When They Were Young — Reviewing The Rookie Seasons Of The Stars

In going through my fantasy profiles of this years rookie class, which you can find here, it got me thinking. I wonder what the fantasy stars of today, like Kevin Durant, were like as rookies.

This 2014 Draft class has been extremely hyped, but doing my individual breakdowns, there’s hardly been a guy who I would take in standard drafts, with Jabari Parker being the only exception from the top seven picks. As much as we hope that rookies can come in and change things immediately, it just doesn’t happen all that often, so I thought I’d look back at last season’s top 10 fantasy players and investigate how their rookie seasons went from a fantasy standpoint.

Kevin DurantIf I’m starting a list on the best players in fantasy, I have to kick it off with none other than Kevin Durant — The Badd35t.

Durant, famously, was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, one pick after Greg Oden and had a Rookie of the Year season in his only year in Seattle, before the move to Oklahoma City. Here are his stats from that season, including his rank in nine category fantasy leagues.

2007-08 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
Kevin Durant 35 20.3 0.7 4.4 2.4 1.0 1.0 17.1 43.0 5.6 87.3 84

So, the most dominant player in fantasy for the last three years, was only good enough for a ninth round pick in his rookie season. An interesting discovery. You could probably see he was destined for greatness by his insane scoring, joining only Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James to average 20 points a game while still a teenager, but as I always say, scoring is but one of nine categories in fantasy and is not the be all and end all.

In a surprise, last season’s second ranked player was Anthony Davis, in just his second NBA season. He did miss a lot of games, but these rankings are based on per-game values, so Davis gets the nod at numbers two. Davis was chosen by the then New Orleans Hornets as the number one selection in 2012. What about his 2012-13 season? Here’s how he fared.

2012-13 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
Anthony Davis 29 13.5 0.0 8.2 1.0 1.2 1.8 10.6 51.5 3.5 75.1 26

A quietly huge rookie season for Davis, that was dwarfed by his sophomore campaign, but it was still enough to have Davis in my top 10 before last season. His ability to contribute in six categories as a rookie is a rarity and it’s the reason for his great fantasy finish. He seems locked into being a top three player for years to come.

Chris PaulComing in an number three is the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul. Paul, also drafted by the Hornets, was picked fourth in 2005 and has had a remarkably steady fantasy career, finishing in the top three for seven consecutive seasons. Was he able to have a stellar rookie campaign though?

2005-06 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
Chris Paul 36 16.1 0.6 5.1 7.8 2.2 0.1 12.1 43.0 5.9 84.7 17

A phenomenal rookie campaign for Paul and he has been a fantasy star since he entered the league, with his worst ranking being 20 in his second season. Remarkable consistency from a remarkable player.

Clocking in at number four, is the consensus best player in the NBA, LeBron James. James slipped a little from a fantasy perspective last season, but is still an elite option. He was drafted first overall back in 2003 by the Cleveland Cavaliers and played a truckload of minutes on his way to Rookie of the Year honours. Was he a top 10 fantasy option in his rookie season? Not even close.

2003-04 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
LeBron James 40 20.9 0.8 5.5 5.9 1.7 0.7 18.9 41.7 5.8 75.4 47

It’s not like 47th is a horrible finish, it’s just not the fantasy elite performance we’d expect from James, dragged down considerably by his high usage, low percentage shooting.

Steph CurryNumber five on the list is the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry. Now that he seems to have left his ankle brittleness behind him (fingers crossed), Curry is locked in as an upper echelon fantasy player, but was it always the way? He was picked seventh overall in 2009 and immediately started, playing 36 minutes a night. Here’s how his stats broke down for his rookie season.

2009-10 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
Steph Curry 36 17.5 2.1 4.4 5.9 1.9 0.2 14.3 46.2 2.5 88.5 12

The best one yet! Curry was almost a top ten player in his rookie season on the back of great scoring, three-pointers, boards, assists, steals and percentages. The only thing that has hampered him have been his injuries and they seem to be a thing of the past now and Curry will be a top ten pick for a while to come.

The sixth best fantasy player last season was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Love. Love has had a reputation as a massive stat accumulator, which is well-founded, but back when he was the fifth pick in 2008, how did his numbers stack up?

2008-09 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
Kevin Love 25 11.1 0.0 9.0 1.0 0.4 0.6 8.5 45.9 4.1 78.9 160

Yikes! Love finished his rookie season outside of the purview of 12 team leagues, in large part due to his court time. He only managed 25 minutes a game, but the other areas of his game weren’t as developed yet either. His three-point shooting was non-existent and he wasn’t able to get assists like he can now, really hampering his performance. Just goes to show that a lot of improvement can be had over the course of a career.

Carmelo AnthonyCurrently the centre of much speculation regarding where he will play in 2014-15, Carmelo Anthony was the seventh best fantasy player last season. He was drafted third overall in 2003 by the Denver Nuggets, two picks after LeBron and just after the immortal Darko Milicic and as I mentioned earlier, was one of only three players to average over 20 points while still a teenager. Melo has been a top ten fantasy talent for the last two seasons, but that hasn’t always been the case.

2003-04 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
Carmelo Anthony 36 21.0 0.8 6.1 2.8 1.2 0.5 17.9 42.6 6.4 77.7 82

Great scoring, bad shooting and not a lot else doomed Melo to a low fantasy ranking in his first outing, but it was obvious he would become an NBA star.

Another top three draft pick in the top 10 of fantasy (see a pattern?) was James Harden of the Houston Rockets, who came in at number eight. Harden was selected third by the Thunder in 2009, before his much publicised trade to Rockets in 2012. But in his first season, Harden was a bench role-player and his fantasy value suffered as a result.

2009-10 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
James Harden 23 9.9 1.2 3.2 1.8 1.1 0.3 7.6 40.3 3.2 80.8 156

Definitely not someone you would’ve wanted in 10 or 12 team leagues in his first season, hampered by poor shooting (another pattern?) and a lack of court time. Funnily enough, a lot of people were writing Harden off as a bust during his first two seasons.

Dirk NowitzkiThe Big German, Dirk Nowitzki, was fantasy’s ninth best player last season, a remarkable feat for a man in his 16th NBA season. Coming off an injury plagues 2012-13 season, Nowitzki was back to his best leading the Mavs back to the playoffs. Nowitzki was drafted ninth overall by the Milwaukee Bucks and traded on draft night to the Dallas Mavericks. Out of Nowitzki’s 16 NBA seasons, he’s finished outside the top 10 in fantasy in just four of those seasons. His rookie season, however, was one of those.

1998-99 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
Dirk Nowitzki 20 8.2 0.3 3.4 1.0 0.6 0.6 7.1 40.5 2.7 77.3 221

Who could’ve predicted that Dirk would be an all-time NBA star based on that rookie performance? By his second season, Dirk was almost the Dirk we know, finishing ranked as the 23rd player.

Rounding out the top 10 is another member of the Thunder, power forward Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was selected 24th in 2008 by the Thunder, but didn’t arrive in the NBA until the 2009-10 season after staying in Spain after being drafted. Although he is a genuine star now, it wasn’t the case early in his career and when the Thunder opted to keep Ibaka over Harden, the move as widely criticised.

2009-10 MIN PTS 3PM REB AST STL BLK FGA FG% FTA FT% Rank
Serge Ibaka 18 6.3 0.0 5.4 0.1 0.3 1.3 5.1 54.3 1.3 63.0 178

A very underwhelming rookie season from Serge and hardly a harbinger of things to come.

Below is a list of the top performing rookie in each of the past ten seasons, with their nine category rank in parenthesis.

2013-14 — Michael Carter-Williams (100)
2012-13 — Anthony Davis (26)
2011-12 — Kyrie Irving (41)
2010-11 — Landry Fields (83)
2009-10 — Steph Curry (12)
2008-09 — Brook Lopez (52)
2007-08 — Kevin Durant (84)
2006-07 — Brandon Roy (51)
2005-06 — Chris Paul (17)

Well, so what does all this tell us? Basically, that it’s very hard to get a great rookie in fantasy leagues and with all but four of this season’s top 10 finishing outside the top 80 in their rookie season’s, expecting rookies to have a significant impact is fraught with peril. There may be one or two guys — I’m looking at you Jabari Parker and Elfrid Payton — who will be fantasy relevant for a big chunk of the season and may finish in the top 50, hoping to get a rookie to finish in the top 20 and win you your league is a battle.

 

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  1. Pingback: Ranking The Top 10's -- Fantasy Value Of Rookies Throughout The Years | Red Rock Fantasy Basketball

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