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Top-10 Impact Rookies (2021-22 Fantasy Basketball)

by Zachary Hanshew | @ZaktheMonster | Featured Writer
Aug 2, 2021

Cam Thomas could make an immediate impact as a microwave scorer for Brooklyn

The 2021 NBA Draft was an exciting event, highlighted by unexpected pick after unexpected pick. Though there were no blockbuster trades, the intrigue never faltered. Now that the dust has settled, it’s a good idea to examine this year’s rookie class and how impactful they could be. Below, I’ll name my top-10 rookies based on skillset, opportunity, and team fit.

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1. Cade Cunningham (G – DET)
The top pick in this year’s draft and the consensus top prospect should be in line for a featured role immediately with Detroit’s lackluster roster. The Oklahoma State product is an elite shot-creator and playmaker who averaged better than 20 points in his only NCAA season. Alongside Jerami Grant, Cunningham should push for the lead scoring role with the Pistons in 2021-22.

2. Evan Mobley (C – CLE)
Mobley is one of the best prospects in this draft class and makes a great fit with a Cavs team desperate for playmaking on both ends of the court. The seven-footer is a unique talent who can put the ball on the floor, shoot outside the paint, and play elite defense around the rim. Mobley will compete with UFA Jarrett Allen for playing time if Allen sticks around, so keep an eye on that situation as free agency unfolds. Mobley’s upside would spike if Allen signs elsewhere.

3. Jalen Green (G/F – HOU)
Green is arguably the most explosive playmaker in this draft class and the scorer with the highest ceiling. After averaging 18.7 PPG in one season with the G League Ignite, Green will step on the court for a fast-paced Rockets team (6th in pace in 2020-21) in need of scoring outside of Kevin Porter Jr.and Christian Wood. Expect Green to hit the ground running with plenty of minutes and usage.

4. Jalen Suggs (G – ORL)
If Green is the most explosive Jalen in this draft class, Suggs isn’t far behind. The Gonzaga point guard can score, rebound, and facilitate at a high level, and though he’ll have some competition for minutes at point with Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz, Suggs should win the job as the most talented of the group. Orlando is in full rebuild mode after last season’s fire sale, and Suggs should take full advantage of the opportunity.

5. Cameron Thomas (G – BKN)
Call me completely crazy here, but I’m all in on Thomas having a major impact as a rookie. Brooklyn’s Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden played a total of six regular-season games together, and Durant was the only one of the trio to appear in all of the Nets’ playoff games. Landry Shamet is off to Phoenix, and Bruce Brown should draw plenty of interest in free agency. That leaves an opportunity for the LSU product to provide instant offense off the bench. In his only collegiate season, Thomas finished fourth in the NCAA in scoring (23.0 PPG) while comfortably leading all freshmen (Cade Cunningham finished behind him in that category with 20.1 PPG).

6. Franz Wagner (F – ORL)
Wagner should have plenty of opportunity in Orlando to post meaningful stats right out of the gate. He can play either forward position, and his competition is pretty slim from the likes of James Ennis and Dwayne Bacon. His abilities on both ends of the floor should provide fantasy managers a reliable floor and a fairly high ceiling, especially on a rebuilding team like the Magic.

7. Josh Giddey (G – OKC)
The Australian guard was a triple-double threat every time he took the court in 2020-21 and finished the season with 10/7/7 averages for the Adelaide 36ers, earning NBL Rookie of the Year honors in the process. He’s got to address his outside and free-throw shooting, defense, and athleticism, but Giddey’s got upside in spades as a 6’8 PG with elite passing abilities.

8. Scottie Barnes (F – TOR)
Barnes’ selection at No. 4 was certainly surprising, but his elite defense and playmaking abilities were likely the reason. Barnes isn’t a premier scorer, but he’s capable and can get teammates involved and grab a rebound on the offensive end of the floor. The two-way forward will likely play behind Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, but he should play a key role off the bench for the Raptors.

9. Jonathan Kuminga (F – GSW)
The 18-year-old G Leaguer fell from a sure-fire top-5 pick to No. 7 due to his questionable shooting. Kuminga is a raw prospect, but he’s long and uber-athletic and a guy who can defend multiple positions. Golden State is loaded with talent, but there’s a chance one or both of Andrew Wiggins or Kelly Oubre won’t be with the team for the entire season. If that happens, Kuminga’s playing time could take off.

10. James Bouknight (G – CHA)
The UConn product is an elite scorer and playmaker who will likely be used for microwave offense off the bench. Charlotte is letting Malik Monk test free agency while making a qualifying offer to Devonte’ Graham. Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball will be back in what figures to be a crowded backcourt, but Bouknight could lead the Hornets’ second unit as a premier scorer.

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Zachary Hanshew is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Zachary, check out his archive and follow him @zakthemonster.

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