When thumbing through the many NBA players ahead of and during fantasy drafts, it’s easy to get caught up in the big names. You’re looking for the all-around dominant players like the Giannis Antetokounmpo’s and Nikola Jokic’s of the world before pivoting to the specialists you can rely on.
Often lost in the sauce are the rookies — partially due to general unawareness of the players, and partially due to the unknown of whether they can produce at the highest level.
But there are no excuses over here. Get to know these 10 NBA rookies and consider rostering them ahead of the season. They might provide some value.
10 Jalen Duren – Detroit Pistons
Duren is currently the backup big. If Nerlens Noel returns from injury and claims the backup spot behind Isaiah Stewart, Duren won’t provide much fantasy basketball value.
However, if the second-string center position is his for keeps, fantasy managers will be getting a ton of rebounding with Duren on their roster. With 24 rebounds over two preseason games, it’s clear what his calling card is.
9 Shaedon Sharpe – Portland Trail Blazers
Potential and upside have followed Shape since his prep days. We just haven’t seen a lot of him on the court. Now that he’s got some preseason games under his belt, I’m confident is expecting him to produce when on the court. Although, it’s anyone’s guess what Sharpe’s minutes will look like for a veteran Portland team that’s trying to contend.
8 Walker Kessler – Utah Jazz
So, this one is tricky. Taking a swing on Kessler is basically just taking a swing on potential. His upside is that he’s 7-foot-1 and really knows how to use his size on the defensive end — he had four blocks in 25 minutes during Tuesday’s preseason game against the Spurs.
We’re hoping the Jazz keep embracing the tank and that Kessler becomes the starting center. Might be worth the risk of having him occupy a roster spot.
7 Tari Eason – Houston Rockets
While eyes have deservedly been on Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason is reminding the basketball world that he too was a first-round pick for good reason. It’s hard to know exactly where he’ll fit into the rotation, but his consistent preseason production is worthy of regular minutes in the lineup to begin the season.
Filling out your roster with Eason means you’ll have a nightly double-double threat on your bench, depending on playing time.
6 Jalen Williams – Oklahoma City Thunder
This right here, yeah, here’s a steal. You’ll want to buy stock in Jalen Williams, especially early in the season while Shai Gilgous-Alexander is recovering from injury. Just look at his preseason stats:
Oct. 11 vs. DET – 16 points, 7 rebounds, three assists, three steals
Oct. 9 vs. MRA – 15 points, 4 rebounds, 13 assists, two steals
Oct. 5 vs. DAL – 10 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
Oct. 3 vs. DEN – 10 points, 1 rebound, 5 assists, 1 steal
Whether he starts or not is still unknown. Regardless, he’ll play a lot and have a hand in a little bit of everything.
5 Bennedict Mathurin – Indiana Pacers
One of the benefits of young players playing for a rebuilding team is that their leash is much longer than one who might play for a contender or a win-now team. Being on a rebuilding team AND being a top-10 pick in the NBA draft makes that leash even longer.
Bennedict Mathurin falls right into that category and through three preseason games, Bennedict Mathurin is averaging 20.3 points per game on 52.6 percent from the floor. His early production is comparable to teammate Chris Duarte’s from a season when he burst on the scene as a rookie.
Duarte turned that into a strong Year 1 that was seen as valuable from time to time during the fantasy season. Mathurin could follow a similar script.
4 Jabari Smith Jr. – Houston Rockets
Jabari is not your typical ball-in-my-hands, get-out-of-my-way kind of player that usually goes high in NBA drafts. Yet, that doesn’t mean he won’t be able to produce like one of those guys in Year 1.
What makes Smith exciting is that he can do a bit of everything. He’s tall (6-foot-11) so rebounds should be there, and he possesses a sweet shooting stroke that makes him a tough cover and he has the agility and length to be a bothersome defender. So don’t be surprised if he checks off a bunch of boxes on a nightly basis as far as fantasy basketball goes.
3 Keegan Murray – Sacramento Kings
We all saw how good Keegan Murray is during the summer league when he turned heads with his skill and basketball IQ. Nothing’s changed other than the fact that he’ll have fewer opportunities to put up big stats now that he’ll share the court with other NBA talent as opposed to summer leaguers.
Still, Murray is ready for important NBA minutes right now. He’ll be on the court more than enough throughout the season for him to make some fantasy basketball impact.
2 Jaden Ivey – Detroit Pistons
The preseason showed us that Jaden Ivey is going to start alongside Cade Cunningham in Detroit’s backcourt. It also showed us that Ivey will have the ball in his hands pretty often. In doing so, he could become a turnover machine and his efficiency might not always be great, but it also means Iver will have nights where his volume leads to a good amount of points assists and steals.
1 Paolo Banchero – Orlando Magic
Paolo is the undeniable No. 1 rookie to have in fantasy leagues. He has the skill set of a guard, but at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, has the build of a physically dominant power forward.
I won’t go as far as to say that Banchero will have the green light to do what he wants on the court — after all, he is a rookie. But this season surely will be about allowing the No. 1 pick to showcase his talent on a young team that’s still a ways away. Expect him to play many minutes and to provide fantasy managers with some stat-sheet-stuffing.