Rookie Watch: Eyes Forward in Memphis
Rookie Watch: Eyes Forward in Memphis

Luka Doncic, Mavericks

The heavy Rookie of the Year favorite continues to gain steam and has officially taken over as the engine of the Mavericks' offense. Doncic is coming off of a rough shooting night Tuesday against the Clippers – 5-15 FG, 0-8 3PT – but he still managed 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Perhaps the best way to frame Doncic's progression is that he's virtually eliminated the no-show games that plague most first-year players. He did have an eight-point outing over the weekend against Indiana, but Doncic still salvaged a reasonably productive fantasy game, adding six rebounds, five assists and three steals in only 24 minutes.

Over his last 20 games, Doncic is putting up 22.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals, while getting to the line more than eight times per game. The percentages – 42.7% FG, 34.9% 3PT, 69.3% FT – haven't been ideal, but Doncic's counting stats have carried him to borderline-top-10 fantasy status over the last month. With no signs of slowing down anytime soon, Doncic is on pace to join Michael Jordan and Grant Hill as the only rookies to average at least 19 points, six rebounds, five assists and one steal per game.

Deandre Ayton, Suns

Barring an injury, Doncic is going to be the Rookie of the Year, but Ayton has been good enough to at least make it somewhat of a discussion. Ayton is currently battling an injury that's cost him the last two games, but prior to that he'd been on a strong run since mid-December. Over his last 17 healthy games, Ayton is putting up 18.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks, while hitting 61 percent of his field goals and 78 percent of his free throws.

The problem is Ayton gets to the line less than four times per game, and the three-point range he occasionally flashed at Arizona has been nowhere to be found. And unlike Doncic, Ayton is still prone to disappearing acts every now and then – like his four-point, five-rebound outing in 27 minutes against the Clippers on Jan. 4.

Even so, Ayton has already made tangible strides defensively, and while the Suns should've taken Doncic, they still landed a massively talented big man who looks like he'll be a double-double machine for the next decade.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Clippers

The Kentucky product had a strong, nine-game stretch in December in which he averaged 10.7 points on 57.5 percent shooting, but he's been much more inconsistent since the calendar turned to January. Over his last 11 games, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging just 8.1 points on 38.3 percent shooting, including a ghastly 17.6 percent (3-of-17) from beyond the arc. He's still shown some encouraging flashes – most notably, a 24-point, five-assist, three-steals effort against Golden State last week – but for the time being he doesn't belong in most weekly lineups. Gilgeous-Alexander is owned in just under half of CBS leagues, but his start rate (21%) is more indicative of how difficult he's been to trust.

Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles, Kings

Bagley is now eight games clear of the injury that kept him on the shelf for three weeks, and since returning he's averaging 13.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. The No. 2 overall pick holds a healthy, 23.7% usage rate in that span, but that speaks more to his aggressiveness as a scorer, rather than a playmaker. Bagley is putting up 11 field goal attempts in just over 25 minutes per game, but he's handed out just five total assists in that span, while adding very little value in the defensive categories. He's also hit just 54.5 percent of his free throws, dragging his season-long figure down to 65.9 percent.

Bagley remains a relatively high-upside long-term prospect, and his points/rebounds contributions can still be useful in deeper formats, but he ranks outside the top-150 over the last two weeks, despite being 90-percent-owned in CBS leagues. Part of the issue, of course, is a limited workload in a crowded Kings' frontcourt. Bagley typically sits in the 22-27 minute range, though with Nemanja Bjelica out Tuesday, Bagley saw a season-high 38 minutes and responded with 22 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks.

Meanwhile, Giles has returned to the rotation in January after spending much of the previous month in DNP-CD purgatory. Like Bagley, Giles' workload is too inconsistent to warrant consideration in most leagues (12% owned), but he's a much more diverse contributor than his fellow Duke product. Giles' passing is what jumps out most, and he's averaging 2.3 assists in just 17.7 minutes over his last 12 contests. Keep the 20-year-old in mind in March and April should the Kings fall out of the playoff race and turn things over to their young core.

Jaren Jackson, Grizzlies

While he ranks outside the top-100 in CBS leagues over the last two weeks, Jackson continues to be among the league's most consistent rookies, and he's settled into a more reliable workload. Over the last 11 games, Jackson is seeing roughly 28 minutes per night, which he's translated to 15.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 block per game. The defensive numbers are a bit of a disappointment after he put up nearly twice as many blocks per game from the start of November through the end of December, but Jackson still projects as the best and most versatile long-term defender in his class.

Offensively, Jackson is developing into more of a nightly scoring threat, having posted double-digit point totals in 10 of his last 11 contests. In terms of upside the rest of the way, Jackson has as much to gain as any rookie. With the Grizzlies now officially open to trading Marc Gasol, Jackson could move into a 30-plus-minutes-per-night role if a deal materializes before the Feb. 7 deadline.

Trae Young, Hawks

Young seemed to hit the proverbial rookie wall earlier than most, as he suffered through a woeful stretch from mid-November to mid-December. In that 15-game span, Young averaged just 12.9 points on 33 percent shooting, including 18.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Young has turned things around over his last 18 games, however, putting up 17.1 points on 44/39/82 shooting splits, to go with 7.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game. The Oklahoma product is taking fewer than five threes per game, but the added efficiency has made him a top-60 player in CBS leagues over the past four weeks.

Others Notables

Collin Sexton, Cavaliers: Sexton has scored in double-digits in 12 straight games, but he's shooting under 38 percent from the floor in that span and continues to struggle scoring around the rim. It's tough to truly gauge his development on the league's worst team, but even when Sexton has a strong scoring night, there's usually a caveat. He put up 18 points in Monday's loss to Chicago – his most since Dec. 29 – but finished the game with no assists in 29 minutes.

Kevin Huerter, Hawks: Keep an eye on the red-headed, Maryland product, who's very quietly averaging 15.1 points and 2.5 made threes over his last eight games. Billed as a three-point specialist, Huerter is also providing rebounds, assists and steals value, and he's coming off of an 18-point, seven-assist, three-steal effort in his last game against Boston. Most importantly, Huerter is playing more than 37 minutes per game in January, and his workload should be safe for the time being with Kent Bazemore on the shelf and Taurean Prince reportedly on the trade block.

Kevin Knox, Knicks: Knox has struggled of late, but he's been mostly immune to David Fizdale's ever-changing rotation. Averaging 34 minutes since the start of December, Knox has been good for 15.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in that span, but he's shooting under 40 percent from the field.

Chandler Hutchison, Bulls: The biggest beneficiary of the Justin Holiday trade, Hutchison is entrenched as Chicago's starting small forward, which has equated to 27.4 minutes per game since the trade. The Boise State product isn't a fantasy consideration, but he doesn't turn the ball over and has some decent potential as a points/rebounds contributor long-term.

Jalen Brunson, Mavericks: For a brief moment, it looked as though Brunson would return to fantasy relevancy after J.J. Barea went down with a torn Achilles. But with Dennis Smith, who started and played 37 minutes Tuesday, back in the mix, Brunson will have to wait his turn. The reigning National Player of the Year played only four minutes Tuesday, though if the Mavs reverse course and ultimately find a deal for Smith before the deadline, Brunson would be the first to benefit.

Rodions Kurucs, Nets: Kurucs has been more of a DFS darling given some of the Nets' recent injuries, but his shooting splits are encouraging going forward. Kurucs holds a 51/39/89 line over his last 15 games, and Kenny Atkinson has been willing to trust him as a starter over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll.

Michael Porter, Jr., Nuggets: Denver continues to play things close to the vest with Porter's recovery, but he looked plenty comfortable getting shots up at practice earlier this week, and hope remains that we'll get to see the No. 13 pick in action at some point this season. The Nuggets are in no position to rush Porter back, but he'd certainly be an intriguing bench piece to add to the second-best team in the Western Conference.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and award winning host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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