Figuring out which rookies will excel from a fantasy standpoint can be, outside of the players that have already been labeled as “elite,” a bit of a crap shoot. Heading into this season it was clear that Zion Williamson and Ja Morant would put up numbers, and that’s how things played out. Morant was the runaway winner of the Rookie of the Year award, and while Williamson only appeared in 24 games he put up good numbers when available. The question for the 2019-20 rookie class is which players are best positioned to make a jump statistically from year one to year two.
Morant and Williamson are obvious choices, with the biggest variable being the health of the latter. For that reason, this offseason sets up to be one of utmost importance for Williamson when it comes to his career path. Outside of the broken thumb that he managed to play through Morant was able to stay healthy, and along with the likes of Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke he’s part of a young nucleus that appears poised to return the Grizzlies to perennial playoff team status.
So we aren’t going to focus on Williamson or Morant in this column, instead looking at eleven other second-year (meaning their status next season) players who should be selected in your fantasy draft(s). First up is a guard whose franchise has taken to calling the “Baby Goat.”
Tyler Herro (Yahoo positions: SG, SF)
Herro has been outstanding during the postseason for the Heat, who are currently taking on the Lakers in the NBA Finals. After averaging 13.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.1 3-pointers per contest in 55 regular season games, Herro has accounted for 16.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.4 3-pointers per during the post season. He’s been more assertive, and Erik Spoelstra has enough trust in the rookie guard to simply allow him to go out and make plays.
The absences of Kendrick Nunn has to be noted here, as his late arrival and (later) departure in the midst of Miami’s time in the bubble put the Rookie of the Year finalist in a tough spot from a fitness standpoint but freed up more minutes for Herro. That being said, Herro has played well enough in the bubble that it’s very difficult to envision a non-injury scenario on which he isn’t a key rotation player for the Heat next season.
Michael Porter Jr. (SF)
Porter sat out all of last season, as he was still recovering from the back injury that limited him to just three games in his lone college season. That time off clearly benefitted MPJ from a health standpoint, and as the season wore on (and Denver was severely shorthanded upon arriving in Orlando) it became tougher for Michael Malone to keep him out of the rotation. During the playoffs Porter averaged 11.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.8 3-pointers per game, shooting 47.6 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from three and 74.3 percent from the foul line.
The biggest key for Porter heading into next season will be his work on the defensive end, as there were lapses that led to his being pulled from the game on multiple occasions. The athleticism is there, and with a more focused approach he could supply some production in the steals and blocks departments. Also worth watching is what Denver does in free agency, as Jerami Grant is expected to opt out of the final season of his deal and Paul Millsap and Torrey Craig will be unrestricted free agents. Depending upon what happens with those players, even with Nuggets brass saying that they expect much of the team’s nucleus back for another run, Porter could be in a position where he gets even more playing time in 2020-21.
Brandon Clarke (PF, C)
Defensive versatility was seen as one of Clarke’s greatest assets during the pre-draft process, and he certainly provided that for a team that just missed out on the playoffs. But he also made strides as an offensive player as the season progressed, finishing his rookie campaign with averages of 12.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.4 3-pointers per game while shooting 61.8 percent from the field, 35.9 percent from three and 75.9 percent from the foul line.
Where Clarke will need to get better is as a perimeter shooter, after averaging just 1.1 3-point attempts per game on the season and a whole. He struggled mightily while in the bubble, shooting 2-of-12 from beyond the arc in eight games played (and both makes were in the same game). Even with the lack of perimeter shooting Clarke managed to provide top-100 value in both eight- and nine-cat formats, so he’s likely already on your draft radar as a mid-round option.
Rui Hachimura (SF, PF)
Hachimura’s numbers could take a slight hit next season due to the returns of both John Wall and Bradley Beal, but he’s still poised to be a worthwhile fantasy option especially with his eligibility at multiple positions. In seven games in the bubble he averaged 14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.7 3-pointers per, with shooting splits of 40.4 percent from the field, 35.7 percent from three and 82.8 percent from the foul line.
Hachimura appeared to be a more comfortable perimeter shooter in the bubble, after making just 27.4 percent of his 3-point attempts in the games played before the season came to a halt (1.8 3-point attempts per game). The returns of Wall and Beal could actually make him a more efficient player, due to the amount of attention those two stars stand to receive from opposing defenses. At minimum, hopefully Hachimura can provide a little more production in those defensive categories (steals and blocks).
P.J. Washington (SF, PF)
Washington started 57 of the 58 games in which he played as a rookie, posting averages of 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.8 blocks and 1.5 3-pointers per game with shooting splits of 45.5 percent from the field, 37.4 percent from three and 64.7 percent from the foul line. Depending upon the format he was right on that 12th/13th-round line fantasy-wise, and he should have more responsibility on his shoulders in year two. I'd take him a bit higher than that if available, especially in eight-cat formats in which turnovers are punted. What Charlotte does in free agency, as both Bismack Biyombo and Willy Hernangomez will hit the open market, should not have too much of an impact on Washington. And his being available to use at both forward spots certainly qualifies as a positive.
Coby White (PG)
He’s one of two players on this list who will be playing for a new head coach next season, and White should benefit greatly from the Bulls’ decision to hire Billy Donovan. White certainly wasn’t bad as a rookie, as he averaged 13.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.8 steals and 2.0 3-pointers per, but he didn’t make his first start until what turned out to be the Bulls’ final game of the season back in March. He has stated that his goal this offseason is to earn the starting point guard job, and playing more minutes alongside scorer Zach LaVine could really be beneficial to White (even with the defensive concerns that come with such a pairing).
This season White provided 19th-round value in nine-cat and 17th-round value in eight-cat per Basketball Monster, which would not be described as impressive. But look for him to be much better in 2020-21, with both a season of experience under his belt and a new head coach.
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Darius Bazley (SF, PF)
Bazley wasn’t much of a factor in fantasy prior to the Thunder’s arrival in Orlando, but he showed signs of being a player worth considering for next season once there. In eight regular season games in the bubble he posted averages of 13.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.4 3-pointers per game, while shooting 42.5 percent from the field, 46.3 percent from three and 73.3 percent from the foul line. The 3-point shooting and defensive potential are positives when assessing Bazley’s prospects for next season, but there are two variables to keep in mind here.
First there’s the fact that Oklahoma City is still without a head coach following Billy Donovan’s decision to move on. And the other variable is what will Sam Presti’s approach to the offseason be. If the Thunder go into full-on rebuild mode, as many expected ahead of this season before Chris Paul and company shocked much of the NBA, that really bodes well for Bazley regardless of who the new coach is. There’s a lot to like now, and there could be even more to like about Bazley fantasy-wise by the end of the offseason.
RJ Barrett (SG, SF)
Barrett played plenty last season, as his average of 30.4 minutes per game ranked second on the Knicks behind only Julius Randle. But he wasn’t particularly efficient, and the lack of consistent production outside of points made him a cement block of a fantasy option. That being said, the arrival of Tom Thibodeau should be helpful in at least one area: playing time. Whether or not Barrett receives a boost in the statistical categories that matter in fantasy hoops is up to him, and the reports on his performances during the Knicks minicamp have been positive.
Barrett averaged 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.1 3-pointers per game last season, while shooting 40.2 percent from the field, 32.0 percent from three and 61.4 percent from the foul line. He’s too talented to provide 29th-round value in nine-cat and 22nd-round value in eight-cat as he did this season.
Darius Garland (PG)
This season was one of “trial by fire” for Garland, as he started each of the 59 games in which he played. With averages of 12.3 points, 1.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.7 steals and 1.8 3-pointers per, Garland shot 40.1 percent from the field, 35.5 percent from three and 87.5 percent from the foul line. There’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to the shooting numbers, and part of that will be the need to adjust to being used off the ball at times as Collin Sexton also needs opportunities to serve as the primary playmaker.
How well those two progress in that area will have a major impact on the Cavaliers’ prospects not just for 2020-21 but for future seasons as well. Moving the focus back to Garland, having a season of experience under his belt should at the very least make him a slightly more productive fantasy option.
Cameron Johnson (SG, SF)
The knee injury suffered by Kelly Oubre before the season came to a halt in March opened up more playing time for Johnson, and Monty Williams’ decision to start both he and Mikal Bridges once the Suns arrived in Orlando paid dividends for both young forwards. In the Suns’ eight games in the bubble, all starts, Johnson averaged 13.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.9 3-pointers per game with splits of 50.0/34.9/100.0. After providing late-round value in both eight- and nine-cat formats as a rookie, Johnson can be even better next season especially if Williams sticks with the lineup that was so successful in the bubble.
Eric Paschall (SF, PF)
Paschall, despite his being named first team All-Rookie, is in a tough spot from a fantasy basketball point of view. While he did average 14.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.6 3-pointers with splits of 49.7/28.7/77.4, he put up those numbers on a depleted roster. Klay Thompson missed all of last season, while Stephen Curry and Draymond Green appeared in five and 43 games, respectively. All three will be back and ready to go for next season, and it remains to be seen if the Warriors make a big move with an eye towards returning to their status of championship contender immediately. As a result Paschall’s value will likely hinge on his ability to make strides as a perimeter shooter, something that he struggled with as a rookie.
He wasn’t a great shooter during his time at Villanova but he did prove himself capable of knocking down those shots, and it isn’t as if he suddenly forgot how to shoot. The returns to full strength of Curry, Thompson and Green should result in cleaner looks for Paschall, which should help with regard to both his percentage and the number of 3-pointers that he makes per game.
Obviously this isn’t an actual honor, but both Okeke and Windler are in positions where they could provide value immediately after missing all of last season. Okeke was sidelined due to a torn ACL suffered during the 2019 NCAA tournament, and with the NBA season having been pushed back he could go at least 20 months without live action. That is a concern, but with Jonathan Isaac expected to miss all of next season with a torn ACL there will be a need for Okeke. During his final season at Auburn the 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.4 3-pointers per game with splits of 49.6/38.7/72.2.
Windler, who was sidelined due to a stress reaction in his leg, is in a similar spot to Okeke when it comes to live game action. But there is a difference worth considering here. Windler has the benefit of going through Cavaliers minicamp, on-court time that was not available to Okeke as the Magic qualified for the bubble (and ultimately the playoffs). The 6-foot-6 wing out of Belmont has received positive reviews for his play during minicamp, and he has the versatility needed to help Cleveland as a shooter, scorer and passer.
How much playing time Windler gets next season remains to be seen, as the Cavs have another young wing in Kevin Porter Jr. who was making strides just before suffering a concussion that proved to be a season-ending injury. But he’s a good enough player to warrant a look from the coaching staff, as has been evident in camp based upon media reports/team comments. Hopefully he’ll be available for use at multiple positions.