Fantasy Basketball: Rookie checkup one month into the NBA season

By Nick Whalen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Now that we’re almost exactly one month into the 2022-23 NBA season, we have enough of a sample to draw some meaningful conclusions. At this point, most teams have played at least 13 games, so more than 15% of the season is in the rearview. While it’s still too early to make sweeping claims about the long-term future of the 2022 NBA Draft class, we at least have a grasp of what fantasy managers should expect going forward.

As is typically the case early on, the vast majority of this year’s rookies are not making a major splash in standard fantasy leagues. There are a few notable exceptions, but as of Thursday, only one rookie – Orlando’s Paolo Banchero – ranks inside the top 100 in nine-cat value (per game). The No. 3 overall pick, Jabari Smith Jr., has mostly struggled to assert himself in Houston, but Keegan Murray, Jaden Ivey and Bennedict Mathurin have all flashed encouraging fantasy potential.

Here’s a quick look at where each of the relevant first-year players stands at the one-month mark.

Biggest names

Paolo Banchero, Magic

The No. 1 overall pick got off to a torrid start, scoring at least 20 points in each of his first six games. Through 11 appearances, Banchero has topped the 20-point mark nine times, averaging 23.5 points per game on 46.1% shooting. Banchero has missed the Magic’s last four games due to an ankle injury, but prior to that, he’d cleared the 30-point mark in back-to-back contests. He’s also posting a usage rate north of 30% thus far.

In addition to the scoring, Banchero is posting 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.6 combined steals/blocks. He’s also averaging 8.3 free-throw attempts per game – an outstanding figure for a rookie. For context, that’s significantly more than LeBron James (4.8 FTA/G), Paul George (5.6) and Zion Williamson (7.4). Banchero is converting those attempts at a good-not-great 76.9% clip, but the hope is that he can climb closer to the 80% threshold as the season goes along.

If there’s a hole in Banchero’s stat profile at this stage, it’s his 3-point shooting. While he’s launching 3.9 attempts per game, he’s hitting at only a 25.6% clip. Prior to the injury, he was mired in a 2-for-12 slump. As a freshman at Duke, Banchero was not an overly prolific 3-point shooter (33.8% on 3.3 3PA/G), so this shouldn’t come as a major surprise to fantasy managers.

All in all, Banchero is looking like the clear No. 1 rookie in the class thus far – both in fantasy and in real life. He currently ranks 76th overall in nine-cat, per-game value.

Jabari Smith Jr., Rockets

In comparison to Banchero, it’s been a bit of a rocky start for Smith, who’s competing for touches in Houston with Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and Alperen Sengun, among others. That “me first” backcourt is a nightmare pairing for a young wing like Smith, who ranks ninth among rookies in usage rate at just 17.4%.

After scoring in double figures in each of his first six games, Smith has failed to reach 10 points in six of his last eight. During that stretch, he’s posting just 7.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 28.4% from the field and 24.3% from three.

With a rank of 185 in nine-cat leagues, Smith is not a startable player right now, but he’s a justifiable hold with the belief he’ll settle in and improve as the season goes along. Smith was an extremely efficient scorer at Auburn last season, so the shooting percentages will (hopefully) come around eventually.

Keegan Murray, Kings

With Chet Holmgren out for the year, Murray was my second-favorite fantasy rookie. He’s fallen into a slump of late, but I remain high on his value for the rest of the season. Over his first five games, Murray averaged 17.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 blocks and 3.0 made threes per game. In the seven games since, he’s down to just 8.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.7 threes on 40.0% shooting.

On the season, that brings Murray to 12.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks and 2.3 made threes – a well-rounded stat line for any rookie. He currently ranks just outside the top 120 in nine-cat leagues, so I’d be looking to buy relatively low on Murray with the expectation that he’s a top-100 guy by the end of the season.

Kings rookie forward Keegan Murray may be slumping right now, but he holds good fantasy value for the rest of the season.
Kings rookie forward Keegan Murray may be slumping right now, but he holds good fantasy value for the rest of the season. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) (Jacob Kupferman via Getty Images)

Jaden Ivey, Pistons

I’ll be honest: I did not foresee Ivey looking this effective this soon. I loved Ivey as a long-term prospect, but I thought he’d struggle with his percentages, be a high-turnover player and not make much of an impact on defense. Instead, Ivey is averaging 16.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.5 threes with a respectable 44/34/74 shooting line.

As was the case in college, Ivey projects as a below-average free-throw shooter for a guard, but the early efficiency from downtown is an encouraging sign for a player whose 3-point shot was a big question mark. Of late, he has benefited from the absence of Cade Cunningham, but Ivey remains a startable player in most leagues. As of Thursday, he’s sitting just outside the top 120 in nine-cat.

Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers

Much like Ivey, Mathurin has hit the ground running and adapted well to the NBA. Through 13 appearances, he’s averaging 19.9 points on 46.2% shooting in just 27.6 minutes per game. Better yet, the Arizona product is hitting better than 45% of his 5.9 3-point attempts per game. That figure will inevitably come down, but it’s been an impressive start for Mathurin, who’s working his way to the free-throw line 5.9 times per game – second among rookies behind only Banchero.

The knock on Mathurin is he’s not providing much fantasy value outside of points, threes and free throws (83.1% FT). He’s only an average rebounder for his position, and he hasn’t contributed much in terms of assists, steals or blocks. Entering Friday’s game against Houston, Mathurin has three total assists in his last 77 minutes. The steals are the bigger disappointment, however, as Mathurin has all of the tools to be a plus defender in the NBA.

In terms of usage rate, he checks in at 26.6% as the leader of the Pacers’ bench unit. For now, it may be in Mathurin’s best interest to work off the bench, but if Indiana eventually deals Buddy Hield, he’d likely be looking at a move into the starting five. As the season goes along, I expect Mathurin’s workload to gradually increase.

Tari Eason, Rockets

Very quietly, Eason ranks ahead of every rookie on this list not named Paolo Banchero in fantasy value. He’s working exclusively off the bench in Houston but providing plenty of value on the defensive end. Through 15 games, Eason is posting 8.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks while shooting 41.4% from three. He’s only taking 1.9 threes per game, but that number should creep up as the season goes along – as should Eason’s workload (18.1 MPG).

If Houston were to move on from Eric Gordon, or even Jae’Sean Tate, before the trade deadline, Eason would be in a prime position to benefit.

Other notables

Shaedon Sharpe, Trail Blazers

The biggest mystery in the draft, Sharpe has looked NBA-ready and has stepped into a key bench role for the West-leading Trail Blazers. He hasn’t been doing quite enough to warrant rostering in most standard leagues, but the flashes of brilliance have been there. It’s easy to see why Portland rolled the dice on the 19-year-old. Through 13 games, Sharpe is averaging 9.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.1 threes with a 53/47/69 shooting line.

Jeremy Sochan, Spurs

The Baylor product started on opening night and has held on to that spot ever since. Offensively, he’s still very much a work in progress, but the defensive upside is obvious. Over his last six games, Sochan is up to 8.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.8 blocks in 27.3 minutes. Even if this Spurs season goes south and they begin to prioritize the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, Sochan should be immune.

Jalen Williams, Thunder

A unique player at the college level, Williams has stepped into a fairly high-minute role right away in OKC. He’s been hit or miss, but his overall production reflects the all-around threat he was at Santa Clara. In the five games this season in which Williams has played at least 25 minutes, he’s averaging 10.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks.

MarJon Beauchamp, Bucks

I’ve been transfixed by Beauchamp of late. He’s beginning to look like the late-first-round hit the Bucks have been searching for in the last few drafts. He is coming off of a dud against the Cavs on Wednesday – two points, 1-of-8 shooting – but thanks to some injuries, Beauchamp has started five of the last six games. During that stretch, he has a 20-point (3-4 3PT), eight-rebound effort, as well as a 19-point (5-8 3PT), eight-rebound, two-steal game.

Rookie forward MarJon Beauchamp is beginning to look like a draft hit for the Bucks.
Rookie forward MarJon Beauchamp is beginning to look like a draft hit for the Bucks. (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) (John Fisher via Getty Images)

Jalen Duren, Pistons

Duren was one of the most popular waiver wire adds in Week 1, but his 14-point, 10-rebound, three-block effort on opening night may have been a bit of a mirage. Duren has remained an effective backup center, but he ranks well outside the top 250 in nine-cat leagues. He hasn’t been rosterable of late – however, Isaiah Stewart is set to miss multiple weeks with a toe injury, so Duren should be looking at a decent bump in minutes for at least the rest of November.

Quick hits

AJ Griffin, Hawks: The Duke product wasn’t in the rotation early on, but he’s quickly grabbed hold of a double-digit-minute role off the bench. Griffin’s 3-point shooting is his best asset, though his workload could suffer whenever Bogdan Bogdanovic (knee) is back.

Johnny Davis, Wizards: Davis was a disaster at Summer League, did not look good in the preseason and is now down in the G League. It’s way too early to write him off, but it hasn’t been an encouraging start for the No. 10 overall pick out of Wisconsin.

Dyson Daniels, Pelicans: An ankle injury has caused Daniels to miss nine games already, but he’s looked good in his limited action. In the four games that he’s played double-digit minutes, Daniels is averaging 6.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 threes.

Jake LaRavia, Grizzlies: LaRavia was seeing consistent minutes to begin the year (18.7 MPG), but he was a DNP-CD on Tuesday against the Pelicans with Jaren Jackson Jr. back in the mix.

David Roddy, Grizzlies: He’s not playing enough to warrant much fantasy attention, but Roddy is posting 9.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals/blocks in the six games in which he’s seen at least 20 minutes.

Walker Kessler, Jazz: As expected, Kessler has not needed big minutes to contribute as a shot blocker. He’s seeing only 14.9 minutes per game off the bench but still providing 1.6 blocks to go with 5.4 rebounds and a great field goal percentage (69.6% FG). If you’re in a deep league or have a roster spot to spare, Kessler remains an intriguing stash player for later in the season.

Andrew Nembhard, Pacers: Nembhard has started the last four games for Indiana – yes, over Mathurin – and is averaging 11.0 points, 3.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 threes and 1.8 steals in that span.

Christian Koloko, Raptors: Due in part to a slew of early-season injuries, Koloko has already made eight starts for Toronto. He’s still very much in deep-leagues-only territory, but the big man out of Arizona can rebound and block shots. In a win over the Bulls on Nov. 6, Koloko went for 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists and six blocks in a career-high 31 minutes.