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NBA Rookies With The Best Landing Spots

There’s nothing worse than getting uber-excited about a newly-drafted rookie only to see him riding the bench behind some washed-up veteran, right?

Well….some of the rookies below might find themselves dealing with a little of that early on in their careers, but be patient! The seven players below all landed in ideal spots for their skillsets. Some may take a bit longer to carve out a key role with the team, but they’ll have every opportunity to do so.

While dynasty leagues were the primary focus of this article, most of these players should be able to provide value in standard redraft leagues this year as well.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including NBA Writer of the Year, Best NFL Series, MLB Series, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Cade Cunningham (G, DET) and Jalen Green (G/F, HOU)

Yeah, okay. You might think these two are a bit obvious, but it’s not every year that the two teams at the top of the draft are as alluring as the Pistons and Rockets are right now. It’s also not every year that the fits for the top two picks make as much sense as they do this year.

The Pistons and Rockets are both very much in rebuild mode and appear to be navigating their rebuilds quite effectively, but they were also both missing a key rebuilding component prior to last month’s draft: the face of their respective franchises.

Well, now they both have one.

The Pistons welcome Cunningham with a duo of decorated soon-to-be sophomores. Swingman Saddiq Bey was a member of the 2020-21 NBA All-Rookie First Team last year and big man Isaiah Stewart was a member of the All-Rookie Second Team. Bey’s a 6’8” knockdown shooter who hit 2.5 threes per game last year while shooting the three-ball at a 38% clip. Stewart, meanwhile, is an all-out hustle player who excels on the boards and wreaks havoc on the defensive end. They are great young supporting players to pair alongside Cade.

Then there’s point guard Killian Hayes, who was drafted seventh overall in 2020. We still don’t really know exactly what kind of guard Hayes will develop into. He has a varied skillset, showing the ability to defend well while also flashing a range of offensive skills including passing and shooting. However, whether he’s able to take on full-time point guard duties for an NBA franchise is still very much up in the air. The Pistons will certainly try out a lineup that features both Cunningham and Hayes in the backcourt. They’ve been experimenting so far in Summer League and it led to Hayes assisting Cunningham’s first bucket as a Piston:

There’s a chance a Cunningham/Hayes backcourt works, or we could see Hayes falls into a backup point guard role for the team in the near future. Either way, don’t expect the presence of Hayes to slow or inhibit the growth of Cunningham in the least bit. If it’s truly not working out, the Pistons will almost certainly be looking for a trade partner to free up their new franchise piece.

Additionally, the Pistons will have a pair of helpful veterans to help out Cunningham. Jerami Grant, the runner-up for Most Improved Player last year, proved he could be a go-to scorer last year to go along with his defensive prowess. Then there’s Kelly Olynyk, who the Pistons signed to give them some offensive versatility. Olynyk’s ability to stretch defenses will do wonders for Cunningham this year, offering something that the young Stewart can’t provide quite yet.

As for Green, the Rockets are currently headlined by veteran Christian Wood. Wood is a dynamic stretch-five who will help really open up the offense for Green, providing ample space for the rookie to create.

The Rockets’ young nucleus around Green is highlighted by Jae’Sean Tate, Kevin Porter Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr.

Tate is a swingman who was a great surprise for the team as an undrafted rookie last year, joining Saddiq Bey on the NBA All-Rookie First Team. He’s a strong rebounder and defender and he’s shown some promising flashes on the offensive end as well.

Martin was another great surprise for the team as a late second round pick in 2020. He’s a great rebounder and a fantastic leaper. He also showed a lot of promise as a spot-up shooter and could develop into an elite three-and-D player for the team.

Porter, meanwhile, was nothing short of electric at times last year. He averaged 16.6 points and 6.3 assists per game last year and had his season-best outing when he dropped 50 points and 11 assists on the future champs, the Milwaukee Bucks, in late April. He’s most definitely a ball-dominant guard and as such, he could be a bit problematic for Green, who will be at his best when dominating the ball as well. The Rockets will try it out with both guards in the same lineup. If it works out, they’ll have one of the most dynamic backcourts in the league. If it doesn’t, Porter will be one of the hottest names on the trade market.

 

Chris Duarte (G/F, IND)

The Indiana Pacers really saw their depth challenged last year, when injuries to Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Myles Turner forced the team to rely on the likes of Edmond Sumner, Oshae Brissett and Doug McDermott.

In comes former Oregon guard Chris Duarte, a 24-year-old who has been widely considered one of the most NBA-ready players in this year’s draft class. Duarte is a feisty defender who can also do a range of things on the offensive end. He’s already been disrupting passing lanes and stroking it from the outside at this year’s Summer League:

Duarte is a strong shooter and a more than capable playmaker. He was extremely efficient last year, shooting 53.2% from the field, 42.4% from three-point range and 81% from the line. One player who he’s often been compared to his new teammate, Malcolm Brogdon. Having a “mini Brogdon” will do the Pacers a lot of good both when their star guard is healthy and when he’s out.

Duarte will likely begin the year competing with Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday for minutes off the bench. However, don’t be surprised if he usurps both of them as the team’s first guard/forward off the bench behind Warren and Caris LeVert early on in the year.

 

Moses Moody (G/F, GS)

Outside of the top three this year, there really didn’t seem to be a more obvious pick than the Warriors selecting Moses Moody 14th overall. Moody was rumored to be one of the team’s top targets with their 7th pick, so of course they wouldn’t let him fall past pick 14.

The reason for the Warriors’ attraction to Moody couldn’t be more clear. Moody is one of the top shooters in this year’s draft class. He has a smooth, quick release that looks picture perfect. He also stands 6’6” and shouldn’t have any problem lifting his shot over NBA defenders, as seen here:

Expect to see Moody become part of the Warriors’ main rotation early on this year. He should see more minutes than fellow rookie Jonathan Kuminga right off the bat as Kuminga is more raw and it will take a bit longer to define his role with the team. Moody, meanwhile, will likely be the team’s best shooter not named Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson this year and spare Warriors’ fans from seeing Jordan Poole forced to jack up six or seven threes per game.

 

Alperen Sengun (PF/C, HOU)

For many reasons similar to Green, the Rockets are a perfect landing spot for Turkish big man Alperen Sengun. He has an opportunity to be a key part to the team’s rebuild and the team currently doesn’t have any other young assets quite like him.

Sengun was named MVP of the Turkish league last year, despite being just 18 years old during the season. He averaged 19.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game during the year while shooting 64.6% from the field. His post play is advanced far beyond his years. He has terrific footwork and phenomenal touch. He’s already making waves through his offensive creativity at Summer League:

In addition to his strong scoring abilities, he’s also a great passer and that aspect of his game will really help the Rockets’ offense when he’s on the floor. He’s great at passing out to the perimeter after being doubled in the post, as seen in this pass to Kenyon Martin Jr.:

The Rockets traded up to draft Sengun and they’ll give him every opportunity to be one of the team’s top big men to groom alongside Green. He should benefit greatly from playing alongside and behind Christian Wood. He’ll compete with recently-signed big man Daniel Theis for minutes, but the team doesn’t have anyone else up front standing in his way for now.

 

Trey Murphy III (SG/SF, NO)

Last year, the New Orleans Pelicans were one of the league’s least efficient teams from beyond the arc. They shot 34.8% from three-point range as a team, the fifth-worst mark in the league. They also struggled guarding the three-ball, as opponents hit 14.5 threes per game against them, tied for 2nd most in the league.

In adding former Virginia swingman Trey Murphy III in this year’s draft, the Pelicans have boosted both of their three-point departments – offensively and defensively. Efficiency was the name of Murphy’s game last year at Virginia. He shot 50.3% from the field, 43.3% from three-point range (on 4.8 attempts per game) and 92.7% from the free throw line. Here he is hitting six threes in his Summer League debut with the Pelicans:

Murphy also has the chance to be an elite wing defender. He stands 6’9” and has a 7’1” wingspan. He’s quick on his feet and should be ready to start disrupting NBA shooters by the start of this season.

Murphy should be part of the team’s rotation out of the gate and he could work his way up to being the first man off the bench early on this year. The team is likely losing forward Josh Hart in free agency, which frees up about 28 minutes per game. That leaves just Naji Marshall, an undrafted rookie last year, as his main competition for playing time behind Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Murphy’s versatility should allow the team to get extra creative in their lineups as well, so expect to see him get a good amount of run with both Ingram and Williamson also on the court.

 

Kai Jones (C, CHA)

6’11” center Kai Jones was drafted 19th overall and was just the third big man to go in the draft after Evan Mobley at three and Sengun at 16. He slipped in the draft a bit more than some NBA pundits expected, but he certainly fell into the most ideal spot.

Jones will begin his NBA career as a member of the Charlotte Hornets, giving him the opportunity to play alongside electric point guard LaMelo Ball. Last year, Ball primarily operated with Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo at center. Zeller offered some offensive versatility for Ball, but Biyombo gave Ball very little to work with on the offensive end. All in all, neither player has the offensive potential of Kai Jones.

Jones is a terrific leaper and a great court runner. He excelled in the fast break during his two years at Texas. He has all the tools to become a phenomenal alley-oop partner for Ball. But in addition to his finishing abilities, he also has the makings of a promising jump shot. He only shot 34 three-balls last year (making 13 of them), but his form looks solid enough to suggest he has the ability to develop into a solid stretch five.

You can get a look at some of his rim-running prowess and offensive versatility here:

His minutes might be a bit low at the start of the year. He’s 20 years old with a slim frame and he’ll take some time to adjust to the physicality of the NBA game. Mason Plumlee will be the team’s starting center and we could see Jalen McDaniels playing ahead of Jones or at least splitting center minutes with Jones out of the gate. However, if Jones progresses well, he could be a key part of the team’s nucleus by the start of the 2022-23 season or sooner.



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