Fantasy Hoops: Rookie Redux

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Hachimura is back from injury, and should only get better

A few first-year players to bolster your roster

Fantasy rookies are a gamble each and every year. Sometimes you get players like Ja Morant who are instant difference makers, but other times you’re stuck with players who start slow and don’t make an impact until after the All-Star Break. Those are the players that you should be looking for right now. The NBA landscape is unknown when the season starts. The only obvious unknowns now are the players who were traded and the voids that must be filled by their departures. Many of the more subtle surprises remaining will come from the rookies that started slow. These are a few of the players you should watch with a quick trigger finger.

De’Andre Hunter

When you think of breakout players, a lot of times they follow the Sour Patch model. They start the season sour, then they’re sweet, and then they’re gone off your waiver wire. SF De’Andre Hunter was a sweet prospect, started the season sour, and has bounced all over the flavor pallet. While your taste buds are probably in disarray, I have an idea of what’s really going on. He’s a rookie, so inconsistencies are understandable. What’s important is that his minutes have hardly fluctuated. The team is firmly rebuilding and there isn’t a real reason to bench Hunter, who was taken fourth overall in the draft.

In the month of February, Hunter is averaging 36 minutes and 11 points. His shooting has been inconsistent all season, but his rebounding has seen an uptick recently. He is averaging six rebounds per game this month. Despite the recent trade for C Clint Capela, Hunter should maintain his current spot as Atlanta’s starting small forward. Sometimes rookies have to adjust to the NBA before they make a real impact. That may be the case for Hunter, who is owned in less than half of ESPN leagues.

Darius Garland

The Cavaliers selected PG Darius Garland immediately after Hunter in the 2019 NBA Draft. Many were unsure how he and sophomore PG Collin Sexton would blend together on the team. On the season, Garland is shooting under 40 percent from the field. He’s been gaining minutes slowly, likely because the team is at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. A flip switched sometime in January and Garland carved out a role for himself in the offense.

The Vanderbilt product is averaging over 33 minutes and five assists per game over his last five games. He has taken most of the ball-handling responsibilities from Sexton, who is primarily a scorer. Cleveland traded for center Andre Drummond at the trade deadline, so in theory, Garland should get more assists from the pick and roll, and his shooting efficiency should increase. He is a strong candidate to improve after the All-Star Break.

Rui Hachimura

Forward Rui Hachimura definitely has his faults on the defensive end of the floor, but we’re not worried about any of that. The Japanese Jumpman missed over a month with a groin injury. Since coming back, he has averaged 13 points and nearly seven rebounds per game. His offensive game exists mostly inside the three-point line, while PF Davis Bertans stretches the floor. Hachimura is an efficient scorer, defensive mindedness will come with time. The Wizards are committed to the ninth overall pick, and he should produce more and more as he recovers from his injury.

PJ Washington

Unlike the other players on this list, Washington actually started the season hot. His efficiency and volume haven’t come close to what they were at the beginning of the season. In October, the 12th overall pick put up averages of 15 points and seven rebounds on 33 minutes per night. As the Hornets slide out of playoff contention like a greased pig at a waterpark, Washington should see more and more time on the court. His scoring has fallen off, but he still offers middling rebounding and defensive stats. Washington has a great opportunity to increase his scoring volume as the season comes to a close.

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