Top post-draft fantasy prospects

Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins should both be popular fantasy picks this season. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Now this is more like it.

As advertised, the NBA draft class of 2014 offers more rookie-fantasy goodness than any other draft since 2003. (And that's even after factoring in Joel Embiid being a non-factor until at least January.) There's plenty of depth and upside among this upcoming season's rookies.

However, there's another dynamic at work that should yield as many as four to six impact rookies in 2014-15.


Remember that? (I know I've tried to block it out.) That thing multiple teams did to set the table for this draft class? They gutted. They made out-of-whack trades. They fielded lineups that featured multiple D-Leaguers. (The Philadelphia 76ers obviously enjoyed the experience, because they just renewed Tankapalooza for a second season.)

We're faced with multiple NBA teams with unfinished rosters who -- out of sheer self-defense -- will have to rush their rookies into their rotations. That means a surplus of quality minutes early in the season for all of this incoming upside. (And don't forget, the trades of the past few days mark just the beginning of what promises to be a summer of major player movement.)

Last season's dust bowl of a rookie class produced two Top 100 players: Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo. What did they have in common? Both players had big roles from the start. Both played for teams with no other expectations other than the accrual of ping pong balls. And both played major minutes at the one, which meant they had the ball in their hands early and often.

By way of reinforcing the post-Tankapalooza landscape, I want to show you some of this season's most promising rookies in their new environment.

1. Jabari Parker, SF/PF Milwaukee Bucks
Comparable: Carmelo Anthony (2003-4 rookie season: 21.0 PTS, 6.1 REB, 1.2 STL, 0.8 3PT)

Projected Bucks starting lineup as of June 27:
PG: Brandon Knight
SG: TBD, pick from O.J. Mayo/Ramon Sessions/Nate Wolters/Giannis Antetokounmpo
SF: Khris Middleton
PF: Jabari Parker
C: Larry Sanders

The Bucks actually tried not tanking going into last season before succumbing to injuries, Larry Sanders' post-contact nosedive, and O.J. Mayo's cratering. As a karmic reward for at least talking playoffs last summer, they're getting the 2014-15 rookie of the year.

It's a gift-wrapped fit. Milwaukee gets the type of marquee rookie it hasn't seen since the days of Glenn Robinson and Ray Allen. They get an instant No. 1 option on offense.

Parker is being plugged into a rare, prime role for fantasy-rookie production: franchise savior. He arrives with a polished skill set on the offensive end and should lead all rookies in scoring.

There has been plenty of pre-draft commentary on Parker's lack of commitment to defense. I don't care. Last I checked, "giving a damn about defense" isn't a fantasy category.

If the Bucks follow through on their pledge to play Parker at the four, it will drive his production even higher. It might make him more of a defensive liability, but the move down low should create fantasy-friendly mismatches on offense.

The 2003 Carmelo comp is a good baseline, as is Paul Millsap. I think 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, with a 3-pointer, steal and a block feels about right. I'd target him in the late third round.

2. Julius Randle, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
Comparable: Zach Randolph (2001-2 rookie season: per 36 minutes: 17.2 PTS, 10.4 REB)

Projected Lakers starting lineup as of June 27:
PG: Steve Nash
SG: Kobe Bryant
PF: Julius Randle

It's all about opportunity. And it looks like Pau Gasol is as good as gone. Barring an incoming free agent, Randle only has to beat out Ryan Kelly for low-post supremacy in El Segundo. The Lakers couldn't field a starting five with the amount of players currently under contract, so Randle will have a chance to really establish himself before any outside competition is brought in.

Along with Parker, Randle arrives as one of most NBA-ready rookie, and will be immediately plugged into a lineup that will be starved for a presence on the block.

We hear all the Zach Randolph comps, but here's another one that's meant to be a compliment: Tristan Thompson. Thompson's per-36 minute rookie numbers would be just about what I'd expect out of Randle: 12.5 PTS, 9.8 REB. Assuming Kobe comes back reasonably healthy and the Lakers acquire another veteran (that's not Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James), Randle will have to settle for cutbacks on the offensive end, but that should be enough for a nightly double-double.

One thing that concerns me regarding Randle's long-term fantasy impact, is his lack of production in blocks and steals. He will need to develop another statistical area of his game if he wants to become anything more than a solid seventh-round player.

3. Dante Exum, PG/SG, Utah Jazz
Comparable: Penny Hardaway (1993-94 rookie season: 16.0 PTS, 6.6 AST, 5.4 REB, 2.3 STL)

Projected Jazz starting lineup as of June 27:
PG: Trey Burke
SG: Dante Exum
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Enes Kanter

Exum is the fantasy equivalent of Vegemite: He's from Australia, people seem to love him and we don't know what he's made out of. But a cavalcade of NBA evaluators smarter than I have proclaimed Exum a special talent, so I'm hooked. They had me at "Penny." Exum is my favorite player outside of Parker in this rookie class.

My fantasy dream scenario would have been for Exum to go to Arron Afflalo-less Orlando Magic, where he could have formed a dynamic combo-guard duo with Victor Oladipo. Instead, we have to hope Utah shifts Hayward to the three, then plugs Exum in at the two alongside Burke. That would work.

Utah projects to have a numerically sneaky-good, fantasy-friendly rotation in 2014-15. Because the Jazz lack depth at multiple positions, Exum should register the type of immediate impact I expected out of Burke before he got hurt.

If Exum plays primarily at shooting guard, he will need to polish his outside shot to become a special fantasy rookie. Victor Oladipo wouldn't have had nearly the fantasy impact he had last season if he wasn't playing point guard.

Projecting Exum's rookie stats is the ultimate shot in the dark, but based on what I've read and heard, I'm thinking of a Tyreke Evans-type stat line: 13 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. The quality to keep in mind with Exum is ceiling. His ceiling stands at cathedral height, so given the right circumstances, he could explode and make a dark horse run at rookie of the year.

If you like your rookies with a dash of the "who the heck knows," target Exum in the seventh round.

4. Andrew Wiggins, SG/SF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Comparable: Paul George (2010-11 rookie season: per 36 minutes: 13.5 PTS, 6.4 REB, 1.8 STL, 0.7 BLK)

Projected Cavaliers starting lineup as of June 27:
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Dion Waiters
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Tristan Thompson
C: Spencer Hawes

Wiggins is Randle's rookie polar opposite. He arrives with an elite defensive skill set, but has yet to consistently display the alpha-dog instinct required of All-Star, two-way players.

I watched as many Kansas Jayhawks games as possible last season for fantasy evaluation purposes. And as the season progressed, I was tuning in for Joel Embiid. There were simply more moments when Embiid put it all together.

Like Exum, Wiggins' main appeal lies in his oft-reported upside. It just remains to be seen how much of that he'll tap into during his rookie campaign. Summer league and preseason will mean a great deal when it comes to gauging Wiggins' fantasy value. Until then, I'd let somebody else reach for Wiggins, and wouldn't draft him until the eighth round.

By the way, Wiggins' rookie projection would experience a slight uptick if moved to Minnesota in a possible Kevin Love deal.

5. Marcus Smart, PG, Boston Celtics
Comparable: Dwyane Wade (2003-4 rookie season: 16.2 PTS, 4.5 AST, 4.0 REB, 1.4 STL, 0.9 3PT)

Here's another rookie of the year dark horse, if Rajon Rondo is traded. I (regretfully) said this about Ben McLemore last season, but I'll repeat it regarding Smart: I think people are sleeping on this guy due to bad press. The difference between Smart and McLemore is that Smart is a coach's dream type of competitor, whose motor, if anything, revs a little too high.

Smart is capable of playing alongside Rondo, but his value will be limited fighting for minutes with a healthy Avery Bradley. The Wade comp is a little rosy, but Smart is a definite 14-5-5 candidate to go along with a steal and a 3-pointer. If Rondo is dealt, Smart becomes a sixth-rounder.

6. Elfrid Payton, PG, Orlando Magic
Comparable: Rajon Rondo (2006-7 rookie season: per 36 minutes: 9.9 PTS, 5.8 AST, 2.5 STL)

Remember what I wrote about wanting to see Exum paired with Oladipo? This is the backup plan. The Rondo comp seems right on target here, plus intangibles coupled with a terrifying outside shot.

Payton's rookie value is tied to Jameer Nelson's status. If Nelson is moved, Payton should easily beat out E'Twaun Moore for the starting point guard job, while forcing Oladipo to slide over to the recently vacated starting spot at shooting guard. If Nelson stays, the result could be a statistically stultifying time-share.

7. Aaron Gordon, PF, Orlando Magic
Comparable: Kenneth Faried (2011-12 rookie season: 13.7 PTS, 7.7 REB, 1.0 BLK)

Gordon creates a logjam in Orlando's front court with Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson. The good news for Gordon is that he has the greatest upside of that group, which should play out in his favor, especially at power forward.

Bonus second-round pick

8. K.J. McDaniels, SG/SF, Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia didn't select an opening-night ready player in the first round. But the 76ers have a pronounced need at small forward, so McDaniels could be in for a major role.