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Fantasy basketball: Five rookies worth drafting and when to pick them

I can still recall securing a rookie Chris Paul with a midround pick back in 2005. The Wake Forrest product was a statistical star from the jump for the then New Orleans Hornets (by way of Oklahoma City that season). Getting one of those special rookie seasons at a value is one of the more memorable achievements as a fantasy hoops manager.

Last year saw Anthony Edwards finish as the top fantasy rookie on the Player Rater thanks to rare scoring volume for a teenager, while Tyrese Haliburton was close behind fueled by atypical efficiency for a professional freshman. LaMelo Ball proved he’s a future fantasy force at the helm of a fun run-and-gun roster.

Not every rookie class delivers a bevy of impact fantasy options, but this current group appears uniquely flush with playmakers and defensive versatility. In an appraisal of this season’s rookies through a fantasy lens, let’s discuss the top options from the 2021 class.

1. Cade Cunningham, PG, Detroit Pistons

The top pick in the draft joins a Detroit roster with a desperate need for a lead creator and point-of-attack defender. Even with Killian Hayes rostered, the Pistons are likely to afford Cunningham every opportunity to pace the team in pick-and-roll and isolation creation. Cunningham’s strong defensive rates from Oklahoma State should also translate. Already a gifted three-level scorer who somehow boasted a .571 true shooting clip while consuming nearly a 30% usage rate as a collegiate star, the key to Cunningham’s fantasy stardom could be his capacity to distribute for others.

When to draft him: 7th round


2. Jalen Suggs, PG/SG, Orlando Magic

This seems bold, but the rookie has the ability to build diverse statistical lines in a busy lead guard role for Orlando. Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony will compete for minutes and touches in the backcourt, but I doubt they keep Suggs from serving an important role for the Magic, especially as the rookie brings unrivaled shot creation compared to his peers on the depth chart.

When to draft him: 8th round


3. Jalen Green, SG, Houston Rockets

A prolific scoring guard who posted 20.3 PPG in just 24.1 MPG in the Summer League, Green should also enjoy a high-usage role right away in the pros. There is real potential for Green to mimic Edwards’ heat-check rookie season with the Timberwolves.

When to draft him: 10th round


4. Evan Mobley, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers

Block and steal rates are two statistical categories that often translate from the collegiate level with high fidelity to the pros. This reality makes Mobley’s fantasy potential more intriguing given the USC standout produced 2.9 blocks per game as a freshman. The frontcourt in Cleveland is a bit crowded, but Mobley has the ability to secure a big role right away.

When to draft him: 10th round


5. Alperen Sengun, C, Houston Rockets

With three double-doubles in four appearances and stellar block and steal rates in the Summer League, the Turkish center could play a big enough role for Houston as a rookie to surface as a helpful fantasy reserve. Given how scarce blocks prove, there is a viable path to value for Sengun.

When to draft him: Final rounds


Other rookies to watch

Josh Giddey could compete for a meaningful role in Oklahoma City from the first tip. The Aussie tallied strong assist and rebound numbers in the NBL, evidence he could eventually help fantasy teams in a Ricky Rubio-like fashion. It’s fine to stash Giddey with a late-round pick.

Scottie Barnes will likely play behind OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam to begin his career, but his atypically strong passing skills and loud defensive metrics could surface soon.

-The Pelicans have a ton of vacated minutes and shots on the perimeter, which could help sharpshooter Trey Murphy III become relevant early on.

-Joining Suggs in Orlando is a fun 3-and-D prospect in Franz Wagner. The Michigan product doesn’t actually have a ton of competition on the wing for minutes.

-Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody will flash at times this season and could become fun interim additions at times off the wire, but are unlikely to play big enough of a role as raw rookies on a Warriors team that is a potential contender.

-Indiana’s Chris Duarte could be the Desmond Bane of this class in that he’s an older, ready-made pro shooter.

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