Fantasy Basketball First of the Month: Which NBA rookies will make the biggest impact after trade deadline?

It’s the first of the month, and it’s time to do a temperature check on the rookies. Now that we’re in Week 15, there’s been some movement up and down the first-year ladder. Rather than belabor relishing the two phenoms of the 2023 class who are cruising to second-round value in most leagues (Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren), I’m going to focus my attention on five other first-year players and evaluate their rest-of-season outlook before the trade deadline hits on February 8.

Brandon Miller – SG/SF, Charlotte Hornets

The rookie out of Alabama is about to live the high life with Terry Rozier now in South Beach. Since that trade, Miller’s averaged 18 points with three rebounds, three assists and two threes per contest. He had a couple of bad games sprinkled in there, but I’m more encouraged by Charlotte’s impending fire sale. Miller has the third-highest usage rate on the team at 21.7%, only trailing LaMelo Ball (31.5%) and Miles Bridges (23.7%). Bridges and Gordon Hayward (who also has a 20+ % usage rate) are the two notable veterans rumored to be on the trade block. Getting them out of the way would surely boost Miller’s volume and usage going forward.

I’d prefer him in points leagues based on his inefficiency from the field, but he’ll still be effective in category formats as he’s shown to be a capable rebounder and willing passer. It’s encouraging that he’s already a 38% three-point shooter despite his struggles scoring near the rim. Part of that would also be him settling for fewer jumpers and drawing more fouls through dribble penetration, but that comes with experience. And he’ll get plenty of it once he becomes the second scoring option should the aforementioned vets get moved by next Thursday’s deadline.

Dereck Lively II – C, Dallas Mavericks

Lively is a player I’m actively targeting because of his expanding role with the Mavs. There isn’t much competition for minutes at the center spot, and his minutes have gone up month over month. Recently, he’s gone from playing 26 minutes per night on the season to 30 minutes per night in his last five games. In the 10 games that Lively has played at least 30 minutes this season, he’s averaging 14 points, 12 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He also has a plus/minus of +13 when seeing 30+ minutes, so playing him more minutes has been fruitful for the Mavs.

What’s more telling is his rapport with Luka Dončić. Lively has been on the receiving end on 79 of Dončić’s 382 assists this season, accounting for 20% of his assist share. While that may not seem like a lot, it’s the most on the team and 67 of those 79 assists have come near the rim.

Because Lively plays with such a dynamic facilitator, he gets to reap the benefits, ranking second in the NBA in true shooting percentage (72.3). He has the profile of a reliable big man for fantasy because he shoots a high field-goal percentage, rebounds at a high rate and can block shots. Lively has also been making more of an impact on the glass. Over his last 10 outings, he’s getting 17.0 rebound chances per game and pulling down an average of 4.9 contested boards, which ranks seventh in the NBA over that span. He’s been an above-average shot-blocker, too, so with all of the signals pointing up, this is a player who is already trending toward being a guy you’ll want to hold onto for the long haul.

Scoot Henderson – PG, Portland Trail Blazers

I’ve been preaching patience with Henderson, and it’s starting to pay off, as he’s averaging 14 points with five assists and three rebounds per game since December 1. Now, his minutes are trending between 25 and 30 minutes a night, but we’re all waiting to see if Malcolm Brogdon gets moved by the deadline. The Trail Blazers have been quiet on the trade front, and Brogdon feels valued in Portland, so it may not happen. But if it does, that’s when we’ll see Henderson truly take flight.

Henderson had some strong games when Brogdon was hurt this season, posting an average of 16 points with four boards and four dimes in five games without him in the lineup. Scoot is still pretty raw, considering he hasn’t shot over 39% in any month thus far, but he’s shown glimpses if given starter minutes — including getting stocks. Scoot is another player I prefer in points leagues, but if his competition diminishes in the backcourt next week, he will need to be rostered in most leagues.

Brandin Podziemski – SG, Golden State Warriors

Though he seemed to hit a rookie wall, I’m not off Podziemski yet because the potential is there. The Warriors are embattled in an identity crisis of youth versus experience, and unfortunately for Podz, he’s caught in the middle of it. On a positive note, he’s still firmly in the rotation. The problem is that his minutes fluctuate depending on the personnel that’s either available or who has the hot hand.

The big question is, what the Warriors will do next week.

If they don’t trade Klay Thompson or Andrew Wiggins, I wouldn’t expect Podz to hold value for the rest of the season, especially with Chris Paul coming back eventually. However, if one of Klay Thompson or Andrew Wiggins is gone, that would be a huge for Podz’s opportunity as a fantasy asset. He’s an underrated playmaker who only needs a little usage to make an impact. His hustle plays, defense and rebounding provide a much-needed boost for such an aging squad. Podziemski’s a wild card, but there’s a chance he will carve out a formidable role should the Warriors get active at the deadline.

Jaime Jaquez Jr. – SF, Miami Heat

The Mexican hooper made a name for himself early in his career, filling in admirably for players like Tyler Herro and Jimmy Butler for much of the season. He wasn’t on my radar, but he quickly became a popular waiver add over the past couple of months before sustaining a groin injury. He’s back now, and while his minutes are still in a comfortable 25-minute-per-game range, the production has yet to be what fantasy managers have come to expect.

Can that change?

Certainly. Although, there’s more stuff working against him now. For one, the Heat are healthy for the first time in a long time, pushing Jaquez to a bench role. Secondly, adding another ball-dominant guard like Terry Rozier will limit your opportunities. Jaquez’s usage before his six-game absence was flirting in the 18% range; over the last three contests, it’s dipped to nine percent — not great. It looks like Jaquez will need an injury or trade to become fantasy-relevant again.

So, until that happens, he can be dropped from most leagues. He’s down 10% over the last day, so fantasy managers are heading that way already.

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