• As a rule, rookies are generally over-drafted and over-valued in fantasy leagues. Some live up to expectations and turn into reliable top-100 assets from the jump, but many more go on to languish in the depths of the waiver wire after burning owners on draft day. This doesn’t mean that owners should never take a gamble on promising rookie talent in the draft – sometimes uncertainty around rookies can be leveraged for huge draft-day profit. However, picking a rookie should only be done at an ADP that will minimize risk if things don’t pan out and maximize owners’ return on investment if they strike gold. Here is a rundown on what to expect from some the standard league relevant players in this seasons’ freshman class.

    Top-25 Upside

    Zion Williamson, F, Pelicans – As has been the case all along, Zion stands in a tier by himself. He will hurt you at the free throw line, but as a focal point of the run-and-gun Pelicans system, he should be a counting stat machine. Grabbing Zion inside of the top-25 outside of dynasty formats doesn’t leave much room for upside, but in the 30-40 range it is a reasonably safe bet that he will return on that investment.

    Top-50 Upside

    Ja Morant, G, Grizzlies – We should expect many of the same growing pains that are frequently present in rookie guards (inefficiency and a high turnover rate in particular), but there is a chance that Morant cracks the top-50 regardless of those concerns on big scoring and assist numbers. That is not to suggest that he should be drafted inside the top-50, as the odds of him hitting this ceiling are pretty low with Tyus Jones and – to a lesser extent – De’Anthony Melton in the picture. His ADP is hovering around the 75-85 range, which does leave some room for him to outperform his draft price, but there is significantly more variance in Morant’s projections than Zion’s.

    Top-75 Upside

    Rui Hachimura, F, Wizards – I love Hachimura as a late-round flier, not necessarily because of exceptional talent, but instead because of the total lack of competition for shots and minutes in Washington. His main competition for minutes is with the likes of Davis Bertans, Troy Brown and C.J. Miles, so it is probably safe to assume that Hachimura will soak up a considerable amount of minutes from day one. He should provide a steady dose of points and boards, and will likely sporadically kick in threes, steals and blocks, but the real key to his fantasy success will be efficiency. He was a 59 percent shooter in his last year of college, and he hovered around the 50 percent mark in Summer League. If he can match that level of shooting efficiency on fairly high-volume, he moves from a fringe top-150 guy to a top-75 type player. With an ADP hovering around the 140 mark, Hachimura is a great “why not?” type flier toward the end of drafts.

    R.J. Barrett, F, Knicks – We expect Barrett to soak up a considerable amount of rotation minutes in New York, but what he will deliver with those minutes is in question. He should be able to provide a steady stream of points, boards and assists, but percentages will likely hold his overall fantasy appeal back. In Summer League, Barrett went 37 percent from the floor in nearly 15 shots per game and hit his foul shots at a 65 percent clip. He might not be 37 percent bad, but if you draft him know that he will do some damage to both percentages. He’s fine as a late flier, but paying a top-100 price for Barrett really maxes out the potential return you will get from that selection.

    Top-100 Upside

    Darius Garland, G, Cavaliers – Garland only played five games of college basketball before suffering a season-ending knee injury and subsequently sat out of Summer League, so he is a bit of a mystery to project. If we expand on the small sample size that we have, it is assumed that Garland will provide a lot of points and threes on decent efficiency with relatively low assist and steal numbers for a guard. It could be a bit of an odd fit next to Collin Sexton who has a similar skill-set, but Garland will likely take on a considerable chunk of guard minutes available in the rotation. He is a great last-pick upside play, as the potential for a top-100 fantasy season is there. If he gets off to a slow start, keep him on your watch list and consider a stash around the trade deadline as we’ve seen rookie guards in the past take a significant leap forward down the stretch.

    Brandon Clarke, F, Grizzlies – Clarke probably won’t see a ton of minutes – especially to start the season – as he is firmly behind Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jonas Valanciunas on the depth chart, but the potential is still there for a top-100 fantasy campaign. Clarke is a great per-minute defensive stat collector and an extremely efficient scorer, so he may not need more than 15-20 minutes per night to be on the radar in standard leagues. In the relatively slim chance that he earns an even larger role than that, a top-50 fantasy season is possible.

    Deeper League Options and Fliers

    Jarrett Culver, G, Wolves – Culver will likely have to battle with Josh Okogie for a starting role, but there is a chance that his role gradually increases as the season progresses. We didn’t get to see Culver in Summer League, but based on his college stats he should provide pretty solid contributions across the board without necessarily providing a huge lift in any one category. He struggled a bit at the line in college, and I’d expect some inconsistent shooting from the floor for Culver, but he should have a pretty clearly defined role and path to upside as a pick around the 140-150 range.

    De’Andre Hunter, F, Hawks – Hunter’s college numbers paint the picture of someone who will need a lot of minutes to be a real factor in fantasy. Outside of scoring efficiently and pulling down a few rebounds, he doesn’t really do much else peripherally that shows up in the box score. With that said, he will probably see plenty of minutes in Atlanta despite the presence of Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter so I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he ends up being a fringe top-100 player. I like a few of the guys below more from a stat set upside perspective, but minutes are the most important category to fantasy success, so a flier on Hunter is completely justified.

    Cam Reddish, F, Hawks – Outside of steals and threes, Reddish doesn’t bring much fantasy appeal to the table. He shot a dreadful 35.6 percent from the field in college, so we can probably assume with a good degree of confidence that Reddish will damage your field goal percentage. However, similar to Hunter, he should see plenty of minutes to start the season so he is still a solid late-round flier. I’m not very confident that he is anything more than a fringe top-150 player this season, but with an ADP of around 140 he is fine to take a flier on if you need threes and steals late.

    Bruno Fernando, C, Hawks – We close out this trio of Hawks with one of my favorite late-round fliers and deep-league targets. His fantasy value is largely rooted in his block rate (he blocked 4.5 shots per 36 minutes in Summer League), but if his position as backup center behind Alex Len solidifies, there is a real chance of him cracking the top-150. There are some holes in his stat set, but he doesn’t have much in the way of competition at the five, so the potential for him to vastly outperform his ADP is there.

    P.J. Washington, F, Hornets – P.J. Washington’s name may not have quite as much flash as some of the players above, but I’m betting on the chance that he ends up as one of the more surprising rookies this season from a fantasy perspective. He does struggle at the line, so he may not fit every team, but he’s got nice triple-one money counter appeal (threes, steals and blocks for the uninitiated). The Hornets will need production to come from somewhere, and after Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges there aren’t all that many options.

    Goga Bitadze, C, Pacers – On paper, Bitadze isn’t very appealing in standard redraft leagues as he is slotted firmly behind Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner on the depth chart. While a starting job is probably off the table, the Pacers don’t have many reserve big man options beyond Bitadze, making him a likely a steady rotation player all season. Even in a 20-25 minute role, Bitadze has a shot at cracking the top-150 with a steady supply of blocks, boards, efficient scoring and even the occasional three.

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