Celtics

Fantasy basketball 2019: Top 10 rookies to target in your draft

Fantasy basketball 2019: Top 10 rookies to target in your draft

With the 2019-20 NBA season less than a week away, now would be a good time to educate yourself on which first-year players are worth adding to your fantasy basketball roster.

Obviously, it's ideal to draft a rookie with a clear path to significant playing time. Unfortunately, outside of guys like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, it's difficult to predict which young guns will get their opportunity to shine in Year 1. That's why we're here to give you a few names that have the best shot at making an immediate impact and stuffing the stat sheet.

Here's a look at the top 10 rookies to target in your fantasy basketball draft this year:

Fantasy Basketball 2019 draft prep đź‘‡

Best sleepers to target | Potential busts to avoid | Which Celtics should you draft? | 10-team mock draft

1. Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

This one's a no-brainer. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft will be the first rookie taken off the board in the vast majority of fantasy drafts. Williamson is positioned to make an immediate impact in New Orleans and can be taken as early as the second round.

UPDATE (Friday, Oct. 18, 11:45 a.m. ET): Williamson is expected to miss the first few weeks of the regular season due to a knee injury, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The injury obviously hurts Williamson's draft stock, although he's still the top rookie if he can return after a few weeks.

2. Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are all in on Morant as the new face of their franchise after trading Mike Conley and selecting the Murray State standout with the No. 2 overall pick. If all goes according to plan, Morant could be this year's Trae Young with his scoring and playmaking ability. That should tell you all you need to know about the value he could bring to your fantasy lineup this season.

3. R.J. Barrett, SG, New York Knicks

There's a pretty sizable dropoff after Williamson and Morant, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other draftable rookies in fantasy this year. Barrett, Williamson's sidekick at Duke, should rack up the minutes with New York which means we can expect a respectable output from the No. 3 overall pick in his inaugural campaign.

4. Darius Garland, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Garland, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, will be one of the main attractions on a rebuilding Cavaliers team this season. He'll get plenty of minutes in Cleveland's backcourt alongside Collin Sexton and can be a solid fantasy asset if he proves to be a consistent threat from 3-point range. That's where most of his value lies.

5. Brandon Clarke, PF, Memphis Grizzlies

Clarke probably isn't getting enough attention heading into the new season with Williamson and new teammate Morant stealing most of the headlines. The former Gonzaga star has the chance to put up some seriously impressive numbers this year on a rebuilding Grizzlies squad. While his jumper needs some work, Clarke proved in college he can stuff the stat sheet and defend at a high level.

6. De'Andre Hunter, SF, Atlanta Hawks

Speaking of great defending, Hunter should be thrown right at the top of the list when discussing this year's rookie class. The Virginia product isn't going to wow anyone on the offensive side but can be sneaky with his 3-point shooting prowess. He's a safe option for later on in your draft.

7. Rui Hachimura, PF, Washington Wizards

Hachimura should have the opportunity to start right away for a Wizards team that, outside of Bradley Beal, doesn't exactly boast the most talented roster. The minutes will be there for the taking for the former Gonzaga big man, it's just a matter of what he'll do with them. He's worth a gamble as he could prove to be a consistent scorer and rebounder.

8. Tyler Herro, SG, Miami Heat

If you're looking for an under-the-radar sharpshooter in your draft, look no further than Herro. The former Kentucky Wildcat probably will backup Dion Waiters to begin the season but should still rack up the threes with Miami.

9. Jarrett Culver, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

Culver isn't the most efficient shooter, but he still has plenty of fantasy value. He'll get plenty of minutes right off the bat in Minnesota and could be a serious sleeper if his 3-point shot improves.  The Texas Tech standout looked impressive in the NBA preseason, so that's certainly worth noting as you prepare for draft day.

10. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, New Orleans Pelicans

Alexander-Walker is low on this list solely because he may not have the opportunity to be a valuable fantasy asset right away on a Pelicans team that has plenty of wing and backcourt depth. If he does get his time to shine, he'll be a consistent scorer just as he was at Virginia Tech and during summer league when he racked up 24.3 points per game.

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Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

BOSTON — With Gordon Hayward set to return possibly as early as Monday night’s game against Cleveland, he’ll be rejoining a squad that’s playing great basketball which has them among the NBA’s top teams.

But here’s the thing. 

Before suffering a fourth metacarpal fracture in his left hand which has been surgically repaired, Hayward and the Celtics were playing the best basketball of any team in the league. 

Can they get back to where they were with Hayward?

If they do, look for Boston to make notable strides in the following areas of play. 

OFFENSIVE OPTIONS

Now keep in mind, even when Hayward was healthy, the Celtics weren’t exactly killin’ the game with a ton of points or red-hot shooting. 

What they did more than anything else was create a pick-your-poison scenario on a game-to-game basis for defenses.

While there’s some element of that still around in his absence, there’s no debate that Hayward’s presence makes Boston a much more dangerous team to defend. 

And upon his return, the Celtics will be even more dangerous, thanks to the emergence of Jaylen Brown, who has been delivering All-Star quality production with Hayward out, along with the solid contributions Boston has been getting all season from Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. 

DEFENSIVE VERSATILITY

The NBA is all about creating mismatches on the floor, so teams with the ability to switch effectively on defense will find success. The return of Hayward gives Boston another body who has the size, strength and mobility to defend multiple positions. 

When he was healthy, the Celtics' defensive rating of 101.5 was the fifth-best mark in the NBA, which was surprising when you consider they lost defensive anchors Al Horford (Philadelphia) and Aron Baynes (Phoenix) in the offseason.

Boston’s defensive rating without Hayward dipped to 104.7, which still ranks seventh in the NBA. 

And while Hayward’s defensive ability has been questioned in the past, his defensive rating of 100.6 stacks up well relative to his teammates. 

WING DEPTH

If you want to win in the NBA, you better have wings — and that’s plural, not singular. And the Celtics have more than their share of talented ones, which is why the return of Hayward is so vital to the team’s overall success. 

Hayward has the ability to do many things on the floor, evident by his stats this season which touch on all the key categories. 

In addition to averaging 18.9 points per game, Hayward is also grabbing 7.1 rebounds to go with 4.1 assists per game.

Those are good numbers for sure. 

But what makes the Celtics so dangerous is they have not one but two others delivering similar production or better from the wing position, in Jayson Tatum (21.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Jaylen Brown (20.0 points, 6.9 assists).

STRONGER BENCH

The Celtics’ second unit has taken its share of hits this season because they don’t score as much as some — OK, most — other reserve groups. Of course that’s partly because Boston has one of the highest-scoring starting fives in the NBA, which means limited opportunities for the backups and thus, less points. 

Because of that, it puts a greater premium on their bench players to come in and impact the game at the defensive end of the floor. 

And the return of Gordon Hayward will provide that group some much-needed depth with what will likely be the return of defensive ace Marcus Smart back to that unit which has been solid this season. 

According to hoopsstats.com, Boston has allowed opposing second units to score 33.4 points per game which is the fourth-fewest allowed in the NBA this season.  

That number will likely take a drop with Smart directing that group more than he is currently. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

The Boston Celtics will be missing some size on their bench for Monday night's game vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Robert Williams has been ruled out with left hip soreness, the team announced Sunday. Rookie Romeo Langford was also ruled out as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered during a game with the Maine Red Claws.

On the bright side for Boston, Gordon Hayward could make his long-awaited return to the court after missing the last month with a fractured left hand.

Hayward originally was slated to return from his injury around Christmas.

The Celtics (16-5) and Cavaliers (5-17) will face off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.