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2011-2012 Rookie Class: Who Will Contribute This Year?

Charlie Zegers

Charlie has covered the NBA, NFL and MLB for RotoWire for the better part of 15 years. His work has also appeared on,, the New York Times, ESPN, Fox Sports and Yahoo. He embraces his East Coast bias and is Smush Parker's last remaining fan.

It’s a bad idea, as a general rule, to expect much fantasy production from NBA rookies. That’s particularly true this season, as the lockout has already forced the cancellation of summer-league play and may wind up cutting into training camp schedules.

That being the case, the smart play might be to push the clock back on this year’s rookies. Guys you’d otherwise expect to contribute right away might only become smart plays a month or two into the season… and guys who might emerge down the stretch might not become viable fantasy options until next year.
Here’s our take on the rookie class of 2011, in the order in which they were drafted:

Kyrie Irving (PG, Cavaliers): Irving might not be the starter from day one, but he’ll take the job soon enough. Coach Byron Scott will have the unenviable task of dealing with Baron Davis as he transitions Irving into the starting role, but he may be able to mollify the veteran by playing both guards together; Davis has always been more of a scorer anyway. One important note: Irving isn’t the same sort of lightning-quick scoring threat as other top points in recent drafts (John Wall, Brandon Jennings, Derrick Rose, etc.) He’s more of a floor general, and may take a little more time to adjust to the NBA game than the others.

Derrick Williams (F, Timberwolves): One thing about David Kahn – he certainly doesn’t draft for need. He added Williams – the consensus second-best player in this draft – even though he’s already got Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph on the roster. It will be very interesting to see if Minnesota attempts to clear playing time for the rookie with a trade – or if Kahn will find any takers for Beasley.

Enes Kanter (F/C, Jazz): Kanter has enormous potential, but he sat out all of last season after being found ineligible to play at Kentucky. We expect him to be brought along slowly at first, with an eye towards taking over the center job on a full-time basis in 2012-13.

Tristan Thompson (F, Cavaliers): The Cavaliers dealt J.J. Hickson, partly to clear playing time for Thompson. He could split time with Antawn Jamison at first.

Jonas Valanciunas (C, Raptors): Not a fantasy option, except in keeper leagues. He’s expected to play one more season in Europe before joining the Raptors.

Jan Vesely (F, Wizards): Athletic slasher of a wing that should fit in nicely on a roster full of players who can run. Irving is probably the early favorite for top rookie honors, but Vesely could be right in the mix.

Bismack Biyombo (F/C, Bobcats): Buyer beware. There’s no guarantee Biyombo will be able to play in the NBA this season – his agent and his Spanish league team have a significant difference of opinion on that matter. Even if he is able to join the Bobcats right away, he’s considered a fairly raw player that could develop into a Ben Wallace or Serge Ibaka type. Too much of a project to rate as a fantasy option in 2011-12.

Brandon Knight (G, Detroit Pistons): We’d like to think Knight’s arrival will put an end to the “Rodney Stuckey at the point” experiment and hasten the departure of at least one of Detroit’s overpaid two guards. But we’ve had trouble reconciling many of Joe Dumars’ personnel moves in the last three or four years, so for now we’re just “cautiously optimistic” Knight will contribute right away.

Kemba Walker (G, Charlotte): We have no doubt Walker’s game will translate to the next level. We have questions about how the Bobcats will split time between Walker and incumbent point guard D.J. Augustin. Our guess is Walker starts the season as the third guard and takes over the starting spot eventually. But a third guard role might hurt his initial value; he and Augustin are probably too small to share the backcourt.

Jimmer Fredette (G, Kings): We know Fredette can shoot. We believe he’ll develop into a solid floor leader. And we’re absolutely certain the Kings drafted him because the Maloofs think he’ll sell tickets – which tells us he’ll have a significant role from day one.

Klay Thompson (G, Warriors): Thompson was rated as one of the best shooters in the draft. His initial value depends in large part on what the Warriors decide to do with Monta Ellis. If Ellis is traded (for Philly’s Andre Iguodala, perhaps?) Thompson could have a more significant role.

Alec Burks (G, Jazz): Burks can flat-out score, which isn’t something you can reasonably say about most of the players manning the two-guard spot in Utah in recent years. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him land a significant role from day one.

Markieff Morris (F, Suns): We believe this Morris will be the more valuable of the two; the Suns reportedly opted for him over his twin brother because they believe him to be a more traditional power forward with a more NBA-ready game. Could be a pretty good blocks/rebounds option.

Marcus Morris (F, Rockets): This Morris, on the other hand, seems to think he’s cut from the same cloth as Carmelo Anthony. He may still get the opportunity to play right away, as Houston’s frontcourt could be decimated by free agency and Yao Ming’s retirement. But he may need a little time to adjust his sometimes-unnecessarily-perimeter-oriented game to the next level.

Kawhi Leonard (F, Spurs): You know the Spurs love the guy; they traded George Hill – another player of whom they thought very highly – to get him. He could take over Antonio McDyess’ role eventually, but give him a little time.

Nikola Vuvevic (F/C, Sixers): We interpret this selection as a vote of no confidence in Spencer Hawes and Mareese Speights more than anything else. Vuvevic has a big body and decent shooting touch, and could develop into a poor man’s Troy Murphy.

Iman Shumpert (G, Knicks): A long, athletic guard, Shumpert will probably get playing time at both guard positions, thanks to his defense. We wouldn’t expect big fantasy numbers initially, as the Knicks have lots of other options on the offensive end.

Chris Singleton (F, Wizards): The scouting report says Singleton can guard four positions – and rarely mentions his offense. He could develop into a very valuable Tony Allen/James Posey type, but that’s not typically the type of player that helps a fantasy team.

Tobias Harris (F, Bucks): We think Milwaukee got a very nice player here, as Harris has tremendous potential. But he’s also one of the youngest players in this year’s draft class, and one who most likely would have stayed at Tennessee if not for the Bruce Pearl fiasco. Call him a breakout candidate for next season or beyond.

Donatas Motiejunas (F, Rockets): Another perimeter-oriented big man, from the same Italian team that gave us Danilo Gallinari. As with Marcus Morris, we’re hesitant to recommend him without a better idea of how the Rockets’ frontcourt will be filled out.

Nolan Smith (G, Trail Blazers): Smith probably starts the year behind Raymond Felton, Wes Matthews, Brandon Roy and Patty Mills in Portland’s guard rotation. He could be a sleeper if Roy misses significant playing time (which is always a strong possibility).

Kenneth Faried (F, Nuggets): Rebounding is a skill that usually translates pretty seamlessly from the NCAA to the NBA. Faried has more rebounds than any other player in Division I history, and could get playing time right away as Kenyon Martin’s replacement. He’s probably a one-dimensional player, but one worth watching.

Nikola Mirotic (F, Bulls): Euro-stash. Don’t expect to see him at the United Center any time soon.

Reggie Jackson (G, Thunder): One of the more controversial picks of the first round. Jackson basically refused to work out for any team or share his medical info; it’s pretty clear he was trying to drop to a team picking at the bottom of Round 1. (We thought it’d be Miami.) Right now he’s behind both Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor on the depth chart, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Maynor gets traded when the business of basketball resumes.

Marshon Brooks (G, Nets): The Big East’s leading scorer in 2010-11 can fill it up in a variety of ways, but he’s almost as helpful to the opposition’s offense. It will be interesting to see whether Avery Johnson will be willing to give Brooks heavy minutes until he starts playing much better defense than he ever showed at Providence.

Jordan Hamilton (F, Nuggets): Developmental swingman probably won’t have much of a role unless the Nuggets lose Wilson Chandler in free agency.

JaJuan Johnson (F, Celtics): With Shaq retired, Big Baby Davis hitting free agency and Jermaine O’Neal… being Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics need size badly. But Johnson is a rail-thin 6-10, 220, and may need to fill out before he helps the situation.

Norris Cole (G, Heat): Much of Pat Riley’s bench is set to hit free agency – and Mike Bibby almost certainly won’t be brought back – so Cole could be primary backup to Mario Chalmers if Miami doesn’t bring in a veteran point. Some think he has the potential to push Chalmers for the starting job before long.

Cory Joseph (G, Spurs): San Antonio needed guard depth after trading George Hill to the Pacers, but Joseph probably starts the season on the lower end of the depth chart.

Jimmy Butler (F, Bulls): Effort-and-defense player seems like a great fit for Tom Thibodeau’s system, but unlikely to be much of a fantasy factor.

Second Round Notables:

Justin Harper (F, Magic): Stretch forward with nice shooting touch seems like an ideal fit for Stan Van Gundy’s system. As with Klay Thompson, Jenkins’ value depends in large part on what the Warriors decide to do with Monta Ellis.

Josh Selby (G, Grizzlies): Was considered a potential lottery pick before a disappointing (and injury-marred) freshman season at Kansas. If he lives up to the original hype, he could be a steal.