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The Rookie Report - Revisiting the 2018-2019 Rookies With An Eye On Next Season (Part 1)

Earlier this season, I took a look at the early returns on this year's rookie class and made player comparisons as well as what I thought their short and long term potential would be.

Now that these kids have had a season of ball under their belts, it's time to revisit those comparisons and see where I was right and wrong. Part of being a great fantasy player is being able to recalibrate expectations after gaining additional context. It's important to be able to adjust expectations based off of additional film and numbers -- being able to do so correctly is a skill that will translate year to year - not just help you during the current season.

Like last time, I will split this into two columns. This week I will look at the early picks who were already getting big minutes early in the year, before following up with the later picks who saw their roles solidify as their rookie seasons progressed. Remember that player comparisons are in terms of what they provide in fantasy, not their actual games.

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Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

Original Player Comparison: LaMarcus Aldridge 

I think this comparison is pretty spot on and Ayton's rookie season can pretty comfortably be described as Aldridge-lite. The dismal defensive numbers took a step up as the season progressed and Ayton finished the year being a contributor in those categories rather than a negative. The blocks coming up closer to 1.0 per game was something that was pretty easy to predict, but Ayton showing ability to contribute out of position steals as well at a 1.0+ clip is a pleasant surprise and definitely adds to his value going forward.

Ayton began the year with questions about his defense at the NBA level mostly from an effort standpoint, but he has shown vast improvement during the second half of his rookie campaign and should be given every opportunity to improve next season as a core piece of the rebuilding Suns. It took him until the second half of this season to provide returns on his top 50-ish valuation this year, but its reasonable to expect that from opening night next year.

2019 Draft Outlook: Top 40


Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Original Player Comparison: Kristaps Porzingis, New Player Comparison: Nikola Vucevic

I still love Jackson as a long term prospect but I think my original comparison to Porzingis was a little aggressive and overly optimistic. The sky-high block rate came down a little bit since the beginning of the year and while Jackson Jr. still posted a very solid 35.9% mark from three, it doesn't seem like he will be used as a spacer to the extent Porzingis was.

Nikola Vucevic with a few less rebounds and a few more blocks seems to be a better comparison for Jackson going forward, acting as an excellent FT% and 3s pivot from a center eligible player. I think he will be a value pick next season as his ADP will be deflated due to his injury in the second half of this season. He will be a top-40 value who may drop to the mid rounds, and that would make him someone I'll be targeting heavily next season in multiple leagues.

2019 Draft Outlook: Top 40


Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls

Player Comparison: Marc Gasol, New Player Comparison: Pre-3s Marc Gasol

I expected WCJ to add a few more 3s as the season went on but we never got the chance to see how he would develop due to his season ending injury. Still, it's hard to project anything significant in that category next season taking into account his losing half the season to develop his game offensively, so we need to re-calibrate our expectations a bit for next year.

Marc Gasol is still a good comp for him, but more-so the 2011-2014 version, not the current version we have now. Carter Jr. has upside for out of position assists and posts very similar % splits to young Gasol, as well as sharing upside in steals alongside blocks and the same rebounding deficiencies Gasol had early on. I think he's a good candidate as a post-injury sleeper next year and will be keeping my eye on him near the end of the middle rounds.

2019 Draft Outlook: Top 70


Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

Original Player Comparison: Victor Oladipo, New Player Comparison: Russell Westbrook

Doncic was an 80+% free throw shooter in the Euroleague so it's a pretty big surprise seeing him struggle this much in the NBA in what should be one of the most transferable skills out there. With the usage patterns that Doncic saw in his rookie year, both the FG and FT% are very worrisome and I feel like his fit next season will be almost exclusively tied to punt FT% teams that can make up for his FG% similar to how Westbrook pivots those teams so perfectly this year.

Due to the hype and name value that Doncic has cultivated among the NBA collective, I find it hard to see myself owning him anywhere. The FT% issues make him a very awkward fit in a lot of teams and not worth the price tag that it will cost to get him. Until he shows improvement in that category, I would avoid him unless you are firmly in punt FT% and he somehow drops further than the mid rounds - very unlikely considering the hype surrounding him after what has been a very impressive rookie year.

2019 Draft Outlook: Top 80, Top 40 in Punt FT%


Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Player Comparison: Damian Lillard

Trae Young has easily been the second half's most impressive rookie, taking his FG% from must punt territory early in the season to perfectly reasonable regardless of strategy. He's already entrenched himself as a consistent mid-20s scorer and elite source of assists, and the Lillard comparison looks better and better as the year goes on.

There was no doubt his dismal 3 pt% early in the year would regress to a reasonable level, and that has opened up his game and highlighted his potential as an elite scorer at the NBA level. Young will be drafted highly next year, but his skill-set is so valuable, providing elite marks in two stats that are very hard to get later on in the draft, which makes his high ADP next season fair for what he provides. If he's able to improve the steal rate and scoring even a little, he could move into the top-15 type space Lillard occupies sooner rather than later.

2019 Draft Outlook: Top 30


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