If you thought the Heat-Spurs final was intense, the NBA draft last Thursday didn’t disappoint. David Stern, in his final draft as commissioner of the NBA, shocked the world right from the tip-off when the Cleveland Cavaliers took Anthony Bennett, making him the first Canadian to ever go first overall. We’ll most likely see Andrew Wiggins make it back to back years for Canada at next year’s draft, although that one won’t be as much of a shocker. Although it’s early in the off-season and a lot can change from now to the season’s tip-off, there are a few fantasy-related takeaways from the draft. Here’s how I’ve ranked the rookies heading into this season.
1. Trey Burke, PG, Michigan – Taken 9th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves and traded to the Utah Jazz.
It’s a good thing the Timberwolves traded Trey Burke in what would have been a crowded backcourt with Ricky Rubio already running the show in Minnesota. I’m calling on Burke to be this year’s Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers, and I even like Burke to potentially follow in Lillard’s footsteps all the way to winning himself Rookie of the Year. I think the 2013 national player of the year from NCAA runner up Michigan will have a chip on his shoulder from falling down to 9th in the draft, and use that as all the motivation he’ll need. Mo Williams has said he doesn’t want to be the starter for the Jazz unless he’s the go-to starting guard in Utah, so it’s looking like he’ll be on his way out. With Randy Foye, Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley all free agent guards in Utah, Burke has the green light to do whatever he pleases on the basketball court. So much like last year in Lillard, Burke will likely be anointed as the starter on day one.
I took Damian Lillard in the 7th round of fantasy drafts last year and this is exactly where I’d look to take Trey Burke this year. He might not have the same impact as Lillard (ranked 26th overall last year, only 8 point guards put up better fantasy numbers) but he’ll get the playing time.
2. Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas - Taken 7th overall by the Sacramento Kings.
McLemore is potentially the best offensive player in the draft with perhaps the most upside; he’s a really talented player who can shoot from all over the floor and is excellent coming off screens. He should get plenty of playing time in Sacramento especially if the Kings can’t resign former NBA rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans – and it sounds like they can’t. With Evans out of the picture McLemore should earn a starting position right out of training camp which is good news for fantasy basketball owners who want to take a chance on him.
3. Anthony Bennett, PF, UNLV – Taken 1st overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Anthony Bennett is a skilled power forward that can operate in the post. He was the top scorer and rebounder per 40 minutes among eligible freshman in the draft and the kid from Brampton, Ontario, can stretch the floor and really shoot it. Bennett is an excellent finisher and will be able to score from day one in the NBA, but there’s no telling just how much playing time he’ll get in his first year. He’ll be a nice replacement If Anderson Varejao decides to get hurt again, however, and it’s only a matter of time before Bennett and Tristan Thompson start that Brampton connection.
4. Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana – Taken 2nd overall by the Orlando Magic.
Victor Oladipo has drastically improved his shooting over the past couple years. He’s a competitive worker, outstanding athlete and has an explosive first step as a two guard. It’s unclear how big of a fantasy impact Oladipo will have, but most of his fantasy help will come on the defensive side. He has all the tools to be a great individual defender. He led the Big 10 in deflections and finished second in steals. “Suck for the Canuck” is in full swing for the Magic so he’ll get plenty of playing time as Orlando hopes for a Wiggins-Oladipo connection. I wouldn’t reach too high for Oladipo, from the 10th round on, he’s good to go.
5. Cody Zeller, PF/C, Indiana – Taken 4th overall by the Charlotte Bobcats.
Cody Zeller is at least healthy compared to the other two bigs (Alex Len and Nerlens Noel) that were taken in the top 10. Zeller is a great athlete that can get up and down the floor at will. He’s the most athletic and efficient big in the draft and his fantasy value could go higher if he’s a PF/C as opposed to just a Center or Power Forward. Having only has Byron Mullens to compete with really for time, I like the Hoosiers chances.
Michael Carter-Williams has pretty much no competition at point guard this season for the Philadelphia 76ers which could make him a late round sleeper. The 76ers are also all in for Andrew Wiggins and made that clear when trading Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel. Noel won’t be ready to start the season and Andrew Bynum won’t be around so the 76ers are clearly in rebuild mode. They took Carter-Williams with the 11th pick and the guard out of Syracuse is an excellent passer who can finish when he takes the ball to the basket. He’ll be worth the pick if he can develop an outside shot. He made only 28 percent of his jumpers with the Orange last season.
Shane Larkin, if Dallas decides to hang on to him, could turn out to be another late round sleeper. Like many of their free agents, the Mavericks let Darren Collison walk and as of right now, Larkin (son of Barry Larkin) has no competition at point guard. It seems Mark Cubban and the Mavs are looking to change that either through free agency or trade, so he probably won’t be the starting PG for Dallas, but he too should still get a lot of playing time. He’s excellent off of pick-and-rolls, posting 47 percent of his offense last year off screens and rolls (there’s a certain 41 who ran a few successful pick and rolls during his time in Big D, too). Larkin posted 14.5 points per game on 47.9 percent shooting as a sophomore with Miami last season, but really only time will tell where he fits in this year with Dallas.
[Non-Rookie Talk Sidebar]: As for Jrue Holiday and New Orleans…I like that trade a lot for the new look Pelicans. Holiday put up fantastic fantasy numbers last season averaging 17.7 points per game compared to 13.5 a year ago. He almost doubled his assist average to 8 a game and increased his rebounds to 4.2 per game. He took more shots this year and ended up with the same 43 shooting percentage, which isn’t spectacular but ranked him 15th amongst point guards last season. It’s not all good for Holiday though, his 3.7 turnovers per game is the second most in the league, behind James Harden. In New Orleans, Holiday joins the likes of Eric Gordon and Greivis Vasquez in the backcourt, with Ryan Anderson and perhaps Tyreke Evans plus last year’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis…a lot of fantasy upside with Holiday and the Pelicans!