In-Season Strategy: Rookie Check-In

In-Season Strategy: Rookie Check-In

This article is part of our In-Season Strategy series.

Midway through Week 4 of the fantasy basketball season, it's starting to become more clear which rookies can be counted on for nightly production.

With the exception of just a few players, most of the 2018 lottery class has already made an impact, with Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Wendell Carter, in particular, leading the way.

Of course, rookies tend to go through fairly drastic swings in production throughout the season -- that's part of the deal when you roster a 19 or 20-year-old. But on the whole, early returns on the 2018 class have been encouraging.

Beginning with the No. 1 pick in June, let's take a look at how the biggest names in the class have fared thus far:

Deandre Ayton, Suns
Ayton has been as good as advertised as a scorer (16.0 PPG) and rebounder (10.7 RPG), and perhaps even better than advertised as a passer. The 20-year-old didn't have a ton of playmaking opportunities at Arizona, so his 3.4 assists per game through nine contests are a pleasant surprise. He hasn't been a dominant defensive player (1.7 combined steals/blocks), but he's helped make up for that with low turnovers (1.8 per game) and efficient shooting from the field (63% FG) and the line (75% FT).

Marvin Bagley, Kings
I was lower than most on Bagley coming into the year, and while he's had some up-and-down performances, he's looked better, overall, than I expected. Despite coming off the bench and being limited to fewer than 25 minutes on most nights, Bagley has put up double-digit points in eight of his last nine games. With the exception of a five-block game on Oct. 23, he hasn't done much as a shot-blocker, but he ranks third among rookies in rebounding (6.8 per game), and he's flashed a more-polished outside shot (50% 3PT) -- albeit on relatively low volume. Given the limited workload, Bagley is still tough to trust in weekly lineups, but he could be more valuable later on when the Kings begin their inevitable tumble down the Western Conference standings.

Luka Doncic, Mavericks
In terms of multi-category contributions, Doncic ranks among the best rookies in recent history. He's only played nine games, but the 19-year-old's averages of 19.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game -- not to mention 2.7 made threes per game -- have made him a must-own in leagues of just about any size. His field goal and three-point percentages are fantastic by rookie standards, and the only real knock on Doncic at this point is his pedestrian 69.4 percent mark at the free throw line. If Doncic is able to sustain this production over the course of the season, he'd become just the eighth rookie ever to average at least 19 points, six rebounds and four assists per game. The last player to do it? Grant Hill in 1994-95.

Jaren Jackson, Grizzlies
Jackson has become a viable fantasy commodity since JaMychal Green went down with a broken jaw in the second game of the season. While Green could be back before the end of the month, it'll be tough for the Grizzlies to keep Jackson off the floor. The worst-case scenario is the Michigan State product returns to the bench, but even then he'd probably still be in line for 20-plus minutes on most nights.

Thus far, the thorn in the side of Jackson's fantasy owners has been his propensity to pick up fouls. He was limited to just 10 minutes in a win over Washington on Oct. 30 after picking up four personals in just 10 minutes. Three nights later, he racked up five fouls in 20 minutes against Utah. Jackson struggled against Phoenix over the weekend, but he bounced back Monday night with 15 points, six rebounds, two assists and five blocks in 32 minutes. If Jackson finds his three-point stroke (3-19 3PT on the season), he'll become even more valuable.

Trae Young, Hawks
Young is coming off of one of his best games of the season Saturday against Miami, when he had 24 points, 15 assists and six rebounds as the Hawks notched their third win of the season. He's scored in double-digits in all nine games thus far and is yet to attempt fewer than 12 field goals in any game. Typically, high-usage rookie guard struggle with efficiency, but Young is shooting a very palatable 43.8 percent from the floor, even as his trademark three-point shooting (32.1% 3PT) has lagged behind. Young is also handing out 7.9 assists per game and leads all rookies in assist percentage (41.5%) by a mile, helping to mitigate the shaky outside shot and near-complete lack of defensive production.

Mo Bamba, Magic
Bamba is still stuck behind Nikola Vucevic, but he's been locked into around 20 minutes on most nights and has made the most of those opportunities. The Texas product is yet to have a true breakout performance, but he's also yet to play more than 25 minutes in a game. Still, he's been good for at least five rebounds in each of his last seven games, including a 12-point, 11-board outing in just 16 minutes of action in Sunday's upset win over San Antonio. Like Jackson, Bamba flashed a capable outside shot in his one collegiate season, but that's yet to fully translate to the next level (5-19 3PT). Bamba has a better defensive rebounding percentage than Carter thus far, and he's pulling down just under a third of the available defensive rebounds when he's on the floor. Bamba leads all rookies in defensive box score plus/minus (3.5), as well as block rate (6.7%) through 10 games.

Wendell Carter, Bulls
The Bulls pulled the plug on Robin Lopez almost immediately, and injuries to Lauri Markkanen and Bobby Portis have provided Carter with ample opportunities early on. The Duke product has started all 11 games and holds averages of 11.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 blocks in 26.0 minutes. Carter isn't a jaw-dropping athlete or much of a threat off the dribble, but his game is developed beyond his years (19, to be exact), and he's already looking like a perennial points/rebounds/blocks threat, who should continue to gain comfortability from beyond the arc. Carter has just three assists over his last 58 minutes, but prior to that he handed out 15 dimes over a three-game span against the Warriors, Nuggets and Pacers.

Quick Hits

Kevin Knox, Knicks
Knox played 24 and 28 minutes in the Knicks' first two games before suffering an ankle injury early in an Oct. 20 loss to Boston. After missing seven games, Knox returned for Monday's game against Chicago, but he was limited to only five minutes off the bench. The Kentucky product said he felt fine after the game, so he should be back up to full speed by the end of the week. Knox can be a cheap source of points, and perhaps made threes, but he's a volume shooter who will be prone to inefficient nights.

Mikal Bridges, Suns
Bridges has gradually worked his way into a bigger role over the last two weeks. That was due in part to Devin Booker missing time, but Bridges has remained a key piece with Booker back healthy. The Villanova product played 26 minutes in Sunday's game against Memphis, finishing with 14 points and a career-best four three-pointers. For now, Bridges looks to have the edge over the slumping Josh Jackson.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Clippers
Gilgeous-Alexander continues to look like he'll be an outstanding long-term prospect, and he's sat consistently in the 20-25-minute range on most nights. His all-around production has been encouraging, but he's not adding much scoring -- single-digits in his last four games -- to supplement his other contributions.

Miles Bridges, Hornets
Bridges had a nice, two-game run at the end of October, but his minutes have regressed a bit since then, and he's not a start-able player in most formats. An excellent athlete with a quick trigger, Bridges' primary contributions come as a scorer, but he's had a tough time getting to the line and doesn't rebound at a spectacular rate. One pleasant surprise: Bridges has at least one steal in each of his last five games.

Jerome Robinson, Clippers
The Clippers' other lottery guard has picked up garbage-time minutes here and there but is yet to see more than seven minutes in any single contest. Unless the Clippers unload a veteran or two before the deadline, Robinson will likely remain in developmental mode for most of his rookie year.

Kevin Huerter, Hawks
The sharpshooter out of Maryland hasn't had enough of a role to make much of a fantasy impact, but he picked up a career-high 29 minutes Saturday against Miami. With Taurean Prince (ankle) set to miss at least one game, Huerter could again be thrust into a larger role, though he figures to settle closer to 15 or 20 minutes on most nights. Huerter could be a single-category specialist in certain formats, but for now he's not much of a fantasy consideration.

Josh Okogie, Timberwolves
After a 17-point, four-rebound, three-assist, three-steal showing in a win over the Lakers on Oct. 29, Okogie looked like he might be a viable fantasy option, but he's come back down to earth, despite holding onto a decent-sized role for a notoriously rookie-averse coach. Amid injuries to Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler (kind of), Okogie has managed at least 20 minutes in each of the last nine games, but he's only had two or three above-average outings, and he's bottomed out with a pair of duds in his last two games.

Omari Spellman, Hawks
One of four Villanova products in the 2018 class, Spellman began the season out of the rotation but has now played at least 20 minutes in four straight games. He's still not doing enough to warrant fantasy consideration, however, and his role figures to dwindle once John Collins (ankle) is back in action.

Mitchell Robinson, Knicks
Robinson is fun to watch, and given the circumstances it's understandable why David Fizdale made the move to bench Enes Kanter. But if you're depending on Robinson in a weekly league, you may be in trouble. He showed his ceiling against Dallas last week with a 13-point, 10-rebound, three-assist, three-steal, one-block effort, but he's followed up with a pair of sub-par games against bad defenses in Washington (10 points, six rebounds in 26 minutes) and Chicago (0 points, three rebounds, four fouls in 11 minutes). Right now, the idea of Robinson exceeds his actual production.

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Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A multi-time FSGA and FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM Fantasy alongside Jeff Erickson, as well as The RotoWire NBA Show on Sirius XM NBA with Alex Barutha. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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