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2012 Draft Prep: How will the rookies fare?

Fantasy Writer
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At this point in the offseason, with two months remaining until the season begins and a full month until teams open their training camps, trying to project and rank players is a thorny business. There is still so much that can change, as players recover from injury and get set to battle for playing time in the preseason.

And that goes for when we are trying to rank players with an actual, proven NBA track record. Dealing with rookies, then, is seen at times as an exercise in futility, as there is often little correlation between production at the collegiate or international level and what a player actually does in the league, especially right away.

The talent pool is so shallow outside of the league that it makes it easy for even fringe NBA-caliber players to rise to the top and put up eye-popping numbers. Even Matt Bonner was a star in college and Europe. And he is a relative success story. The list of collegiate superstars who fizzled at the NBA level is long enough to be a column unto itself.

Still, we know enough about the projected minutes and abilities of the rookies to make a well-educated guess at which first-year players will be able to rise up and have an impact. This far from the season’s start, we can begin to break up the rookies into tiers, letting you know ahead of time who will be worth targeting and what role you can expect them to fill when you begin to put together your rankings for Draft Day.

Starting material

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Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans; Damian Lillard, G, Portland; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, Charlotte; Bradley Beal, G, Washington

This is the easiest tier to figure out, since it is where we find the top three picks from the draft residing, almost in order -- Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Beal all went to teams that can badly use an injection of talent at their positions. The Hornets seem to be following a familiar blueprint with their blue-chip big man, as he has been surrounded by three-point bombers who should give him ample space to work around the basket, the same way Orlando did with a young Dwight Howard. His diverse skill set lends itself to production across the board, which is an attribute he shares with fellow Kentucky alum Kidd-Gilchrist, who will fill up the box score without dominating any one area.

Lillard is going to have the ball in his hands all of the time in Portland, as the Blazers pretty much cleared the decks at point guard to allow him the opportunity to run the show. Lillard was the star of the Summer League, averaging 26.5 points and 5.3 assists per game, while looking like the most NBA-ready rookie in the class. He already has a dynamic pick-and-roll partner in LaMarcus Aldridge and should be worth targeting beginning in Round 6 on Draft Day, as the top rookie after Davis. Beal and MKG slot in right behind him, though each might end up outperforming Lillard in Rotisserie formats.

On the border

Dion Waiters, G, Cleveland; Austin Rivers, G, New Orleans; Royce White, F, Rockets; Andre Drummond, F, Detroit

You could almost divide this tier into two sub-tiers, as Waiters and Rivers share questions about their abilities, but not roles, while Drummond and White enter the season as wild cards across the board. Rivers and Waiters both should fit into starting roles when the season begins, and if not, will earn them before long. The issue is, their respective freshman seasons in college left plenty of questions unanswered about their long-term NBA prospects. Rivers, in particular, will be asked to man the point at times, a role he may not be suited for, as his first instinct is to create for Austin Rivers.

Drummond and White are both incredibly intriguing talents with the potential to crack the starting lineup right away. Drummond is your prototypically raw big man, whose physical abilities wowed NBA executives as much as his mental makeup scared them away. White might be one of the most unique players in the league already, regardless of experience. White could be an in-shape Boris Diaw, with the ability to handle the ball, pass and shoot, but he is stuck on a roster that still has almost 20 players under contract for next season and which seemingly has no concrete direction. Drummond will be asked to handle the defensive duties next to Greg Monroe, as Detroit will almost certainly ease him in on offense. Once he gains center eligibility, Drummond could emerge as a worthwhile starter down the line, though his laughable free-throw shooting will hurt you in category-based formats.

Reservations

Kendall Marshall, G, Phoenix; Donatas Motiejunas, F, Houston; Harrison Barnes, F, Warriors; Terrence Ross, G, Toronto; Marquis Teague, G, Chicago; Terrence Jones, F, Houston; Andrew Nicholson, F, Orlando; Jared Sullinger, F, Boston; Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto; Thomas Robinson, F, Sacramento

For a of variety reasons, these guys represent the sort of players you might choose to take a late-round flier on as an upside play, but with the understanding you might be wasting a roster spot if you hold on too long. There is no shortage of intriguing talent in this group, as Marshall, Motiejunas, Barnes and Ross especially look like possible starters down the line, though they do have entrenched options in front of them on their respective teams.

Of the players in this group who might break out, I like Barnes, Sullinger and Nicholson, as they seem to be in the best position to produce the numbers you're likely looking for. Sullinger and Nicholson are looking at seemingly opposing outlooks for the season -- Sullinger is the big-school, lottery talent who fell in the draft to a team with tons of veteran depth looking to make another deep postseason push, while Nicholson hails from tiny St. Bonaventure and could see big minutes on a lottery-bound Magic squad.

If Only

You can toss the rest of the rookies in a pile here and pick whichever you want as a potential contributor, though you will want to leave them for the waiver wires, if possible. The remainder of the class will likely be limited to a few chances later in the season, once their teams look to rebuild and give minutes to younger players. The best of the rest include Alexey Shved , a flashy, and, at 23, surprisingly young combo guard from Russia who might help fill the playmaking hole left by Ricky Rubio’s continued recovery from knee surgery in Minnesota. John Jenkins brings three years of starting experience in the SEC and the ability to shoot tons of threes at a high success rate, though that skill is somewhat redundant as Atlanta’s roster is currently constructed. John Henson has the ability to be a game-changer on defense if he can only emerge from the glut of forwards in Milwaukee.

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Player News
Lakers sign Wayne Ellington right before training camp
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9/22/2014) With one week before the start of training camp, the Lakers have signed five-year veteran guard Wayne Ellington to a contract, the team announced. Ellington is now with his fourth team since June, after failing to crack the rotation with the Mavericks in 2013.

Ellington averaged 3.2 points on 43.7 percent shooting from the field over 45 games for Dallas.

Andray Blatche heading to China
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/20/2014) Free-agent center Andray Blatche has signed a one-year deal with the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers in China. Blatche's deal with pay him almost $2.5 million, and he'll be able to rejoin an NBA team in March, Yahoo! Sports reports.

Report: Kings add Ramon Sessions
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/20/2014) The Kings have agreed to a two-year, $4.2-million deal with free-agent guard Ramon Sessions , Yahoo! Sports reports.

The team is reportedly using its bi-annual exception provision to sign Sessions, who averaged 12.3 points, 4.1 points and 2.4 rebounds in 83 games between two teams last season.


Omer Asik ready to clean up in return to starting role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Last season was a rough one for Omer Asik, who had to deal with returning to a reserve role after really shining as a starter the previous year. He should be much happier with his role this season, as the Pelicans acquired him this offseason with the intention of installing him as the starting center.

The Pelicans should have a fearsome frontcourt with Asik starting next to Anthony Davis, and Davis' presence should free Asik up to do the kind of work he excels at. Asik isn't a great offensive player, but he can be a dominant offensive rebounder, and should have many chances to clean up the boards with teams keying in on Davis offensively. Among players who have logged at least 5,000 minutes in the NBA, Asik is 22nd all-time in offensive rebounding percentage.

Asik had trouble staying healthy last season, but that was the first time he had ever missed a regular-season game in his career, so we can probably write that off as a fluke. He averaged a double-double with 1.1 blocks per game in 30.0 minutes per game two years ago, and should be capable of similar production as he returns to a starting role.

Asik should be viewed as a starting Fantasy option this season, though he may not have the upside of some other younger centers at this point. 


Tobias Harris' Fantasy value a mystery at this point
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Perception is a funny thing. Just ask Magic forward Tobias Harris, who enjoyed by far the most productive season of his career in 2013-14 but was somehow viewed as a Fantasy disappointment.

Part of that stemmed from Harris' issues with availability, as he missed 20 games and got off to a slow start to the season as a result. It really took until January for Harris to find his stride, but he averaged 15.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game from Jan. 1 on, without missing a contest.

Harris was probably better than the general perception of him a year ago, but the power of expectations hurt him. And now he enters his fourth season as something of a career crossroads, and it is hard to say just how Fantasy owners should approach him this season.

The Magic added Channing Frye and Aaron Gordon to the roster this season, further confusing what was already one of the most crowded frontcourts in the league. Harris can play both forward spots, but he is probably best used as a small-ball power forward; the presence of Frye, one of the league's elite stretch-fours certainly complicates matters for Harris, then.

At just 22, Harris still has a world of potential ahead of him. However, he probably profiles best as a reserve Fantasy option heading into the season, given concerns about his role.   


Hype may be too high for Giannis Antetokounmpo
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) No matter what he accomplishes in his second NBA season, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is likely to be a historical outlier, given his age. The question is, how much of a leap can the now-20-year-old take next season.

Only 15 players in NBA history have logged as many minutes in a single season as a teenager as Antetokounmpo's 1,897, so he is occupying fairly rarified air already. His age is a big part of why he is considered a big-time breakout prospect for Fantasy purposes, but he has a long way to go from a statistical standpoint.

Antetokounmpo was good for a 19-year-old rookie, but his season averages of 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game left a lot to be desired. It is easy to dream about a Antetokounmpo taking a big step forward, but that next step is never guaranteed -- for every Anthony Davis there is a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist whose development follows a slower, less linear path. 

Antetokounmpo was very good -- for a 19-year-old. However, Fantasy owners don't get extra points, rebounds or assists if the degree of difficulty is higher, so you are betting on Giannis taking a huge step forward at the age of 20. Antetokounmpo has become something of an internet darling, and his play in Summer League and the FIBA World Cup dominated much of the offseason discussion, which only helped build the hype to potentially unsustainable levels. 

He is a lottery ticket, for sure, but he is one that might not be worth the cost at this point. 


Improved jump shot all Jimmy Butler needs
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Bulls guard Jimmy Butler had the breakout season many expected from him a year ago, but there were still plenty of flaws apparent in his game as he finished his third NBA season. With a better team around him, Butler just might have enough help to vault him to stardom.

Butler's jump shot abandoned him last season, especially after a toe injury forced him to miss 11 games in November and December. He was shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three-point range prior to the injury, but connected on just 39.3 percent of his shots overall and 27.1 percent from three-point range from that point on.

We can blame Butler's season-long shooting slump on the injury or his increased offensive role, but he should have neither excuse available for him this season. Butler should be healthy, and the Bulls added plenty of offensive firepower this offseason, in the form of Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott, not to mention a hopefully healthy Derrick Rose. Butler took 154 shots off the dribble last season, per Stats.NBA.com, and made just 30.7 percent of them. With a better team around him, Butler should get many more opportunities to shoot with his feet set.

Butler has the skill set to be a tremendously efficient offensive player, given how often he bullies his way to the free-throw line. Last season, Butler filled up the box score extremely well, but his poor shooting limited his Fantasy value somewhat. If a new role helps his efficiency, he could be one of the very best guards in the league in category-based formats. 


Lance Stephenson set for bigger role in new setting
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Though there were fits and starts, Lance Stephenson finally began to live up to his considerable promise last season. Now in a new home in Charlotte, will Stephenson take another step forward in 2014-15?

By the end of last season, the Pacers were a mess, and Stephenson caught plenty of the blame for that. Still, he might have been arguably the team's most consistent player throughout the season, averaging between 25.8 and 29.7 Fantasy points per game from before and after the All-Star break as well as the playoffs. For as much of a mess as that team was, Stephenson emerged as something of a rock, at least for Fantasy purposes.

The Hornets are actually built in a somewhat similar way to the Pacers, so there wont' be much of a stylistic shift for Stephenson to get used to. Per MySynergySports.com, 11.8 percent of the then-Bobcats' possessions ended in post-ups, actually down from the 13.2 percent mark the Pacers' posted. Stephenson struggled at times with his post-entry passing, though his off-target feeds might find their mark more often when being lobbed in to the soft hands of Al Jefferson, as opposed to Roy Hibbert.

The Hornets might lean even more heavily on Stephenson than the Pacers did, since Indiana liked to spread the ball around with their starting five. The Hornets, on the other hand, look to be extremely top-heavy, and Stephenson will get plenty of chances to be the second or third option. We have him projected for 29.1 Fantasy points per game, and consider Stephenson a borderline top-50 Fantasy option for this season.  


Move to Houston won't alter Trevor Ariza's trajectory
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Trevor Ariza parlayed a career-year into a lucrative free-agency contract with the Rockets this offseason -- stop me if you've heard this story before.

Ariza was largely a disappointment in his first stint with the Rockets, though it did lead him to the best per-game numbers of his career. Still, Ariza was obviously miscast as a primary offensive option the last time he was in Houston, and that won't be a problem this time around.

Ariza joins a Rockets team with two established stars, and will likely spend much of his time trying to fill the departed Chandler Parsons' role. That should suit him nicely, as Ariza has just enough of an off-the-bounce game to serve as the team's third ballhandler when the shot clock gets deep. Ariza attempted 11.1 field-goal attempts per game last season, and should see a boost given Parsons' role; he attempted 13.3 shots per game.

Ariza's improved three-point shot seems legitimate, as he is shooting 38.6 percent from long range over 738 attempts since 2012. However, he will no longer have John Wall feeding him for juicy corner 3-pointers; Wall to Ariza was the league's most productive corner-three combination last season. His shooting numbers may take a hit with his move.

Even acknowledging the loss of Wall's help, we know the Houston offense is set up to get every player the most efficient shots possible, so Ariza shouldn't see much of a dip in his efficiency. His ability to fill up the box score makes him a perfect No. 2 option at forward in category-based leagues, especially now that he is a high-volume shooter. 


Despite new role, don't write off Isaiah Thomas entirely
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Suns guard Isaiah Thomas might see one of the biggest dropoffs in his Fantasy value from last season to this, as he joins the crowded Suns' backcourt.

The Suns might have three All-Star caliber guards in the backcourt now, with Thomas likely to backup Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe this season. That should put a serious dent in Thomas' value; Thomas finished 13th in Fantasy scoring among guards a year ago, but is projected to finish just 43rd this season.

Still, Thomas is definitely someone you'll want to add to your team when drafting, and almost certainly before the rest of the No. 4-type guards he is grouped with. Thomas is likely to see his numbers fall off from the 20.3 points and 6.3 assists he averaged a year ago, at least at first. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him end up starting upwards of 25 games throughout the year, given Bledsoe's injury-proneness. Bledsoe has missed at least 25 games in two of the last three seasons for knee issues.

Thomas probably profiles as more of a bench option for Fantasy purposes next season, but you'll be targeting him much earlier than nearly any other reserve. His upside as a handcuff option for either Bledsoe or Dragic is sky-high, and will make him well worth your attention on Draft Day. 


 
 
 
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