The 2011 draft class was touted as one of the worst draft classes of all time. I will agree the draft was heavier on the "role player" side than the "potential star" side, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t rookies who could have an impact this season.
The draft may have been missing "can’t-miss" guys, but like I said, there were plenty of role players out there. And role players can often times have more of an impact on a fantasy team than a real team because they can contribute big time in specific categories while not being well-rounded.
The minimal amount of time available to this draft class to work with their new teammates and coaches will be an issue, but after a couple weeks, I think they’ll be alright. Here is my top ten rookies in terms of fantasy impact this season:
- Kyrie Irving – PG, Cleveland Cavaliers: When the draft first was complete, Irving wasn’t my top guy. But, with the way the offseason has shaken out it looks like Cleveland is committed to going with Irving right from the start. Irving could put up 15 points and 6 assists per game while contributing in steals and three-pointers as well. I don’t think he’s a top 60 pick as some are making him, but I do like him as the top rookie.
- Derrick Williams – SF/PF, Minnesota Timberwolves: This is the guy I wanted to make number one and I really wish the Timberwolves frontcourt wasn’t so crowded. But it is crowded and that limits Williams' value somewhat. Still, Williams has an NBA-ready offensive game, and a very complete one at that. He also has some decent range (considering his size) and is strong and aggressive enough to grab some boards. In the long run, I can see Williams being the best guy in this class.
- Ricky Rubio – PG, Minnesota Timberwolves: We’ve been waiting for Rubio’s rookie season and it is finally here. While I do believe some people are overpaying to get Rubio on their fantasy teams, I still like his potential and ability to contribute as a rookie. Rubio’s competing for the starting job with Luke Ridnour and Jose Juan Barea, but it’s only a matter of time before it’s his job. The scoring ability is a work-in-progress for Rubio, but he could and should lead all rookies in assists . He’ll also get a steal or so per game and is a sneakily good rebounder for a point guard. He’s probably going to get drafted too high in most leagues based on name value, but I do think he has skills that will translate into some early success.
- Kemba Walker – PG/SG, Charlotte Bobcats: I don’t know if Walker will beat out D.J. Augustin right away, but the Bobcats see him as the point guard of the future, not Augustin. Walker should expect to see close to 30 minutes per game, even if he is coming off of the bench. In his first preseason game, he scored 18 points in 19 minutes and had a plus-16 rating in the +/- category. Walker will score some points this season, maybe more than Irving. He’ll also get a fair amount of steals and some threes and assists. Do be aware that he probably won’t shoot a very good percentage from the field, though. He only shot 42% his senior season of college.
- Brandon Knight – PG, Detroit Pistons: Many believe that Knight’s value is more long-term than immediate. I agree that long-term Knight could be as good, or better than, anyone in this draft class. But I still think he has some immediate value as well. The Pistons' backcourt is crowded, but I think the Pistons are ready to give up on the "Rodney Stuckey at point guard" experiment, and Ben Gordon is better coming off the bench anyway. So Knight could run the point from the beginning, and while he might start out slow, he’s going to have value this season. Knight has a nice shot, but he get a little trigger happy at times, which will keep his shooting percentage down. However, he should offset that with his contribution in points, assists, threes and steals.
- Jimmer Fredette – PG/SG, Sacramento Kings: I have Jimmer fever as much as the next guy does, but as I stated earlier this week his borderline-top-100 draft position is a bit crazy. Fredette is going to be backing up Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton, and John Salmons will also be in the rotation as shooting guard, so the backcourt is crowded. Fredette will contribute right away as a three-point specialist for your fantasy team, but the all-around game will take some time to come together.
- Tristan Thompson – PF, Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavaliers took a lot of heat for taking Thompson over one of the highly touted International players. Maybe in the long run everyone will be right, but in the here and now Thompson has more immediate value. Thompson is this high on the list because he can contribute to specific categories in a rather significant way right from the start. Thompson will particularly be of assistance to teams in blocks and rebounds. If Thompson gets 25 or so minutes per game he could have seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game as a rookie. He also has enough offensive skill to score enough to make him of use in deep leagues.
- Kenneth Faired – PF, Denver Nuggets: Faried’s potential is fantastic, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he ended being a top-five rookie at the end of the season as well as a dark horse for Rookie of the Year. Like others, Faried is raw on the offensive side of the ball, but he gets enough offensive rebounds and put backs that he’ll still score some points. He’s also tremendous defensively as a shot-blocker and a steals guy, and he can hang with the best of them down low for the boards. He is going to have to earn his playing time, but I think he’ll do just that, and by the end of the season he could be seeing 25-30 minutes per game.
- Kawhi Leonard – SF, San Antonio Spurs: Many were hoping that Richard Jefferson would be cut by the Spurs opening up a starting spot for Leonard. That didn’t happen, but Leonard could still be the first man off the Spurs bench and average 20-25 minutes per game. He is still a bit raw as a scorer, but he’s solid defensively and will help you out in steals and rebounds as he adapts to scoring in the NBA. The upside is somewhat limited until he learns how to score more effectively, but because he can do other things well he has value.
- Iman Shumpert – PG/SG, New York Knicks: Right now the only guys standing in Shumpert’s way of playing time are Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas. Neither of those guys are exactly world-beaters, and Shumpert could be in line for a fairly decent amount of playing time this season. Shumpert has looked good in the preseason and he has the potential to contribute in a handful of categories, if he gets playing time. Because of his versatility and being able to play both guard spots, Shumpert should have a spot in the rotation immediately and it could be a spot that grows more significant as the season goes on. He’s a deep-league-only guy, but he’s worth keeping an eye on. If he starts racking up minutes, he could a very nice sleeper.
That’s the way I see the top ten shaking out. There are some other talented guys who could be sleepers out there, but these are the ten guys I see as most likely to have an immediate impact.
Who do you have in your top ten that I left out? Who did I include that you don’t think I should have? Let your opinion on the matter be heard, and as always, leave any questions you might have.