Fantasy value of 2013-14 rookies

Updated: October 16, 2013, 6:00 PM ET
By John Cregan | Special to ESPN.com

The story coming out of this year's NBA draft? That this was the least impressive crop of NBA rookies since 2000 (the year of Stromile Swift and Marcus Fizer). Compared to the Class of 2012, these guys were the NBA basketball equivalent of the Washington Generals.

To add some fantasy perspective, take a look at last season's final Player Rater to see how well those guys fared.

Out of all of last season's more-heralded rookies, only one player -- Damian Lillard -- finished in the top 50 on the Player Rater. Anthony Davis clocked in next at 60, and to find another rookie you have to drop all the way to 137 to get to Jonas Valanciunas.

So where does that leave us regarding the Class of 2013? Should we do what a lot of real-life NBA GMs are doing: tank and wait for Andrew Wiggins?

[+] EnlargeCody Zeller, Larry Sanders
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesCody Zeller could have plenty of opportunities to put up big numbers on a Bobcats team short on talent.

No. There's always hope when gauging rookie fantasy value.

And Wiggins is precisely why you should have some rookie hope headed into your drafts. Because tanking equals playing time for young, unproven players. That's where these new rookies come in.

Long-term upside may matter less than the fact that there are going to a lot of minutes available for certain rookies on certain teams.

When considering drafting/bidding on a rookie, you always have to weigh upside versus probable playing time. In keeper situations, it's smarter to go with the former if you can spare the roster spot. But with this year's group so wide open in the long-term upside debate, if you're dying to add a rookie, you have to prioritize probable minutes.

To help, I've recast my Rookie Rankings I compiled in the first few hours after the 2013 draft. I'm including a ranking for this season and a ranking for those in keeper leagues.

The Top Seven

1. Cody Zeller, PF/C, Charlotte Bobcats
2013 Ranking: 1, Keeper Ranking: 4

Can Zeller beat out Josh McRoberts for the starting power forward job in Charlotte? Not much drama here; despite an uneven preseason (following a solid summer league), Zeller seems to have a clear path to the job due to McRoberts' toe issue.

It's a nice fantasy situation for a rookie to enter into. Whoever lines up alongside the frequently double-teamed Al Jefferson in Charlotte's frontcourt will get ample room to operate on the offensive end.

Zeller's offensive game is more polished than your average rookie big man. When you keep hearing the word "athletic" attached to a young big like Zeller, it also means "fantasy upside." When you keep hearing about Zeller's high basketball IQ and motor, those also mean "fantasy upside." This means that there could be out-of-position categories Zeller could provide. For instance, I like that Zeller posted some multi-assist games this preseason and that Zeller is being billed as a stretch 4. It could mean some 3-pointers at some point.

As long as Bobcats coach Steve Clifford doesn't allow the power forward battle to lapse into a time-share, Zeller is probably the safest rookie bet on draft day. I believe ESPN.com's projected 6.5 rebounds a game could be a bit light. Any time from the early 10th round on is fine to take Zeller as a low-risk, medium-reward gamble.

[+] EnlargeVictor Oladipo
Glenn James/NBAE/Getty ImagesVictor Oladipo could offer solid production in a multitude of categories, especially if he's playing point guard.

2. Victor Oladipo, SG/PG, Orlando Magic
2013 Ranking: 2, Keeper Ranking: 2 (tie)

I've radically changed my tune on Oladipo since draft night. Why? Because the Magic are going to give Oladipo minutes at the 1, that's why.

Time at point guard means Oladipo -- a coach's dream who will get all kinds of minutes, even coming off the bench -- just diversified his statistical portfolio in a big way, adding assists to elite steals potential and high-end backcourt rebounding production.

If Oladipo can develop a consistent jumper, look out. Even if the shots don't always fall this season, it won't hurt Oladipo's playing time. He's playing in a zero-expectations situation. Remember what happened with Tobias Harris last season as soon as he donned a Magic jersey. As long as no time-shares develop, Orlando should be a fantasy gold mine in 2013-14.

I like Oladipo any time after the seventh round.

3. Michael Carter-Williams, PG, Philadelphia 76ers
2013 Ranking: 3, Keeper Ranking: 5

What I just wrote about Orlando being a zero-expectations fantasy hotbed also applies to the 76ers. What I just wrote about Oladipo having enough stats in other areas to offset the lack of a reliable outside shot also applies to Carter-Williams.

In pre-draft posturing, Carter-Williams was something of a darling for the analytics set; it's little wonder he was drafted by the new brain trust in Philadelphia to replace Jrue Holiday. His extra height (a defensive plus), solid handle and lack of competition at the point make Carter-Williams a dark horse candidate for Rookie of the Year.

This is a Lillard-type situation in terms of a custom-made rookie role (not in terms of offensive potential). Carter-Williams is the kind of player owners sleep on due to the lack of points, but I think he's a great gamble in the final couple of rounds.

4. Anthony Bennett, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
2013 Ranking: 4 (tie), Keeper Ranking: 1

Are you willing to wait? That's the key question when considering targeting the statistically tantalizing tweener.

The short-term issue for Bennett? The Cavaliers have postseason aspirations. Despite Bennett's high fantasy upside, it's hard to see him carving out more than 20-24 minutes per game for the first couple of months of the regular season. But one way or another (either via merit or the Cavs sliding out of contention), Bennett will play himself into fantasy consideration and have a solid second half.

Don't pay heed to the cautionary post-draft comparisons to Derrick Williams/Brandon Bass that tend to accompany undersized 4s. Bennett has explosive fantasy potential.

[+] EnlargeBen McLemore
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesBen McLemore is going to be a good source of points right away.

5. Ben McLemore, SG, Sacramento Kings
2013 Ranking: 4 (tie), Keeper Ranking: 2 (tie)

Based on sheer athleticism and fantasy potential, McLemore could the best rookie on the board. The smooth mechanics so lacking in Oladipo and MCW's outside shot are already on permanent display with McLemore.

But when you factor in his problematic Summer League and traditional Sacramento rotational difficulties (multiple time-shares since 2006), McLemore suddenly regresses into an endgame pick.

Don't sleep on McLemore. I still believe he's a victim of draft groupthink. Once the narrative spread about his lack of motor and poor selection of agent, piling on McLemore became a hot post-draft activity.

The talent is there, and there will be a game -- maybe next week, maybe next March -- where the light flips on for the ubertalented 2-guard.

6. Kelly Olynyk, C, Boston Celtics
2013 Ranking: 6, Keeper Ranking: 6

All the low-expectation, tanking-type comments I just made about Orlando and Philadelphia apply. Then you add a young, fantasy-friendly coach in Brad Stevens, who likes his big men to stretch the floor on offense, a big man like Olynyk with legitimate 3-point range and the fact he just has to beat out Bass and Kris Humphries?

There are a lot of reasons right there to watch this situation closely.

I can't recommend drafting Olynyk in shallow-to-medium leagues, but I would be ready to pounce in case the Celtics name him the starter. (Olynyk might be worth a dollar in keeper leagues just for having the best head shot in all of ESPN Fantasy. He looks like he just successfully rolled for a plus-4 Cloak of Invisibility.)

7. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, SG, Detroit Pistons
2014 Ranking: 7, Keeper Ranking: 7

If the Pistons were looking toward next season (as opposed to having just recently loaded up on some pricey acquisitions), Caldwell-Pope would at least be in the conversation to beat out Rodney Stuckey at starting shooting guard. But with Detroit having a highly active offseason, Caldwell-Pope could end up behind Stuckey and Chauncey Billups for the immediate future.

To be determined

Trey Burke, PG, Utah Jazz; C.J. McCollum, SG, Portland Trail Blazers; Nerlens Noel, C, Philadelphia 76ers: All three players would be in line for solid minutes if it weren't for their injuries. All three still will land on the fantasy radar at some point this season. None are worth a draft-day reach unless you're in an auction keeper league.

Sleeper Specials

Archie Goodwin, SG, Phoenix Suns: Goodwin could end up being this draft class' version of Eric Bledsoe. He was my favorite player to watch in Summer League and should start the season in Phoenix's rotation. The Suns are likely going to be involved in a trade or two this season, any of which could suddenly open up fantasy-worthy minutes for Goodwin.

Luigi Datome, SF, Detroit Pistons: Outside of Josh Smith, the pickings at small forward are slim in the Motor City. Datome has more potential than Kyle Singler and can hit an outside jumper (which Smith isn't exactly known for). I still wonder whether Smith ends up logging some minutes at power forward, which would open up an opportunity for Datome.

John Cregan

Fantasy Basketball
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

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