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Fantasy Basketball Rankings: Breaking Down the Top 8 Rookies

Roy BurtonContributor IJanuary 2, 2015

Fantasy Basketball Rankings: Breaking Down the Top 8 Rookies

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    Many fantasy basketball owners avoid rookies like the plague, but that shouldn't be the case this season. A number of first-year players have already shown that they're capable of excelling at the pro level, and a few of them should even be fixtures in your weekly fantasy lineup.

    While it was clear that New Orleans Hornets forward Anthony Davis was going to put up big numbers as a rookie, he isn't the only young big man worthy of attention in the world of fantasy basketball. And for those owners who like to gamble on future potential, there are a few rookies who may not show up on the highlights now, but will be important contributors to their respective teams by the end of the season.

    Facts are facts: The 2012 rookie class is an impressive crop of talent, and a few of them could very well lead your fantasy squad to a championship when all is said and done.

8) Tyler Zeller, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tyler Zeller is stuck behind Anderson Varejao at the center position for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but don't be surprised if he starts to log serious playing time off of the bench in the near future.

    A 15-point, 7-rebound outing on Nov. 5 only served to help Zeller's case, and the 7-foot big man is remarkably productive whenever he's out on the court (Zeller is averaging 14.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per 36 minutes).

    Fantasy-wise, owners are advised to take a wait-and-see approach on the former Tar Heel. But for those in deeper leagues who have the available roster space, Zeller may be a stash-worthy player who can potentially return big dividends down the road.

7) Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors

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    With a starting spot in the Golden State Warriors' starting lineup in hand, now is the time for Harrison Barnes to grab the proverbial brass ring and show why Golden State drafted him 7th overall.

    The 6'8" Barnes is averaging less than 22 minutes per contest in the early going, but that's set to change now that teammate (and backup small forward) Brandon Rush is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The increase in minutes won't do much to boost Barnes' meager assist and rebounding averages (currently at 1.8 APG and 1.5 RPG), but he should easily average double-figures in scoring for the rest of the year, especially if he continues to shoot better than 46 percent from the floor.

6) Jae Crowder, Dallas Mavericks

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    No one ever questioned Jae Crowder's energy (or if they did, they were foolish), and he's parlayed his unique skill set into a solid NBA debut (8.8 PPG and 2.8 RPG through Nov. 6).

    The beauty of Crowder's game is that even with his bruising 6'7", 240-pound frame, he's extremely adept at knocking down mid and long-range jump shots. Crowder is shooting 46.4 percent from the field so far during the 2012-13 campaign, and a sparkling 46.7 percent from beyond the three-point line.

    With Shawn Marion out of the lineup for at least three games with a sprained knee, Crowder will get the opportunity to show what he can do as a starter. While it's unlikely that Crowder's performance over the next week will allow him to unseat Marion, it could give Mavericks' head coach Rick Carlisle more confidence in his rookie, which means more minutes for the former Marquette star.

5) Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors

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    Solid (but not spectacular) is the perfect way to describe Jonas Valanciunas' first four games in his NBA career. Through four starts, the 6'11" Lithuanian product is averaging 9.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Andrea Bargnani still gets most of the low-post touches for the Raptors, but Valanciunas has held his own in a crowded Toronto frontcourt.

    Valanciunas is currently only playing 22.5 minutes per night, so there's plenty of opportunity for him to boost his numbers from a fantasy perspective. Right now, he's not much more than a deep reserve, but that could easily change if and when his role with the Raptors increases.

4) Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's numbers may make one shrug at face value, but don't overlook the fact that he's a stat-sheet filler—a valuable commodity in the fantasy world.

    The 6'7" Gilchrist (who just turned 19 in late September) is only averaging 7.5 PPG, but he's also chipping in 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and 1.5 assists per contest. Gilchrist's energy on both ends of the floor will lead to great things for him, and while he isn't good enough to start on a weekly basis fantasy-wise, he's a decent reserve player who deserves consideration when the Bobcats play four or five games in a given week.

3) Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    While Dion Waiters may not have been good enough to start at Syracuse, he's already a starting-caliber guard in deeper fantasy leagues.

    Waiters' jump shot was one of the big knocks on him at draft time, but it appears that he's rectified that problem—at least in the short-term. On shots outside of the paint this season, Waiters is shooting a robust 48.6 percent.

    It didn't take long for the 6'4" shooting guard to develop a rapport with Cavs' star Kyrie Irving, and the two have injected life into a moribund Cleveland franchise. Just keep in mind that Waiters is primarily a scorer (16.3 PPG) and won't do much in the other categories to help in rotisserie leagues (2.3 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.3 BPG).

2) Anthony Davis, New Orleans Hornets

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    Anthony Davis only has a game and a half under his belt due to a concussion, but it's clear why the former Kentucky star was the No. 1 overall pick in this past June's draft.

    Davis' per-36 minute averages are flat-out ridiculous even when accounting for the small sample size of minutes and games played to this point (24.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 1.7 steals as of Nov. 6). The 6'10" power forward also happens to be shooting 55.6 percent from the field, and has only turned the ball over once, despite a relatively high usage rate (25.1).

    Once he's fully healthy and gets into a rhythm, expect Davis to put up 17 and 8 on a nightly basis (along with a couple of blocks for good measure). And even if he hits the rookie wall at some point this year, Davis should still put up the kind of numbers that will make it hard to sit him from a fantasy perspective.

1) Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

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    So far, Damian Lillard has been the standout of the 2012 rookie class, further proof that his performances in the Vegas Summer League and the exhibition season were merely signs of things to come.

    Through four games, Lillard is averaging 19.3 points, 8.0 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he isn't as reckless with the basketball as many rookie point guards tend to be (3.0 turnovers per game).

    His shot selection could use a bit of work—Lillard is shooting 40.6 percent from the field with 9.5 missed field-goal attempts per game—but he's already the type of player who should be a weekly start in all fantasy formats.

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