7 Rookies to Target Before it’s Too Late

13 min read

In Dynasty leagues, Rookies are the foundation of upside and excited anticipation of what lies ahead. Almost all GM’s, rebuilding or contending, enjoy owning a youngster with a potentially bright future to look forward to. The mystery revolving around their prime years down the road is often an appealing gamble, particularly for lottery-selected Freshman.

First, let me start off by stating that these are players I recommend acquiring, whether it be by trading for them or picking them up off the wire, in Dynasty leagues. Most of these guys won’t begin reaching their fantasy potential this season. That being said, if you are strictly a Redraft-leaguer, you can use this article as a tool for next season’s fantasy drafts. As Rookies, the majority of these youngsters are given a short leash. Obviously, that leash will get longer as time goes on.

Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr, and DeAndre Ayton – these are all names that we can erase off the whiteboard for obvious reasons. Wendell Carter Jr and Mikal Bridges might also be unavailable, as respected names have already talked these guys up after displaying solid abilities. There are a couple of young guns on this list that could fall into a similar category but I like them enough that I’d still trade away a rather significant package to acquire them.

You could say these are ‘my guys‘. I was high on the majority of these players coming into the season, and, all things considered, they’ve found relative success. The arrow is pointing up and it’ll only get better from here.

These are the somewhat under-the-radar Rookies I’m trying to acquire in my Dynasty leagues before they truly break out, making it too little too late.

Mo Bamba, C

  • Ceiling: Top 20
  • Realistic Projection: Top 35
  • Current Player Comp: longer Rudy Gobert + willingness to shoot from range
  • Potential Strengths: Rebounds – Blocks – FG% – TO’s – with some Points, Steals, & 3’s

Out of every Rookie we’ll discuss here, Mo Bamba is the surest bet to be owned already in your Dynasty league. He tops this list anyway because I’m still not sure people understand the havoc he can wreak once he’s unleashed. With an NBA Combine record 7’10 wingspan, any shot that enters Bamba’s vicinity has a good chance to go flying into the third row. If you ask me, it’s a good thing that Nikola Vucevic was in Orlando for Bamba’s rookie year. Mo didn’t enter the season with extremely high responsibility like some other lottery selections. He’s been granted valuable freshman time to learn from one of the top post-offensive 7-footers in the league instead of getting his performances picked apart by every expert in the known world. As monstrously long as he is, it’s scary to see how unafraid Bamba is to attempt to space the floor if he so pleases. With an early-round-upside skill set, he just needs the opportunity to put it all together. Below is his per-36 minute averages so far in his rookie season. The numbers are decent but they don’t do him justice. I expect his FG% and FT% to eventually come back up to at least what they were in College (54.1% and 68.1%, respectively), with the added benefit of likely improving even further. Plus, his Points will also come up as his scoring develops.

Points

Boards

Assists

Steals

Blocks

FG%

FT%

3PTM

TO

13.8

10.8

2.0

0.7

3.0

.472

.547

1.0

2.0

Aaron Holiday, PG

  • Ceiling: Top 25
  • Realistic Projection: Top 40
  • Current Player Comp: CJ McCollum + a few more Steals & Assists
  • Strengths: Points – Assists – Steals – 3’s – FT%

As the 23rd pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, the Pacers might have gotten a steal in Aaron Holiday. Defensive potential aside, the youngest professional Holiday brother was a smooth-shooting ballhandler with playmaking upside in College. There’s no reason to think that can’t translate to the big leagues. Currently buried beneath a plethora of veteran Guards on Indiana’s depth chart, there exists a very real scenario where Holiday impresses his way into big minutes next season. Every single notable Guard currently ahead of Holiday (outside of Oladipo) will be a Free Agent this coming Summer. That’s Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, Cory Joseph, and Bojan Bogdanovic – all free. I’d be surprised if Indiana brought back more than maybe half of those guys, especially considering Sabonis will be due for a hard-earned raise soon. Aaron’s 3-point success and improving movement off-ball will make him a nice fit next to Oladipo. That’s a dynamic duo I’ll be excited to keep my eye on. #AaronHolidaySZN will commence next season. Don’t miss out.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG/SG

  • Ceiling: Top 25
  • Realistic Projection: Top 40
  • Current Player Comp: Josh Richardson
  • Strengths: Points – Rebounds – Assists – Steals – FT% – and some out-of-position Blocks

Like with Aaron Holiday, it hopefully won’t be a very long wait before Gilgeous-Alexander finds himself in an even larger role on his team’s offense. Patrick Beverley’s name has already been tossed around in multiple trade rumors early in the season. Even if he doesn’t get dealt, Beverley is free this Summer, and could very well be wearing a different uniform next Fall. That’s become especially plausible now that the Clippers brass has seen what SGA can potentially blossom into if given the opportunity. Now let me be clear – that isn’t to say LA won’t be chasing big names in Free Agency. It is, however, promising what Shai has been able to display so early on in his professional career – on both ends of the court. It speaks volumes how much Doc Rivers has considered playing SGA big minutes over the veteran defensive menaces competing against him in the depth chart. I digress, SGA has the upside of an every-cat stud. Those out-of-position Blocks are crucial. He also has a decent deep-range stroke which he just doesn’t use very often. His early success has probably convinced your Dynasty league mates that he has enough upside to warrant a stash. By that I mean he’s probably owned in your league already and it’ll take a trade to pry him away. I’d consider making the move. All in all, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should develop into an impressive fantasy commodity in the years to come.

Robert Williams, PF/C

  • Ceiling: Top 25
  • Realistic Projection: Top 40
  • Current Player Comp: Clint Capela
  • Strengths: Rebounds – Blocks – FG% – TO’s – and maybe some Points

I’ve been on record stating how I believe Robert Williams can become the next kind of Clint Capela. They’re virtually the same size, and Capela was in a similar position during his early NBA years – playing limited minutes behind a bigger-name Center while ripe with youth and potential, just playing the waiting game. If you’re patient with the Time Lord, I’m convinced it’ll pay off handsomely, just like it did with Capela. Assuming the Celtics remain mostly intact over the next few years, Williams would be surrounded by shooters and playmakers. His teammates spacing the court gives him a ton of room to work in the paint. I know what you’re thinking – that sounds eerily similar to another certain 6’10, 240lb Center. One who might reside in Houston? Comparisons aside, Williams is posting gigantic per-36 averages of 5.6 Blocks and 10.7 Rebounds, while shooting 74.3% from the field. I’ll admit that those numbers come with one big caveat – it’s been a very small sample size. He’s only actually playing about 9 minutes per game. Regardless, the Time Lord will be a ‘traditional big man stats’ machine who I want on my Dynasty teams, especially when punting FT%.

Kevin Huerter, SG

  • Ceiling: Top 30
  • Realistic Projection: Top 50
  • Current Player Comp: more athletic Bogdan Bogdanovic
  • Strengths: Points – Assists – 3’s – and hopefully FT%

A couple of us Unicorns have made apparent our appreciation of Red Velvet‘s fantasy skill set. At the NBA Combine, he made 15 straight triples despite a torn ligament in his shooting hand. Yes, he should be a great 3-point sniper but he also offers much more than that. The old ‘never judge a book by its cover’ saying applies here. Huerter’s athleticism shouldn’t be slept on. In addition to placing first in three separate shooting exercises, Huerter achieved top-3 status in a few physical exercises, including 1st place in the shuttle run. While athletic gifts don’t always translate to fantasy, Huerter’s speed and agility might sneak up on players sometimes, maybe correlating to a few more hustle stats. Outside of all that, his playmaking should also be considered a strength. He may not often get to display this aspect of his game while playing next to a guy like Trae Young but he should at least be good for enough Assists to be considered a plus in that category. I wouldn’t be shocked if Huerter bested my Top 50 projection and worked his way into Top 30-40 territory, similar to Klay Thompson, who he’s often been compared to.

Jalen Brunson, PG

  • Ceiling: Top 40
  • Realistic Projection: Top 70
  • Current Player Comp: bigger Darren Collison
  • Strengths: Points – Assists – 3’s – FG% – FT% – and low TO’s

Believe it or not, the reason I’m attempting to acquire Jalen Brunson in all my deep/rebuilding Dynasty leagues is not for his ceiling. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In my opinion, Brunson has one of the safest floors of all the players drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 NBA Draft. Joined in the draft by several of his college teammates (Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, and Donte DiVincenzo), Brunson is clearly coming from a great developmental program. He knows how to be the primary distributor to a winning cause. The 6’3 Point Guard probably won’t post the flashy hustle stats that you see out of some athletic specimens. That’s not really his game. Brunson’s Rebounds and Blocks might be below average but those aren’t the categories you acquire him for anyway. His niche will be as a beautifully efficient piece to your 9-cat puzzle. In his final season at Villanova, Brunson showed us what his strengths are.

Min

Points

Boards

Assists

Steals

Blocks

FG%

FT%

3PTM

TO

31.8

18.9

3.1

4.6

0.9

0.0

.521

.802

2.2

1.8

Even if he never becomes a true big-name star, there will be a place for him as a great rotational player, who will help keep your percentages at a respectable number, for years to come.

Zhaire Smith, SG/SF

  • Ceiling: Top 50
  • Realistic Projection: Top 100
  • Current Player Comp: more efficient Derrick Jones Jr
  • Strengths: Steals – Blocks – FG% – and some Points & Rebounds

One of the most athletic players to come out of the 2018 NBA Draft, Zhaire Smith finds himself at the bottom of the list because he’s still one of the bigger question marks of his Rookie class. On a team stacked with usage machines, Smith might find it difficult to crack standard-league relevance early on in his career if Philly’s core remains intact. That being said, he may still be one of the better young stashes out there. Smith has nice triple-1 potential, averaging over a Steal and a Block in 28.4 minutes per game in College. He also displayed solid efficiency from beyond the arc, nailing 45% of his 1.1 3pt attempts per game. The NBA is a whole different monster though. Smith didn’t shoot a ton of triples in college, which may, unfortunately, translate to the big leagues where the arc is even further away from the basket. Then again, Zhaire didn’t have to utilize that aspect of his game so much in college, relying on his beastly athleticism instead. That might not be so easy in the NBA. I wouldn’t trade a boatload to acquire Smith as there does exist a scenario where Smith doesn’t amount to anything more than semi-wasted uber-athleticism (i.e. Marquese Chriss, Josh Jackson). Nonetheless, check out your FA pool anyway. His ‘INJ’ status has forced him to the wire in some leagues. If he’s not available in yours, send out some buy-low offers. The upside is there; the opportunity might require some patience.

Honorable Mentions

Miles Bridges, SF

Remember when I mentioned Zhaire Smith as being a Rookie who may have a slight chance to develop into nothing more than wasted athleticism? That might apply here as well. I like Miles Bridges’ potential. His floor should be safe enough to hold end-of-roster fantasy relevancy. His ceiling is juicy enough to warrant a stash, especially for rebuilding teams. Bridges is a volatile asset with a gaping range of potential ranking outcomes. I see him as an athletic 3-and-D Jae Crowder type at the least: with upside to become more like what the optimists thought Aaron Gordon could be.

Omari Spellman, PF

What better place is there to be for a young, developing Rookie than Atlanta? Without veteran star power ahead of him, Spellman doesn’t have the stiffest competition for meaningful playing time. Outside of the exciting John Collins, who has his starting spot in the rotation seemingly locked up, starting Center DeWayne Dedmon is hardly a shoo-in for obvious big minutes. I mean no disrespect to Dedmon; his game has come a long way. However, the Hawks are in the midst of a clear youth movement and cannot afford to rob their youngsters of any significant developmental time. Besides, Dedmon is a popular non-star name in the rumor mill for competitive teams looking to bolster their depth in the paint. Although Spellman doesn’t possess the height of a traditional NBA Center, his frame makes up for it. A duet of Spellman and Collins could eventually become a symphony for the ears of the modern small-ball era’s truthers. Similar to a couple of his teammates, Spellman, if developed properly, can become a nightly triple-1 threat who will add in some nice Rebounds and percentages that won’t kill you. At the least, he can be a rotational bench F/C, and remain standard league-relevant.

Harry Giles, PF/C

As the only player on this list not to come out of the 2018 NBA Draft class, Giles holds a special place in the hearts of the masses as an example of how fast life can come at you. Giles was once the top overall High School prospect. An injury stole his college career, and derailed his perceived upside. As a highly-touted prospect who was suddenly turned into a comeback kid, there still exists a great deal of potential to cheer for here. At the least, he can become a great backup big man with a fun skill set to sharpen. He has his doubters just as he has his weaknesses. But his strengths might eventually outweigh the negativities. Giles is a fantastic passer out of the post and can do some damage in the paint when focused. Seeming to have stolen some of Kosta Koufos’ backup Center minutes, Giles is finally being given the opportunity to display his anticipated skills. He should probably be owned in all Dynasty leagues deeper than 12 teams. If he continues getting playing time as he has, he’ll eventually work his way into the 10-12-team radar as well. Just take a gander at his per-36 minute averages from this year. There’s a lot to like, especially once he improves his efficiency.

Points

Boards

Assists

Steals

Blocks

FG%

FT%

3PTM

TO

16.6

9.9

4.4

2.2

1.1

.481

.553

0

3.5