Welcome back to another season of the vaunted Fantasy Lab. If this is your first time inside the Lab, you'll find that each week's column offers all kinds of useful fantasy basketball advice and the focus of this column will vary from week to week. Variety is the spice of life, or so I've heard.
Regardless, the first week of the fantasy basketball season is in the books, and there was a lot to learn. Since the Lab doesn't have the space to break down the impact of every single morsel of fantasy-relevant happenings (though we'd love to), we'll narrow the focus of this week's lesson to the NBA's version of the New Kids on the Block: the Class of 2008.
If there's one thing that has really stood out as a trend in this infantile NBA fantasy season, it's that this year's crop of rookies is talented and chock full of immediate contributors. As expected, the troika of PG Derrick Rose, SF/PF Michael Beasley and PG/SG O.J. Mayo are performing at serviceable fantasy levels, about in line with what their average draft position (ADP) warrants. Maybe Rose is even outplaying your expectations (not mine -- there's more where this first week came from). But what about the rest of the class? The Fantasy Lab is here to fill you in on the remainder of the less heralded fresh faces.
Spanish import PG/SG Rudy Fernandez can be a jack of all trades for Portland by playing the 1, 2 or the 3 spot and varying his role from facilitator to scorer depending on what is needed. He's already proven that he can come in hot off the bench and drain threes with the aplomb of a seasoned vet. Given that he was the MVP of the Spanish League last year and a vital part of the silver medal-winning team this summer at the Olympics, we know his fast start isn't a fluke. Expect Fernandez to help you out in three-pointers made (and three-point percentage for good measure), points, steals and probably the other two percentages, especially for a guard.
Shame on you if you thought Chris Quinn was even a low-level fantasy point guard. With Jason Williams enjoying his retirement and NCAA Final Four hero, Mario Chalmers, now a part of the Miami Heat, it was only a matter of time until Quinn relinquished the reins of this offense to Chalmers. Turns out it didn't even take one game. Chalmers started from the jump and posted 17 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in the opener against the defense-averse Knicks. He's been locked in at the 1 ever since with season averages of 8.7 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.7 rpg, 2.0 spg and 1.3 3pg. Expect more of the same from the former Jayhawk.
Both F/C Jason Thompson and C Spencer Hawes are effective young big men for Sacramento who are worthy of more playing time. The problem is that former All-Star C Brad Miller is due to return from his five-game suspension on Friday versus Minnesota. Hawes, the second-year pro, merits a spot in the starting five over incumbent PF Mikki Moore, who contributes nothing on offense or defense. Did you know he led the league in fouls committed last year? Coach Reggie Theus might be hesitant to give the vet's job to a mostly unproven 20-year-old, but he will probably value winning more in the long run -- if he plans on keeping his job.
As often is the case with skilled big men, Thompson had a late growth spurt that transitioned him from a guard to a forward/center with both an inside game and a face-up jumper. Provided Theus creates enough minutes for the Rider product, he should provide some value in rebounds, blocks, points and field-goal shooting, with the ability to do much more down the road.
We already mentioned one Memphis rookie starter in future Food Network TV host O.J. Mayo (he's destined for that role, right?), but he's joined by two other frosh in the starting five. It only took one awful game from Darko Milicic -- or perhaps it the 15 rebounds from the backup -- but rookie SF/PF Darrell Arthur is now sitting shotgun next to Rudy Gay in the Grizzlies' frontcourt. Arthur's strong preseason and double-double debut netted him the starting gig; now he must demonstrate that his Green Room-talent (remember his draft day fall amid concerns about a heart condition that proved to be inaccurate?) will continue to translate into fantasy production. Mainly boards, shooting, blocks and steals are headed the versatile big man's way.
The other noob in the Grizz's green frontcourt bears a familiar surname: Gasol. Pau's younger brother, C Marc Gasol, has earned the starting 5 spot from Marc Iavaroni. Fiercer and nastier than his older bro, Gasol is more of a bruiser who still needs time to develop his offensive game. Even so, he's averaging an identical 8.3 points and boards per game to go along with 1.3 blocks. With Darko more lost than the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, Gasol's starting job is secure -- like the many rebounds he'll haul in this year.
Every year, one or two second-round picks emerge as valuable contributors, leaving fans and fantasy owners shaking their heads knowing that every team had a chance to draft the player and passed. A popular preseason choice for this distinction was New Jersey's Chris Douglas-Roberts, but it turns out that this year's winner (in addition to the aforementioned Chalmers) is another mouthful in Bucks combo forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who didn't take long to find success after a strong preseason. Though not starting, in just his fourth game -- the first with extended minutes -- he delivered his first double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. Michael Redd is dealing with a self-diagnosed "high-ankle sprain," so more minutes are coming for the athletic UCLA alum. Look for him to contribute in points, steals and blocks from the forward position.
On the flip side, some players garnered frivolous early hype that has since proven to be unwarranted. The main culprit is Clippers SG Eric Gordon. A classic case of a undersized scoring 2-guard in college, too many people overlooked the history of failures (or perhaps I should soften my stance and instead say "early-season struggles") of players in similar positions to Gordon -- Shawn Respert and Dajuan Wagner immediately come to mind -- and predicted a useful season from the Big Ten ROY. In three games, he's surfaced for only 19 minutes yielding 8 total points, 1 rebound and 2 assists. The back of the rotation isn't where you find fantasy production.
Also in the same leaky boat are fellow lottery picks Joe Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Jerryd Bayless. While the talent might be there for these three, especially Bayless who is very reminiscent of Monta Ellis, the opportunity certainly is not. That doesn't expect to change barring a couple of injuries so ignore these guys for the foreseeable future.
Before we wrap this Lab up, here are the other rookies outside the lottery who appear like they could find themselves at the tail end of fantasy rosters at some point this year. First is the big man, Indiana's C Roy Hibbert. He's here because he blocks shots in bunches, he's center-eligible and frankly, he's more nimble than he looks. Indiana doesn't have a defensive force inside with Jermaine O'Neal now decked out in purple allowing Hibbert to eventually fill that role ... Portland is loaded with swingmen, but 19-year-old Frenchie Nicolas Batum is a keeper. If injuries hit or coach Nate McMillan sours on Travis Outlaw in the starting five, Batum's athletic game could have him playing valuable minutes ... An injury to Philly's frontcourt swings the door wide open for F/C Mareese Speights. His jumper looked true up to 18 feet in both the summer league and preseason games, but his value is in his back-to-the-basket moves and relentless rebounding ... It will take a Steve Nash injury, but if he can't lace up the kicks, Slovenian PG Goran Dragic will be the one throwing oops to Amare and Shaq, and setting up Bell, Barbosa and Barnes for three-balls.