NBA Draft: Top 8 Fantasy rookies and where you should pick them

We have been spoiled in recent seasons with a plethora of productive rookies entering the NBA and being fantasy factors immediately. My age-old adage has been: It’s hard to trust rookies, especially given the inflated values many fantasy managers assign them at draft time in their rookie seasons. The last two years, however, we’ve had many players live up to and exceed that value. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but I feel like we may have a regression to the mean this season.

That isn’t to say there won’t be value in a bunch of rookies selected in Friday’s NBA Draft, it’s just that we have to be more judicious in our valuations, and not hold the 2019 class to the same standards as 2018 and 2017.

If we think more along the lines of 2016 (when Malcolm Brogdon won Rookie Of The Year), we will have more reasonable expectations, with the obvious caveat of the superhuman in New Orleans.

*All draft round projections are based on standard 12 team leagues and, of course, could change wildly based on free agency.

Zion Williamson - Pelicans - Round 3

Speaking of the superhuman in New Orleans, Zion Williamson is the odds-on favourite to win Rookie Of The Year, as well as be the first rookie off the board in fantasy drafts. He has a legitimate chance of being a top-30 player in his rookie season with a combination of scoring, rebounds, blocks, and steals, and even with a reduction in the insane efficiency he showed at Duke, he should be a standout fantasy player. If you want him in your drafts, expect to have to shell out a third round pick, although that may be at the ceiling of his rookie value. When all is said and done, Zion could easily be a top-20 player out of the gate, though.

Ja Morant - Grizzlies - Round 6

Getting point guards and assists in fantasy drafts can be hard as you go through the early rounds and with the Mike Conley trade, things have opened up wide for Morant in Memphis. He, like most rookie guards, will likely struggle with his field goal percentage, but he can dish assists and his usage should be high in Memphis. The first couple of months, in particular, may be shaky, but Morant has a legitimate shot at the top 50 from January onwards and you will likely need to take him in Round 6 to get him on your fantasy roster. Would I take him in the sixth round? Probably not, but if he falls from there, I will have him in my draft queue.

RJ Barrett - Knicks - Round 11

In all likelihood, Barrett will get drafted earlier than Round 11 in fantasy drafts based on name recognition and the Knicks factor, but his fantasy value is a lot shakier than both Williamson and Morant. He struggled to put up any defensive numbers at Duke and his efficiency was a large negative, but if the Knicks strike out on free agents, Barrett will not only start but he’ll play in excess of 30 minutes and get to take a lot of shots. That could make him a better pick for points leagues where efficiency isn’t as important, but he still can have categorical relevance.

The poor efficiency and high usage does conjure up memories of Andrew Wiggins and Harrison Barnes, notoriously bad fantasy players, but Barrett has the advantage of being able to generate assists and pull down rebounds. He should be significantly better than last season’s first rounder, Kevin Knox, who had one of the worst high-minute rookie seasons ever.

Pictured here, top NBA 2019 draft rookies Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett.
Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett. Image: Getty

Coby White - Bulls - Round 12

The Bulls (rightfully) don’t believe in Kris Dunn, so White is going to have a chance to start this season. His fit with Zach LaVine, is ... interesting to say the least, but he is a shooter who should put up solid three-point volume and he can get assists, steals, and hit his free throws. But, with Dunn still around, White’s minutes will likely be limited for a chunk of the season, so he is a stash guy in the last two rounds.

Darius Garland - Cavaliers - Round 12

The Cavs have second-year player Collin Sexton at point guard, but there is a spot next to him that Garland should fill very early on in his rookie season. His shooting is a plus, but his troublingly low assist rate, paired with Sexton’s similar issues make it an interesting combination. Garland has a shot at providing some efficient scoring and he could be a better fantasy option than both Barrett and De’Andre Hunter, who were both picked ahead of him, but I wouldn’t want to invest much draft capital in him.

Brandon Clarke - Grizzlies - Round 13

The Grizzlies centre of the future is Jaren Jackson Jr. and it appears Jonas Valančiūnas will be back for next season, but that still gives Clarke a shot at getting backup minutes at both the four and the five. He had one of the most statistically dominant college seasons of all time and even in 22 minutes, he could be a fantasy impact player. He is a flier type for now but is definitely a name to watch.

Jaxson Hayes - Pelicans - Round 13

The Pelicans have a starting four locked in, with centre a glaring opening. Hayes may not be able to play 30 minutes a night — in fact, he almost definitely won’t — but he can impact the game in fewer minutes with his high block rate, high field goal percentage, and a very good free throw percentage for a centre. He won’t get assists or hit threes, and his rebounding is comically bad, but a high volume shot blocker, like Mitchell Robinson, is a useful fantasy player.

Jarrett Culver - Timberwolves - Round 13

The Wolves currently have Josh Okogie at shooting guard, assuming Andrew Wiggins plays at small forward and Robert Covington slides up to power forward to replace the recently traded Dario Šarić, so Culver doesn’t have a guaranteed role in front of him. He can pass, which is a bonus, but his poor efficiency and questionable shot mechanics are likely to limit his fantasy impact and I would take him with my last pick only as an absolute last resort and would likely leave him undrafted.

From this 2019 NBA Draft class, I only see Morant and Williamson as locks to be standard league players all season, with most other players having significant deficiencies in their stat profile or crowded paths to playing time.

Follow Josh Lloyd on Twitter