever Dedmon misses time, but he should still be able to scrape out some standard-league value regardless. If you don't know our love for Holmes, you haven't been around enough.
October 17, 2019, 12:33 amBuddy HieldSG, Sacramento Kings
Buddy Hield scored 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting with three 3-pointers, six assists and two rebounds in Wednesday's game against Melbourne.
Hield's six dimes are nice, but the zero on defensive stats is a bummer. If he can expand his game even further in either the assists or defense department, there's a higher ceiling than his current early-mid round value.
October 17, 2019, 12:33 amHarrison BarnesSF, Sacramento Kings
Harrison Barnes finished Wednesday's game with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting with six rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Barnes was hot tonight, but his line is exactly why he's not a great fantasy player. Even though he shot well from the floor, he hit zero 3-pointers and was limited in contributions elsewhere. The Kings have a ton of talent so there's no need to give Barnes the ball that much.