This year, rookies could have a bigger impact than usual in fantasy basketball leagues because the 2021 NBA Draft class was loaded with talent. With a handful of rookies are set to make an immediate impact, you’ll want to keep tabs on when to select these first-year players. Top rookies Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley are circled on everyone’s cheat sheet, but what about under-the-radar youngsters like Bones Hyland, Kai Jones, and Corey Kispert? You might not find them on typical rankings lists, but these types of rookies are potential deep-league sleepers and worthwhile dynasty stashes.
Here’s our ranking of the top-10 fantasy basketball rookies for 2021, plus nine more deep-league/dynasty lotto tickets worth monitoring.
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10. Moses Moody, G, Golden State Warriors
Moody will make a fantasy impact with his three-point shooting, rebounding, and steals. He also often handled the ball as a playmaker for the Warriors in Summer League, so& he may be a surprise source for some assists if he assumes a similar role for their second unit.
Once Klay Thompson returns and Golden State is back at full strength, playing time may be too inconsistent to permanently roster Moody. He’s worth monitoring in case he carves out a role as an offensive initiator off the bench and catch-and-shoot three-point shooter when running with the starters.
9. Chris Duarte, G, Indiana Pacers
This spot in the rankings may come as a bit of a surprise, but the Pacers drafted the NBA-ready 24-year-old guard for a reason. He could fall in line right behind T.J. Warren and Caris LeVert on Indiana’s wing depth chart, and he’ll make his fantasy impact by knocking down threes, coming up with both steals and blocks, and grabbing rebounds.
Playing time could hinder his fantasy ceiling, but if Duarte gets the minutes, he will be well worth a roster spot as a player who will shoot efficiently and rack up defensive counting stats.
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8. Jonathan Kuminga, F, Golden State Warriors
Kuminga could be higher on this list if his role on the Warriors was known, but as mentioned in Moody’s section, with the team back at full strength, it will be interesting to see what these rookies get for playing time.
Kuminga is still worth drafting because if he does get the minutes, he’ll contribute to every category across the board. You may run the risk of hurting your field goal and free throw percentages, but the 18-year-old forward will score, grab boards, tally steals and blocks, and knock down three-pointers. If playing time allows it, he could be a double-double threat on some nights, too.
7. Josh Giddey, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Giddey has a chance to be a fantasy gem this year. He likely won’t get drafted until the late rounds, but if he lives up to expectations, his final ranking could greatly surpass his average draft position.
Giddey should have the ball in his hands a ton during his rookie season, and, as we saw in the NBL, he’s a triple-double threat because of his ability to rack up assists and rebounds. Giddey gets the green light before a lot of the typical fantasy role players just because his potential upside could give you the steal of your fantasy draft.
6. Alperen Sengun, F, Houston Rockets
Sengun lands sixth on this list as a nightly double-double threat. The Turkish big man should slot right into the rebuilding Rockets’ starting lineup, receiving more than enough playing time to be worthy of a draft pick and full-time roster spot in fantasy.
If Summer League is any indication, the 19-year-old big recorded double-doubles in points and rebounds in three of his four appearances while also averaging 3.0 blocks, 2.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. Sengun’s numbers will take a hit once he’s playing alongside Christian Wood, but he should be featured prominently enough in Houston’s game plan to make a strong fantasy impact.
Sengun may get overlooked on the draft board, but keep him tabbed and don’t be afraid to reach a little early because he’ll be worth it.
5. Scottie Barnes, G/F, Toronto Raptors
There’s a chance that Barnes could crack the Raptors’ starting lineup to begin the season with All-Star forward Pascal Siakam expected to miss the first few weeks due to offseason shoulder surgery. Because of that, he’s worth taking a swing on in your fantasy draft.
He will be a do-it-all-type of fantasy player who can give you points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, potentially even notching a double-double here and there. He might hurt your team’s free throw percentage, but that’s a minor flaw compared to what he’ll tally across all counting stats.
The minutes will be there for Barnes all year long, making him a lock to be one of the best rookies in this class in terms of fantasy production.
4. Jalen Green, G, Houston Rockets
Green is going to score with ease from the moment he steps foot on an NBA floor.
He’ll be the focal point of everything the Rockets do offensively, and because of that, the No. 2 pick could average over 20 points per game as a rookie. He’ll, of course, contribute to points and threes, but he’ll also be a guaranteed boost to your team’s free throw percentage.
He might not be a nightly double-double threat, but he’ll receive plenty of playing time to rack up some rebounds and he showed flashes of improved playmaking during Summer League, giving him some promise to tally some assists, as well.
Expect his fantasy impact to be similar to last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards, who really hit his stride toward the end of the season during what would be the fantasy basketball playoffs.
3. Evan Mobley, F/C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Mobley will be a fantasy stud right away as long as he and his frontcourt mate Jarrett Allen can share some rebounds.
The No. 3 overall pick will constantly be in the hunt for points-rebounds double-doubles, but his defensive stats are where he’ll really set himself apart as a fantasy player. Mobley will rack up blocks and steals, and he’s a solid passer for a big, so he should sneak some assists in there, too.
Mobley’s field goal percentage should be an asset, as well. He didn’t have the most efficient Summer League, but when he has Darius Garland setting him up and Collin Sexton as a scoring threat next to him, his offensive looks should become much easier than they were during the exhibition games.
You can expect the 20-year-old big to start immediately and play a key role in what the Cavaliers do next season, so he’ll be worthy of an early-to-mid-round draft pick.
2. Jalen Suggs, G, Orlando Magic
The best fantasy basketball players are the ones who can contribute to multiple categories. With Suggs running the show for the Magic from Day 1, he should be one of the first rookies off the board in fantasy drafts.
He’ll be Orlando’s primary ball handler and playmaker, giving fantasy owners points, assists, rebounds, and steals while also adding in some three-pointers and a few blocks. He could give you the occasional points-assist double-double, and his boost toward defensive counting stats will be a huge asset.
Don’t wait too long to take a swing on the former Gonzaga floor general.
1. Cade Cunningham, G, Detroit Pistons
As just mentioned with Suggs, the more well-rounded your stats are, the more valuable you become in fantasy, and that’s what lands Cunningham atop of this list.
The No. 1 overall pick will have the keys to the Pistons’ franchise with everything running through him from the very first game. There is no statistical category that he won’t check, and he’ll be a blast to own because his stat line could help your team differently every night.
Some games he’ll pour in points and threes; others he may rack up assists and rebounds. The defensive counting stats will be present on a nightly basis, too. He’ll be a double-double and triple-double threat.
Cunningham’s value goes beyond being the first rookie off the board. Don’t make the same mistake many fantasy owners did last year on letting LaMelo Ball slide to the middle rounds of your fantasy draft. Consider Cunningham just after the first two tiers of superstars go off the board.
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James Bouknight, G, Charlotte Hornets: Bouknight will be a shot-creating scorer for the Hornets off the bench and rebounds very well for his position. He’s worth monitoring at the end of the draft or on the waiver wire.
Bones Hyland, G, Denver Nuggets: With no real timeline for when Jamal Murray might return from a torn ACL, Hyland may be in line for significant playing time at the start of the season because of the Nuggets’ thin backcourt. He’s a fantastic scorer and passer and should be able to help in both points and assists if given the minutes.
Jalen Johnson, F, Atlanta Hawks: Johnson has been a stud at Summer League and could be a valuable source of points, rebounds, steals, and blocks if given the playing time behind John Collins.
Kai Jones, F/C, Charlotte Hornets: Jones will likely start the season behind Mason Plumlee, but the rim-running athletic center could be a double-double threat, a blocks machine, and a field goal percentage booster if he plays enough.
Corey Kispert, G/F, Washington Wizards: This one is pretty simple – if your team is in need of three-point shooting, Kispert is your guy.
Davion Mitchell, G, Sacramento Kings: Between De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton, there aren’t enough playmaking opportunities available for Mitchell to crack the top 10 on this list, but he’ll certainly provide your team with steals, some assists, and three-pointers.
Trey Murphy III, F, New Orleans Pelicans: Murphy could be an interesting fantasy X-Factor, especially if the Pelicans do not bring back restricted free agent Josh Hart. The Virginia product would give you a boost in points, rebounds, threes, and steals.
Cameron Thomas, G, Brooklyn Nets: Being drafted by the most loaded offensive team in the NBA doesn’t necessarily work in favor of one of the best scorers in this year’s rookie class, but if your team is in need of cheap points or threes, Thomas is worth keeping an eye on. In games where one of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or James Harden aren’t available (and that could be a lot of games in Irving’s case), Thomas could see an uptick in playing time that makes him a valuable streaming option this year.
Franz Wagner, G/F, Orlando Magic: Wagner may be worth a late draft pick depending on his role in Orlando. He’s the type of player who can provide a little bit of everything to the box score, something that is invaluable in fantasy basketball.