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.
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.
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.
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.
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.