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Fantasy Basketball Sleepers: 6 Under-the-Radar Rookies to Watch

Jamal CollierAnalyst IIIDecember 21, 2016

Fantasy Basketball Sleepers: 6 Under-the-Radar Rookies to Watch

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    There is a massive bias against rookies in fantasy basketball. They’re an unknown commodity in a league where the stars tend to be the same players year after year.

    Every season, there’s a little hype surrounding the No. 1 overall pick. That’s usually because he’s going into a situation where he’s virtually guaranteed playing time and there’s always a list of reasons why he was the first pick in the NBA draft.

    Guys who were selected in the other 59 draft slots are capable of providing fantasy value during their rookie seasons. Still, they are often overlooked in favor of more flashy names.

    Because of that, you may find that you don’t even have to draft these guys in order to add them to your bench during the first month of the NBA season.

    Here are six under-the-radar NBA rookies that could make a splash in fantasy basketball this season.

6. Austin Rivers, PG/SG, New Orleans Hornets

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    Drafted: 1st round, 10th overall

    As the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, people are familiar with the 10th overall pick in the NBA draft. 

    But Rivers wasn’t the highest-drafted rookie on his own team.

    All of the hype in New Orleans will be focused on the big man, Anthony Davis.

    Rivers should be a combo-guard for the Hornets this season, meaning there’s a chance he can provide a healthy dose of assists for fantasy owners from the shooting guard position.

    His scoring ability (15.5 PPG at Duke in 2011-12) should translate well to the NBA level. He got those points from volume shooting in college, and, as the potential leader of the Hornets’ second unit, should get some good looks coming off the bench.

5. Meyers Leonard, C, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Drafted: 1st round, 11th overall

    Leonard will assume the mantle that Greg Oden vacated as the Trail Blazers’ center of the future, but he won’t have the same amount of fantasy hype that Oden enjoyed before his rookie season.

    That’s because Oden was a No. 1 overall pick.

    Leonard shot 73.2 percent from the free-throw line and 58.4 percent from the field in his final season at Illinois. That makes him a legitimate bench option for a fantasy team that values its ability to compete in the percentage categories.

    The 7’1” center should get those prototypical big-man stats; Eight points, nine rebounds and a block or two is well within reach for him.

4. Tyler Zeller, C, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Drafted: 1st round, 17th overall

    Zeller won’t be a starter for the Cavaliers to enter the season, but he’s worth keeping an eye on. 

    His minutes will always have upside when he’s playing behind the oft-injured Anderson Varejao.

    The seven-footer was an even better collegiate free-throw shooter than Leonard, and should be trusted to knock down foul shots in addition to grabbing rebounds and putting in a bucket or two per night.

    He probably won’t be worth owning unless he gets the starting job.

3. Marquis Teague, PG, Chicago Bulls

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    Drafted: 1st round, 29th overall

    There is talk of the Bulls’ franchise player, Derrick Rose, possibly sitting out the entire upcoming season following his torn ACL in the first round of the playoffs last year.

    If that happens, the Bulls will turn to guards Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague to run their offense.

    Teague could get a handful of assists per game while scoring single-digit points as long as Hinrich is starting in front of him.

    Hinrich also has a tendency to miss games. Teague, therefore, may find himself as an NBA starting point guard by December or January.

    Expect Teague’s field-goal percentage to be awful during his rookie campaign; he shot just 41.2 percent from the floor with Kentucky last year.

2. Draymond Green, SF, Golden State Warriors

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    Drafted: 2nd round, 35th overall

    Green developed a shooting touch at Michigan State and knocked down 38.8 percent of his threes during his senior season.

    He’s projected as a small forward at the NBA level because of his height, but his body type and game suggest he should be a power forward.

    If the Warriors realize that and play Green as a spark off the bench at the 4, he could provide fantasy owners with solid per-minute points, rebounds and steals.

    He could also be a phenomenal contributor to the assists category if he gets minutes at the power forward position.

    With enough minutes at the 4, Green’s production could rival the San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan, who is now in the twilight years of his career.

1. Kim English, SG, Detroit Pistons

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    Drafted: 2nd round, 44th overall

    The Detroit Pistons have just four guards listed on its current depth chart on ESPN.com.

    Kim English is one of them.

    That’s high praise for a mid second-round rookie.

    English’s scoring was strikingly efficient during his senior season at Missouri, averaging 14.5 points on just 9.4 shots per game. He also shot 52.1 percent from the field and 45.9 percent from deep on five attempts per game.

    It’s unwise to expect a rookie shooting guard to come into the league shooting 50 percent for fantasy basketball purposes, however.

    His fantasy value is going to be derived from his scoring and three-point shooting, and he could likely produce stat lines that resemble J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks this season.

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