Living the Fantasy: What Rookie Wall?

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By NBA TV's Rick Kamla

March 17, 2007

If you can think of a sports cliche that's as tired as "hitting the rookie wall", I'd loathe to hear it.

They use "hitting the rookie wall" in every sport, and in a lot of cases, the cliche is fact. But there are five rookies who are hitting the rookie wall upside the head as the regular season heads for home.

All five of these rookies will have real fantasy value down the stretch and they should be coveted holdovers in keeper or dynasty leagues. All have the potential to develop into multi-time All-Stars, but they are already helping fantasy owners on their ascent toward stardom. Barring injury or curious coaching manuver, all five of these rookies will continue rocking fantasy leagues down the stretch.

Andrea Bargnani - Raptors: We might as well start at the top of the draft class with the No. 1 overall pick, and the first European to be the first dude taken in the NBA draft. After a rough start, Raptors' chief Bryan Colangelo told reporters, and I paraphrase, that they didn't draft Bargnani to be the Rookie of the Year. That was a brilliant bit of GMspeak because it diffused the pressure that was building, with all the impatient haters snickering with every missed shot.

Well, Andrea isn't missing much these days, and were it not for Brandon Roy, Bargnani would be leading the race for Rookie of the Year.

His scoring numbers are rising with each month, climbing from 7.4 in November to 12.0 in December to 11.1 in January to 14.3 in February to 15.3 in March. Overall, his March numbers are 15.3 points, 5.2 rebounds (another stat on the rise), 1.0 block, 2.7 threes, and 80.2 percent from the stripe in 30.2 minutes. And now that he's starting to hit clutch jumpers, like his four-point play last Sunday against Seattle with his team down two in the closing seconds, look for his confidence and numbers to keep rising.

LaMarcus Aldridge knows nothing about the rookie wall.
(Steve Woltmann/NBAE/Getty Images)
LaMarcus Aldridge - Trail Blazers: Unfortunately, it took a season-ending injury to Joel Przybilla to unleash the beast, but the fantasy owners of Aldridge are not complaining because their latest pickup is blossoming while other rookies are wilting. Through the first six games of March, Aldridge is averaging 15.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 0.8 steals, and 51 percent from the floor. And he isn't killing your FT percentage at .714 for the month and .717 for the season.

Those numbers are right on time for any rookie big, and they will get you in starting lineups from Portland to the Peninsula.

I have every reason to believe Aldridge can increase those numbers during the final month of the season. For one, the dude is an offensively-gifted big man with a penchant for blocking shots. Um, what else do you want? Second, he comes off back-to-back double-doubles against the Nuggets and Pistons, who have two of the top frontlines in the NBA. Finally, Aldridge has month-highs of 30 points, 17 rebounds, and four blocks so far in March, telling me he has the explosiveness that all fantasy owners crave.

Tyrus Thomas - Bulls: Thomas was traded to the Bulls in exchange for Aldridge on draft night after being the fourth overall selection by the Trail Blazers. The good news is that Thomas went to a playoff team in Chicago. The bad news is that the Bulls, despite targeting him all along, didn't take Thomas with the second overall pick, because No. 2 money is $4,027,320 compared to $3,260,760 for going in the fourth slot. That's a difference of $766,560, which is a lot of money even among millionaires.

Anyway, Thomas will ultimately emerge as the best fantasy player from the 2006 NBA Draft because his athleticism is in line with Shawn Marion, Josh Smith, and Gerald Wallace.

Make no mistake about it, Thomas will be a D-Freak among D-Freaks as soon as next season. He's already averaging 1.1 blocks in 12.0 minutes on the season, but that number is up to 1.4 since the New Year. In the month of March, Thomas is averaging 10.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.2 steals, and 56 percent shooting in just 21.8 minutes per game.

According to teammate and close friend P.J. Brown: "I've created a monster. This young guy is about ready to take over. We're going to need him if we're going to make a run."

If Thomas earns a promotion to the starting lineup -- as considered by Scott Skiles -- and if that promotion results in 30-plus minutes per game, this boingable rookie might help a team win a fantasy chip this season.

Brandon Roy - Trail Blazers: Roy was my pick for ROY before the season, and not just because it's his last name. After four stellar years at Washington, Roy was hands-down the most NBA-ready player in a draft that was--and still is--as green as St. Patrick's Day. Dude was making plays in the clutch in the first month of his first NBA season, and it just keeps getting better. There's no wall hitting going on with Roy.

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His numbers have gotten progressively better in three major categories: scoring, passing, and shooting. Roy's scoring average has risen from 11.6 in November to 13.2 in December to 16.6 in January to 17.2 in February to 17.5 in March. Roy's assist average has climbed from 3.4 to 2.7 to 3.4 to 4.9 to 5.8, and his shooting has soared from 38 percent to 45 to 44 to 45 to 51. That's right, freaks, Roy is averaging 17 and 6, and shooting better than 50 percent in March. What a stud.

Mark my words, even with Aldridge coming on and Zach Randolph playing like an All-Star, Roy will reach the 20-point plateau next season.

Rudy Gay - Grizzlies: A lot of people--including yours truly--thought the 2006 NBA Draft went eight-deep, and Rudy Gay was the eighth pick. However, Gay should have been the third overall pick to the Bobcats, who mistakenly took Adam Morrison. Morrison over Gay? What NCAA were the Bobcats watching last season? Oh yeah...that's right...Michael Jordan drafted Kwame Brown No. 1 overall a few years ago.

Freaks, lemme break it down for you. Morrison might turn into an 18 ppg guy, but Gay is guaranteed to score that much, plus rebound and defend and do a bunch of other stuff I can't think of right now. If that wasn't enough of a breakdown for you, I'll take it a step further. Morrison might be the next Wally Szczerbiak and Gay might be the next Marion.

After averaging 8.7 points in 23 minutes over the first three months of his rookie season, Gay is taking off under Tony Barone because the playing time is right where it should be. The month of February was good to Gay, who averaged 15.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, and one block in 32.3 minutes. The month of March has been quite a bit better, with Gay averaging 16.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 38.9 minutes.

Going forward, you can feel free to start Gay because the minutes and scoring are now there consistently. You no longer have to worry about the weirdness that buzzkilled his first half because he's hit for double figures in seven straight and 16 of 17, and he has logged 30 minutes or more in the last 13 games.

*****

If I had to rank these five rookies in terms of fantasy production down the stretch, I'd start with Roy, then look to his teammate Aldridge, then I'd tab Gay, Bargnani would be fourth, and Thomas would bring up the rear.


Rick Kamla is NBA TV's resident fantasy expert and he'll be here all season to give you insider analysis on the fantasy basketball world. Kamla is the heady host for "NBA TV Fantasy Hoops Presented By Toyota," a six-night-a-week, half-hour studio show that has become the ultimate guide for fantasy basketball players. The show airs live at 1 a.m. ET every night except Thursday. And don't forget to check out Rick Kamla and Rick Barry as they host "In the Paint with Rick & Rick" on NBA Radio, Monday through Wednesday, 3-6 p.m. ET, on Sirius Satelitte Radio Channel 127.

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