I've always been leery of drafting rookies in fantasy basketball outside of the obvious franchise-altering talents — you know, the LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis types. I even recommended fading Paolo Banchero at his 73.8 ADP (a take that will probably end up on the fantasy receipts account in due time).
Still, I acknowledged there were a few rookies who fit the franchise-altering mold.
Through the first week of the fantasy basketball season, we have four rookies within the top 100 in per-game value: Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr, Keegan Murray and Bennedict Mathurin.
Barring injury, can these players sustain their top-100 per-game footing for an entire season?
Recent history tells us yes.
But before we dive into these four rookies, here's a five-year sample of how rookies have performed since 2017-2018:
Player NameYear of Rookie SeasonFull Season Per-Game RankScottie Barnes21-2266Herb Jones21-2278Evan Mobley21-2279Cade Cunningham21-2293Tyrese Haliburton20-2164LaMelo Ball20-2174Brandon Clarke 19-2080Deandre Ayton18-1935Mitchell Robinson18-1947Jaren Jackson Jr18-1990Luka Doncic 18-1999Donovan Mitchell17-1854Jayson Tatum17-1865Lauri Markkanen17-1868Lonzo Ball 17-1876John Collins17-1891
Since 2017-2018, the average number of rookies who finish in the top 100 in per-game value per season is 3.2. Notably, only two players in the past five seasons finished within the top 50: Phoenix Suns C Deandre Ayton and New York Knicks C Mitchell Robinson.
It's hard to compare past regimes and situations for each player, but big picture, what's stopping Smith, Murray, Banchero and Mathurin from keeping this up? Let's investigate.
Jabari Smith Jr - PF, Houston Rockets
Current per-game rank: 39th
Stats: 15.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.8 3PM, 1.8 blocks, 0.3 turnovers
The stats speak for themselves, but there's still room for improvement. Jabari Smith Jr. is shooting 35.7 percent from the field and has yet to tally a steal. His blocks are boosting his value, but it's a good sign that he can thrive alongside two ball-dominant chuckers in Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green. He has a 19.1% usage rate which is encouraging, and by all indications, the Rockets are exploring using him more as a creator. He's already climbing up Rockets rookie records, so the sky's the limit for Smith Jr.
It also helps that Stephen Silas moved Alperen Sengun to the bench, so that's one less playmaker he'll have to vie for opportunities within the starting unit. Smith Jr.'s a player that I'd look to acquire, given that he really hasn't gone off yet.
Keegan Murray - SF/PF, Sacramento Kings
Current per-game rank: 45th
Stats: 17.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 3.5 3PM, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 2.0 turnovers
The fourth pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, Keegan Murray, has yet to start for the Kings. However, expect that to last only for a short period. He missed the Kings' first game due to injury, but he's averaged 35.5 minutes in the previous two contests. The frontcourt is in flux for Sacramento, which allows Murray to get minutes at both small forward and power forward. Thus far, 63% of his time has been spent at small forward. His efficiency is that of a veteran with a ridiculous 54/44/100 shooting splits to start the year. Granted, that efficiency level won't hold, but it indicates he's adapting comfortably to the game.
Here's Murray cooking the Lakers on both ends of the floor earlier in the preseason:
Shout out to @KevinOConnorNBA for choosing highlights of Keegan Murray that motivated me to test out a couple of video graphic breakdown view options: pic.twitter.com/HihraPhqSm— SPORTS APTITUDE INC (@SportsAptitude) October 4, 2022
And teammate De'Aaron Fox is gushing about the rookie — whom he thinks will be a star:
De'Aaron Fox joined The Draymond Green Show recently and here is what he had to say about Keegan Murray. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/ACKolGXlUL— SheIsAKingsFan (@SheIsAKingsFan) October 21, 2022
Once Fox mentioned Murray has a "Tim Duncan demeanor," I was sold.
Now is an ideal buy opportunity for Keegan Murray, given his production and efficiency. Similarly to Jabari Smith Jr., it's only going to get better from here. I recently saw a trade go down in one of my competitive leagues that was essentially Keegan Murray for Josh Giddey.
Hopefully, this gives you an idea of what you'll have to give up to get him.
Paolo Banchero - SF/PF, Orlando Magic
Current per-game rank: 84th
22.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 3PM, 0.8 steals, 1.5 blocks, 2.8 turnovers
Paolo Banchero has been just about as good as advertised and is the rightful odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Banchero's been dominating opponents since his late NCAA tournament run, which continued through his first four games as a professional in the NBA. His scoring ability has never been questioned. And while I saw his playmaking potential in the Summer League I vastly underestimated his rebounding and defensive contributions from a fantasy perspective. He was one of three players in NBA history to post a 25 point, five rebound, five assist line in their NBA debut — joining rare territory with Kareem Abdul Jabbar and LeBron James.
His fantasy value is getting dinged for lack of threes, turnovers and below-average field-goal percentage. I think he'll continue to be an excellent asset for racking up counting stats, but with his usage at 29.9%, the turnovers likely aren't going away. But I think there's a chance he can salvage his field-goal percentage if he continues to get higher-percentage looks closer to the rim. He's a beast within 10 feet, shooting 64% but is only 18% from outside of 10 feet.
I think Paolo finishes in the top 70 in per-game value, with turnovers and his lack of three-pointers being the main hindrances to his fantasy value.
Bennedict Mathurin - SG/SF, Indiana Pacers
Current per-game rank: 87th
22.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.0 3PM, 0.5 steals, 2.0 turnovers
I tried to tell you Bennedict Mathurin was a bucket.
But I didn't expect him to come out this hot onto the scene. His 48/43/79 shooting splits are crazy high, considering his primary scoring method is via his jump shot. While I love Mathurin, his current production will be hard to maintain, given the Pacers' wildly deep and complicated rotation and his dependency on perimeter shooting. There are some advantages to not having a lot of film for a player, and as the season wears on, defenses will start to adjust to his style of play.
That being said, he's earned valuable playing time and is thriving in a sixth-man role, seeing a shade under 28 minutes per night. His minutes will spike if one of Buddy Hield or Chris Duarte is traded (or injured). Still, I'd be looking to sell Mathurin at his current value for a player who may be struggling but has a secure place in the starting lineup and offers more across categories than scoring, threes and rebounds.