The NBA announced its rookies of the month for January, and with that can come the assumption of who leads in the race for Rookie of the Year. Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball and Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton won the monthly award in their respective conferences, and they have been two of the most valuable rookies when it comes to fantasy basketball as well. Below is a look at some of the key fantasy happenings involving rookies from this past week, beginning with the change to Ball’s spot in the Hornets rotation.
Rozier injury pushes Ball into starting lineup: Ball moving into the starting lineup was something that more than a few people wanted to see happen earlier this season. This past week the move was finally made, but under unfortunate circumstances as Terry Rozier suffered a sprained right ankle. And Ball put up solid numbers in his first two NBA starts, averaging 18.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 2.5 3-pointers in 34.9 minutes per game, while shooting 40.7% from the field and 100% from the foul line. The overall field goal percentage and turnover (4.5 per game) numbers weren’t great, but that should take away from Ball’s full body of work.
The question now: what happens once Rozier is cleared to play? While his injury has led to some believing that Hornets coach James Borrego would have to pick either Rozier or Ball to join the second unit, an argument can be made that Devonte' Graham should be the odd man out. While averaging 14.5 points and 6.1 assists per game on the season, Graham is shooting just 34.4% from the field. However, he’s also averaging just 1.4 turnovers per game, and coaches like lead guards who can make plays while also valuing the basketball. Regardless of what Borrego decides Ball, who was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for January, will remain one of the best rookies in fantasy basketball.
Haliburton still going strong: Speaking of the Rookie of the Month award, Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton won the honor in the Western Conference. Ranked just outside of the top-50 in 9-cat formats, Haliburton is also providing 6th round value in 8-cat. He’s made just one start this season, but when you’re playing 30-plus minutes per night and closing games on the court, hearing your name called pre-game really doesn’t matter much. And Haliburton has shot the ball well when paired with De’Aaron Fox, putting up better effective field goal (62.2%) and true shooting (63.1%) percentages than he does when not playing alongside the Kings’ starting point guard (55.1%, 56.4%).
Where those two will need to get better is defensively, as Haliburton has a defensive rating of 114.6 and Fox’s is even worse at 115.1. But that’s something that can be said of the Kings as a whole, as Luke Walton’s team ranks dead last in the NBA in defensive rating and 29th in points allowed per game. Defensive struggles aside, Haliburton is a quality fantasy option in both single-season and dynasty leagues, and he’s currently rostered in 71% of Yahoo leagues.
Maledon starting for injured Hill: Not much was expected of Oklahoma City’s rookies, Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski (who is now in the G-League bubble), before this season began. But given the franchise’s commitment to a full-on rebuild, neither first-year player was going to lack for opportunities to show what they can do. In the case of Maledon, a thumb injury suffered by George Hill has led to his being thrust into the starting lineup. And boy has he taken advantage of the opportunity. Over the last week Maledon is averaging 13.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 3.0 steals, 0.3 blocks and 2.7 3-pointers in 32.5 minutes per game, providing top-30 value in both 8- and 9-cat formats.
Hill isn’t expected back until early March, and quite frankly he may have been “Wally Pipped” by the rookie. Something else to watch in Oklahoma City: the knee injury that kept Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out of Wednesday’s win over the Rockets. Maledon didn’t have his best night shooting the basketball, as he was just 2-of-12 from the field. But the full line of six points, three rebounds, four assists, six steals, one blocked shot and one 3-pointer more than made up for the poor shooting. Currently rostered in just 17% of Yahoo leagues, Maledon is a player that fantasy managers should be rushing to pick up whether or not Gilgeous-Alexander is able to play Friday vs. Minnesota.
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Wiseman sidelined with a wrist injury: Golden State’s frontcourt has been hit hard by injuries recently, with James Wiseman (wrist) and Kevon Looney (ankle) both currently on the shelf. In the case of Wiseman, he’s unlikely to be back in action until late next week. He hasn’t been great fantasy-wise, ranking outside of the top-200 in both 8- and 9-cat formats, but the 7-footer is still worth rostering due to both his status within the Warriors rotation and how important he is to the franchise’s future.
In the three games that he played prior to the wrist injury, Wiseman posted averages of 13.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.0 3-pointers in 20.0 minutes per. Wiseman’s per-36 averages have been good, as he’s accounting for 20.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.2 blocks and 0.8 3-pointers. He’s still rostered in 78% of Yahoo leagues, and with good reason.
Vassell’s minutes decrease due to White’s return: With Spurs guard Derrick White sidelined due to a foot injury, rookie wing Devin Vassell was playing solid rotation minutes on a nightly basis. During a 14-game stretch that spanned from January 3-29, he averaged 6.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.3 blocks and 1.1 3-pointers in 19.5 minutes per game. Not enough to make Vassell a viable fantasy option, but a good starting point for the first-round pick.
As expected, White’s return to the rotation has meant fewer minutes for Vassell. In San Antonio’s last three games he’s played 13.7 minutes per, averaging 4.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.3 3-pointers. At this point it feels safe to consider Vassell a futures play, a fantasy option better suited for multi-year leagues especially with DeMar DeRozan set to be a free agent this offseason.
Stewart a very good fit in Detroit: Isaiah Stewart hasn’t been all that impactful when it comes to fantasy basketball, as he sits well outside of the top-200 in both 8- and 9-cat formats. But he’s made a positive impression in Detroit, earning consistent rotation minutes as the Pistons’ first big man off the bench. Since playing just eight minutes in a January 8 win over the Suns, Stewart is averaging 5.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.8 blocks in 18.0 minutes per game. His percentages have been solid as well, with the rookie shooting 47.2% from the field and 77.8% from the foul line during this 12-game stretch.
While his fantasy value for this season alone isn’t great, Stewart is a very good option in dynasty leagues. And given Detroit’s struggles, with the team sitting at 5-16, the rookie center could be in line for even more playing time during the second half. It’s also worth noting that Pistons coach Dwane Casey said last week that Stewart will become more involved in the offense “in the not-so-distant future.”
Lewis Jr.’s role in New Orleans: Pelicans point guard Kira Lewis Jr. didn’t get much playing time at the start of this season, as he was a DNP-CD in seven of the team’s first nine games. But that could be changing in the near future. Over the last week it’s been reported that veteran guards J.J. Redick and Lonzo Ball are both available for the right price, with the former being the more likely of the two to be on his way out via trade. Lewis played just over two minutes in Wednesday’s win over Phoenix, but he played 10 and 16 minutes in the two games prior. There’s no need for any fantasy manager to make room for Lewis on their rosters right now, but keep him in mind, especially if the Pelicans find themselves well off the pace for a playoff spot later this season.
Volume One: Wiseman’s debut a solid first step
Volume Two: All 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