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2013 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Rookies breakdown

Fantasy Writer
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This year's draft class was considered one of the weakest in years. And the rookie class that emerged looks extremely underwhelming as the start of their careers looms.

Looking over the first-year players, I don't see anyone who has a chance to come close to Trail Blazers Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who emerged as a top 10 Fantasy guard last season thanks to a combination of skill and team need.

A number of rookies could be looking at a Lillard-esque role this season, but it is difficult to see any of them stepping up and emerging as stars in the same way. Still, that doesn't mean you should overlook all of this year's class, even in yearly Fantasy formats. This is how I would rank the rookies at this point in the preseason.

Starting Material

Michael Carter-Williams, G, 76ers; Trey Burke, G, Jazz; Victor Oladipo, G, Magic

This trio of guards shares three things in common that put them above their peers at the start of the season -- they play for bad teams, they should get big minutes on those bad teams and they should have the ball in their hands a lot. All three showed they had a lot to learn in the Orlando Summer League, but they all play on teams that are likely to let them learn on the fly.

Oladipo is likely a step below the other two, due to the presence of Arron Afflalo, as well as the learning curve that will be involved with a defense-first guard attempting to learn to run an offense on the fly.

Burke and Carter-Williams will almost certainly struggle with their efficiency, though for very different reasons. Burke has nice shooting range, shooting 38.4 percent on five 3-pointers per game as a sophomore. He may struggle to finish in the paint in the pros, which was his biggest issue in the summer league. Carter-Williams, on the other hand, has the length to become a really good finisher inside, but has absolutely no jump shot at this point, while playing on a team that offers him very little help.

On the border

Ben McLemore, G, Kings; Kelly Olynyk, F, Celtics; Cody Zeller, C, Bobcats; C.J. McCollum, G, Trail Blazers

It says a lot about how I feel about this rookie class that I would not be surprised if any of this group was the best Fantasy option as a rookie. They do all, however, carry some significant barriers to reaching that point, hence their lower rankings.

McLemore and McCollum have more than enough ability to be starting Fantasy options, but the opportunities may not be there. Even with the loss of Tyreke Evans through free agency, the Kings are still loaded with guards, which leaves his role in doubt at this point. McCollum is a big part of the Trail Blazers' revitalized bench, but the presence of Mo Williams as the backup point guard severely limits his potential.

As for Olynyk and Zeller, they are undoubtedly skilled offensive big men -- and have been since college. Both should get plenty of chances to show that on teams that desperately need offense. Still, Zeller will likely have to spend a lot of time out on the perimeter with Al Jefferson around, which should hurt his efficiency and rebounding numbers, while Olynyk has lingering injury concerns, as well as questions about his athleticism transferring to the NBA.

I would certainly draft every player mentioned so far and expect them to stay on at least someone's roster for much of the season.

Reserves

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, G, Pistons; Otto Porter, F, Wizards; Anthony Bennett, F, Cavaliers; Alex Len, C, Suns; Sergey Karasev, F, Cavaliers

This is the part of the class where I start to think about leaving players off my draft board. I have concerns about every player here, mostly due to their probable roles.

Bennett has the skill set to be a solid stretch-four in a modern NBA offense, and that is the role the Cavaliers see for him now. Unfortunately, he has to contend with the presence of Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao ahead of him, while also possible lineups with Earl Clark at power forward. I'm simply not convinced the No. 1 overall pick is going to stand out in a deep Cleveland frontcourt.

Caldwell-Pope, Porter and Karasev all look likely to take on roles from day one on their teams, but perhaps not big ones. They all look like role players at this point, who will likely be more important to their actual teams than Fantasy owners.

The big upside play in this group is obviously Len, a project center with injury concerns who was nonetheless in the conversation for the top pick in the draft. Len has a lot of work to do and the Suns can ease him in with Marcin Gortat around. If Len shows he can play, however, don't be surprised if a Gortat trade opens up a spot in the starting lineup. His potential could make him worth stashing even if his play is lackluster during the first half of the season.

Sleepers

Shabazz Muhammad, F, Timberwolves: Seems destined for an extended stay in the D-League, but Chase Budinger's injury could end up giving him a shot.

Shane Larkin, G, Mavericks: Larkin has recovered from a broken ankle and is ready for the start of the season. He is third on the depth chart at point guard, though he is behind a couple of players with some injury concerns.

Steven Adams, C, Thunder: High-upside big man, but unlikely to make an impact this season. He might be worth snagging in dynasty formats as the eventual replacement for Kendrick Perkins.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Bucks: He's long and athletic -- that pretty much covers what we know for sure about Antetokounmpo. He played at a lower-level league in the Greek league last season -- and is very raw -- but the Bucks expect him to be a stat-sheet stuffer down the road.

Nerlens Noel, C, 76ers: Noel is recovering from knee surgery and is likely to miss a big chunk of his rookie season. Still, the 76ers are bad enough that he'll get plenty of minutes when he's ready.

Archie Goodwin, G, Suns: Goodwin was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school, but his freshman season didn't blow people away. Still, he's a talented scorer on a bad team with a knack for drawing free throws, and he could emerge as a starter later in the season.

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Player News
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. 


Eric Gordon cleared for contact
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Eric Gordon has been cleared to take part in full-contact offseason drills ahead of training camp, The Times-Picayune reports.

Gordon underwent season-ending knee surgery last April, but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. 


 
 
 
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