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Ja Morant
Roundball Stew

Rookie Report: Ja Morant Soaring

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: November 9, 2019, 11:50 am ET

For the purposes of today’s column, there is no such thing as being 25, 26, 27 or 29.

If you’re in the middle of your NBA career, you flat-out don’t exist.

This week, Roundball Stew is ranking the top-10 NBA rookies and the top-10 NBA old dudes.

Let’s begin with the kids:


1. Ja Morant (No. 106 on BasketballMonster.com's 9-category leaderboard): Morant is not the top rookie in terms of the rankings currently, but he is set up for more upside and success than any other first-year player this season — and that includes Zion Williamson (which I’ll explain in a minute). After a sluggish start (12.0 ppg, 4.5 apg, 5.0 turnovers in his first two games), Ja has exploded for 23.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.0 3s, shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 80.0 from the line with 4.0 turnovers. Those turnovers aren’t going anywhere, but what more can you ask from a 20-year-old rookie? These percentages (the FG shooting in particular) are just unbelievable. I thought Morant had a chance to shoot well at the pro level after he shot 49.9 percent for Murray State last season, but this is even more than we can ask. 

As for Morant’s value going forward, over that recent five-game sample he’s been the No. 65 player in 9-category leagues, and there’s room to improve on that if he picks things up in steals. In sum, he’s an absolute beast, and I’d absolutely buy-high on him in fantasy. All too often the fun fantasy players (like last year’s Luka Doncic) have some fatal statistical flaws that ruin their value. Morant, if you can live with the turnovers, gives you the entertainment and production all in one place. 

2. Zion Williamson (N/A): He hasn’t played a single game, and we already know that he’s not likely to debut this month, but I still put Zion just behind Morant because I just don’t see anyone else in this rookie class carrying his same upside for the rest of this season. I also think the Pelicans are likely to be pretty careful with him all year, which could be really annoying, so keep that in mind as you measure your expectations.

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3. Brandon Clarke (No. 39): If you’re just looking at overall production, Clarke has been the most-valuable fantasy rookie from the vaunted Class of 2019 so far. I certainly thought about going full-on HOT TAKE here and putting him ahead of Zion, but I couldn’t quite do it. Either way, Clarke has quietly been a standout fantasy option (11.3 ppg / 6.4 rpg / 0.9 spg / 1.7 bpg / 60.7 FG / 90.0 FT) in just 22 minutes a game. As you may have gathered from that set of numbers, he’s also been a per-36 minute monster, putting up 18.1 ppg, 10.3 ppg, 1.4 spg, 2.8 bpg and 0.5 3s. The bottom line is he’s got an excellent fantasy floor, and flat-out scary ceiling, and you have to think that the 2-5 Grizzlies are going to up his minutes at some point this season. Try to land him on your squad before that happens. When it does, Clarke is going to take things to another level.

4. PJ Washington (No. 68): Washington has at least one trey, at least one steal or at least one block in every game this season, and when you put it all together, you’re looking at an appealing combo of 13.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg and 1.8 3s, on 52.6 percent from the field and 70.0 from the line. He’s not often going to be the guy who uncorked 27 points and seven 3s on opening night, but he is a guy you can put into your lineup and rarely worry about, and in a season of headaches that will do just fine.

5. Eric Paschall (No. 60): I still worry a little bit about Draymond Green coming back and putting a dent in his value, but at some point you look at the state of the 2019-20 Warriors — and it seems clear that a guy like Paschall is going to get a lot of chances the rest of the way. Over his last five games, he’s at 20.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.4 spg, 0.8 bpg and 1.2 3s, with a 56.3 / 89.7 percentage split. That includes six 3-pointers in his last two games after draining none in his first six outings. I wouldn’t consider his value guaranteed like the other guys I’ve listed above, but Paschall looks like a no-brainer start until further notice.


6. Tyler Herro (No. 127): Herro (like Kendrick Nunn, who I’ll talk about in a second) had his season-high (29 points) against the Hawks. In four games since then, he’s put up 11.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.0 spg and 2.0 3s on 40.5 percent shooting in 27 minutes a game. He’s certainly got a lot of upside and a path to late-round value right now, but it could still be a while before the 19-year-old breaks out and becomes a full-on fantasy stud.

6a. RJ Barrett (No. 274): A ridiculous thing happened while I was writing this column, which is that I had a massive brain event and forgot to initially include Barrett — who has fallen all the way to 274th in 9-category leagues. So I’m slotting him in at 6a with this explanation: In a points league, he belongs right up there with Ja Morant, thanks to 17.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.4 3s. If you’re playing in an 8-category league and throwing free throws, he makes a ton of sense as well. However, if it’s a 9-category league, his FT percentage (49.1, on 6.6 attempts a game) along with the 2.9 turnovers is a brutal combo. So I’m putting him here because he’s not for every fantasy squad — and wasn’t originally in this column. RJ Barrett, 6a. Moving on... 

7. Kendrick Nunn (No. 74): Is it time to worry about Nunn? I’m going to say that’s affirmative, because after a dynamic five-game run to start the year (22.4 ppg, 2.6 apg, 1.8 spg and 3.0 3s), he’s now at 9.0 ppg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 1.3 3s on 33.3 percent shooting over his last three. Normally I’d dismiss this as typical rookie turbulence, and trust the coach to let the rookie play through it. However, this is Erik Spoelstra we’re talking about, and he just has too many options in that rotation. I certainly wouldn’t outright bail on Nunn during this slump. If he’s still struggling a few games from now, it may be time to yank the ripcord. 

8. Goga Bitadze (No. 143): Goga could go away pretty quickly once Myles Turner returns, but if there’s anything encouraging about this run, it’s that the No. 18 overall pick has shown he doesn’t need a ton of time on the court to produce fantasy value. Over his standout four game-stretch, he has put up 9.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 3.0 bpg and 0.8 3s in just 24 minutes a game. Obviously Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis need to play. However, when you look at the competition in the Pacers frontcourt (hello, T.J. Leaf!), it’s not crazy to think that Bitadze can carve out a 20+ minute role as the season goes on. 

9. Rui Hachimura (No. 161): After a strong start (18.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 0.8 3s his first four games), Rui has smashed face-first into an early slump, putting up 5.3 ppg and 4.7 rpg on 30.4 percent shooting his last three games. The Wizards still have a lot invested in him, so I’d expect him to get back to top-125ish production before long.

10. De’Andre Hunter (No. 251): It pains me greatly that I had to click the “All Players” tab to find Hunter in the season-long rankings (my Basketball Monster heads know what I’m talking about). Despite the turbulence, I still refuse to drop him in fantasy — and not just because I’m literally wearing a De’Andre Hunter shirsey as I write this column. He’s still just one game removed from his best night of the season (16 points, eight boards, two treys in 36 minutes on Tuesday), and he’s too talented and too involved (28 minutes a game on the season) to not have it all click into place sooner rather than later.

Missed the Cut (but still on my radar):  Coby White (No. 264)… Matisse Thybulle (No. 225 overall)… Jordan Poole (No. 244). 

Click onto Page 2 for the top-10 fantasy old guys in 2019-20…