One of my favorite autumn traditions is the annual reminder that you should avoid drafting rookies in fantasy leagues. For every Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas there's a Derrick Williams and a Jimmer Fredette, and while drafting a guy like Irving occasionally pays off, it's far more likely that you'll waste a pick on Derrick Williams.
That's just how it is with rookies. We haven't seen them play in the NBA yet, so their games are full of possibility, and that possibility drives up their value. Sadly, players don't enter the NBA fully formed. The most successful fantasy rookies last season, aside from Irving, were Isaiah Thomas, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. Did our staff of fantasy experts at ESPN.com draft any of those guys in our final mock draft before last season? Of course not!
So, everything you are about to read comes with a strong dose of advice that you will absolutely avoid because drafting rookies is fun: Don't draft a rookie. Also, a caveat: This list is made up of players for whom I think the general perception is slightly off. You won't see every rookie on this list, because some, like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, for example, seem like they're being valued appropriately heading into fantasy drafts. The rest of these guys? Not so much.
Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards: The Wizards need Bradley Beal. Jordan Crawford is not the answer at shooting guard, and if Beal is as good as advertised, he's exactly the kind of running mate John Wall needs. However, Beal's college numbers don't make him look like the elite shooter we all seem to think he already is. He made just 34 percent of his 3s and 77 percent of his foul shots in his one season at Florida. I think Beal will be a good player, but he'll be hard-pressed to outperform his draft position.
Thomas Robinson, PF, Sacramento Kings: Because he was so productive last season at Kansas, Robinson is going to get some attention heading into this season, but he's undersized at power forward and he's got some serious competition ahead of him on the depth chart. Robinson can definitely play, but Jason Thompson spent the second half of last season putting up better and better numbers, and has the requisite size for the position. I think Robinson will be great against second units, and can be a productive player when he's out there, I just don't think he'll get enough minutes to justify drafting him anywhere ahead of the last round.
Anthony Davis, PF, New Orleans Hornets: This is not a knock on Anthony Davis at all, but in order to draft him, you're going to need to reach, and if you do, you'd better be sure that he can put up better fantasy numbers as a rookie than guys like Tyson Chandler, JaVale McGee, Nene and Tim Duncan. McGee, in particular, is a player who has proven that he can carry a good amount of fantasy value even as he slowly learns the NBA game. Davis is going to be a star, but it tends to take big men time to punch their weight in the pro game, and I don't see Davis as an exception. If you're in a keeper league, disregard this paragraph immediately.
Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers: Waiters is ready for this. He's going to get drafted late in fantasy drafts, and you should try to be the one who gets him even if it means grabbing him a round or two sooner than you think you need to. That's because he's likely the best shooting guard already on a roster that really needs one. Kyrie Irving is obviously a great asset as a point guard, but the Cavaliers are seriously lacking in talent on the wings. Waiters has major upside as a shooting guard with toughness, and he averaged a really well-rounded 2.5 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals in just 24 minutes per game last season at Syracuse.
Marquis Teague, PG, Chicago Bulls: One thing Teague has going for him is that he's the only true point guard on the roster, and while his numbers from last season at Kentucky don't jump off the page, the fact he was the point guard on a national championship squad is pretty impressive. At some point, Derrick Rose is going to come back and Teague is going to lose out on minutes, but until then, he's got a chance to be among the most productive rookies. I wouldn't draft him before the last round, but he's not a bad guy to take a flier on at that point.
Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers: Someone has to play point guard in Portland, and it looks like it'll be Lillard. I know he was great in summer league, but I'm very skeptical. The main reason to draft him is the fact starting point guards are valuable fantasy commodities, and I don't see Ronnie Price or Nolan Smith giving him much of a push. You could do a whole lot worse than taking a flier on Lillard, even if he's probably not going to look like a finished product any time soon.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors: He has some real potential as a rebounder and a shot-blocker on a team that desperately needs that kind of stuff. The question will be whether his promise on the offensive end will fit into the NBA game. Still, he's probably flying enough under the radar playing for the Raptors that there's a chance you'll be able to get him at the end of your draft, in which case, he's certainly worth the risk. In keeper leagues, I might even bite a little sooner.
Keep an eye on
Royce White, PF, Houston Rockets: There's a decent chance he's already the best option at power forward on the roster given the way Patrick Patterson struggled at times last season. White has a complete floor game, and if he figures out a way to make jump shots, it's going to open up his drives and he'll be deadly. On the other hand, he's a bit undersized for the position and is on a team full of other possibilities. I wouldn't draft him, but I'd pick him up the moment he does anything good fantasy-wise.
Terrence Ross, SG, Toronto Raptors: I have no idea whether Ross is ready to contribute in the NBA, but, like some other players on this list, the opportunity is there. What's more, his natural, sweet jump shot is a great fit alongside tough drivers like DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. I wouldn't be shocked if he played 30 minutes per game right out of the gate, but I also wouldn't be surprised if he loses all his minutes to Landry Fields during the first week of the season, either. If he plays, he'll have value.
Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons: Drummond, as we've heard over and over, has a boatload of talent. Not just normal rookie talent, but, like, Amare Stoudemire-level talent. Of course, he's also a bit of an enigma, and guys who don't play hard all the time don't generally make it in the NBA. Still, there's a real opportunity here, as the Pistons don't have any stand-out power forwards, and Greg Monroe would seem to be a natural fit there if only they had a serviceable center. Drummond and Monroe could be great together if it works out, in which case, you'll want him on your fantasy squad.