Being a rookie in the NBA can be difficult. Some players, like Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball, Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton last season, are able to make a quick adjustment and thrive right out of the gates. But most need some time to figure things out, get stronger both mentally and physically, and learn how to adjust.
Here is a look at the second-year players who may not have been major factors in fantasy last season, but possess the talent to break out in Year 2:
James Wiseman, C, Golden State Warriors
While his rookie season was shortened due to injuries and overall underwhelming because of that, the 7-footer showed flashes of greatness with an ability to run the floor and throw down alley-oops. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr mentioned this summer that “He’ll have a chance to play more and more if he’s ready to help us win games, and if not, that’s fine. We’ll keep developing him.”
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Once he returns to the court from April’s torn meniscus in his right knee, Wiseman’s versatility is something that makes him appealing in fantasy. He has the speed and agility to be a constant threat in pick-and-roll scenarios with Steph Curry, and his size – particularly after an offseason of adding muscle – gives him an opportunity to rack up rebounds on a team that’s thin in the frontcourt.
Wiseman also has the benefit of having Dejan Milojevic as an assistant coach. Milojevic helped transform Nikola Jokic into one of the NBA’s most skilled big men, and is spearheading Wiseman’s development plan. He provides the Warrior a unique way of looking at skill development. Ultimately, this approach should benefit Wiseman and those fantasy managers who take a flyer on him.
Isaiah Stewart, PF/C, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are fortunate enough to have two versatile big men in Stewart and Kelly Olynyk, and both can be used at power forward or center. However, Stewart is the one you should aggressively target in fantasy if you need a mid-tier big man.
Stewart may have only averaged 7.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals and 21.4 minutes per game in mostly a reserve role as a rookie — nothing Earth-shattering. But Stewart improved as the season went along and moved better on the court. He also led all rookies in blocked shots, rebounds and field goal percentage.
He should see more minutes with Mason Plumlee now in Charlotte and, after spending the summer playing with the Olympic Select team against the best players in the world, Stewart is in prime position to parlay that experience into an even more productive second season.
Aleksej Pokusevski, PF, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder front office is very high on Pokusevski, according to comments from head coach Mark Daigneault and general manager Sam Presti, and the lanky forward is a great player to target near the end of your drafts.
Pokusevski has a rare, wide-ranging skill set which he displaying in 45 games last season, when he averaged 8.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.3 3-pointers and 2.2 turnovers in 24.2 minutes per game. Pokusevski was held out of Summer League play so that he could work on his body and add additional strength to his frame. We have already started to see a return on that investment during the preseason, which is encouraging. Lots to like here.
Saddiq Bey, SF, Detroit Pistons
Bey impressed early and often during his rookie season after dropping to No. 19 in the 2020 NBA draft, and the Villanova product averaged 14.5 points and 2.9 3-pointers per game after the All-Star break. While his 1.4 APG, 0.2 BPG and 0.7 SPG as a rookie left much to be desired, it’s important not to look through the rear-view mirror or undervalue a rookie’s development to his sophomore season.
Bey had a strong performance in four games during the Summer League, averaging 13.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 1.5 3PG, and dedicated time this offseason to improving his handles, playmaking and mid-range game. Bey’s positive momentum has a good chance to transfer into the regular season, and after averaging 27.3 MPG as a rookie it would not be surprising to see this key part of the Pistons’ future getting north of 30.0 MPG in 2021-22.
Others to watch
Tyrese Maxey’s usage during the Summer League suggests he’ll have a larger role this season with the Philadelphia 76ers, and while the departure of George Hill frees up some minutes, but the outcome of Ben Simmons’ situation is what could have a massive ripple effect.
Immanuel Quickley will be scrapping for minutes with Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose, but we can’t forget that both veteran point guards have a robust injury history. Quickley produced well last season with the New York Knicks while only playing 19.4 minutes per game.
Jaden McDaniels showed some flashes last season, but his Summer League production has me wanting to take a flyer on him later in drafts. McDaniels averaged 16.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game. He’s also been referred to as part of the Minnesota Timberwolves “core four” players by head coach Chris Finch.
Desmond Bane has the potential to be a breakout player for the Grizzlies. He’s a creative playmaker with excellent vision and someone to acquire late in drafts. He also shot 43.2% from 3-point land as a rookie, and — you might recall — an impressive 50.0% from long range in five playoff games.
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