2021-22 Fantasy Basketball Rookies

by Mark Strausberg
Underdog Fantasy NBA Pick’em 12-8-21

So what can we expect from the 2021-22 Fantasy Basketball Rookies?

I would limit your expectations for this year. I like this draft class. It's a fairly deep draft class in my opinion and five years from now I think we see at least 20 of them as regular starters. I don't see it being as impactful as the 2009 draft (James Harden and Stephen Curry) or the 2003 draft (nine All-Stars), but I do see it looking a lot like the 2001 draft class. That was definitely one of the deeper drafts this millennium.  Richard Jefferson, Zach Randolph, Tony Parker, and Gerald Wallace are all examples that were taken outside of the top ten who had productive careers. But even second-rounders were solid picks - Gilbert Arenas had a tidy little career featuring three All-Star appearances despite going in the second round.

But that is probably the ceiling for most of the rookies in this year's draft. Thinking about taking a rookie within the first five rounds in a standard redraft league? Don't. But that doesn't mean there isn't value to be had. And the best way to do so is to look at some of the archetypes that seem to dominate Fantasy Basketball.

There are probably at least a dozen or so "archetypes", but I'm going to focus on the First Pick, the Defensive Specialist, the Sharp Shooter, the Long-Term Upside, the Fallen Tweener, the Motor, the Big Man and the High Floor Immediate Starter.

Let's use that lens to locate some rookie gems.

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2021-22 Fantasy Basketball Rookies

First Pick: Cade Cunningham

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Yes, there have been some first overall pick busts. But more often than not, the first overall draft pick has been a franchise cornerstone. And that goes for actual basketball and Fantasy purposes as well. If nothing else, that player who is picked first often sees a lot of minutes. That volume alone makes them worthy of consideration.

But I think Cade Cunnigham will be more than just a volume play. That is because the Detroit Pistons are ready to let him be the ringmaster and handle the lion's share of playmaking opportunity and responsibility right from the get-go. And I'm likely not alone in thinking he plays well in year one, so Cunnigham could sneak into the top 50 in your draft. Still, I won't be picking him that early.

The issue is that Cunningham's upside is still somewhat limited compared to some of the other first picks. He doesn't bring the long-term production that others in the draft do either. However, he is the easy front-runner for Rookie of the Year.

Cunningham was a 20-point-per-game scorer at Oklahoma State, but also provided 6.2 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three. I would not recommend bypassing all guards with your first five picks, but if you do, you could do a lot worse than Cunnigham in the 6th and making him your top guard.

The Defensive Specialist: Scottie Barnes

Barnes is not going to score a lot. He hit only 62.1 percent of his 2.8 free throw attempts per game at Florida State and shot less than 28 percent from behind the arc on a low volume of attempts.

However, coming in at 6-foot-9 and tipping the scales at 225 pounds, Barnes has the body of a power forward but with the speed of much smaller players. Both his strength and size allow him to defend forwards and bigs, but his quickness can hold his own out on the perimeter. He was a jack-of-all-trades for the Seminoles notching over two blocks/steals per game and is a good enough passer (over four assists per game) to make him part of your weekly lineup. He also averaged four rebounds per game, earning ACC Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year Awards.

Barnes might be a great compliment to...

The Sharp Shooter: Corey Kispert

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Kispert averaged nearly 19 points per game and nearly three treys per game his senior year at Gonzaga. He had back-to-back seasons shooting 44 percent from behind the arc. He shot an outstanding 52.9% from the field.

Defensively, he lacks quickness and athleticism, but he's not a liability as his game-smarts and effort narrow that gap. He's also not afraid to get physical, using all of his 6-foot-7, 220-pound frame. He's a smart "help defender", which should keep him on the floor. And if he's on the floor, he can play to his strength as the best shooter in this year's draft class.

I've seen Kispert compared to Joe Harris or Danny Green. I get the comparison, but I think he's actually a better shooter than either of them.

Long Term Upside: Jalen Green

When we look back say ten years from now, Green will probably be the best player from this draft. He was the second overall pick and I see him being more like well-known second pick Isaiah Thomas than infamous second pick Sam Bowie.  However, with Christian Wood, Kevin Porter, Jae'Sean Tate and Eric Gordon all currently on the Rockets, the opportunities to make an impact this year will be limited.

Green also made the "controversial decision" (snore) to bypass college and go straight to the G-League. But Green has quite the resume. He won three gold medals with the United States at the junior level. He was also named MVP of the 2018 FIBA Under-17 World Cup. That should come as little surprise. He is a natural scorer that averaged 20.3 points per game in three summer league appearances.

But he also will provide some additional lift in the non-scoring categories. In 15 G-League games, while averaging 32 minutes per game, he averaged 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals. That kind of all-around production makes him the number one pick in any Dynasty league having their supplemental draft. But if he can play starter minutes for the entire season he could be an amazing Fantasy asset this year. That's a J-Lo-sized but, but stranger things have happened. And if he does, Green could easily steal that Rookie of the Year award from Cunningham.

And of course, it seems that those in basketball circles can't talk about one Jalen without talking about the other, so we might as well discuss Jalen Suggs next.

The Motor: Jalen Suggs

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Suggs will not reach that elite level in the NBA until he can improve upon his catch and shoot numbers. And he's not a great three-point shooter having shot just 34% last season and only attempted 3.5 3-PTs per game. Nor is he a lock on the free-throw line, having shot 75% on his FTs. Furthermore, an abundance of wild misses doesn’t bode well for future shooting success. But man can Suggs move! He's got a motor that is constantly revving making him one of the better rookies when it comes to both off-ball movement and cutting ability. His spatial awareness is one of the best in this class as well.

And you can see that not in just athleticism and effort on the court, but his numbers as well. His 15.1 points, 5.9 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 2.6 steals are a pretty good indicator of the kind of numbers you can expect from Suggs. His minutes might fluctuate to start the season, as the Magic do have some depth at the guard positions, but coaches love guys that are constantly hustling. I don't see a lot of double-doubles for Suggs this year but his defense alone not to mention his ability to slash to the basket should keep him valuable at his current consensus ADP of a top 75 pick. Yahoo managers are waiting until after pick 100 to draft Suggs while CBS/ESPN managers are pouncing on the rookie in the top 65.

The Big Man: Evan Mobley

I'll never forget fans of the Washington Bullets nearly 30 years ago complaining that management did not understand what they wanted when they said they wanted a big man. They didn't mean the giant string bean that was Manute Bol or a player so fat he got winded moving from one end of the court to the other. But I think you know exactly what I mean. And Mobley is definitely that--he was the Pac-12’s top rebounder (8.7 RPG) and shot-blocker (3.0 BPG).

What a big man needs to be is changing and I'm not sure Mobley can be the "new" big man as he hit just twelve of 40 from beyond the arc. However, he can certainly provide the assets needed for a "traditional" big man, notching 12 double-doubles this past season for USC. He is a devastating shot-blocker, one of the hardest fantasy stats to accumulate. He had four games with four blocks, three games with five, and three games with six.

And I'm sure many are thinking, "Okay, he's Shaq basically", which means he's a liability at the charity line. Except he's not. Mobley had a respectable 70% FTP for a "big man". If you are looking for rebounds and blocks, Mobley is a spectacular later-round pick.

The Fallen Tweener: Jared Butler

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I didn't think Butler would be a lottery pick, but I was confident he would be a first-round pick. Alas, I was wrong and the Jazz selected him with the 40th pick. But Butler is one of the reasons why I believe this will be a deep draft. There were some concerns about his heart condition, but I also think part of the reason Butler fell to 40 was likely because many saw him as a "Tweener." Having strong qualities of both guard positions, but not enough of one to be a reliable option. He lacks the size and below-the-rim athleticism of a 2-guard, but he's not a true point guard either as he is more of a scorer than a facilitator.

That being said, he led Baylor to a National Championship with his team-leading 16 points per game. He won't crack Utah's starting rotation right away, but that "tweener" description means he can also play either of the guard positions giving you some roster flexibility - depending on your league parameters.

Furthermore, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, and Jordan Clarkson all come with durability issues.

Butler should still see plenty of playing time off the bench this year and could be one of the more efficient rookies. He's a much later pick and probably more of a dare we say it - "sleeper" - but he's a rookie worth being on your Fantasy Basketball radar.

The High Floor Immediate Starter: Chris Duarte

Duarte is 24-years old and is as much as five years older than some of his fellow 2021-22 Fantasy Basketball Rookies. That's a double-edged sword as he might be the most "NBA-ready" player in the draft, but we should not expect to see much more development from Duarte. With only Caris Levert, Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren (when healthy) as wing options for the Pacers, Duarte should immediately see  20 minutes per game.

From a Fantasy perspective, he should give you a little bit of everything. During this past Senior season for the Oregon Ducks, Duarte averaged 17.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals. He also had strong shooting percentages, shooting 53.2 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range. He won the Jerry West Award for the best shooting guard.

The biggest concern from a Fantasy perspective is his inability to get to the charity stripe frequently. But he'll be an immediate contributor in multiple other categories.

As the league progresses more to a "3-and-D", he's more of a traditional 2-guard. But he should play starting with Game 1, which is not something that can be said for most of the 2021-22 Fantasy Basketball Rookies.

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Visit our Fantasy Basketball Page for more advice to get you prepared for the 2021-22 season.

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