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NBA Young Boy(s) :The NBA 2018 Rookie Class

The NBA curates a level of interest beyond crazy athletic ability or spectacular winning teamwork; the league lives on the storylines that it creates, and what better storyline than learning how 60+ young, newly minted millionaires will fare in the brutal professional world of the greatest basketball in the world?

Today, I return from a long hiatus, to dive into some of the intriguing members of the 2018 rookie draft class. I will be ordering my list by win share and sharing some takeaways, where they should be drafted for next year’s fantasy leagues, and how they project as a real-life player on an NBA team.

Strap up for a long one - let’s begin.


The NBA's 2018 Rookie Class: Top Players

Deandre Ayton

Appropriate to start with the 1st pick of the draft, although none would argue that he's been the best player in his class. Ayton has played responsibly and improved during his 30.9 minutes per game in 67 out of the 73 games the Suns have played. He is a near double-double producer on a nightly basis and should continue to do so as the talent around him improves. However, Ayton’s biggest flaws are evident in his defensive cracks. He is a center who doesn’t defend the rim well and, despite his excellent 61.1 true shooting percentage, he thrives primarily as a mid-range/post-up offensive attacker. His game doesn’t project to have massive leaps anytime soon, so he has limited upside.

Fantasy: Draft him in the 4th round if you want to just stay with a safe pick.

Real-life: Reliable and consistent: A 3rd option on a contending team, a weak 2nd option on a bad team

Mitchell Robinson

A curious second round pick up by the New York Knicks, Robinson has rounded out as a palatable prospect. Due to inconsistency in lineup decisions, Robinson averages only 19 minutes per game and has played in 56 out of the Knicks’ 72 games. He is an awesome shot blocker with per 36 estimates of 4.6 blocks, but he also projects to 6.2 fouls per 36 as well. He has latched onto the rookie big man wall of not being able to stay out of foul trouble and can’t hold onto solid minutes quite yet. He has strong value as a paint defender, and that part of his game should sustain itself well. Also helping his case is that starting center DeAndre Jordan is a free agent and is unlikely to stay in New York. Robinson will benefit from more minutes and opportunity, but he isn’t capable of starter level minutes and responsibility on a decent team yet.

Fantasy: risky 6th/7th round guy with niche value, doesn’t hurt or help in many other categories

Real-life: a strong big off the bench with 6th man aspirations

Luka Doncic

Here comes the Wunder Boy – a well-defined Rookie of the Year with an exciting skill-set. The hype surrounding him is very real, and he carries a massive load on a team patiently waiting for this season to come to a close. He plays 32.2 minutes per game and has only missed five games with knee soreness to date. Luka is a triple-double threat, pushing toward double-digit games of that nature in his first season. He will definitely increase his assists with the addition of Porzingis and other off-season acquisitions to come. Luka is a better real-life player than a fantasy player because his shooting is an inconsistency. He is at 54.4% true shooting, and he is particularly hurt by his free throwing shooting percentages and his inability to produce defensive stats. He has the space to improve in both of these areas, but it will take considerable time. The hope is that Luka works hard to condition his body over the off-season and can stay out of the injury risk bubble for the foreseeable future.

Fantasy: Overhyped in a logical draft sense, projects to be a 6th round guy, but there is no way he will last that long. Just go for broke and cheer for some crazy potential games.

Real-life: All-NBA potential, for sure.

Marvin Bagley III

Bagley is the first guy on my list that is significantly minutes blocked by other players, namely Harrison Barnes and Nemanja Bjelica. Both of these power forwards are signed for at least another year, so it doesn’t look like space will just open up for Bagley. He has averaged 24.7 minutes per game and did miss about 20 games so far in the season. He is a prospect that can do a lot with a little and produces near double-double stats. Imagine a lower usage Ayton who gets blocks due to his high effort defensive instinct. Due to his experience gained during the season, and the clear young core that can be seen between him and Harry Giles, Bagley should earn minutes in the high 20’s next season. He definitely fills more of a athletic rim-running big man, so don’t expect too many leaps and bounds in his game.

Fantasy: 7th round if you want to roll the dice

Real-life: Reliable starter, probably not a star-level talent

Jaren Jackson Jr.

Jaren was truly making a name for himself as the best potential big man in his draft class before being sat out for injury. He is a on a rebuilding team that will smartly anchor their franchise around his ability. He has shown ability to play alongside a center, so the addition of Jonas Valanciunas shouldn’t hinder his production. In 945 minutes alongside Marc Gasol, Jaren posted a 97.6 defensive rating with Gasol, and with Valanciunas being a more limited offensive player than Gasol, Jaren should be able to pick up more responsibility spreading the offense. Jaren has shown growing prowess at shooting the three with 35.9 percent shooting on 2.4 attempts per game, but still needs to work on his overall shooting (.591 True Shooting percentage). Jaren’s upside comes from his defense, and he rounds out as a player who can produce a triple, a steal, and a block per game. He is an elite stocks guy, and, if he can stay out of foul trouble, will be a force to be reckoned with.

Fantasy: 6th round guy with more assurance and risk-reward than both Robinson and Bagley

Real-life: Mobile big man of the future with All-Defense potential

Landry Shamet

In not even a full season, Shamet has become an elite three-point specialist with proven plug and play ability. Shamet has been a surprise akin to a Wayne Ellington or Kyle Korver-level talent in much less time. He has a .608 true shooting percentage with 42 percent shooting from three on eight attempts per 36 mins. He is a player with more real-life value than fantasy value, as he has a very particular skill set. 70.6 percent of his shot attempts are threes, and 95 percent of them are assisted, spot up shots. This is true across both teams he has played for and he hasn’t skipped a beat since traded to the Clippers. Unfortunately, being on the Clippers means his future is uncertain; he is certainly a high trade value piece for a team with aspirations of acquiring an All-Star talent in the off-season, and if an elite guard slides into the roster, his value could plummet. If Shamet ends up on a bad team, he will lose quality shots. But if Patrick Beverly moves on, I could see him fitting nicely next to Shai, who will be talked about soon. Shamet has shown definite value at the pro level.

Fantasy: Don’t draft him unless ideal team conditions. The value of a three-point specialist is diminished in today’s league.

Real-life: Great offensive threat akin to Korver, Ellington, or J.J. Redick. It will depend on team fit, but can easily contribute anywhere.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

The LA Clippers with another stud rookie! SGA has been a pleasant surprise with his mature guard play. He has averaged 26.1 minutes per game and has played in every game this season. He has shown an all-around ability to shoot and convert at the line. He is more of an on-ball player still, but he can work to improve his outside shot (only 20 percent of his shot attempts are threes). If Patrick Beverly leaves in the off-season, he can be trusted to lead with per 36 stats of 14.3 /3.7/4.4 on top of 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, and 2.4 turnovers. He has been an underrated important staple to the Clippers’ success this season. For example, they have a 1.7 net rating with SGA on the court, and a -4.6 rating with him off the court.

Fantasy: Depending on guard situation, draft him from 10th round onwards.

Real-life: Reliable combo guard with a Josh Richardson feel

Trae Young

I can feel the glares from those expecting Trae to be a lot higher in this list, especially given his last-minute sprint in the Rookie of the Year contest. I have a lot of love of the former Oklahoma guard, and he was one of my favorite players that I traded for this fantasy season. Young has been an elite, high-usage star who has quickly taken the reins in Atlanta. He provides incredible production in his areas of strengths: points, assists, threes, and free throw percentage. He didn’t start the first half of his rookie season well but has had a tremendous jump all through 2019. He has been a top-50 fantasy producer over the last two months. Part of his strengths are the shots are falling, and they are tough off-the-dribble threes, so it is not merely adjusting to the average but rather it seems to be raw improvement in skill. To show that Young has the green light for the Hawks, Young takes 72.8 percent of his shots unassisted. He plays 30.8 minutes per game, and he has per 36 stats of 21.9/4.2/9.2. His game is electric, and, even with his horrendous defensive ability or even ceiling, he should be a menace for any team to counter.

Fantasy: Works well in a punt team build, 5th round value

Real-life: Long time starting point guard, All-Star potential in the far future


Honorable Mentions:

Wendell Carter – Injury sidelined him for a good chunk of the season, but still had good center potential. Really low usage and the team layout is uncertain with trade deadline moves. Foul issues and a very dependent offensive player.

Mikal Bridges and De’Anthony Melton – Similar in value for their defensive ability, but equally blocked off by other players in the Suns’ depth chart. Only worth looking at if major player departures happen.

Collin Sexton – an inefficient offensive player leading a very poor team, has improved in scoring but needs more consistency.

Rookies are always fun to dive into because it allows the mind to wonder about their bright (or not so bright) futures, and how they could possible be franchise saviors. These players all have had interesting starts to their careers and could make fans everywhere cheer for them someday soon.

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