This year’s draft, beyond its top two picks, has generally been decried as weak and lacking any true difference makers. From a fantasy standpoint, the same can be said. Simmons and Ingram look like future fantasy studs while the rest of the draft contains few sure things and a slew of projects who are unlikely to impact the fantasy landscape anytime soon. Today we take a look at the lottery picks and two rookies who were taken outside of the lottery that I think are worth monitoring. As a general rule, never reach for rookies. The bust rate for rookies in fantasy is very high, especially among wing players. Since the 2009-2010 season, only two rookie wings have managed to crack the top-100 in 9-cat. Rookies can be useful, just make sure you don’t overpay for their services.
1) Ben Simmons (Sixers) – The Sixers are treating Simmons as their franchise player and he should see more than enough minutes in his rookie campaign to make a major fantasy impact. The Sixers are going to trade at least one of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor before the 2016-2017 season tips off, and the potential superstar should easily surpass 30 MPG. While I think Simmons will be worth a mid-round pick in nearly any build, he does look like a particularly great fit for those punting FT%. Simmons got to the line at will at LSU, averaging nine trips to the charity stripe per night. Unfortunately, he only hit 67% of his attempts. It’s not his poor free-throw shooting that makes Simmons such a great fit for the punt FT build, it’s his outstanding out-of-position assists (4.8 APG) and steals (2.0 SPG). With the Sixers lacking a high-quality lead guard, expect the offense to be run through their prize rookie. The Sixers had no problem running the offense through a rookie Okafor last season so it is unlikely that they would shy away from placing a similar amount of offensive responsibility in Simmons’ hands. Simmons is the no-brainer first-overall pick in rookie drafts and worth a look around the sixth round in re-draft leagues.
2) Brandon Ingram (Lakers) – Ingram couldn’t have landed in a better spot. With Kobe and his sky-high usage out of the picture, the former Blue Devil is going to get all the minutes and shots that he can handle. Even as a rookie, I think he has the talent to take advantage of the opportunity, but it’s likely that his body will hold him back, at least early in the season. Ingram is rail-thin at 190 pounds and is going to take a beating whenever he plays small forward, which will likely be often given the presence of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. Expect Ingram to be a solid source of points (17.3 PPG), threes (2.2 3PG) and defensive stats (1.1 SPG, 1.4 BPG) in his rookie year. Just don’t expect those points to be scored very efficiently. The newest Laker shot only 44.2% from the floor in his one year at Duke and struggled from the line (68.2 FT%). Expect Ingram to iron out those wrinkles over time, but despite the pedigree, Ingram is best left for the final rounds of standard league drafts. In any keeper or dynasty scenario, he should be the second rookie off the board.
3) Jaylen Brown (Celtics) – Next to the Bucks’ absurd reach for Thon Maker, the Celtics selection of Brown was the most surprising pick of the draft. Brown had a good, not great freshman season at California, only managing to post a PER of 17 and averages of 14.6 PPG on 43.1% shooting, 5.4 RPG, 2.0 APG, and 0.8 SPG. Nothing there screams “immediate impact” and Brown is unlikely to make waves in re-draft leagues. He’s stuck behind Jae Crowder and with Coach Stevens’ rotations as unpredictable as they are, it’s hard to see the rookie playing enough minutes to be worth a roster spot in standard leagues. In dynasty or keeper leagues, I prefer every other player drafted in the top-8 to Brown.
4) Dragan Bender (Suns) – Bender is a difficult player to project as he only saw a total of 86 minutes over seven Euroleague games and three Eurocup games in his final season with Maccabi Tel Aviv and spent the majority of his year playing in the Israeli league. If you’re looking for a rookie to gamble on late in a re-draft league, look elsewhere. Bender is the definition of a project. He’ll likely start the season behind fellow rookie Marquese Chriss and possibly a veteran brought in to help ease the rookies’ growing pains. He’s an intriguing long-term prospect due to his size, length, quickness, and shooting ability. He shot 36% from deep in the Israeli league and averaged 2.4 blocks per 40 minutes. The tools are there, but he should not be viewed as a Kristaps Porzingis-level prospect.
5) Kris Dunn (Wolves) – Dunn looked like a no-brainer mid-round pick until the Wolves scooped him up with the fifth pick of the draft. The Wolves are rumored to be shopping Ricky Rubio and whether or not they are successful in offloading Rubio will determine whether Dunn is worth more than a late-round flier in re-draft scenarios. If Rubio remains in a Wolves’ jersey, Dunn will have to split minutes with both Rubio and Zach LaVine, hardly a situation conducive to fantasy value. Assuming Rubio in not in Minnesota to start the season, Dunn will likely be a strong target around the seventh round. He’ll likely be an elite source of steals right out of the gate (2.5 SPG) and is a good bet to chip in 5+ assists every time he takes the floor. Dunn’s jumper is serviceable but don’t expect more than one triple per night in his rookie year. Like most rookie lead guards, expect Dunn to have issues with efficiency and with turnovers (3.5 TOPG).
6) Buddy Hield (Pelicans) – Next to Simmons, Hield is the most NBA-ready prospect in this year’s draft and should be worth a look late in drafts. While I normally stay far away from rookie wings in drafts, Hield’s three-point prowess is hard to ignore. Buddy averaged an incredible 4.0 3PG on 45.7 3P% in his senior season at Oklahoma and his three-point shooting should allow him to hold, at least, late-round value. His landing spot could not have been better. Eric Gordon is UFA and his likely departure leaves Buddy with as many minutes as he can handle. He’s a better target in points leagues than he is in category leagues as the majority of his value will come from his threes and scoring (25.0 PPG). Hield doesn’t project to be much of a creator (2.0 APG) or a force on the defensive end (1.1 SPG, 0.5 BPG).