By: Steven Jones
There comes a point in every fantasy draft when
owners run out of players who are fun to draft and start exploring
fringe options. This inevitably leads to the Rookie Dilemma: is it
reasonable to select a big-name, high-drafted rookie, just to make your
team look better on paper, even if they rarely put up numbers
commensurate with their draft status? For every Chris Paul (No. 4 overall pick in 2004), there are 12 Robert Traylors (No. 6 overall in 1998 – yes, really).
This season's rookies may be even slimmer statistical pickings than usual. A scan of the 2008 draft results reveal perhaps five first-year players who are ready to contribute to fantasy rosters. In draft order, plus a couple special cases at the end, here are the first-year players who bear watching in 2008-09. Taken in the proper round, they could help win your league; taken in the wrong round, they could seal a free-fall into last place. Tread carefully.
Derrick Rose, Chicago: Some recent numbers from rookie point guards indicate that Rose will likely do nothing special statistically in his first season. Jason Kidd (11.7 ppg, 7.7 apg), (11.3 ppg, 3.3 apg), Chris Paul (16.1 ppg, 7.8 apg, 5.1 rpg) and Deron Williams (10.8 ppg, 4.5 apg) all put up rookie numbers well shy of what they would produce later in their careers. For a more recent example, check out Mike Conley, who put up 9.4 points and 4.2 assists per game last season in Memphis. Paul and Kidd represent best-case scenarios, but Rose is joining a team in disarray and will likely come closer to Billups' or Williams' numbers this season.
Michael Beasley, Miami: Beasley is in something of a unique situation, a terrific scorer joining a team with a ball-dominating guard with whom he may have difficulty coexisting. There are few historical precedents, the best one probably occurring in James Worthy's rookie year (1982-83). As the new guy on a team that featured Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Worthy – a prodigious talent whose college numbers were low thanks to Dean Smith's superstar-prevent offense at UNC – averaged 13.4 points and 5.2 rebounds while accumulating 91 steals and 64 blocks in 25.5 minutes per game. Beasley won't have the league's all-time leading scorer playing center next to him, but Wade may monopolize the ball as much as Magic did. Beasley can probably put up numbers equal to or slightly better than Worthy's if he can stay healthy, but fantasy owners expecting an immediate 20-10 from the rook should temper their expectations while he figures out the league.
Kevin Love, Minnesota: Longtime Cleveland fans may recognize in Love some of the traits that made onetime Cav Brad Daugherty special. Daugherty, another superlative passing big man, averaged 15.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in 80 games as a first-year player (this was back when he could still stay on the court). Those numbers represent optimistic projections for Love, who won't have much help from coaches or teammates next season. He could make a Rookie of the Year push if he gets into 15-8 territory, but won't have many helpful options for his famed outlet passes.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City: As the likely backup for Earl Watson, Westbrook may not get much of a chance to make a statistical impact. He's worth keeping an eye on, though, if you find yourself deficient in steals, a category in which Westbrook should excel.
O.J. Mayo, Memphis: Many talented young guards have entered the league in the past decade, but Mayo's future may be better glimpsed in the numbers of a rookie big man from the not-too-distant past. Amare Stoudemire, like Mayo, entered the league already past his 20th birthday and clearly displayed the extra maturity to great effect as a first-year player, averaging 13.5 points and 8.8 assists while playing all 82 games. Mayo will turn 21 a week into the NBA season and will thus likely appear ahead of the curve relative to his peers. He could average around 15 points and hit a three or two per game while limiting his turnovers, which would represent a successful rookie-year effort.
Danilo Gallinari, New York: An optimistic projection is probably Dirk Nowitzki's rookie numbers (8.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 40.5% field goals). A pessimistic slant? More like Darko Milicic's (1.4 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 26.2% FG). So things aren't looking too exciting for Mike D'Antoni's new toy. Don't let the high draft status fool you.
Eric Gordon, LA Clippers: The roster is enough of a mess that Gordon might end up with more minutes and shots than the average rookie shooting guard. Then again, the last rookie guard to fight for the ball was Monta Ellis in 2005-06, and he ended up with averages of 6.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game to show for it. So Gordon's chances of posting big numbers are slim unless Davis goes down with a more-than-likely injury.
Donte Greene, Sacramento: A fun distraction in fantasy drafts, as owners who they have a dearth of wings may reach for the guy who dropped 40 in a summer league game. These are the same roto GMs who snatched up Marco Belinelli last season after his summer explosions. Make sure to keep these guys coming back to your league every year, at least long enough for them to draft in front of you.
Rudy Fernandez, Portland: Eighteen years ago, the Trail Blazers had another experienced, feisty European two-guard log playing time as a rookie, and the late Drazen Petrovic helped them to the 1989-90 Finals by averaging 7.6 points in 77 games. While helpful to his real team, Petrovic's stats weren't much good for fantasy GMs, who should also beware of Fernandez and his highlight-film plays. Rudy will make Sportscenter every so often, but is unlikely to post consistent numbers.
Greg Oden, Portland: Speaking of more-than-likely injuries . . . oh, hi, Greg, we were just talking about you! Oden is technically a rookie this season and has the all-clear from Portland's medical staff. If he produces what, say, Yao Ming did in his first season – 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 147 blocks, all 82 games – Blazer fans will be ecstatic and fantasy owners who snagged Greg in the fifth or sixth round will be satisfied.