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Wednesday, March 27, 2013
What's next for top rookies?

By Seth Landman
Special to ESPN.com

Last week, I looked at the future fantasy prospects of some of the league's up-and-comers at the point guard position, mainly because it feels like the top 50 of the Player Rater is disproportionately stockpiled with valuable contributors at that position.

This time around, I wanted to look at that most mysterious of player groups: rookies. As usual, our predictions seem to have been mainly off-base where rookies are concerned, so now, a few weeks before the season concludes, might be a good time to consider these guys with an eye on next season.

I'll include the overall Player Rater ranking for these guys with the caveat that many of them have missed games or gone through growing pains that won't be as prominent as they gain experience in the pro game. Even so, the current overall ranking for each player is in parentheses.

Lillard
Lillard

Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers (16): Looking back, Lillard's Average Draft Position of 77.4 is pretty impressive for an unproven player; Jose Calderon and George Hill, just for reference, were each drafted later. Lillard's immense talent, however, came alongside a pretty immense opportunity as the starting point guard right out of the gate on a team with an elite power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge. Lillard's ranking as a top-20 player reflects the fact that he has played in each of the Blazers' 70 games and is fourth in the league in minutes at 38.6 per contest. Per basketball-reference.com, among active players, only Tim Duncan, Shane Battier and LeBron James played more minutes per game as rookies, and among those three, only Duncan managed to play in all 82 games. If Lillard goes the distance, he would find himself in some rare company.

While he's out there, Lillard's not too shabby either. He is in the top 10 in 3-pointers made per game at 2.3 and is 12th in scoring at 19.1 points per game. Those are his best areas, but he also makes 86 percent of his 3.7 free throw attempts per game, which is great, even if you'd like to see him get to the line more given his minutes and usage.

There's still some room for improvement. He's pretty proficient everywhere, but 0.9 steals per game for a point guard playing this many minutes is pretty bad. It would also be nice if he found a way to shoot, say, 45 percent from the floor instead of 43.3. I'm splitting hairs here, though. Even if his minutes dip a bit next season, it should only help him in the long run. He is a top-20 player going forward for sure.

Davis
Davis

Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Hornets (69): Here's where you run into trouble drafting rookies, because Davis has been as good as anyone could have hoped, posting a PER over 21 as a rookie and playing in a respectable 56 of the Hornets' 71 games thus far. Davis has been really, really good, although he has underperformed his ADP (41.3) by a significant amount. Even if you go by per-game averages, his Player Rater ranking is 42nd, which is basically where he was drafted. Guys like Lillard are few and far between; usually with rookies, we aim too high.

That's all beside the point, though, because I'm talking about the future, and Davis' future is bright. Among active players, only Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Duncan have posted a rookie PER as high as Davis' while playing as many minutes per game. In his 28.2 minutes, Davis is putting up 13.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game, and when you look at his numbers since the All-Star break, his scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage are all even higher. That's really impressive for a rookie, and it stands to reason that as his minutes climb next season, so will his fantasy value. He is definitely worth a third-round pick as soon as next season, but I'd probably dip into the second.

Kidd-Gilchrist
Kidd-Gilchrist

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF, Charlotte Bobcats (140): It has been, to put it mildly, an up-and-down season for MKG. After a promising couple of months to start the season, he shot under 40 percent from the floor for all of January and February and hasn't really recovered to a place that gives him much value in fantasy leagues.

Still, there's a lot of potential. He is averaging 1.0 blocks and 0.7 steals per game, and while those numbers don't sound too impressive, they point to the potential for more as his minutes increase as he gets more experience.

On the other hand, with MKG's rebounding numbers tailing off as the season wears on, I have some concerns about whether his game translates to fantasy if he can't boost those defensive stats a bit. I don't think he's ready to make the leap into being a top-100 fantasy option quite yet, and I have a feeling he'll go higher in drafts next year based on name recognition than his game currently warrants.

Beal
Beal

Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards (146): Beal's story is something like the reverse of Kidd-Gilchrist's in that his struggles to start the season have given way to some really promising basketball of late. Beal has missed time recently with an ankle injury, but in 10 games since the All-Star break, he is averaging 16.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 47.7 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from behind the 3-point line. Those are really impressive numbers; they almost approximate what Lillard has been doing all season if you swap Lillard's assists for Beal's rebounds.

What has me really excited about Beal's potential is the synergy he seemed to have going with John Wall before he started missing time with the ankle injury. Given the potential for improvement, I would absolutely take Beal next season ahead of lots of top 100 fantasy options at shooting guard, including Ray Allen, Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith and J.J. Redick.

Drummond
Drummond

Andre Drummond, PF/C, Detroit Pistons (198): Drummond is a bit of an afterthought because he has missed so much time this season with his back injury, but he'll be back in the lineup soon. It will be interesting to see whether he can get some positive momentum moving into next season. Drummond might have more potential than just about anyone on this list, but he's still some improvement away from being able to stay on the floor for more than 30 minutes per game. Even so, it will be an interesting question as to where he should be drafted next season in fantasy leagues. Would you rather have a sure thing at center like Tiago Splitter (probably a top-100 pick next season) or Drummond's potential? It's something to pay attention to once Drummond returns from his back injury in the coming weeks.