With the NBA draft now behind us, there are many questions as to which teams drafted the right guys, and which rookies will exceed expectations based on where they were drafted. While it’s obviously impossible to know those answers at this point in time, one thing we can do is predict which rookies will have an immediate impact based on the situations into which they were selected. Some players will have every opportunity to succeed from day one, while many others will have to work their way into a chance to see any minutes at all this year. From a fantasy perspective, finding the guys who will potentially see major minutes right off the bat could be the key to making a run at the championship. So let’s take a look at a handful of rookies who were drafted into an exciting situation that could see them thrive at the beginning of their NBA careers.
Fantasy Basketball Rookie Targets
Paolo Banchero, PF, Orlando Magic
Selected first overall by the Magic, Paolo Banchero has all the tools to contribute across the board from day one, as he should have no trouble seeing 30+ minutes a night in his rookie season. Banchero filled up the box score on a nightly basis in his lone season at Duke, averaging 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks, and 1.1 threes per game, making it all the more likely that he is able to produce right away, even if there is an adjustment period before he becomes a scorer. Nonetheless, as part of a young, rebuilding Magic squad, Banchero could realistically become the team’s number one scoring option sooner than later, and he should be highly targeted in fantasy drafts this season.
Jabari Smith Jr., PF, Houston Rockets
Taken with the third pick in the draft after being the favorite to land number one overall, Jabari Smith Jr. has found himself in an even more exciting situation to produce in his rookie year with the Houston Rockets. Similar to Banchero with the Magic, Smith could quickly find himself as a go-to scoring option on the team, as the Rockets currently have even fewer offensive weapons than Orlando. Smith put up comparable stats in his single year at Auburn to Banchero with Duke, averaging 16.9 points, 7.4 boards, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.0 blocks, but his 2.3 triples per game on 42% from beyond the arc is what makes him an even more appealing option, especially in fantasy hoops. This guy is the real deal and my personal early favorite for rookie of the year.
Jalen Duren, C, Detroit Pistons
Now that we got the obvious top picks out of the way, Jalen Duren is another exciting rookie who could make a splash in his first year in the league. Drafted 13th overall, he was quickly traded to the rebuilding Pistons, where he could definitely see major minutes early into his rookie year. Duren is a wildly athletic big man who, while still somewhat limited offensively, can definitely make up for it with his athleticism and energy. Duren averaged over 2 blocks per game at Memphis this past season, and Detroit looks ready to watch him grow and develop alongside top-five picks Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey in the backcourt. Isaiah Stewart isn’t completely going away anytime soon, as he is still a young, promising big himself, but the Pistons don’t seem entirely sold on him as the franchise center, so Duren could certainly step in and fill that role. Depending on how quickly his offense develops, he could make a huge impact as a rookie this year.
Mark Williams, C, Charlotte Hornets
Jalen Duren is not the only impressive center coming out of this draft in a great spot to have an immediate impact this season. Mark Williams, the sophomore out of Duke, was selected 15th overall, and projects as a potentially dominant defensive big who can be an elite finisher around the rim. Williams is a legit 7-footer with a 7’6.5″ wingspan, which led to him blocking the fifth most shots in the country last season. The Hornets are desperate for a true center to complement their young and exciting core, and Mark Williams fits the bill as a guy who can be that anchor down low. After Mason Plumlee (another former Duke standout) saw 26 minutes per game last season for Charlotte, Williams should have no issue commanding more than enough minutes to have an impact right from the start of his rookie campaign.
Malaki Branham, SG, San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs quietly had a very nice draft with several solid selections, and Malaki Branham is the name that sticks out the most to me. Drafted 20th overall, the rookie made tremendous strides over the course of his freshman year at Ohio State, scoring an efficient 17 points per game after the new year, shooting 50% or better in 14 of his final 22 games. One of the more explosive scorers in the draft, Branham scored over 20 points eight times in those 22 games, topping 30 points twice. The Spurs have a young core and are in need of more scorers, so the minutes are there for the taking, and I believe Branham will take advantage. He could definitely find himself being one of the biggest steals of this draft.