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2014 Draft Prep: 2014 rookie tiers

Fantasy Writer
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The consensus surrounding last year's rookie class was that it would be one of the worst in years, but even the most pessimistic predictions couldn't have seen that coming. The No. 1 overall pick came into the season out of shape and ended up scoring in double figures just six times, and only four players finished the season averaging double digits in scoring.

Things were so bad, only one player broke the 2,000 Fantasy point barrier. That was Michael Carter-Williams, who also led all rookies in rebounds and assists. While that sounds impressive, he also shot an abysmal 40.5 percent from the field and 26.4 percent from three-point range.

We've seen better rookie classes, in other words.

The 2014 class should be much better. Though I only have one rookie projected to top the 2,000 Fantasy point mark again, this class looks to be much deeper, to say the least. We have a handful of players likely to open the season as quality starting options, with prime breakout candidates waiting for the right role behind them.

In fact, most of this year's class can be grouped together to in a few ways, based on how we see their season playing out. Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle might put together similar seasons by the end, but the paths they take to get there could vary widely. Here's how I see it playing out.

A tier of his own

Jabari Parker, F, Bucks

Though he wasn't the top pick, Parker very well could have been. He joins a team that has a pretty crowded rotation, but you have to believe they will find playing time for him wherever they can. The fact that Parker should be able to credibly play both small forward and power forward will help him stay on the floor. On a team that ranked 26th in the league in offensive rating and 28th in points per game, the offensively gifted Parker could be the team's first option from day one. He should be off the board within the first five rounds on Draft Day.

Starting material

Parker may end up the best Fantasy rookie this season, but he certainly won't be the only rookie worth looking at.

Andrew Wiggins, F, Timberwolves

Though the move from Cleveland to Minnesota is probably going to leave Wiggins out of the playoffs for a long time, it should be a boon to his Fantasy value. Wiggins is a tremendously skilled player, though one who is still quite raw, so he won't be a model of consistency or efficiency from day one. Still, he lands in a nice enough spot, on a Timberwolves team that can ease him in while still featuring him in the starting lineup. Wiggins should be capable of filling up the box score right away, and will go in Round 6 or 7 in most category-based leagues.

Nerlens Noel, C, 76ers

Though obvious questions persist regarding Noel's health and offensive talent, he could be a dynamic Fantasy option as a rookie. What helps is that, despite missing his entire first season due to ACL surgery, he has one year under his belt practicing and traveling with an NBA team, which should help his transition. Just ask Blake Griffin. Noel isn't the same type of player as Griffin, but he seems particularly well-suited for Philadelphia's wide-open style of play. Noel will probably not be the focal point of Philadelphia's offense, but he might end up leading the league in combined steals and blocks while flirting with a double-double every night, given the team's insane pace. He is someone you want on your team.

Elfrid Payton, G, Magic

Payton probably belongs a mini-tier below these other two, but he might not be too much less valuable than them. He spent three years in college playing against a lower level of competition, but also joins the NBA as a 20-year-old, bringing a nice combination of youth and experience to the table. Payton was a score-first point guard in college, but he likely will not fit that role for the Magic, who already have some established scorers in the starting lineup. The transition from the Sun Belt Conference to the NBA might be a tough one, but Payton doesn't have much competition for playing time in Orlando, so he'll get the chance to fail. For a rookie, that's a good thing.

Searching for a role

Julius Randle, F, Lakers

When the Lakers drafted Randle, I had him right behind Jabari Parker in my rookie rankings, as he figured to be the centerpiece of the Lakers' frontcourt following the departures of Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman. Unfortunately, the team opted to add three players to the mix via free agency, muddying the waters and blocking Randle's path to Fantasy relevance. Randle still profiles as a very productive player, but the presence of Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and Ed Davis surely complicates matters. The Lakers seem intent on avoiding their inevitable rebuild, but circumstances may force them to accept the inevitable at some point this season. If and when the Lakers open up a starring role for him, Randle could be a key contributor for Fantasy owners.

Marcus Smart, G, Celtics

There is no arguing with Smart's talent, as he was one of the nation's top college players and a lottery talent for each of his two years at Oklahoma State. Unfortunately, the talented combo guard finds himself on a roster featuring a franchise-caliber point guard in Rajon Rondo, as well as a shooting guard in Avery Bradley who just received a pretty massive four-year contract. Smart should be able to fill in ably at both guard spots, but there are fair questions about his fit with both players, especially Rondo, given their lack of three-point range. Smart will probably end up spending much of his season in the weird, in-between role backing up both spots, though there is one roadmap to Fantasy relevance -- a trade of Rondo. Rondo might be mentioned in countless trade rumors until this February, and that light at the end of the tunnel should be enough to keep Smart on your roster even if his production doesn't quite justify it.

Nik Stauskas, G, Kings

On last year's version of the Kings, there wasn't much room for role players to thrive, with three players ranking in the top 15 in usage rate. The de-facto trade of Isaiah Thomas for Darren Collison should free up plenty of shots around the team, and Stauskas could be a beneficiary of that -- assuming he wins a starting role. Stauskas will have to beat out Ben McLemore, last year's lotto pick who struggled mightily throughout his rookie season. If he can do that, he might just be a worthwhile starting option in deeper category-based formats.

Zach LaVine, G, Timberwolves

Given his incredible athleticism, LaVine is right there with Dante Exum as the most tantalizing prospects in this rookie class. LaVine has more of a track record, though he did spend just one season at UCLA, where he wasn't much of a featured option. LaVine seems like the type of prospect who spends most of his rookie season toiling on the bench and working on his game away from the bright lights, but the potential for the Wolves' season to go south in a hurry means he could get his chance eventually. LaVine probably isn't worth drafting in most yearly leagues, but be prepared to pounce on the waiver wire if the Wolves start selling off veterans like Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer.

Borderline options

Dante Exum, G, Jazz

At 19 years old and with very little experience against high-level competition, Exum is the great unknown in this draft class. It is easy to dream on what he might turn into, but Fantasy owners simply have to consider him a risk coming into his rookie season. His upside is undeniable, but mostly because we don't know enough about him to identify any warts. The Jazz do have a need for a secondary ball-handler, and they aren't particularly deep at shooting guard, so he will be worth taking a chance on in the latter half of your draft just to take the shot on his upside.

Aaron Gordon, F, Magic

Like his teammate Payton, Gordon seems pretty likely to have a set role in Orlando's rotation. Unfortunately, he has much more competition than Payton for playing time, and is likely to see a much smaller role as a result. Gordon could step into Orlando's rotation as the best defender around, which should help him get playing time at both small forward and power forward. However, he will be vying for playing time with the likes of Channing Frye, Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris, likely limiting just how much he can play right away. Gordon should be a solid contributor across the board, but might be more of a borderline Fantasy starter as a rookie.

Reserves

K.J. McDaniels, F, 76ers; Doug McDermott, F, Bulls; Cleanthony Early, F, Knicks; T.J. Warren, F, Suns; Noah Vonleh, F, Hornets; Adreian Payne, F, Hawks; James Young, F, Celtics, Rodney Hood, F, Jazz; Shabazz Napier, G, Heat; Clint Capela, F, Rockets; Kyle Anderson, F, Spurs; Jordan McRae, G, 76ers

This promises to be a rookie class deep with contributors and any number of players on this list could step into their team's rotation from day one. ... McDermott is probably the best-suited to emerge as a Fantasy option based on his incredible scoring ability, though he is unlikely to show it off in a deep Chicago frontcourt. He is an injury or two away from making an impact. ... McDaniels has a diverse skill set on a team that could really use anyone who can play, but the Philly rotation is such a question mark going into the season, you simply don't know what you might get from him.

Keeper-leagues only

Joel Embiid, C, 76ers; Bruno Caboclo, F, Raptors; Mitch McGary, F, Thunder; Jusuf Nurkic, C, Nuggets; Spencer Dinwiddie, G, Pistons; Walter Tavares, C, Hawks; Dario Saric, F, 76ers; Nikola Mirotic, F, Bulls

The Sixers used their two lottery picks this year on players who almost certainly will not contribute this season. This has become a recurring theme for them, so Fantasy owners can safely ignore both Embiid and Saric in yearly leagues. ... The rest of these players would need miracles to find consistent roles, unless they really impress early.

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Player News
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. 


Jrue Holiday cleared for contact ahead of camp
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday was able to participate in full-contact offseason drills last week, the first time he has done so since undergoing season-ending surgery last January.

"Getting out playing has been a joy," Holiday told The Times-Picayune. "I've been running and jumping and stuff, but getting my rhythm back on the court is definitely a big thing right now for me."

The Pelicans open training camp Sept. 30, and Holiday is not expected to have any limitations as the team prepares for the start of the season. Holiday averaged 14.3 points, 7.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game last season prior to the injury.


Kent Bazemore focused on conditioning in recovery
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9/17/2014) Newly signed Hawks guard Kent Bazemore did not pick up a basketball until August, preferring to focus on conditioning in his recovery from foot surgery in April.

"I think the injury was definitely a blessing," he told the Daily Press, "because I was able to step away from the game of basketball. I took myself out of my element all summer. I did stuff I'm not used to doing."

Bazemore signed a two-year deal with the Hawks this offseason, and is expected to compete for playing time on the wing immediately, as he is fully recovered from the surgery. 


 
 
 
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