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NBA Rookies in Best Spots After Free Agency

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With the bulk of free agency behind us, it's time to start taking stock of where things are at as we prepare for the next NBA season.

Today, we'll be looking at which NBA rookies find themselves in a good spot after free agency.

Whether it's because their teams didn't do anything or because the things they did do impacted other positions, here are some rookies whose path to minutes feels clearer now.

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Jaden Hardy - Dallas Mavericks

It seemed like the Mavericks felt good about retaining Jalen Brunson this offseason, but he's now a Knick. Another guard, Trey Burke, is now in Houston. Dallas didn't add any guards in free agency, so unless they make a move for someone who is currently on the open market, it looks like the team will head into the season with a pretty good top-three guard rotation of Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Spencer Dinwiddie...and then a big mystery box behind them.

Frank Ntilikina is on the roster. Reggie Bullock can slide to the two, though he'll mostly play at the three. But really, the role of the fourth guard seems to have one real answer right now: rookie second-round pick Jaden Hardy.

Hardy had an up-and-down Summer League, but his ups were pretty good. In his SL debut, he scored 28 points and added four rebounds, three assists, and one steal.

The combo guard who played for the G-League Ignite can do a lot of scoring but struggled with his efficiency on the Ignite. But playing beside Luka Doncic should do wonders for Hardy, as he'll have a lot more open looks.


Malaki Branham, Jeremy Sochan, and Blake Wesley - San Antonio Spurs

We're not used to the Spurs being in a position where rookies will get minutes, but this isn't the Spurs team of my generation. This is the Zoomer Spurs, who'll be playing a lot of young players out of necessity.

The Spurs saw Lonnie Walker IV and Danilo Gallinari both wind up elsewhere in free agency, and the Spurs themselves only made one move, which was sign Isaiah Roby. With a handful of other Spurs from last season not re-signed, there's a good number of minutes available.

That might not mean that all three of these rookies will have key roles on this team, but there's definitely a path for each of them.

Branham is likely the backup shooting guard. Sochan will get backup minutes at the three and the four. Wesley should be in contention for the backup point guard role.

Sochan was the highest drafted of these players, but also has the cloudiest path to minutes, since the Spurs actually have players at forward. The guard position is just a nightmare for this team right now. We thought Derrick White and Dejounte Murray might have wound up being the backcourt of the future for the Spurs, but both have been traded. Tre Jones and Joshua Primo are your current starters at guard. Primo averaged 19.3 minutes per game last year and Jones averaged 16.6. Primo was last on the Spurs in field goal percentage among players to start at least one game, while Jones shot 19.6% from three.

Branham and Wesley don't even need to be good to get minutes here. They just need to look like passable NBA guards. Wesley was a high usage guard in his one season at Notre Dame, leading the ACC in usage rate. He shot decently, though I'm sure the Spurs hope that his shooting efficiency will increase in a lower usage role.

As for Branham, he shot 41.6% from three at Ohio State and he was ninth in the Big Ten in effective field goal percentage and 10th in true shooting percentage. His shooting ability makes him the safest of these rookies in fantasy next season.

As for Sochan, the 6-9 forward averaged 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for Baylor. He was the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year and showed a lot of prowess defensively. It's his offensive game that needs work, but if he can work on hitting open looks and can just not be a negative on that end, his defense will earn him minutes.


Keegan Murray - Sacramento Kings

The Kings saw center Damian Jones leave for the Lakers in free agency, while the team's lone free agency acquisition was Malik Monk, a guard.

That makes it pretty clear that Sacramento intends to start the No. 4 overall pick at power forward.

The first sophomore taken in this year's draft, Murray should have the experience to contribute right away.

Offensively, Murray made a huge leap last season, jumping from 7.2 points per game as a freshman to 23.5. He shot 55.4% from the floor and 39.8% from three and finished the season fourth in the NCAA in points per game, plus was sixth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage. He was also first in the NCAA in offensive win shares and box plus/minus.

I'm a little worried about his defense, but all that really matters for fantasy basketball purposes is that Murray gets on the floor and is put in a position to score buckets. With Domantas Sabonis commanding attention down low and the addition of Kevin Huerter adding to what should be a well-spaced attack, I see a lot of open looks in Murray's future.


Tari Eason - Houston Rockets

The Rockets made a lot of changes in free agency. Most of those changes were players leaving, especially at guard. There was also the Christian Wood trade, and then there weren't really any moves to add players.

What that should mean is more minutes for young players. Clearly, rookie Jabari Smith is the real winner for Houston as he should play heavy minutes at the four, but it would be boring to say a top-three pick is a winner, right? I already covered Keegan Murray above, and I'm not writing about why the three guys ahead of him are in good spots.

But an underrated winner of this free agency period is Tari Eason, who potentially can be the backup at both forward spots.

The 6-8 wing from LSU brings some defensive intensity to the floor and he's got the athleticism to take advantage of matchups on both ends. His jump shot could use work, but he did see an uptick in three-point usage and efficiency last season. Still, Eason can get to the hoop and should have lots of chances to do that as a rookie.

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