A trio of lottery picks are already carving out roles for themselves, and while they were fantasy afterthoughts in most drafts, in the coming weeks they could be key pickups. Russell Westbrook, Brook Lopez and Jason Thompson currently come off the bench for their respective teams, but they are already being groomed as long-term starters on rebuilding teams. Their progression during the first half of the season will be key, as their production could force a change in the lineup.
Westbrook was the fourth overall pick in the draft, and as you would expect, he has the most pure upside of the group. As a player, the soon-to-be 20-year-old is fairly raw, but he has a couple of things in his favor. He's battling incumbent Earl Watson to start at the point; Watson is a couple of inches shorter than Westbrook and is better suited to coming off the bench. You have to believe the Thunder coaching staff and management are pushing for Westbrook and won't block his path with a mediocre veteran for very long. By most accounts, Westbrook is seen as a plus defender, which should translate into steals on the court (1.6 per game at UCLA). It should also help him become a coach's favorite because coaches often find reason to play a good defender more often. Just as important is the fact that the Thunder like to push the tempo: They finished fifth in possessions per game last season as the Sonics. So far this season, they're just 21st in pace, but with a young roster well-suited to playing in the open court, it's a good assumption that the Thunder will look to run often, a boon to Westbrook's offensive potential.
Lopez is a center prospect -- and 10th overall pick -- on a team devoid of quality big men. He averaged 19.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks at Stanford last season, and through three games in the NBA it looks like the blocks are real: He's swatted two in each game. While Westbrook has upside as a No. 2 or No. 3 point guard in even shallow mixed leagues, Lopez has a place only in deep leagues; even if Josh Boone weren't around to steal minutes, Lopez's 13 fouls in three games will limit his upside. As a third center who can average 1.5 blocks per game and pick up some rebounds, though, Lopez looks legit.
To date, Jason Thompson has been the most productive rookie of the trio, averaging more than 14 points and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes per game. Although Thompson will not be able to keep up the production in his current amount of playing time -- he's averaging 3.5 fouls and has benefited from a 62.5 field goal percentage that is sure to decline -- he has perhaps the most immediate path to playing time, with Mikki Moore as his primary competition. Thompson averaged impressive numbers in college -- better than 20 points and 12 rebounds, with 2.7 blocks per game to boot -- but doesn't have a lot of upside coming out as a senior. On a weak team that also likes to run (eighth in pace last season), Thompson could be a moderately productive big man, but his foul troubles and competition for playing time -- Brad Miller will soon enter the fray -- leave Thompson as a fringe player.
Comings and goings
Brandan Wright played more than 30 minutes for the first time in his career Wednesday, and broke out for 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. That's a loud reminder that if (when?) Al Harrington is traded, it should be Wright, and not Ronny Turiaf, who should be the primary beneficiary. Much was expected of Mike Conley in his second season, but just like last season, he's being outplayed by backup Kyle Lowry. Conley is back to splitting minutes with Lowry and can be dropped in most leagues; Lowry, meanwhile, is an intriguing option if his play earns him the lion's share of the minutes down the road. Ramon Sessions continued his trend of blowing up when given starter's minutes, averaging 15.0 points and 8.5 assists in two starts in place of Luke Ridnour (back), and even when Ridnour returned on Wednesday, Sessions had his best game yet, with 22 points and eight assists in 35 minutes. As long as Ridnour gets the starts, Sessions will be a giant tease, but if forced to choose between them in the long term, Sessions would be my pick. Sean May is out indefinitely until he gets himself into game shape, with Jared Dudley starting in his place. Dudley is merely a placeholder with no fantasy value, but the Bobcats desperately need May's size, and even though he hasn't endeared himself to new head coach Larry Brown, he should still carve out some fantasy value whenever his health allows him to do so. Besides getting J.R. Smith into the starting lineup, another benefit of the Allen Iverson-Chauncey Billups trade is that it frees up some shots for Linas Kleiza, who now becomes the first scorer off the bench. Remember, Kleiza averaged 18.6 points and 1.6 3s per game in 11 starts last season; keep him in mind with the next injury the Nuggets suffer.
Marquis Daniels, SG/SF, Pacers: Daniels is averaging 36-plus minutes in the stead of Mike Dunleavy through three games, and should have another week or two filling in for the injured Pacer. If Dunleavy's injury turns out to be more serious than expected, you suddenly have a viable long-term option; it's a wonder Daniels is owned in only 1.2 percent of leagues. So far, Daniels is averaging 14.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals on a team that's fourth in possessions per game.
Sebastian Telfair, PG, Timberwolves: Telfair returned from a three-game suspension on Wednesday, and had eight points, 10 assists and just one turnover in 30 minutes of play. Personally, I've never been much of a fan of Telfair's -- it's hard to contribute when you can't shoot -- but Randy Foye has been struggling a bit and Telfair could take some of his minutes at the point. There's also a chance that Telfair, who's still just 23, could be a late bloomer and have his best season as a pro. In any case, 30 minutes in his season debut indicates the team still has some hope, and roles often fluctuate on rebuilding teams.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.