Five Rookie Hot Takes

15 min read

A countless number of fantasy ‘hot takes’ exist on the internet. However, a large portion of them have a figurative asterisk trailing close behind. These asterisks can imply that the take is closer to being ‘lukewarm’ than hot. They can also mean the creator doesn’t necessarily believe the take to be true. One thing is for certain with the following hot takes in this article – I do believe there’s a strong case to be made for each one.

Some of these takes are hotter than others. Some of them are more believable, while others cause a bit of a brow furrow. One take we can all agree on, however, is that it’s great to have basketball back already. I’ve been keeping my eye on a large majority of these rookies since their high school days, and I’m excited to finally see them take their first step onto the professional court of their dreams… well, besides Anthony Edwards, who would apparently prefer to be taking his steps onto the football gridiron. I jest.

Let’s get into it.

Onyeka Okongwu will supplant Capela in Atlanta’s closing lineup this year.

I originally wrote this take for fellow fantasy analyst and prospect-watcher Craig Bozic, whose “hot takes” article should be releasing soon. Keep an eye out for it at Razzball.com (I’ll link it here upon its release). I decided to include this take here because I actually believe in the arguments made in this take, and feel it’s not completely outlandish, regardless of how eyebrow-raising the idea initially seems. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ballsy enough to say that Okongwu would replace Capela in the starting lineup because NBA teams and coaches can be a bit stubborn when it comes to these decisions. Starting a rookie over a quality veteran can be a bit perturbing for the experienced pro. We’ve seen countless examples of a vet starting over a deserving rookie for the sake of locker-room cohesion.

Clint Capela is a fine center in his own right, and seems to fit well on this Hawks roster. Supported by a plethora of shooting around him, the 26-year old is living the traditional big man’s dream. But is Capela everything this Atlanta team wants out of its center position?

Capela took 99% of his shots at the rim last year, which, while it obviously doesn’t scream “versatile” (versatility will be a key word in this argument), it may not a big deal with the amount of aforementioned floor-spacing around him on this team. However, a player like rookie Onyeka Okongwu could provide a more diverse skill set on both sides of the ball. With a smooth feel for the game, post play, and a 72% free-throw percentage that could project toward a reliable mid-range jumper, the rookie may already boast a more robust offensive skill set than his veteran frontcourt counterpart. On a team like this, Okongwu could post a Capela-level of value and then some, putting up consistent big man stats with the potential added benefits of not tanking your FT% and producing a slightly better output in the steals category.

Furthermore, you would think a mobile shot-blocker like Capela would be a serious paint-stopper. Unfortunately, he had just a 13% rim deterrence rating last year, which is clearly not ideal for a center. Curiously, he also had only a 6% rating as a finisher at the rim, which is a z-score rating that evaluates a player’s ability to finish once at the rim with adjustments for degree of difficulty and location of shot, per B-Ball Index. This rim-finishing rating isn’t necessarily an extreme knock on Capela considering his skill set and role on the team; it’s just something I found interesting. The low rating is likely a product of the types of shots Capela took down low, struggling to provide anything other than dunks and put-backs. Now I’m not arguing that Okongwu will be a significantly better finisher or shot-blocker as a rookie. However, I am saying that Okongwu has the potential to provide more to this team than Capela does.

That goes for both ends of the court as Okongwu can be more than just a rim-runner offensively, and can also guard several positions defensively, while showing off his superior basketball IQ on both ends. That could be crucial for this Hawks roster, which, while overflowing with offensive firepower, is quite lackluster on the defensive end. While his versatility on offense seems like an upgrade, it’s actually Okongwu’s versatility on defense that could be his biggest advantage here. Once he’s adjusted to the league, the rookie will essentially be able to provide everything Capela does, plus more. His effortless court instincts, advanced footwork, ambidextrous finishing, and smooth ability to switch on defense combine for a strong argument for playing time over an energetic big like Capela – especially on a team that already has so many offensive answers, but few defensive ones. Needless to say, Atlanta’s acquisition of Okongwu could be disastrous for Capela’s fantasy value down the line. The 32.8 minutes per game he saw last year may be on the decline this season.

I don’t expect Okongwu to get the starting nod over a healthy Clint Capela. The aesthetic value of the ‘starter’ title typically means a lot to big-name, veteran players. I do, however, foresee the rookie proving himself to be the better overall option in finishing lineups, which is the more important role in the end anyway.

Aaron Nesmith will play more minutes than any second-year player in Boston.

Nesmith entered the draft as possibly the most reliable deep-range bomber of the bunch. He can shoot off of a variety of movements, and is always in motion, looking for the best spot to position himself. To quote Nesmith himself, he’s “an absolute sniper.” While his slight lack of athleticism may limit him a bit, the rookie wing is a heady player who can get the job done on defense with smart reactions and a solid feel for the game. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart will certainly play ahead of Nesmith, but there’s a clear argument for the 21-year old to play ahead of the remaining options, like Romeo Langford and Carsen Edwards at the two-spot, and Semi Ojeleye at the three.

The one speed bump to this “hot take” is that sophomore forward Grant Williams may have an even easier path to playing time. Listed as the Celtics’ backup PF by most accounts, Williams is a very smart player who just didn’t provide much to get excited about as a rookie. However, it’s possible that in his second year in head coach Brad Stevens’ system, Williams emerges as a solid roleplayer for the team. The only potential roadblock that could stand in Williams’ way is the possibility of Daniel Theis or Robert Williams seeing more time at the four-spot. Robert Williams has only played an estimated 3% of his minutes at power forward through his first two professional seasons, while Theis has more experience at the four, but had virtually no shares of it last season. However, this is not out of the realm of possibility after the Celtics also brought in Tristan Thompson to replace Enes Kanter. With three usable centers in-tow, Boston could certainly opt to play one of them at power forward for several minutes per game, although they all work best as centers.

I digress; with his ability to provide reliable two-way basketball, and play within his skill set as a shooter and team defender, Aaron Nesmith has a strong argument to see consistent wing minutes on this Celtics depth chart. He can potentially work his way toward fantasy relevance behind an elite ability to stockpile threes and serviceable efficiency.

P.S. – While we’re on the topic of the Celtics, I wanted to throw this question out there. Would it be tremendously shocking if Tremont Waters actually competed with Jeff Teague for backup point guard minutes? While all the backcourt hype was on Carsen Edwards and Romeo Langford last year, I was keeping a peripheral eye on Waters, who won G-League Rookie of the Year honors. Posting 18.0 points, 7.3 assists, 2.0 steals, and 2.5 threes per game on 35.4% shooting from deep, the 5’10 Waters displayed his cunning scoring ability, deep passing acumen, and savvy court IQ on a nightly basis. In addition, at 32 years of age, Teague’s performance could see even more of a decline this season, making Waters look even more appealing – particularly on the offensive end. Admittedly, I don’t foresee Waters trumping veteran Teague in Boston’s backcourt due to his inferior experience, small stature, and defensive shortcomings. However, should Teague or Kemba Walker go down at any point this season, keep an eye on Waters to get the nod as the next man up over guys like Carsen Edwards and rookie Payton Pritchard, regardless of how small a role it may be.

Cole Anthony will be a top-five rookie this year.

Taking a gander at Orlando’s depth chart, the only guard I expect to clearly play ahead of rookie Cole Anthony is Markelle Fultz, with Michael Carter-Williams and Jordan Bone as the other point guard options. With Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross each soaking up minutes at the two and three, there’s still some remaining playing time to be had at the point and shooting guard positions. The Magic did just re-sign Carter-Williams to an affordable two-year deal, but Anthony is likely already a better option than the 29-year old. Plus, an estimated 68% Carter-Williams’ minutes came at a position other than PG last season, per Basketball-Reference. If for some reason Carter-Williams starts the season ahead of Anthony in the backcourt rotation, it shouldn’t take long for the rookie to overthrow his veteran counterpart.

Anthony entered college as an elite, top-tier recruit after earning the title of MVP at both the Nike Hoops Summit and the McDonald’s All-American game. However, after a lackluster year at North Carolina, he tumbled down draft boards. The problematic aspect here is that there’s an argument to be made that the blame should not be all on Anthony.

To quote SportingNews.com, “What runs the risk of being overblown is Anthony’s play at UNC in a tricky situation. Forced to create his shot frequently in an offense lacking other scorers, Anthony’s efficiency suffered. He shot 38 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from 3-point range. At times, it looked like Anthony was forcing questionable shots, but his teammates had also proven if he gave them the ball they weren’t going to find anything better.”
Cole could not rely on his teammates to shoot or create anything for themselves, so it’s possible he put everything on his shoulders, and struggled because of it. Furthermore, Anthony tore his meniscus in his lone season at UNC, missing 11 games and making it even more difficult to find a long-term rhythm as an obvious one-and-done prospect.

With elite athleticism and ability to make tough shots from outside the paint, Cole potentially enters the season as one of the Magic’s most natural scorers. That’s something that could certainly be of significant value to this team. The lack of top talent to compete with for DJ Augustin’s vacated minutes could work wonders for Anthony’s fantasy value. Now with competent players and shooters around him, Cole Anthony could look like a completely different player.

RJ Hampton will not see a single meaningful minute for the Nuggets this season.

This one might be the coldest hot take of the bunch. It’s pretty simple. The Nuggets are a contending team who will once again look to make a deep playoff push behind their star players. RJ Hampton is still a very raw, unpolished prospect who has very few (if any) reliable NBA-level skills to lean on at the moment. While the 19-year old has very enticing athleticism, he needs miles of development before he can be counted on at the next level.

Barring multiple injuries to this Nuggets backcourt, I don’t expect Hampton to see any minutes outside of garbage time. In fact, Denver actually has two other backcourt rookies who may be better options for their competitive roster this year because of their experience – 29-year old Facundo Campazzo and 21-year old Markus Howard. Campazzo has 9+ years of international play under his belt, while Howard is a lights-out shooter and savvy scorer after playing four years of college ball at Marquette. Neither possess the theoretical ceiling that Hampton does, but both may be better options for a competent Denver team at the moment. The upside is there, but Hampton may have to sit this year out.

The Raptors are loaded with sneaky value.

This take doesn’t completely revolve around a rookie, but it does involve one. In fact, there are several players and aspects to go over within this take.

It’s no secret that the Raptors roster will look a little different this year after the losses of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. But who stands to benefit? The obvious answer is their new big man, Aron Baynes. Baynes provides a very competent skill set after improving his jump shot over the last few seasons. He shot 35.1% from three last season, and scores in the 51st percentile in offensive PIPM, according to B-Ball Index. In addition to being serviceable on offense, the 33-year old provides a solid defensive presence in the paint, and an appealing rebounding ability. Baynes grades out in the 94th percentile in contested offensive rebounding, the 100th percentile in contested defensive rebounding, and the 96th percentile in rim deterrence. Barring any additional frontcourt moves and/or decline due to age, Baynes is potentially set to have one of the best years of his career in a Raptors uniform.

So who is going to be his backup? Deep-league fantasy nerds around the world will rejoice if former G-League MVP Chris Boucher gets his shot at a decent role. While per-36 numbers certainly never tell the full story, it’s hard to ignore Boucher’s gaudy stats here. Last season, the 27-year old (yes, he’s 27) averaged 18.1 points, 12.2 boards, 2.7 blocks, 1.0 steals, and 1.7 threes on a per 36-minute basis. If Boucher sees any type of consistent role on this team, he could be a game-changer for fantasy purposes. He just has to beat out Alex Len for the backup center role. But in addition to backup center, there’s a chance Boucher could see some minutes at power forward as well on this depth chart.

While the dearth of reliable options behind Pascal Siakam at the four could prove to be beneficial to Chris Boucher, there’s another up-and-comer who also stands to benefit – OG Anunoby. Anunoby currently projects to be the starting small forward on this team, but don’t be surprised if he plays significant minutes at power forward as well, with Norman Powell and potentially DeAndre Bembry seeing some leftover time at the three. Like Boucher, Anunoby provides an appealing fantasy skill set. The 23-year old put up 10.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, and 1.3 triples on a smooth 39.0% from deep as a 22-year old, third-year pro. Numbers like that are good for a fantasy finish in the top-70 range. If his development holds steady under head coach Nick Nurse, Anunoby will be an exciting fantasy prospect to have on your roster.

Moving on, we finally get to the rookie of the bunch – guard Malachi Flynn. Flynn is a slightly shorter point guard who isn’t the greatest athlete and didn’t enter the draft as a high-profile prospect, but is a sharp, savvy player on the court who knows how to make plays… stop me if you’ve heard this about a Raptors player once or twice before. Now I’m not saying Flynn is Fred VanVleet or Kyle Lowry, but the rookie was a four-year college athlete (technically he only played three years after transferring for one of them) who is a reliable shooter (37.3% from three on 6.4 attempts per game) and plays within his game. He also averaged 5.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game, and shot a nice 85.7% from the line. Flynn is an expert out of pick-and-rolls, boasting a variety of pass moves and consistent scoring after the screen. He’s also an active and effective team defender who only gambles for a steal when it’s a smart play. Providing good shooting, smart playmaking, and solid team defense, Flynn has a clear path to the fourth guard spot on this team behind Lowry, VanVleet, and Norman Powell. He has to beat out Terence Davis, but Flynn fits the mold of an obvious Raptors guard, and is worth a gamble in many fantasy leagues.

In closing…

There are several more takes that I thought of for this article. So much so that I considered making a part two to compliment this first article. Regardless, these are all ideas that I believe have a strong chance of taking place in the upcoming season. After all we’ve seen and been through this year, it’s thrilling to have fantasy basketball back. Good luck this season, fantasy fiends. Stay safe.

Credit to @PatLaroco for the Rookie Hot Takes graphic. And remember to check out Craig’s upcoming fantasy hot takes article on Razzball.