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Rookie Centers to Target in Fantasy Basketball


Last year’s crop of rookie centers were so good they managed to breathe some new life into a "dying" position. Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Myles Turner, and Jahlil Okafor all paid immediate dividends to not only the teams that drafted them but also any fantasy owners smart enough to snatch the young big men up.

This year’s draft--like most other drafts in the history of the NBA--does not include the same elite big man prospects that last year's had in Towns and Okafor. However, no one last year knew just how productive and effective guys like Jokic and Turner were going to be. Hopefully there are more hidden gems within this year’s group of rookie big men.  Let's take a look at a few rookies who have a chance to make some immediate impact this season.

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Youngsters With Impact Upside for Fantasy Basketball

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

Everyone in the world will be watching to see how well Embiid starts the season. There are so many reasons to not consider Embiid for a roster spot; logjam at center, two straight years with no NBA minutes, only one good year at Kansas (it was sooooo good though), and the Sixers are still the Sixers. All of that being said, there seems to be a consensus that neither Nerlens Noel nor Jahlil Okafor are as talented or complete a player as Embiid could be. If any of the three centers gets traded or hurt (and Okafor is banged up already), it will open up more minutes for the other two.

Embiid will be on a strict minute’s restriction to start the season so the likelihood of him putting up massive numbers early will be capped. Yet he has so much talent and upside that you won’t be able to forget about him. Every good thing Embiid does will be over-hyped this season because he represents the most important two words in professional sports, “potential superstar.”

Make sure you get on the Embiid train early, because if everything goes well for him there won’t be any room for you later on in the season. You'll at least have the chance to sell high after he has a big game and people fall in love.


Jakob Poeltl, Toronto Raptors

Poeltl was the only true center to go in the top ten of this year’s draft. He’s playing on a Toronto team that has a pretty set starting rotation, including a potential All-Star center in Jonas Valanciunas. However, the role of backup to Valanciunas is wide open and a pretty decent short term opportunity for a rookie to find himself in.

Valanciunas has never been the type to play massive minutes for the Raptors, and that may not yet change, giving plenty of action to whoever his backup is.  Jonas has also been a frequent name on injury reports, so his backup holds upside as someone likely to start a few games here and there.

There’s a chance Poeltl completely disappears into the back end of the rotation behind guys like Lucas Nogueira and Yanick Moreira. However, the Raptors invested a top 10 pick in Poeltl with the clear goal of finding back-up center to replace Bismack Biyombo, so they will give him every opportunity to fill that role.


Domantas Sabonis, Oklahoma City Thunder

Sabonis was considered one of the most skilled big men in this draft class and managed to land in a great spot in Oklahoma City. So far this preseason he seems to be starting alongside Steven Adams with Enes Kanter coming off the bench as a super-sub.

The three of them will make up the majority of the Thunder’s big man rotation so there is a chance Sabonis gets a lot of playing time. With no Kevin Durant to worry about, the Oklahoma City offense should be a little more diverse and well-rounded in Billy Donovan’s second year as head coach. It will be interesting to watch Sabonis’ role/playing time evolve during the season.

If Kanter or Adams either regress or get hurt, expect Sabonis to get a lot of opportunity to prove himself.  Sabonis is especially appealing as a rare big man who is starting his career off as a decent free throw shooter, making him a particularly appealing prospect in roto leagues.


(Honorable Mention) Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks

The Knicks have an aging Joakim Noah and a not so talented Marshall Plumlee as their two center prospects. As long as those two are healthy, it will more than likely be a red-shirt year for Hernangomez.

If either Noah or Plumlee goes down though, expect Hernangomez to get a lot of opportunity to show off his skills he learned playing professionally in Spain. Hernangomez and his brother (Juan Hernangomez of the Denver Nuggets) are seen as the heir apparent to the Gasol brothers for the title of best big men from Spain.

If this is even half true, we should see Willy outperform Plumlee for minutes about a third of the way through the season.


By popular demand, RotoBaller has aggregated all of our fantasy basketball NBA waiver wire pickups into a running list of NBA waiver options, so bookmark the page and check back often for updates.