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Rookie/Sophomore Report, Vol. 3

Chris Duarte

Chris Duarte

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

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With the completion of Tuesday’s game, we’re now officially one week into the 2021-22 season. That certainly isn’t enough time to come to definitive conclusions on the rookie and second-year classes, and the impacts that these players can have in fantasy basketball. But there are some clues within team rotations that can be utilized by managers looking to strengthen their rosters. This week’s edition of the Rookie/Sophomore Report will begin in Indiana, where a Pacers rookie may see his role change in the coming days.

Should there be any concern regarding Duarte’s potential role change?

The first week of the season was a bit of a struggle for Indiana, with Rick Carlisle‘s team dropping three of four. With Caris LeVert (back) and T.J. Warren (foot) both sidelined, the lack of firepower has proven to be problematic, especially when looking at the second unit. The Pacers are averaging 24.3 bench points per game, a number that ranks 26th (tied with the Bulls) in the NBA. The eventual returns of LeVert and Warren (who remains without a timeline for return) should help matters, and that will require some juggling of the team’s rotation.

Which bring us to rookie Chris Duarte, who has gotten off to a very good start. In 38.2 minutes per game he’s averaging 19.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 3.3 3-pointers and 1.3 turnovers, while shooting 41.2% from the field and 100% from the foul line. Two-point shooting is what’s dragging down Duarte’s overall percentage, as he’s made 44.8% of his 3-pointers. Duarte is currently ranked 59th in 9-cat formats according to Basketball Monster, and he’s rostered in 97% of Yahoo leagues.

With the aforementioned LeVert listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Raptors, time may be running out on Duarte as far as his being a starter is concerned. So, should fantasy managers look to offload him? I say no, due in large part to the struggles of the Pacers bench. He won’t get 38 minutes per night, but the decrease in playing time should not be crippling. LeVert needs to be worked back into the rotation, and one would have to imagine that the Pacers will want to lighten Malcolm Brogdon‘s workload as well. Brogdon’s averaging 40.8 minutes per game thus far, a number boosted by the Pacers’ double-overtime loss to the Wizards; his career-high is 34.5 minutes per (last season).

Cavs’ Mobley flourishing early on

With Cleveland acquiring Lauri Markkanen via sign-and-trade in late-August, there was concern regarding what his arrival would mean for first-round pick Evan Mobley. But there have been no issues thus far, with Markkanen starting at the three and Mobley the four. Through four games the rookie is averaging 14.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.0 blocks, 0.3 3-pointers and 2.0 turnovers in 33.0 minutes per game, while shooting 55.0% from the field and 85.7% from the foul line.

That’s good enough to place Mobley 35th in 9-cat formats, a ranking that may represent his floor due to the room for growth as a perimeter shooter. Mobley’s shooting just 25.0% from three, with an average of 1.0 attempts per game. The 7-footer is shooting 58.3% from two, and has received high praise for the early signs shown as a facilitator and defender. Due to Mobley’s defensive versatility the Cavaliers have used him in a variety of ways thus far, including as the point man in the team’s 3-2 zone. The combination of length, athleticism and smarts have allowed Mobley to be an impactful player from the start, and he should only get better with more experience.

“He’s going to be a guy who’s going to get a double-double every night,” Kevin Love said of Mobley last week. “He’s got a huge future in front of him. He’s going to make a number of All-Defensive teams in his career. He’s just getting started.”

Raptors’ Achiuwa, Barnes showing positive signs

Toronto hasn’t gotten off to the start that it was hoping for, losing three of its first four games. The absence of Pascal Siakam has been an issue, but what has made matters worse for Nick Nurse‘s team is the inconsistency. An example of this has been rookie Scottie Barnes, who’s had his moments thus far, both positive and negative. Over the last week he’s averaging 16.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.3 blocks, 0.3 3-pointers and 3.3 turnovers in 34.3 minutes per game.

While shooting 56.0% from the field and 71.4% from the foul line, Barnes has made just 16.7% of his 3-point attempts. The perimeter shooting struggles should not come as a surprise, however, as this was the area that many saw as a concern during the pre-draft process. The early concern is that turnover count, but it should be noted that 12 of Barnes’ 13 turnovers were accumulated in two games. The turnovers and 3-point shooting are what have him sitting well outside of the top-100 in 9-cat formats, but those are areas that Barnes can improve in with more repetitions/game experience.

Another young player to watch in Toronto has been second-year pivot Precious Achiuwa, who was acquired during the offseason in the Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade. And he’s been a very effective rebounder, grabbing 11.3 per night to go along with averages of 10.5 points, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 3-pointers (2-of-5 on the season) and 1.0 turnovers in 26.3 minutes per. Like Barnes, Achiuwa sits well outside of the top-100. With Khem Birch and Chris Boucher, the latter having struggled with inconsistency, also in the mix, Achiuwa’s path to long-term fantasy relevance is anything but straightforward. That being said, the rebounding production makes him a player worth holding onto, so long as he isn’t a primary option on your fantasy roster.

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Opening week a mixed bag for Kings’ Mitchell

Selected with the ninth overall pick in the NBA Draft, Kings guard Davion Mitchell was expected to have an impact on the defensive end of the floor. And he’s done that thus far, making life difficult for both Donovan Mitchell and Stephen Curry in early-season matchups. Both players have managed to get their points, as one would expect given the respective pedigrees of Mitchell (Donovan) and Curry. But they were made to work, thanks in large part to “Off Night,” and the Kings have benefitted from his presence.

Sacramento is ranked 26th in the NBA in defensive rating, which isn’t good by any stretch. But it is an improvement when compared to last season, as the Kings ranked dead last. That has more to do with the Kings sending opposing teams to the line way too often (30th in defensive free throw rate) than it does their failure to defend in live action. Mitchell isn’t the only reason for these improvements, but his presence has certainly helped. However, from a fantasy standpoint, his slow offensive start is a bit concerning.

In 29.3 minutes per game, he’s averaging 9.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 3-pointers and 0.7 turnovers, while shooting 36.7% from the field and 50.0% from the foul line. Mitchell’s attempted just four free throws on the season, so one can hold out hope that his percentage will improve with more reps. However, he was just a 65.7% shooter as a collegian, on 1.9 attempts per game. As for Mitchell’s 3-point shooting, after connecting on 44.7% of his attempts as a junior at Baylor, he’s shooting 21.4% on 4.7 3-point attempts per game through three games.

He’s still rostered in 48% of Yahoo leagues, so it’s clear that some managers are holding out hope that this is merely a slow start, and Mitchell will get going in time. Due to his defensive ability, he won’t lack for the playing time needed to make this happen.

Knicks’ young reserves not worth rostering

Due to their play in Summer League, Knicks Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin had the look of possible breakout candidates heading into this season. Both are a part of Tom Thibodeau‘s rotation, but they aren’t in positions where they can potentially be impact additions to fantasy rosters, regardless of format. Quickley is averaging 6.5 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.3 3-pointers and 0.8 turnovers in 14.0 minutes per game, while shooting 34.8% from the field. Toppin has been better, accounting for 9.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks, 0.5 3-pointers and 0.8 turnovers in 19.0 minutes per game, while shooting 57.1% from the field.

Both are in spots where, unless the Knicks are bitten by the injury bug, there isn’t a path to the minutes that they need in order to have any shot at fantasy relevance. Even with Nerlens Noel (knee/hamstring) and Taj Gibson (paternity leave) missing multiple games this season, Toppin has remained in the backup power forward role. He and starter Julius Randle have been on the court together for an average of 6.4 minutes per game this season. While that is a substantial increase on last season’s number (just over one minute per), it shows that Thibodeau is a long way from trusting that tandem is key spots.

Quickley’s in an even tougher spot, as the Knicks have veterans Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose to run the show. According to Cleaning the Glass, Quickley has played all of his minutes at the off-guard position through the Knicks’ first four games. An injury to either Walker or Rose would change the dynamic for Quickley, but that isn’t a shift that fantasy managers can afford to wait for.

Thunder’s Giddey producing in multiple categories

Figuring out Oklahoma City from a fantasy standpoint is quite the task, which comes as no surprise given the status of the team’s rebuilding project. One player has to be rostered however, regardless of league size, is rookie guard Josh Giddey. While his percentages from the field (41.7%) and the foul line (60.0%) aren’t great, he has managed to produce in other areas. Through four games Giddey is averaging 9.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 0.8 3-pointers and 1.5 turnovers in 27.3 minutes per game. As a result Giddey, who leads all rookies in assists, sits just outside of the top-100 in 9-cat formats.

Capable of playing any of the three perimeter positions, Giddey has seen the majority of his minutes at small forward (80%, per Cleaning the Glass). He can fill a supplementary role, or he can take over primary playmaker responsibilities in order to get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander some rest within the flow of a game. There are still strides for the tandem to make, but the early signs are promising. As for Giddey’s fantasy prospects for this season, cracking the top-100 as a rookie is certainly possible. However, he’ll need to get better as a shooter if that’s to happen.