By Andre' Snellings, Rotowire.com
The 2006-07 rookie class underwhelmed us on the fantasy front, with only a couple making any kind of roto impact. The rookie class this year, on the other hand, is being hyped as one of the best in history and drawing comparisons to the great 2003 crop that produced such superstars as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh. There is a cluster of about 11 players drafted after them that could blossom into stars. Looking at talent, upside, and team placement, I’d have to say that Mike Conley Jr. (Grizzlies) and Jeff Green (Sonics) fell into the best situations to come in and put up strong numbers early and that Brandan Wright and Yi Jianlian have great upside as potential franchise guys. Thaddeus Young and Julian Wright are two names to look at for guys outside the top 10 picks that could be studs in a few years.
Rookies to Draft Early:
Mike Conley Jr. – MEM [PG,SG]: After Mike Fratello was fired last year, the Grizzlies became a running-and-gunning squad that was among the league leaders in points per game. Conley is the perfect engine for such a team, and if the Grizz keep their current squad intact Conley should easily lead rookies in assists with guys like Pau Gasol, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, and Hakim Warrick to finish his dimes. He also should use his outstanding athleticism and insane quickness to lead rookies in steals and is likely to post double-digit points and decent boards for a guard.
Jeff Green – SEA [SF,PF]: With both Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis gone, Green joins Durant as a foundation-piece for the future of the Sonics. He was brought in to be the “Pippen” to Durant’s “Jordan”, so don’t expect huge scoring numbers from him. But he should consistently put up very solid all-around numbers with contributions in all eight roto categories that could soon have him joining Shane Battier as a perennial “All Garbage Man Team” selection.
Mid-Late Round Fantasy Prospects:
Al Horford – ATL [PF,C]: Horford is one of the safest picks from this year’s draft. He has an NBA-ready body at 6-10, 245 pounds, and is solid in the post both offensively and defensively. The only reason that he isn’t listed among the high-round prospects is that the Hawks have so many young forwards (Shelden Williams and Marvin Williams), that it is possible Horford won’t get the minutes that some of his classmates will get out of the gate. If he does get the playing time, Horford should be a nightly double-double threat on good percentages with two combined steals/blocks.
Corey Brewer – MIN [SF,PF]: Now that the Wolves have committed to the youth movement, Brewer should get plenty of minutes early on and should put up nice all-around numbers. Brewer had trouble getting his shot to fall in his appearance at the Las Vegas Summer League, but he was still very impressive in other ways. He was the leading rebounder on the team and led the team in assists a couple of games. He has the upside to average in the low/mid-teens scoring with around seven combined boards/assists with more than two combined steals/blocks as a rookie.
Joakim Noah – CHI [PF,C]: Noah fell into a great situation with the Bulls from a basketball standpoint, but he likely fell into a worst situation from a fantasy perspective. Noah projects as a defensive/energy specialist and has the upside to be a double-double guy with great blocked shots/steals numbers and even a few assists. The Bulls, though, have multiple players with similar skill sets, including Ben Wallace and Tyrus Thomas, so he will have to play very well to earn the minutes to make a fantasy impact.
Marco Belinelli – GSW [PG,SG]: Belinelli put on a show at the Las Vegas Summer League, showing excellent shooting touch along with nifty ball-handling and a definite scorer’s mentality. These skills could serve him well if he can find a slot in the run-and-gun Warriors offense. Belinelli is also more experienced than many of the rookies this season, having spent several years as a professional in Europe. He has put himself on many fantasy sleepers lists entering the season.
Yi Jianlian – MIL [PF]: Yi is a seven-footer with great athleticism. Unfortunately, he has a lot of unknowns. He did not work out against live competition during his private draft workouts, and he was unimpressive while playing for the Chinese National Team at the Las Vegas Summer League. It is always difficult to project how overseas competition compares with college as preparation for the NBA. Yi has the added distraction of the battle between the Chinese government and the Bucks as to whether he will be allowed to even play for Milwaukee this season. But if Yi does play for the Bucks and his recent struggles were due more to distraction than lack of ability, his skill set could allow him to have a rookie season somewhat akin to Andrea Bargnani’s rookie campaign, but without the three-pointers.
Brandan Wright – GSW [SF,PF]: At the end of the NCAA season, many believed that Wright was the third best prospect in the draft with the potential to eventually be mentioned in the same breath as Oden and Durant. His sub-par pre-draft workouts and laid back (some say disinterested) demeanor caused him to drop a few slots in the draft, as some now question whether he is ready to contribute right away in the NBA. But Wright ends up with a team in the Warriors that could be a perfect fit for him. He is quick enough to run with them in their fast-paced offense, and that could help hide his physical weakness by keeping him away from plodding big-men that could overpower him. If he earns playing time this year, he could be a sneaky threat for double-digit scoring and solid rebounding/shot blocking numbers.
Acie Law IV – ATL [PG,SG]: Law is experienced (first college senior drafted) and NBA ready. He was also drafted by a team with a glaring need at his position. As such, Law could easily be among rookie leaders in scoring and assists this year, despite not being a big name. Expect him to challenge for a starting spot right away, and expect solid numbers if he gets it.
Al Thornton – LAC [SF,PF]: Thornton is the oldest of the lottery picks at 24 years old, but he also is one of the most explosive athletes and scorers. He showed that offensive ability at the Las Vegas Summer League, where he often led the team in shots taken and points scored. He is a bit of a SF/PF tweener as he played a lot of PF in college at 6-7, and he could actually get some time at both positions this season now that Elton Brand is down with an Achilles’ tendon injury. If Thornton gets playing time, he could be among the rookie leaders in scoring.
Thaddeus Young – PHI [SF,PF]: Young is one of the highest upside rookies in this draft class. Coming out of high school in 2006 there were those that put him in the same breath as Kevin Durant, though obviously he didn’t have nearly the freshman year in college that Durant did. Young has ideal size and athleticism to play small forward in the NBA, it’s just a question of whether he is mature enough to produce out of the gates. He had a promising showing at the Las Vegas Summer League, though, which could indicate that he may be ready to perform at the NBA level sooner rather than later.
Julian Wright – NOH [SF,PF]: Wright has great size, athleticism, and skill to be an NBA forward. He’s a great defender and ball-handler from the frontcourt, but his main weakness is his ability to create his own shot and knock down the jumper. But with Chris Paul setting him up, Wright could eventually put up Boris Diaw numbers on offense with potentially three combined blocks/steals in a couple of years.
Other Rookies to Keep an Eye On:
Rodney Stuckey – DET [PG,SG]: Stuckey is a scoring combo guard that looks to become the third guard in the rotation behind Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton. Since Billups re-signed with the Pistons this summer, it is unlikely that Stuckey will put up big fantasy numbers out of the gate. He looked impressive at the Las Vegas Summer League though, and has lots of scoring potential when he is on the court.
Nick Young – WAS [SG,SF]: The Wizards needed a shooting guard, and Young was rated out as one of the best in the draft. He was a bit up-and-down in his performance at the Las Vegas Summer League, but he did show off his athleticism and streaky jump shot that was lethal when he was hot. He has a chance to earn a starting job out the gate, and if he does, he could put up respectable scoring numbers in the high octane Wizards offense.
Sean Williams – NJN [C]: Williams had lottery talent, but off-the-court issues got him kicked off of the Boston College basketball team last year. If he keeps his head on straight, Williams’ shot-blocking, rebounding, and athleticism are perfect fits on a Nets’ team so deficient up front that Mikki Moore became fantasy-worthy last season.
Jared Dudley – CHA [SF,PF]: Dudley was the Player of the Year in the ACC last season. Although he is not a great athlete, he is expected to be one of those glue-type players that always seem to earn their way onto the court. The Bobcats finally have a solid starting lineup and working bench, so we’ll have to see where he fits into their rotation during the season.
Glen Davis – BOS [SF,PF]: The Celtics have a very thin team now that they have traded so many assets for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Not to mention, starting center Kendrick Perkins has had injuries issues throughout the years. Davis has the size and skill to score down low in the NBA, but he appeared to rely too much on his finesse game and not enough on his power during Summer League. The Celtics have a definite need now for power down low, and he could be a late-round sleeper if he can take advantage to earn playing time.
Greg Oden – POR [C]: Greg Oden was a player to draft early prior to his season-ending knee injury. You should not draft Oden unless you are in a keeper league. The following was written about him prior to his injury:
The Blazers have fully committed to the youth movement, as evidenced by their draft-night trade of Zach Randolph. Oden should start from day one, and should be among the leading rebounders and shot blockers in the NBA this season. He also should be a solid scorer with good shooting percentages, and he could even chip in a few assists if he can pass out of double-teams.