By Jason Shebilske, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Rookie Update (2/8)
Now that the calendar has turned to February, NBA teams are jostling for playoff positioning with the trade deadline imminent and the All-Star break around the corner.
Although the 2022 NBA Draft class has been relatively underwhelming from a fantasy perspective, several teams have expressed interest in trading veteran players to give rookies more chances to develop down the stretch. Walker Kessler is the only rookie who ranks in the top 120 players in nine-cat, per-game value, while a cold spell over the last few weeks has pushed Keegan Murray down the board.
Other rookies such as Paolo Banchero, Bennedict Mathurin and Jabari Smith have shown glimpses of production. They have value in points leagues and DFS formats, but shortcomings in their game have dragged down their value in nine-cat fantasy leagues. The encouraging news for most of the top rookies is that their teams are toward the bottom of the standings, so their teams should have ample reason to let them develop down the stretch.
Let's take a look at the biggest names in the 2022 NBA Draft and highlight some lesser-known rookies fantasy managers should be keeping an eye on as the trade deadline approaches.
Paolo Banchero, Magic
Banchero remains the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year, and he's been a much stronger player in real life than in fantasy. The 20-year-old has struggled with turnovers, but even in eight-cat leagues, he comes in at No. 101 in per-game value, which doesn't correlate with the value he's provided for Orlando. However, the Magic have been one of the top teams included in trade rumors, so Banchero could have a chance to take on an even more prominent role over the final two months of the season.
The Duke standout has consistently hovered around the double-double mark over his last five appearances, but he's achieved the feat just once during the previous 13 matchups while also committing at least two turnovers in seven of those outings. However, Banchero has been a consistent threat for steals and leads Orlando with 33.8 minutes per game, so he should have ample opportunities to get the ball in his hands down the stretch.
Jabari Smith, Rockets
After missing a pair of games with an ankle injury in late January, Smith has appeared in the Rockets' last seven matchups and was able to play through a hip injury at the beginning of February. While he's had abundant playing time since returning, the 19-year-old's lack of efficiency remains concerning. He's shot just 20.4 percent from beyond the arc over his last seven appearances and averaged 2.3 turnovers per game over that stretch. Smith should remain heavily involved since the Rockets have the worst record in the league, but he'll need to work on his efficiency and ball control to improve his fantasy appeal.
Keegan Murray, Kings
Murray was dominant for most of January but has cooled off considerably in recent matchups. The 22-year-old still has glimpses of authority, as shown by his career-high 30 points he put up Monday against the Rockets. However, he had totaled just seven points over his prior three appearances while shooting 9.5 percent from the floor over that stretch. Unlike most of the other top rookies in this year's class, the Kings rank near the top of the conference and figure to be in the playoff picture late in the year. Murray gets plenty of run while he's hot, but he averaged just 26.0 minutes per game over his first three February appearances, showing that the Kings will look elsewhere for production if the Iowa product goes cold.
Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers
Mathurin had a chance to showcase his full potential in late January with Tyrese Haliburton sidelined with a knee injury for 10 games, but the rookie's production has decreased over the last three matchups now that Haliburton is back in action. Mathurin started just four games during Haliburton's absence but topped 20 points on six occasions and averaged 20.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31.2 minutes per game. He's been held under 30 minutes of playing time in each of his first three February appearances and has scored in double figures just once.
The Pacers are in the hunt for a spot in the play-in tournament, so they might not prioritize Mathurin's development as much late in the regular season. The 20-year-old doesn't have much fantasy appeal outside of his scoring and rebounds, and it doesn't help that he's had increased turnovers recently, averaging 2.8 per game over his last five appearances. It was encouraging to see Mathurin's production while Haliburton was sidelined, but unless the Pacers deal with more injuries down the stretch, his fantasy outlook remains limited late in the 2022-23 season.
Walker Kessler, Jazz
Kessler had a relatively slow ramp-up process early this season, but he's been much more involved recently and has started the last 12 games. There's inconsistency, but he's a threat to put up double-doubles on a fairly regular basis while also showcasing dominance on the defensive end of the floor. Since taking on a starting role, he's averaged 11.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 26.3 minutes per game while shooting 69.8 percent from the floor.
The Jazz are in the play-in mix, but given the parity in the Western Conference, they're also just four games behind the third-place Kings. However, the team has still expressed interest in trading several of their players, and Jarred Vanderbilt is considered one of the club's most likely players to be dealt ahead of Thursday's deadline. Kessler has already had plenty of playing time with Vanderbilt in the fold, but the rookie's role would presumably increase if Utah finds a trade partner.
Jaden Ivey, Pistons
Ivey's production has remained steady in recent weeks, and he's a consistent source of scoring and assists. However, he doesn't contribute much in other areas, and his turnovers and low free-throw percentage significantly limit his fantasy value. He's committed at least two turnovers in 19 of his last 23 appearances and has shot just 62.1 percent from the charity stripe over the previous five games. The Pistons rank last in the Eastern Conference, and several of their players have been mentioned in trade rumors. However, even if Ivey's role increases slightly, he has limited fantasy appeal unless his efficiency and ball control improve.
Jalen Williams, Thunder
Despite inconsistent scoring, Williams ranks second on the Thunder in points per game over the last 15 matchups, and he's been a well-rounded fantasy contributor in recent weeks. The 21-year-old has been a strong defender, averaging 2.9 combined blocks/steals over the last 10 games. He's struggled from long range this year but has shot 40 percent from beyond the arc over that 10-game stretch. The Thunder remain competitive, and there's no reason to think Williams' role will decrease late in the year.
Tari Eason, Rockets
Eason had a stretch with three consecutive double-doubles between late January and early February but has recently fallen back down to earth, scoring less than five points in two of his three appearances since then. Although the Rockets have the worst record in the league, they have several young frontcourt players in the fold, including Jabari Smith and Alperen Sengun. Eason can step up when needed, but the LSU graduate doesn't have a stable role when the team is fully healthy.
Jalen Duren, Pistons
Duren's role hasn't changed much since he missed five games with an ankle injury in January. He's posted three double-doubles over his eight games since returning to action and has shot 76.6 percent from the floor while also averaging 2.4 combined blocks/steals. The 19-year-old has low assist numbers and still has games in which he struggles mightily, but it's been encouraging to see his free-throw rate improve to 78.3 percent over the last eight matchups. The Pistons figure to be firmly in tank mode over the next few months, so Duren should remain heavily involved.