Specially for Yahoo Sports
As we approach the 50-game mark of the NBA season, and with the All-Star break just around the corner, it’s time for another check-in on the league’s crop of first-year players. While Paolo Banchero, Benedict Mathurin, Keegan Murray and Jabari Smith — among others — continues to show encouraging flashes, the reality is that the 2022 draft class hasn’t exactly been a fantasy basketball gold mine.
As of Wednesday, Murray is the only rookie ranked in the top 120 in nine-cats, as of game value. Fittingly, he checks in at exactly 120th place.
Meanwhile, Banchero is down at 140th, although it’s worth noting that these rankings can be a bit skewed due to the absence of overview construction context. While Banchero’s value is dragged down by his pedestrian percentages, lack of elite defensive production and relatively high turnover rate — he ranks 95th in eight-cat — he’s clearly been much better than the 140th best fantasy player in the NBA this season. That’s especially true in point leagues, where Banchero has been a borderline top-50 prospect thanks to his exceptional point, rebound and assist numbers.
Let’s take a look at the biggest names from the 2022 NBA Draft, as well as highlight some lesser-known rookies fantasy managers should keep an eye on as the trade deadline approaches.
Paolo Banchero, magic
As mentioned above, Banchero’s real value does not necessarily correlate with his ranking in category leagues. He has been the best rookie in the class and is one of the most advanced freshman players, physically, that we have seen in a long time. He’s had some ups and downs over the past few weeks, but overall his production has remained incredibly consistent.
Over his last 12 games, Banchero has posted 19.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 threes, although he is shooting just 42.4 percent from the line. On a better note, he’s working his way to the line 7.3 times per game. battle during that time. For the season, Banchero’s 310 total free throw attempts are good for 10th in the league.
Jabari Smith, Rockets
An ankle injury has cost Smith the last two games, and he could miss another Wednesday night, but that doesn’t appear to be a long-term concern. Before the injury, the No. 3 overall pick had once again fallen into a shooting slump, making just 22.4 percent of his three-point attempts over his last 13 games. During that stretch, he still put up 11.6 points and 6.4 boards in 28.1 minutes, but the percentages have been a killer for fantasy managers. For the season, Smith is down to a 39/31/80 shooting line.
Keegan Murray, Kings
The No. 4 overall pick is starting to warm up for the Kings, who suddenly find themselves in the No. 3 spot out West. Over the last nine games, Murray is up to 15.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.6 made threes on a sizzling 53.3 percent from deep. Overall, he’s shooting 56 percent from the field during that stretch.
By now, fantasy managers don’t know to expect much from Murray in the way of assists, steals or blocks, but he’s developing into a great source of high-volume threes with efficient scoring, rebounding and an ultra-low turnover rate. Since the start of January, Murray has played 31.4 minutes per game. match, an increase of almost 3.0 per game compared to the first two and a half months of the season.
Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers
Like Banchero, Mathurin’s nine-cat ranking (238th) belies his actual value, and he ranks much higher in points formats. To be fair, Mathurin provides very little value outside of pure scoring, rebounding and free throws, but he excels in all three areas with Tyrese Haliburton sidelined.
The Pacers initially experimented with inserting Mathurin into the starting lineup after Haliburton went down, but he has since returned to the bench, where he has spent 43 of his 49 appearances this season. In seven games without Haliburton, Mathurin posted 19.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.4 made free throws per game. game (he is 12th in the NBA in total FTM on the season). He struggles from three (6-23 3Pt), but still maintains a solid field goal percentage (45.2% FG).
Haliburton could be back within the next few games, so Mathurin’s value will likely take a slight hit, but he’ll remain a big source of points and free throws — just don’t expect much else.
The past few weeks have been mostly status quo for Ivey, who has scored in double figures in 10 straight games. During that run, he’s up to 15.1 points, 5.7 assists and 4.4 rebounds, but he’s shooting just 41.1 percent from the field and about 68.9 percent at the free throw line. Meanwhile, Ivey continues to provide very little value on the defensive end (0.8 combined blocks/steals).
The hope is that the free throw shooting improves as Ivey develops, but he wasn’t a good free throw shooter in college, so that’s not a guarantee. Either way, fantasy managers can continue to count on Ivey for scoring and assists, but he’s a stark negative when it comes to percentage, defensive stats and turnovers. As of Wednesday, Ivey is still listed in 68 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Williams continues to be a nightly starter for the Thunder and is one of the most unique players in the class. Able to play multiple positions, Williams offers a well-rounded stat profile with few weaknesses. Three-point shooting is his primary downfall — he’s fallen below 30 percent from deep on the year — but over the last 10 games, he’s posted 11.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.1 steals and 0. 8 blocks in 31.2 minutes.
The word is officially out on Kessler, though he’s still available in nearly 30 percent of Yahoo leagues as of Wednesday. If your league is one of those, I’d recommend picking up the Auburn product, who should maintain a significant role the rest of the way. Lately he has benefited from the absence of Kelly Olynyk, but even before the veteran’s absence, Kessler had begun to flash his enormous potential. Over the last eight games (seven starts), Kessler is posting 11.5 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks while shooting 67.2 percent from the field.
That sample includes a 20-point, 21-rebound game against Minnesota, a 10-point, 11-rebound, six-block game against Memphis and a 13-point, nine-rebound, seven-block effort in a win over Orlando.
The big man missed a handful of games earlier this month with an ankle injury, but he was back in the starting lineup Monday against Milwaukee. Duren finished that game with 23 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and two blocks for one of his best outings of the year. With the Pistons firmly embracing the idea, Duren should be looking at a starting role the rest of the way. He comes with the typical rookie major pitfalls – poor FT%, low assists, inconsistent blocks – but in 16 starts so far, he’s up to 10.3 points and 11.4 boards per game.
Mark Williams, Hornets
After starting the year in the G League, Williams is finally starting to see consistent run at the NBA level. He’s coming off a stupid Tuesday night in Phoenix — six points in six minutes — before that he had played at least 17 minutes in four straight games. Chances are Williams will continue to struggle Nick Richards for backup center minutes after Mason Plumlee. However, Williams’ fantasy managers should ask for the Hornets to sign Plumlee at the deadline, which would be a huge boon for the 7’2″ Duke product. The big man recently showcased his defensive potential in matchups against Houston (five blocks), Atlanta (three steals) and Utah (three blocks, two steals).
Eason remains a fringe player in most leagues, but he’s a name to watch as the season progresses — especially if/when the Rockets part ways with Eric Gordon. For now, Eason’s production is a little too shaky to trust, but he’s coming off an 11-point, nine-rebound, three-assist, three-steal, two-block effort on Monday against Minnesota. That’s the kind of overall production that the LSU product might be able to deliver on a more consistent basis.