Fantasy Basketball Advice: Beware of the Rookie Wall

John LorgeSenior Writer IJanuary 23, 2009

You hear about it in all sports, especially in NBA basketball, "the rookie wall."  That point in the season where rookies have played more games than in a college season in half the time. 

Does the wall exist? Of course it does, ask any rookie and they will tell you about the difficulties and physical tolls of transitioning to the pro game.

Does the wall have to have a negative impact?  Not necessarily.  Last season Kevin Durant had in increase in every statistical category besides blocks after the All-Star break. 

Early in the basketball season owners were taking rookies to the bank, but as the season has wore on, we have been hearing less about those rookies.

Let’s investigate how "the wall" will impact fantasy basketball's top-rookies.

O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis Grizzlies

Mayo is no-doubt off to a great first season, but there is significant evidence that he has hit the wall already. 

In November, Mayo was averaging 23.1 points per game, while shooting 48 percent from the field and 42 percent from three-point land.  Mayo was playing almost 40 minutes per game that first month, earning his playing time.

Since, Mayo is still in the top minutes per game for rookies, but he has seen a steady decline in his points and percentages.  In January, he is scoring 16.3 points per game, while shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the arc.

I do not expect Mayo's numbers to continue declining, but I also do not see them returning to the heights of November.  His points per game could continue to drop below the current 19.2 average.

Mayo still has a great reputation amongst fantasy owners; those who missed the chance to draft him are licking their lips for his production.  Swing a trade for an established wing who is poised to finish the season strong.

Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls

Similar to Mayo, Rose has seen a dip in his production on a monthly basis.  His points and shooting percentages have all dropped, although his assists are slightly up in January.

Rose has had the burden of handling the ball, and being counted on for creating shots for others and himself.

In the beginning of the season, Larry Hughes was hurt, then Kirk Hinrich went down.  This opened the door for Rose to do his own thing more often.  With both of the guards back, the Bulls do not have to rely on Rose as much, and he has struggled to define is current role. 

Rose does not have a great assist to turnover ratio, doesn't shoot threes, and his steals are below one per game.  With declining stats it might be time to say goodbye to the young star.

Much like Mayo, Rose still has good fantasy value despite running into the wall.  Unload him for Jameer Nelson, Rajon Rondo, or a position you need.

Greg Oden, C, Portland Trail Blazers

Although he has had spotty production, Oden is still seen on a high-number of fantasy rosters because he starts and has huge potential.

Due to Oden's inexperience and propensity for injuries and fouls, he is only playing 23 minutes per game.  This low amount of playing time has kept Oden away from the wall. 

There is nothing to suggest that Oden will increase his playing time, especially not with the efficient production of Joel Przybilla.  Oden avoids the free agent wire with games like his 24 point and 15 rebound explosion against the Bucks.

If you own Oden, don't worry about him tiring out.  His trade-value is low, so either gamble on his outbursts or look for a more consistent option.

Michael Beasley, F, Miami Heat

The No. 2 pick of the draft hasn't been a disappointment, but he hasn't dominated like some expected.

Beasley entered the season has a starter, but by the end of November was coming off the bench as the Heat decided to go bigger.  The move to the bench really depressed Beasley's stats.

After a down December where Beasley saw reduced playing time and production, he has bounced back strong in January.  It has been his best month by far, averaging 15.1 points and 6.5 rebounds, while shooting 48 percent from the field hitting half of his threes.

The now-successful transition to the bench has eliminated the fear that Beasley may hit the wall.  He can exploit mismatches against other teams' benches, and has posted three double-doubles in January.  Something he did nightly in college.

Beasley is still owned in many leagues but he is not a hot commodity.  You should be able to pore barrel him in a trade, or even acquire him heads up for a hot sleeper. 

Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey Nets

In a reversal of roles from Beasley, Lopez earned his starting spot in November and him and the Nets have succeeded since.  As a starter, Lopez is averaging 12.7 points and 8.6 rebounds.

A big part of those numbers is due to his 14.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game, while shooting 50 percent from the field and 86.7 percent from the stripe in January.

Physically, Lopez was the most NBA-ready rookie entering the season.  He is conditioned and has a solid muscle mass that he is still adding to.  He is smart, and knows to get his rest, which is why he will avoid the rookie wall.

Lopez is on the verge of a double-double average, something that will come if he can increase his minutes to over 35 per game. 

Lopez owners should be very happy with their pickup.  His free throw percentage is an added bonus to his routine big man stats.  Hold-on to Lopez, you won't likely get a better player in return.

Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder

Westbrook was slower to get his chance to shine than other top draft picks, but he has since surpassed them.  In the month of January, he is averaging 17.1 points, 6.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.2 steals.

As Westbrook has increased his production he has also experienced more playing time, and they cycle goes round-n-round.  He has been a big part of the Thunder's wins in January, scoring 30 points in a win against the Warriors on Jan. 21. 

Although I don't have anything bad to say about Westbrook, I think there is a risk that he will hit the wall.  He has gotten added playing time later in the season than Rose and Mayo, so he may take the hit in a month or two. 

He does have Kevin Durant and Jeff Green to deflect scoring pressure and Earl Watson to handle the ball, so he is in a less pressured situation than the abovementioned guards.

If you picked-up on Westbrook, you will want to hold-on to him.  If he continues to produce at this level his value will only rise, and right now his value is not high enough to trade.

Eric Gordon, SG, Los Angles Clippers

Before the season there was talk that Gordon came out too early because he was too small and underdeveloped.  In the beginning of the season, this appeared to be the case, but eventually Gordon earned playing time and respect.

There is no rookie having a bigger January than Gordon.  He is playing 41 minutes per game during the month, and averaging 20.7 points while dishing out 3.7 assists.

First Cuttino Mobley was traded.  Then Ricky Davis flunked out.  Now, with Baron Davis hurt, Gordon has earned more of the scoring responsibilities. 

He has handled the load nicely, his percentages are down as he faces added pressure, but they will go back up once Davis returns.

If Gordon has to play at this pace for the rest of the season there is a very good chance he will hit the wall.  He is more efficient in the 10-12 shots per game range, but he has been successful at getting to the free throw line.

Gordon owners won't get much in return, so hold onto him for now as a scoring patch.  As the rest of the Clippers return, if ever, then look for another player.


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