Today, we're going to talk about the fabled "rookie wall" ... and how you can use it to help you win in fantasy.
Here's a spoiler alert (and try to keep it between us).
There is no rookie wall.
It's a fallacy. A myth. A tall tale. A parquet Bigfoot ... whose rumored existence is kept alive only via countless lazy hot takes.
Over my many grizzled seasons of fake basketball coverage, I have yet to witness one prominent fantasy rookie burst out of the gate, take fantasy by storm ... then hit the imaginary 40-game barrier and suddenly and permanently flame out due to inescapable exhaustion.
The less sexy truth: It's difficult for a rookie to stay in a consistent rhythm over the course of 82 games. Rookies have to adjust to back-to-backs. Rookies get into foul trouble. Rookies have to adjust to the adjustments the league is making to their constantly evolving game.
Rookie stats tend to rise and fall with more polarity than vets'. And when their numbers dip, they tend to go off the rails. Which only makes rookie production harder to predict over the ups and downs of a season.
So the myth of the wall becomes a convenient scapegoat, when, in actuality, rookies hit a series of in-season rough patches. Pronounced rough patches. Three-to-five-game down periods where everything seems to go wrong.
I like to describe it this way: Instead of a "rookie wall," think of our NBA freshmen being susceptible to "rookie divots."
Rookie divot: A sudden, brutal multigame bout of seemingly nonexistent statistical production that causes said rookie's fantasy value to momentarily careen sideways ... and depress his trade value.
Divots don't just occur after the 40-game mark. Some players begin the season in a divot. Some will fall into one over the final two weeks.
Even the top rookies hit divots. The 2017-18 Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons, started and finished strong. But he hit two divots: in late January and late March. Donovan Mitchell hit two divots. Jayson Tatum hit three.
But most noninjured rookies will actually start to build momentum after All-Star Weekend. The best rookies finish the season strong.
But hopefully the other managers in your league aren't as well-informed as you are. Maybe they believe in the wall. Heck, maybe the owner employing Jaren Jackson believes in the wall.
And if you can convince an owner in your league to deal you a divoted rookie by scaring them into believing in the wall? You might get yourself a few extra rounds of value in return.
Right now, there are only 4-6 rookies I'd deem roster-worthy in 10-team leagues. But as NBA teams start to tank and shift minutes to their young upside, that list will grow.
Let's peruse my top 12 rookies from a rest-of-season perspective.
Player Rater: 17th
Over the past two weeks, Ayton has begun to put some real distance between himself and the field. After hitting a divot in early December, Ayton has double-doubled in 12 of his past 14 games. And while he's still averaging under a block per game, Ayton has powered his charge up the Rater with the other defensive category: steals. Ayton has been near elite, averaging 1.8 thefts in his past five games.
Player Rater: 44th
This year's ROY campaign is starting to resemble 2015-16. That year, a big man (Karl-Anthony Towns) threw down one of the best rookie seasons ever and overshadowed several other players (Kristaps Porzingis, Nikola Jokic, Devin Booker) who could have nabbed ROY in a less competitive campaign.
Doncic could very well end up as the Porzingis to Ayton's Towns. But if there's a player who can give Ayton a run for ROY, it's Doncic. One sign he still hasn't hit his statistical ceiling: his still-evolving efficiency.
Doncic already has the volume side of the fantasy equation down (19.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.0 APG, 2.3 3PG, 27.2 usage rate), but he's shooting only 43.6 percent from the field. And it isn't his 3-point shot (37.4 3FG%) that's dragging him down -- it's his 2-point production. He's only hitting 48.3 percent of his 2-point attempts. The culprit: his midrange game. Doncic is shooting only 34.8 percent from 10-16 feet.
Player Rater: 48th
Jackson just shot his way out of his second divot last night, busting a three-game slump with a monster 26-and-10 line. Jackson has produced the most divots of the top tier of rookies this season to date (with four). Again, that augurs well for Jackson's second-half prospects, as he should grow more consistent as the season progresses.
My favorite fantasy wrinkle in Jackson's game: his ability to generate positive stats on his off-volume (i.e., foul-plagued) nights. His steals+blocks is an impressive 2.5, and his 60.0 TS% is already veteran-worthy. The only mystery in his production: the Lopezian lack of rebounds. Despite his power forward's frame, Jackson has struggled to put up even replacement-level rebounds at 4.6 per game.
Player Rater: 94th
The time to buy low on Young may be drawing to a close. After a horrific shooting start to the season, Young's stroke has begun to round into form. Over the past week, he's shot 51.1% from the field, while hitting 2.0 3s per game.
Young's season has been a low-fi version of Doncic's: The volume is there, just waiting for the efficiency to catch up. His usage rate (27.1) and assist rate (7.4 per game) are already rookie-elite. You knew his field goal percentage had nowhere to go but up.
And Young's free throw production has been a subtly stabilizing force. Young is second among rookies (behind Doncic) with 4.0 FTA per game. I love Young's upside, and I could see him passing Jackson in the ROY race as the season unfolds.
5. Mikal Bridges, SG/SF Phoenix Suns
Player Rater: 121st
Don't let the low Player Rater ranking fool you. Just take a look at what Bridges has done since the Trevor Ariza trade. Over the past two weeks, Bridges has been a mini-Ariza, posting 8.1 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.9 APG 1.6 3PG, 1.6 SPG and 0.9 BPG. Better yet, he's averaged 33.0 MPG in the process.
Bridges is a walking reminder as to why it's important to closely monitor tanking teams. Teams like Phoenix tend to dump their veterans as the season unfolds ... which opens up minutes for their young upside players.
Player Rater: 81st
Don't let last night's outlier of a game (0 points, 1 rebound in 13 minutes) fool you. Give Carter minutes, and he produces. His per-36 numbers: 15.1 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.8 BPG+SPG. The problem: coach Jim Boylen's shape-shifting rotation.
Player Rater: 197th
If Bagley is sitting on the wire in your deeper league, put him on your radar. Before getting shelved with a bone bruise in December, Bagley had been showing increasing signs of putting it all together. Don't forget he was a sleeper ROY pick in the preseason (despite a shaky summer league).
But even when he comes back, Bagley still faces a big issue: his role in the Kings' rotation. Bagley's minutes were surprisingly low for a second overall pick. And by that, I mean surprising to Kings ownership, as there are rumors coach Dave Joerger has been pressured to play Bagley more.
Player Rater: 157th
We know Sexton can score. But those of us in Fantasyland have been waiting on something, anything, to show up in his secondary stats.
The wait may be over. Over the past week, Sexton has evidenced signs of growth, upping his assist rate (4.3 per game) while getting to the line more (4.0 FTA per game).
Player Rater: 105th
I love SGA for the long term. But he is caught in a timeshare. I just worry he's not going to get enough consistent playing time to warrant medium-league employment.
Player Rater: 239th
After a couple of strong games, there were reports Kurucs might have played himself into a semi-permanent role in the starting lineup at small forward. Kurucs is just the kind of rookie who could catch fire after All-Star weekend. If Brooklyn believes Kurucs is the future at the 3, they'll find more and more reasons to play him down the stretch.
11. Kevin Huerter, SG, Atlanta Hawks
Player Rater: 165th
Huerter is getting a chance due to the injuries on Atlanta's wing. Over the past week, Huerter has registered some nice across-the-board production (12.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.5 3PG) in 34.9 minutes per game. He played 44 minutes last night, a hopeful sign that he'll retain medium-league value even after Kent Bazemore and Taurean Prince return.
Player Rater: 266th
It's easy to knock Knox. His shooting (47.8 TS%) is Antoine Walker-esque. He doesn't really add much beyond points, 3s and rebounds.
But for a 19-year-old rookie, I've been fairly impressed. He's flashed 20 PPG upside. He's had a couple of big rebounding nights. The 3-point production has been consistent. If Knox could up his steals+blocks into the 2.0 range, and up his TS% above 50.0%, he'd have medium-league value.