Rookie Watch: Lesser-Known Difference-Makers
Rookie Watch: Lesser-Known Difference-Makers

At this point in the season, the league's rookies can only claim that title for another week.

Midway through Week 25, eight of the top 12 picks in June's draft have at least 70 games under their belt, while the remaining four – Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, Wendell Carter, and Mo Bamba – each logged more than half of a season.

The emergence of Luka Doncic and, later on, Trae Young, has been the dominant narrative, but the 2018 class boasts a deep group of contributors – some of whom already helped shape the Fantasy landscape this season.

But enough ink has been spilled on Doncic, Young, Deandre Ayton and the other top picks. With the offseason approaching, it's time to take a closer look at the non-lottery prospects who made an impact in Year 1, and what we can expect going forward.

Troy Brown, Wizards

The Otto Porter trade cracked opened the door for Brown to enter the rotation, but an injury to Trevor Ariza busted it wide open. Brown has started all six games since Ariza went down, averaging 29.8 minutes in that span, including topping out at 42 in Sunday's win over the Nuggets. The Oregon product went for a career-high 24 points in that contest, pushing his six-game average up to 11.2 points per game, to go with 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists. The sample size is still too small to draw much from, though dating back to when he initially entered the rotation after the All-Star break, Brown is hitting nearly 39 percent of his three-point attempts.

Kevin Huerter, Hawks

After some ups and downs early on, Huerter become a regular starter around Thanksgiving and never gave up the job. He's cooled off a bit following a torrid run in January/February when he hit 43 percent of his threes over a 17-game span, but Huerter has still been good for 10.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.9 made threes (34% 3PT) over the past month. Overall, Huerter's debut has to be viewed as a success, as he'll likely finish around 37 percent from three for the season, while showcasing decent passing skills that should keep him from being pigeonholed as a three-point specialist. The 20-year-old is a key piece of Atlanta's young core, though it remains to be seen how the addition of at least one high-lottery pick could impact the Hawks' 2019-20 rotation.

Josh Okogie, Timberwolves

The Timberwolves' plan to start Robert Covington on the wing was cut short by injury just after the New Year, paving the way for Okogie to start every game since Jan. 1. Billed more as a defender, Okogie hasn't been Fantasy-relevant in most leagues, despite averaging more than 27 minutes over his last 40 games. He's shown some flashes – most notably, a six-game stretch last month when he averaged 16.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.7 threes, and 2.7 steals/blocks – but on the whole, Okogie is too shaky of a shooter – sub-40 percent from the field, sub-30 percent from three – to warrant rostering in most leagues.

Landry Shamet, Clippers

The 26th overall pick got off to a strong start in Philadelphia and has only continued to look like one of the steals of the draft since arriving in Los Angeles. After operating in a more traditional point guard role at Wichita State, Shamet has transformed into one of the better volume three-point threats in the league. Entering Wednesday, Shamet ranks in the top-10 in three-point attempt rate (.713%) – less than a tenth of a percentage point behind Kyle Korver. Of his 527 field goal attempts, 376 have come from beyond the arc. All of that catching and shooting has limited his contributions elsewhere, but since joining the Clippers, Shamet has put up 11.0 points per game on 44.3 percent three-point shooting, with 2.8 makes per game.

Jalen Brunson, Mavericks

The knocks on Brunson coming out of Villanova were a lack of size and athleticism, and his relative seniority compared to most prospects. But Brunson was also viewed as one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the class, and he's proven that to be true. The 2018 National Player of the Year has been a rotation player for most of the season, but the Mavs sending Dennis Smith to New York catapulted Brunson into a larger role on a nightly basis.

He's started all but one game since the All-Star break, averaging 15.3 points, 4.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds with 53/38/80 shooting splits in that span. Brunson hasn't dipped below 10 points in any game since Mar. 2, and he's averaged fewer than two turnovers in that span.

Mitchell Robinson, Knicks

While Shamet and Brunson each have a case, Robinson is the early favorite to be the best long-term value in the class. Selected 36th overall, Robinson found himself in the starting five before the end of October and quickly showed why he was one of the top players in the 2017 high school class.

A legit seven-footer with long arms and freak athleticism, Robinson has been the best per-minute shot-blocker in the league, and he's on pace to finish with the second-highest block rate (10.6%) in NBA history, behind only Manute Bol. When Robinson is on the floor, he blocks more than one in 10 of the opponents' two-point attempts, the best in the league by more than two full percentage points (Myles Turner is second at 8.4%).

Since the All-Star break, Robinson has mostly been used off the bench, but David Fizdale all but confirmed last week that DeAndre Jordan will be shut down for the final few games, so Robinson should continue to see increased minutes down the stretch. He's already topped 30 minutes in each of his last three games, responding with 14.0 points, 15.0 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks on 16-of-20 shooting.

Frank Jackson, Pelicans

With Jrue Holiday sidelined, Jackson had a three-week as the starter and averaged more than 17 points in 33.4 minutes per game. He contributed little else, however, handing out just 21 assists in 10 games, while failing to compile any meaningful defensive numbers. Jackson's athleticism remains intriguing, and his outside shooting picked up near the end of that stretch, but at this point he's too one-dimensional offensively to consider in most Fantasy formats.

Harry Giles, Kings

Following a string of absences with a bruised quad, the Kings officially shut Giles down earlier in the week, putting an end to what has to be considered a successful rookie campaign. The former No. 1 player in the country went 20th overall in 2017 but missed all of last season while recovering from his latest knee injury. Considering there was once a time when Giles' NBA future was in doubt, the fact that he was able to play in 58 games without any major setbacks is massively encouraging.

When on the court, Giles rarely played more than 20 minutes, but he showed glimpses of the explosiveness and passing ability that led to Chris Webber comparisons at the high school level. Giles is still far from becoming the player most thought he'd be three years ago, but if he has a strong offseason and proves the knee issues are behind him, the Kings may be willing to slot him into a larger role in 2019-20.

Quick Hits

Jarred Vanderbilt, Nuggets: Offseason foot surgery and the Nuggets' depth meant this was always going to be a developmental year for the second-rounder, who made his NBA debut back on Jan. 25. Vanderbilt hasn't been a regular contributor, but he's seen time in blowouts of late and put up a career-high 10 points in seven minutes Tuesday against the Warriors.

Allonzo Trier, Knicks: Currently sidelined by a calf injury, we may have seen the last of Trier for this season, but the undrafted Arizona product looks like a keeper after averaging 10.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 64 games. The Knicks' roster could look drastically different come July, but at the very least Trier should have a future as a late-rotation guard.

Rodions Kurucs, Nets: Kurucs is back in the starting five, and while his Fantasy production hasn't been great over the past month, he looks like one of the better shooters in the class.

Aaron Holiday, Pacers: Holiday's opportunities have been dictated almost entirely be injuries elsewhere on the roster, but he's currently in the rotation with both Darren Collison and Wes Matthews banged up. The UCLA product played a season-high 25 minutes Monday against Detroit, finishing with 10 points, five assists and two made threes.

Elie Okobo, Suns: Okobo's role has swung drastically all season, but he's appeared in each of the last five games and even started Monday's win over the Cavs. For the most part, Okobo has looked about as raw as expected, as he's struggled to score efficiently from both inside the arc and out.

Robert Williams, Celtics: Williams hasn't had many opportunities on a deep Celtics team, but when on the floor he's done his best Mitchell Robinson impression. Robinson has played nearly 1,000 minutes more than Williams, but in 250 total minutes, Williams holds a ridiculous 13.2% block rate. That number would, of course, come down over a larger sample, but Williams has at least demonstrated the athleticism and timing that made him an appealing project out of Texas A&M.

Bruce Brown, Pistons: The second-rounder has essentially been a full-time starter since Christmas, but he continues to test the boundaries of Fantasy irrelevance. Despite playing just under 20 minutes per game, Brown has only one double-digit scoring effort in his last 36 games, and he adds virtually no value elsewhere, save for 1.0 combined steal/block per contest. The Miami product is a versatile defender, but he's on pace to finish the year in the league's bottom 20 in field goal attempts per 100 possessions, and he's one of only a handful of players (hello, Andrew Wiggins) to hold a sub-100 offensive rating while playing more than 1000 total minutes.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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