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Experts Analysis

Rookie Report, Volume Eleven

by Raphielle Johnson
Updated On: March 4, 2021, 4:08 pm ET

The final Rookie Report before the All-Star break is a comparatively light one, as it was a short week for many of the league’s teams. While there won’t be a Rising Stars Challenge this season due to the “trimming” of the list of All-Star festivities, the NBA still went through with the exercise of announcing the rosters. Four rookies were named to the US and World teams, respectively, with LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton leading the way. Below is a look at the week that was for some of the league’s rookies, beginning with the eight who made the cut for the Rising Stars Challenge.

Ball, Haliburton headline rookies on Challenge rosters: Of the 20 players selected for the Rising Stars Challenge, eight were rookies. LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton made the cut for the US team, as did Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and Golden State’s James Wiseman. As for the World team, Miami’s Precious Achiuwa, Washington’s Deni Avdija, Denver’s Facundo Campazzo and Oklahoma City’s Theo Maledon were selected. The biggest omission: New York’s Immanuel Quickley, while an argument could also be made for Chicago’s Patrick Williams. That being said, it can be a little tougher for rookies to crack the Rising Stars Challenge roster.

Calf injury sidelines Haliburton: For the second consecutive month the same rookies were honored by the NBA, with Hornets guard LaMelo Ball winning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors and Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton winning the Western Conference award. However, while Ball has continued on an upward trajectory, a left calf injury has Haliburton in a bit of a holding pattern. The 12th-overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, who missed two games in early January due to a wrist injury, has missed Sacramento’s last three and will also sit out Thursday’s game against the Trail Blazers.

The good news is that Haliburton is expected to be ready when the Kings resume play after the All-Star break, which certainly pleases those who have him rostered. While the aforementioned Ball’s fantasy value exploded once he was moved into the starting lineup, Haliburton has arguably been the league’s most consistent rookie in that regard. For the season he’s averaging 13.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.4 3-pointers per game, while shooting 49.4% from the field and 83.3% from the foul line.

Haliburton is providing top-50 value in both 8- and 9-cat formats, and given his style of play that’s highly unlikely to change during the second half. Fantasy managers who have him in dynasty leagues should be excited for Haliburton’s future beyond this season.

Despite injuries, Quickley stays with the second unit: This past week was a difficult one for the Knicks with regard to the team’s depth at the point guard position. Started Elfrid Payton has been out since February 23 with a hamstring injury, and he is expected to miss Thursday’s game against the Pistons. And shortly before Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs it was announced that Derrick Rose, who filled the void left by Payton, would be held out due to health and safety protocols. Rose’s pregame COVID-19 test result was inconclusive, but after testing negative postgame, he was allowed to travel back to New York with the rest of the team.

The assumption was that Immanuel Quickley, who has played quite well in his rookie season, would move into the starting lineup Tuesday night. That didn’t happen, as Tom Thibodeau went with Frank Ntilikina instead. But that wasn’t an issue for Quickley, who has been quite productive over the last week. In 29 minutes Tuesday night, he posted a line of 26 points (8-of-21 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs), four rebounds, four assists, one steal, six 3-pointers and two turnovers in 29 minutes. While the shooting inside of the arc left much to be desired, as Quickley went 2-of-8 on those shots, all things considered he had a good night.

In the four games that the Knicks have played without Payton, which has left Quickley as the second unit’s sole point guard with Rose/Ntilikina starting, the rookie is averaging 18.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 3.3 3-pointers and 1.8 turnovers per, while shooting 43.5% from the field and 100% from the foul line. That’s been good for 5th-round value in 8-cat, and 6th-round value in 9-cat, over the last week. Rostered in 28% of Yahoo leagues, Quickley is a rookie to watch during the second half.

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Tate holding firm in Houston?: After a promising start to the season, things have gone downhill for the Rockets with the team having lost its last 12 games. One bright spot has been rookie Jae'Sean Tate, who continues to provide late-round value in both 8- and 9-cat formats. Rostered in 25% of Yahoo leagues, he’s averaging 11.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks and 0.7 3-pointers per game while shooting 54.2% from the field and 85.7% from the foul line over the last month.

Tate posted his second double-double of the season in Wednesday’s loss to the Nets, accounting for 12 points, 10 rebounds, one assist and two steals in 32 minutes played. And he’s a rookie whose fantasy value during the second half of the season stands to be impacted significantly by the upcoming trade deadline. Victor Oladipo and P.J. Tucker, who will be free agents this offseason, have both been mentioned in recent trade rumors. Should neither move, Tate has played well enough to where he won’t take a hit when it comes to playing time. Should the Rockets make a change, either for a young player or draft asset in return, Tate’s fantasy value could increase.

Fantasy managers need to keep an eye on the Rockets, and not just because of what could happen with some of the team’s veterans.

Could Okongwu get more chances under McMillan?: Hawks rookie Onyeka Okongwu was inactive for the Hawks’ first ten games due to health and safety protocols, which set him back when it came to earning consistent rotation minutes. But could that change under interim head coach Nate McMillan? McMillan has led the Hawks for five games, the first three coming while former head coach Lloyd Pierce was away from the team last month after his wife gave birth to the couple’s second child. And Okongwu played at least ten minutes in three of those five games, most recently going scoreless with four rebounds in 13 minutes Wednesday night against the Magic.

Hoping that the coaching change will free up additional chances for Okongwu will likely result in disappointment. The rookie picked up DNP-CDs in the other two games, and the Hawks’ rotation is as close to full strength as it has been this season. Okongwu hasn’t been a worthwhile fantasy option thus far, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. The wild card: if Atlanta decides to move John Collins, who will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, ahead of the trade deadline.

Tillie finally makes Grizzlies debut: While he had a very good college career at Gonzaga, Memphis forward Killian Tillie also struggled to stay health at times as a collegian. Due to back and foot injuries his NBA debut did not take place until, when he played just under nine minutes in the Grizzlies’ blowout win over the Rockets. Tillie saw a slight bump in minutes during Tuesday’s win over the Wizards, playing 12 minutes. In those games he totaled three points, two rebounds, one steal and one 3-pointer, so it goes without saying that he isn’t an option in any fantasy league.

Fellow Grizzlies rookies Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman are both providing late-round value in deep leagues, with the former having started each of the team’s last two games. Over the last week Bane is averaging 8.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks and 0.5 3-pointers per game (four games), while shooting 58.3% from the field and 100% from the foul line. That isn’t enough to get him on the fantasy radar, especially with the boost in minutes coming as a result of Grayson Allen (concussion) being sidelined.

Another variable to consider when it comes to Bane is the excellent play of De'Anthony Melton. Maybe Melton remains with the second unit because coach Taylor Jenkins believes that he offers greater value coming off the bench. Regardless of the reason, Melton’s resurgence is another hit to Bane’s already-low fantasy value.

Past Columns

Volume OneWiseman’s debut a solid first step

Volume TwoAll aboard the Haliburton bandwagon

Volume Three: Fultz injury thrusts Anthony into the spotlight

Volume Four: Opportunity knocks for Maxey

Volume Five: Grizzlies rookies limited due to postponements

Volume Six: Wiseman moved to the bench

Volume Seven: Rozier injury pushes Ball into starting lineup

Volume Eight: Bulls' Williams making strides

Volume Nine: Pistons' Bey takes advantage of opportunity

Volume Ten: A role change for Haliburton?

Raphielle Johnson
Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.