Top NBA Rookies for the 2015-16 Fantasy Season
Now that the NBA Draft is over, and Summer League wrapped up this week, it is time to examine the top prospects and their potential value in fantasy leagues in 2015-16. While all these players would represent the elite picks in keeper and dynasty leagues, for the purposes of this article we will focus on the fantasy value in re-draft leagues. The number next to their name represents my initial rank for the 2015-16 season.
Karl-Anthony Towns – PF/C, MIN (80)
Towns’ performance in college showed he has the potential to be an elite fantasy option. He averaged 19.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per 40 minutes, all while shooting over 55 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the line. On a very young Timberwolves’ squad, Towns will get plenty of opportunities to show them what he can do. While his offensive game is a work in progress, (12.8 points on 39 percent shooting in five Summer League games) Towns will bring rebounds, blocks and above average free-throw shooting to your fantasy squad. In redraft leagues, he will be worth a mid-round pick. If he performs well this preseason, expect him to climb the ranks.
Jahlil Okafor – PF, PHI (90)
Joel Embiid’s injury woes are Okafor’s gain. Since the former Jayhawk is facing another lost season, Okafor will assume the starting spot in the Sixers’ frontcourt alongside Nerlens Noel. With playing time in hand and a strong offensive game, (17.3 points per game on 66 percent field goal shooting at Duke) Okafor has the look of a Rookie of the Year frontrunner. Even with the likelihood of being the leading rookie scorer this season, Okafor’s game has some nagging flaws eating away at his fantasy value. As a center in the NBA, his 4.5 block percentage at Duke is unacceptable. Even worse, his terrible free-throw shooting (39 percent in Summer League on over 6.0 attempts per game) drags Okafor down the preseason fantasy ranks.
Emmanuel Mudiay – PG, DEN (95)
With the trade of Ty Lawson and the starting spot all his, Mudiay is poised to emerge as the best guard in the rookie class. If his summer league stats are any indication of how his game will translate to the NBA, Mudiay will be just fine. Highlighted by a 19-point and 10-assist game versus the Kings’ squad, Mudiay landed on the All-NBA Summer League Second Team. In four games in Las Vegas, the 6’5″ point guard averaged 12.0 points, 5.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. Impressive play considering Mudiay has not played much ball in the past year. As with any rookie guard, drafting Mudiay is not without risk. He still needs to work on his shooting mechanics and how to limit turnovers, but the minutes will be there for Mudiay to learn on the job.
Myles Turner – PF/C, IND (110)
The departures of David West and Roy Hibbert seem to have left a void in the frontcourt for the Pacers. Even with the signing of Jordan Hill, there is plenty of playing time available for the No. 11 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. In his lone season with Texas, Turner showed the potential to be a dominant all-around big man at the next level. Playing against tough Big 12 competition, he averaged 11.8 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per 40 minutes. A rarity for anyone at the power forward/center spot, Turner also made over 80 percent of his free-throws, an enormous boost to his fantasy stock. In his brief Summer League stint, three games, Turner elevated his fantasy draft stock even more as he averaged 18.7 points, 8.3 boards and 4.3 blocks per game. Admittedly higher on him than most, the former Longhorn is my darkhorse candidate for fantasy rookie of the year.
D’Angelo Russell – PG, LAL (120)
When the Lakers took Russell with the second overall pick in this year’s draft, the move surprised many. With Jordan Clarkson and Kobe Bryant already set in the starting lineup, the Lakers need to move to a three-guard lineup for Russell to see extended minutes this season. While no one will argue his talent, the opportunity for playing time needs to be there for a rookie to thrive in fantasy. Also, Russell struggled in Summer League, as did the whole Lakers’ team. His shot was off, as he hit 37 percent of his field goal attempts and went 2-for-17 from three. On the plus side, Russell’s 5.2 rebounds per game highlighted what he can bring to fantasy teams even when his shot is not falling. When the former Buckeye gets his chance, he may emerge as a superstar. Unfortunately for redraft leagues, it does not appear to be this season.
Frank Kaminsky – PF, CHA (125)
Not a flashy player by any means, the well-rounded Kaminsky appears set to be a reliable cog in the Hornets’ rotation. Michael Jordan and the Charlotte front office allegedly turned down a six draft pick offer, including four first-rounders, from Boston to stand pat and draft the former Badger. Undoubtedly, that means Kaminsky will see plenty of time on the court his rookie year. The 2015 Naismith Award winner shows multi-category potential as he will bring scoring, rebounds, blocked shots and even some three-pointers to your fantasy squad. His solid Summer League numbers (15.2 points, 7.8 boards, 1.0 blocks and 1.4 threes) would be an ambitious ceiling for his rookie year. But if Kaminsky could earn a starting spot over Cody Zeller, which isn’t a big stretch, he could be the surprise rookie of the 2015-16 season.
Mario Hezonja – SG/SF, ORL (130)
When drafted fifth overall by the Magic, I had visions of the boisterous 20-year-old emerging as one of the top rookie scorers this upcoming season. But when Orlando brought Tobias Harris back into the fold, my fondness for Hezonja deflated a bit. Although I believe he has the confidence and shooting ability of a seasoned pro, there simply will not be enough regular playing time in Orlando. Particularly with the impressive play of Aaron Gordon in Summer League, the minutes seem to have vanished for Hezonja as the Magic’s starting lineup is set. His flexibility to play shooting guard or small forward will help work him into the rotation. However, there does not seem to be a chance that he cracks the 20-minute per game mark needed to be fantasy relevant this season. The Croatian is a late-round flier at best for the 2015-16 season.
Kristaps Porzingis – PF, NYK (150)
Porzingis enters his rookie campaign with tremendous blocking ability, shooting range and the chance for significant playing time in New York. All these attributes keep Porzingis in the conversation for a flier in re-draft leagues. Though standing at 7’1″ and only 230 lbs., the Latvian needs to add considerable bulk to his frame before being able to take the constant punishment of playing power forward in the NBA. Even as a stretch four, Porzingis will need to defend other frontcourt players without crumbling. His low rebounding rate for a seven-footer will also take time to improve. In keeper/dynasty leagues, Porzingis makes for an excellent upside pick, but his re-draft rank is trending downward.