Those counting on members of the 2016 NBA draft class to become significant fantasy contributors right away are setting themselves up for disappointment.
Though Karl-Anthony Towns finished as the seventh-ranked player in eight-category leagues this past year, he’s a fantasy unicorn. In 2014-15, no rookie finished among the top 60. The prior year, Michael Carter-Williams was the highest-ranked freshman at 47.
In other words, fantasy owners shouldn’t reach on the likes of Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram or the other members of the 2016 draft class with a first- or second-round pick. After the first few rounds, though, the following rookies will become intriguing values.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
If any rookie is going to make a Towns-sized fantasy impact in his first year, it’ll be Ben Simmons. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound point forward only further clogs Philadelphia’s frontcourt, but it appears as though the Sixers aren’t shying away from taking advantage of his unique skill set.
“The NBA is becoming more and more positionless,” a Sixers source told ESPN.com’s Chad Ford prior to the draft. “We’re going to try to take advantage of that with Ben. He can play everywhere, but he’s special when the ball is in his hands. We want him to be special.”
Given the Sixers’ lack of a league-average point guard, it appears as though they’re planning on utilizing him in the same way Milwaukee did with Giannis Antetokounmpo this past season. He likely won’t make a huge impact as a three-point shooter, but Simmons could post averages comparable to what Michael Carter-Williams did during his rookie campaign (16.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds).
Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Though Brandon Ingram would have undoubtedly liked to be selected No. 1 overall, he’ll slide into an ideal situation with the Los Angeles Lakers. With Kobe Bryant now busy filming Ghostbusters commercials, the Lakers are in desperate need of a new face of the franchise, and Ingram’s 20-point-per-game scoring potential makes him the most likely candidate.
Ingram may struggle to get his shot off at first, seeing as he weighs about 155 pounds soaking wet, but as he adds muscle to his string-bean frame, he’ll only grow more potent as a scorer. Though the Kevin Durant comparisons are overblown with him, it’s worth noting that the 2013-14 league MVP did average 20.3 points on 17.1 shot attempts per game as a rookie. Seeing as the Lakers need to replace Bryant’s 16.9 shots per game, Ingram could be in line for similar production.
Fantasy owners should keep their expectations for Ingram relatively in check, particularly at first, but he should at least be able to make significant contributions as a scorer and three-point shooter right away. As he bulks up, rebounding, shot-blocking and steals should eventually come along, too.
Kris Dunn, Minnesota Timberwolves
Given Ricky Rubio’s presence on the roster, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ selection of Providence point guard Kris Dunn at No. 5 overall may have come as somewhat of a surprise. While the Wolves might not be planning on building around both Rubio and Dunn long term, they believe the two can complement one another for now.
“I think they have good size, they have good toughness,” head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the draft. “I think you’re seeing that more and more now, two point guards on the floor. Both are capable of playing off each other.”
Rubio may not be long for Minnesota, though, as The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Wolves had “been shopping” Rubio “throughout the week,” adding, “His future in Minnesota is likely coming to an end.” If they do flip Rubio prior to opening night, Dunn could be in line for a massive role right out of the gate, making him someone to monitor over the next few months.
Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans
Assuming the New Orleans Pelicans don’t re-sign Eric Gordon in free agency, No. 6 overall pick Buddy Hield projects to replace him as their starting 2-guard. As FanSided’s Ian Levy noted, the Pelicans are in desperate need of his three-point shooting ability:
Buddy Hield made 147 threes last season. No one on the Pelicans made more than 131.
— Ian Levy (@HickoryHigh) June 24, 2016
After averaging 25.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent on 8.7 three-point attempts per game as a senior at Oklahoma, Hield figures to make an immediate fantasy impact as a scorer and long-range shooter. The Pelicans are confident that he’ll have a more wide-ranging effect once he acclimates to the Association, though.
“I think he’s much more than a 3-point shooter and I think that’s where the misconception is,” head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters after the draft. “He is a terrific scorer, but I think he’s going to be a real solid defensive player and it’s an area where I think he’s continued to work and he’ll get better at.”
Denzel Valentine, Chicago Bulls
By shipping Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks the day before the draft, the Chicago Bulls signaled their intent to begin a serious roster overhaul this summer. While they opted against trading Jimmy Butler for the time being, Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy could find themselves on the move in the coming weeks, according to ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell, as the Bulls continue to pivot toward getting younger.
Assuming the Bulls do move on from Dunleavy, it would give Denzel Valentine, their No. 14 overall pick, a legitimate opportunity to crack their rotation as a rookie. According to David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, Bulls general manager Gar Forman “thinks Valentine could play the point if necessary, but is a natural 2-guard who can also play small forward.”
With positional versatility becoming all the rage in today’s NBA, it’s not difficult to imagine Valentine and Butler playing alongside one another frequently. Assuming the pre-draft concerns about Valentine’s knees don’t prove founded—prior to the draft, he dubbed the issue as “wear-and-tear,” per Utah Jazz announcer David Locke—Valentine could be a significant contributor for the “retooling” Bulls as a rookie.
Wade Baldwin, Memphis Grizzlies
Wade Baldwin’s place here depends entirely on Mike Conley, who will soon become one of the most hotly pursued free agents of the summer. If Conley decides to leave Memphis and join the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks or any other suitor, the Grizzlies will suddenly find themselves down one starting floor general with no obvious incumbent to replace him.
Enter Baldwin, the No. 17 overall pick, who possesses prototypical size (6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-11.25 wingspan) for a point guard. The Vanderbilt floor general comes to the NBA with concerns about his decision-making—he averaged 2.8 turnovers in only 30.4 minutes per game this past season—but he averaged 14.1 points while shooting 40.6 percent from three-point range, so he’ll work his way into Memphis’ rotation regardless of whether or not Conley re-signs.
Fantasy owners who can select Baldwin in dynasty leagues should be rooting hard for Conley to depart, as the free-agent point guard market is largely barren beyond him. Even if the Grizzlies bring in a stopgap veteran floor general as insurance in case Baldwin flops, he could feasibly be looking at a 30-minute-per-game role right from the outset if Conley opts against staying in Memphis.
Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn Nets
As I mentioned Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets could be a sneaky great source of fantasy value, as their depth chart is comically barren at the moment. According to Andy Vasquez of The Record, they’re still unsure whether they’re going to pick up Jarrett Jack’s $6.3 million team option, which could leave Shane Larkin as their starting point guard.
That creates a huge opportunity for Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead, the No. 42 overall pick, to make an immediate fantasy impact.
“He fits what we want to be. He fits what we embody,” Nets general manager Sean Marks told reporters after the draft in reference to Whitehead. “His tenacity, his professionalism, for us he embodies what Brooklyn grit is all about. … He is a combo guard. We like what he brings to the table. We liked his fire, his energy and his passion.”
Caris LeVert (No. 20), who is working his way back from a Jones fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot, likewise has a chance to step in and contribute right away if he’s able to remain healthy. Two years ago, LeVert looked like a lottery pick, but three injuries to his left foot over the past two seasons sent his draft stock tumbling.