The Rookie Wall
With the All-Star break quickly approaching, we've stumbled upon a junkyard of rookies, freshly banged up from the first half of their first NBA season. After a fast and furious start, the NBA draft class of 2012 has hit the rookie wall. To a racer, this is a garage of once well-oiled machines, now rusty. To a fantasy manager, this is a garage sale of buy-low players, sure to be rejuvenated after the long weekend.
Below I discuss the recent struggles of top fantasy rookies this season, and how each of their situations are likely to pan out in the latter half of the season.
Anthony Davis (97 percent owned in Yahoo; 100 percent owned in ESPN)
Davis experienced a rough start to the season, sustaining various injuries amidst a series of productive games. Before sitting out eleven games with an injured ankle, Davis averaged 16.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals, and 2.2 blocks in six games. He returned to action in mid-December, and has since then struggled to fully get back to form. Last week, he hit the wall after consecutive strong outings in a five-game road trip. Over his last four games, he is averaging just 4.8 points (29 percent from the field) and 5.5 rebounds. Davis is the epitome of a buy-low option right now. His owners are likely panicking at his evident decline in minutes and production of late. This is no coincidence, as teammate Ryan Anderson has been especially hot over this same span of four games, averaging 19.8 points and 3.3 three-pointers made. Anderson is not likely to sustain this production for long stretches of games, thus opening the door for The Brow to shine once again. The Hornets invested their first overall draft pick on Davis and undoubtedly have him in their plans moving forward. If there is any opportunity to grab Davis in a trade at a cheap price, now would be the time.
Damian Lillard (92 percent owned in Yahoo; 100 percent owned in ESPN)
Lillard has, for the most part, lived up to his average draft position (ADP) all season long. His scorching-hot start to the season was then-thought to be short-lived, but so far he has proven the doubters wrong. In every month so far, Lillard has maintained a scoring average of at least 17.6 points, and an assist average of at least 5.5, which is rather impressive considering his dynamic style of play. However, this is not to say he hasn't hit the wall. In November, he averaged 1.4 steals and 2.5 three-pointers made. Since then, has averaged fewer steals every month—0.6, 1.1, and 0.8—and had at least two steals just seven times, compared to six times in his first month alone. His threes have also fallen with each month, dropping to 2.2, 2.2, and now 1.8 for the month of February. Lillard is also taking the most field-goal attempts he has all season (17.2 in February compared to 15.4 for the year) but has converted at a low .408 clip as a result. Lillard's increased usage is the result of struggling teammate Nicolas Batum, who has not been able to carry the scoring load playing with an ailing wrist. Once Batum is fully recovered, Lillard's efficiency should improve across the board. His owners are likely not panicking despite his recent stinker of 1-for-16 from the field. However, if somebody has been selling him low for some reason, be sure to pounce right away.
Bradley Beal (59 percent owned in Yahoo; 25 percent owned in ESPN)
Beal had an inconsistent start to the season, despite ample opportunity to shine with John Wall out of the lineup. He showed flashes of brilliance early in December, but sat tight on a roller-coaster ride until January, where he dominated in a stretch of games before hurting his wrist on January 18. For the month, he had averaged 19.2 points and 2.9 three-pointers made before his injury and only 8.8 points and 1.0 three-pointers made after. He sat five games to rest his wrist, in a period of time where many owners cut him loose. If you were wise enough to pick him up from the waiver wire sometime within the past five days, I commend you. If he is still available for some reason, nab him before he is gone. His latest performance of 28 points (10-17 FG, 4-5 3Pt, 4-4 FT), four rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks, demonstrates his daunting potential. Beal is a must-own player in standard leagues due to his ability to produce monster lines like he did Monday. His outlook for the second half of the season looks exceedingly promising, and he is sure to be on the rise from this point forward.
Dion Waiters (61 percent owned in Yahoo; 71 percent owned in ESPN)
Waiters had a solid start to the season, averaging 15.2 points, only to injure his ankle and miss eight games, losing his spot in the starting lineup in the process. Since returning, the rookie has struggled to find a consistent role in coach Byron Scott's offense, as he has been switched in and out of the starting lineup several times. Over the month of February, Waiters is averaging just 11.2 points. It is true that he has been more efficient from the field, shooting 50 percent for the month, as compared to 39 percent for the season. However, this is not necessarily a good thing for owners, as his decreased shot attempts have also resulted in decreased three-pointers made (0.2 this month compared to 1.1 for the season), thus limiting Waiters' fantasy potential. On a positive note, Scott is known for playing his rookies heavily late in the season—teammate Tristan Thompson experienced a significant increase in minutes during his rookie campaign (27.1 and 27.6 minutes per game in March and April, compared to 23.7 for the season). Waiters should be considered a decent buy-low option at this point, as his owners are likely to sell him for very cheap due to his recently reduced role.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (63 percent owned in Yahoo; 44 percent owned in ESPN)
Kidd-Gilchrist has been a disappointment based on his ADP thus far. He managed to remain roster-worthy in standard leagues for his first two months, where he produced well in an odd variety of categories for a small forward: 10.9 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks. Since then, his value has plummeted. He hit the rookie wall sometime last month and has yet to recover from his slump, losing favor with his owners in the process. Hopefully the long weekend will help him recover, particularly from his recent concussion. The return of center Byron Mullens is likely to help Kidd-Gilchrist return to form, as the rookie had been playing well early in the season with Mullens in the lineup. Kidd-Gilchrist may come off the All-Star break slow and still out of rhythm, but he is likely to regain favor in the eyes of standard league owners sooner than later.
Harrison Barnes (46 percent owned in Yahoo; 14 percent owned in ESPN)
For Barnes, running into the wall seems to be a common occurrence. Over the first half of the season, Barnes has had sporadic strings of productive runs, followed by streaks of stinkers, time and time again. True to the nature of his up-and-down game, a roller-coaster ride should be expected. Barnes' large disparity in ownership is the result of his wildly dynamic game, and I suspect that Barnes will continue to be added and dropped until he finds stability in his game. His outlook for the remainder of the season seems to be pointing upward, as he has played considerably better with center Andrew Bogut in the lineup. It may be too early to tell his true fantasy value at this point, but be prepared to pick him up if you see any signs of consistency going forward.