This article aims to provide an ongoing evaluation of the NBA’s rookie class from a fantasy standpoint while also offering deep dives on college players with bright futures. Projecting young talent is very subjective, so an open dialogue is encouraged, both in the comments section and on Twitter: @RealJRAnderson
With the season just about to get underway, all of the top rookies still have wide-ranging expectations among fantasy owners and armchair evaluators. We spend so much time hyping prospects for what their ceiling is and dreaming of what could be. But for my first contribution to this space, I want to go in the other direction and discuss what could go wrong for some select prospects, and what factors would lead to them underperforming, relative to where they will be drafted in fantasy leagues this season. (Yes, this is a tip of the cap to an old series of articles written by Jason Parks, formerly of Baseball Prospectus and now a scout with the Chicago Cubs.)
What could go wrong: Flip Saunders could become every Wiggins owner’s chief enemy. Look at the Timberwolves’ roster. There are three players who have been sufficient NBA small forwards in the past: Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger and Thaddeus Young. Even when acknowledging that Young will primarily play power forward for Minnesota, he could still play some three if Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng are ever deployed together. There is also another former No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Bennett, who will inevitably play some small forward because of the three aforementioned options at the four and five. One wouldn’t expect Minnesota’s backcourt to impact Wiggins’ minutes, but with five guards —Ricky Rubio, Mo Williams, J.J Barea, Kevin Martin and Zach LaVine — expected to be in the rotation, there will likely be times when Saunders opts for a three-guard lineup, which would sideline Wiggins. Of course, all it would take is a couple injuries on the roster to eliminate this concern, but if Wiggins has a bad two weeks, and Saunders is set on winning over developing, he could conceivably start trying to teach by cutting Wiggins’ minutes and opting for more of a veteran presence in the rotation. Wiggins’ biggest detractors will say that an underwhelming rookie season could be caused by a lack of aggression, but in my estimation, a less aggressive Wiggins means a more efficient Wiggins. This is a player who could shoot 50 percent from the field with above average rebounding numbers and excellent defensive stats, while also being at least a top-3 scorer on the T-Wolves if he’s selective with his shot, so a dearth of me-first plays on offense wouldn’t necessarily harm his fantasy value in roto leagues. Remember, as a freshman who wasn’t aggressive he was the leading scorer on a Kansas team that won the Big 12 and was a title contender prior to Joel Embiid‘s injury, despite having one of the hardest schedules in the land.
What could go wrong: It would be shocking for Parker to not finish as a top-75 player in fantasy if he stays healthy, and that’s probably conservative. But, like most rookies, he has his flaws. He won’t be an asset in steals or blocks. In the preseason he flashed the ability set up his teammates, but the Bucks need him to score, and his assist totals will be subpar. It won’t take long for opposing teams to put their best defenders on Parker, and he may even see some double teams, which is extremely rare for a rookie, but given the team context, it wouldn’t be shocking. This could lead to a below-average field-goal percentage. LeBron James shot 41.7 percent from the field as a rookie, and he was in a similar situation as Parker. At Duke, Parker shot 74.8 percent from the free-throw line, which isn’t bad, but it’s not going to help a roto team, especially considering how many free throws he’ll be attempting per game. Carrying the Bucks will not be easy, so there’s a chance Parker could hit a significant rookie wall, which will be especially detrimental for owners in head-to-head leagues. However, all of these things could happen, and Parker may still end up winning rookie of the year and finishing as a top-50 player in fantasy because of how high his floor is.