Projecting rookie success in fantasy basketball can be difficult, especially in the NBA.
If you were projecting impact on fantasy basketball in Aug. 2021, you probably weren’t expecting players like Herbert Jones, Franz Wagner, Ayo Donsunmu and Bones Hyland to be among the top 10 scoring rookies. It really can be a crapshoot out of the NBA draft.
When evaluating rookie players, it’s important to keep an eye on three things:
- The opportunity to play and get minutes. Jonathan Kuminga showed a lot of promise in year one, but only scored 1,164 fantasy points. The best prospects aren’t always the best fantasy prospects in year one. Keep that in mind.
- The ability to stuff the stat sheet. There are creative scoring prospects coming out of the NBA draft, namely Jaden Ivey at pick No. 4. Most pure scorers need to average about 23 points per game and play 75-plus games at minimum to become valuable fantasy players, and that is hard to do in year one and provide a lot of fantasy value.
A perfect example of this is Jalen Green, who had a very good rookie season but was outscored by Herb Jones because of Jones’ ability to play nearly every game and get fantastic steal and block numbers.
Getting a scorer isn’t a bad thing, but remember that when value their immediate value compared to long-term potential.
- Project players are a wild card, always best to be proven wrong than waste a pick to guess right. Most rookies are available on the wire at some point during the season, no need to waste a draft pick because we like the upside of Ousmane Dieng. If he’s available in free agency feel free to take advantage then.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 rookie fantasy players for the 2022-23 season.
1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
Banchero is the easy pick, but also the right pick. Orlando has a nice core of players in various stages of development, but lacks offensive stars. If all goes as planned, Banchero should get a lot of minutes on a borderline lottery team, should get chances to fill the stat sheet and handle the ball during the season. He also has the size to be a good rebounder and showed passing abilities in the NBA Summer League he hadn’t shown before. He’s a lock for the first rookie off the board.
I would like Banchero even more if Markelle Fultz wasn’t hurt to start the season because he’s one of the best passers in the league, but Banchero can benefit with more opportunities with the ball in his hands.
2. Jabari Smith Jr. – Houston Rockets
Smith Jr. provides three valuable pieces to a good fantasy basketball player: outside shooting, size to rebound and good defensive instincts.
While he didn’t shoot well in the Summer League, it’s fair to chalk that up to small sample size. What we did see, however, is the length to average 1.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, an awesome combination for fantasy owners.
The only potential pitfall for Smith Jr.’s fantasy owners is his situation. Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green are both young prospects looking to grow their game and earn long-term contracts. They’ll take a lot of shots themselves, potentially putting a ceiling on the young big if he can’t get as many looks as we’d like.
3. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings
Murray took the NBA world by storm, earning the Most Valuable Player of the 2K23 Summer League. More importantly, for fantasy purposes, Murray showed a diverse game, averaging 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
While he won’t average that in the NBA, his prospects for this season are high, and he was viewed as one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the draft. How good he is this season, depends on the minutes he gets on a Sacramento team desperate to break their playoff streak.
4. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana Pacers
I’m buying into Mathurin over Ivey in year one, but not necessarily as a long-term prospect. Ivey is a creative scorer ready to take the league by storm, while Mathurin might be in a nice spot next to a terrific passer in Tyrese Haliburton.
Mathurin is in a team that seemingly is looking to tank. Ivey is on a team that wants to be competitive and potentially reaches the 10 seed. I’ll lean on the Arizona guard this season.
5. Jaden Ivey, Detroit Pistons
I was close to picking our next player over Ivey, but at this point, I think the scoring will win out just slightly. If Ivey gets even more chances to handle the ball – which, I think Cade Cunningham can play off him as well – then he has legitimate top-two rookie if he can add assists to his game.
Ivey showed that ability in his only full summer league game, but was injured in his second game and held out. An insanely talented player that can easily prove me wrong this next season.
6. Jeremy Sochan, San Antonio Spurs
In a similar vein to Jones last season, Sochan has the defensive abilities to make an immediate impact in the NBA. Even more importantly, he might be the first player off the bench, battling Doug McDermott for minutes on the wing.
The Spurs aren’t in a spot to compete this season, head coach Gregg Popovich even said as much at the team’s media day.
That should be music to a fantasy player’s ears. Sochan is going to play, get chances to make mistakes and learn from them, and the minutes should help this season and long term.
7. Mark Williams, Charlotte Hornets
I’m pretty bullish on Williams being an instant-impact fantasy guy this season. If Mason Plumlee starts over him, I don’t imagine it lasting long. LaMelo Ball is an absolute star (Shameless plug) and for the first time in his career, has a center with athleticism rolling to the rim.
Williams was viewed as an NBA-ready prospect. If he can finish at the rim, earn the starting role and add his rebounds and blocked shot abilities as a big, he might be the safest rookie to select in the draft.
8. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Chet Holmgren injury is such a bummer. A unique, talented prospect would’ve surely made the top 10, but we’ll wait until next season to see what he provides.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the injury, however, is Williams, who might become the first or second guy off the bench for the Thunder. He was a mixed bag at the various summer league stops for Oklahoma City, but certainly showed flashes of what he can be.
We’re in the range of rookies where you’re probably not wasting a draft pick on a player. Jalen Williams is a player to monitor in free agency because he’s one injury away from potentially a major role in the rotation.
9. Tari Eason, Houston Rockets
The biggest knock on Eason is that the Rockets have a lot of players in their frontcourt positions looking to earn minutes, including Jabari Smith Jr. listed above. If he can earn a role within the team, he’s shown to be a capable rebounder and defensive player that can provide fantasy help.
10. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons
In a similar role to Mark Williams, Duren provides a ton of value as a rebounder, shot blocker and finisher around the basket. The only problem for him is that there are several players looking for minutes in Detroit. If he’s able to earn minutes over Nerlens Noel or Isaiah Stewart at the five, he could be a nice sleeper pick in fantasy free agency.