Fantasy Basketball: Rookie check-in — who's making the biggest impact at the halfway point?

By Jason Shebilske, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

A week and a half has passed in the new calendar year, and many NBA teams have reached the halfway point in their seasons. Yet, most rookies from the 2022 draft class still aren't considered must-start players in most weekly fantasy leagues. No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero remains the top fantasy option among the rookie class; while he's been a relatively consistent scorer, his rebounds, assists and efficiency can vary game-by-game.

No rookie ranks inside the top-130 in nine-cat, per-game value as of Jan. 12, including Banchero. Some rookies, like Walker Kessler, are efficient when on the court, but they need more volume to make a significant fantasy impact.

While it's encouraging that most rookies have remained healthy, it's been a disappointing season for the 2022 class from a fantasy perspective. Still, it wouldn't be surprising to see the rookies naturally become stronger contributors down the stretch as they continue to get professional experience under their belts.

Now that the halfway point in the season is upon us, let's check in on the biggest names in the class and highlight some rookies to monitor in deeper leagues and dynasty formats:


Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

Banchero has remained healthy since late November, and the No. 1 overall pick has remained the most productive player in the rookie class. The 20-year-old remains the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year (-1000 on BetMGM) as of Jan. 12, but he still sits at No. 134 in nine-cat, per-game fantasy rankings. Banchero posted his seventh double-double of the season Tuesday and has scored at least 15 points in his last seven appearances. Over that stretch, he's averaged 21.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 steals in 34.7 minutes per game.

However, his production has had shortcomings from a fantasy perspective, and one area in which he's struggled has been ball control. He's averaging 2.9 turnovers per game — tied for 20th among all players appearing in at least 30 games. His free-throw efficiency (75.8 percent) has also left something to be desired.

Banchero was sidelined for seven games due to an ankle injury in November, but he hasn't missed a beat since returning to the court, and he's been a consistent force in scoring and rebounds. However, the rest of the Magic have also gotten healthier in recent matchups, and the 20-year-old has topped five assists in just one of the last 10 games.

It's not very surprising to see the No. 1 overall pick carry the most upside of any rookie in his class, but his struggles with turnovers and free-throw efficiency make him a more appealing option in points formats. Banchero has demonstrated enough production this season to give dynasty managers hope, and he's still a must-roster player in the vast majority of redraft leagues. However, his shortcomings limit his potential, and he'll face competition for the most productive player in the 2022 draft class once Chet Holmgren is healthy next year.

Keegan Murray, Kings

After encouraging performances during the Summer League and early in the regular season, Murray has been among the most inconsistent rookies in the 2022 class. While he ranks just behind Banchero at No. 135 in nine-cat, per-game value, he's had much more volatile performances, and part of his fantasy success has been due to his stellar ball control, as he's averaging just 1.0 turnovers per game this year.

Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings has fantasy value
Unlike Paolo Banchero, Keegan Murray's lack of turnovers boosts his fantasy value. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) (Lachlan Cunningham via Getty Images)

The 22-year-old's inconsistency has been on full display over the last two and a half weeks. He's been held to single-digit scoring totals in four of his 10 appearances since Dec. 23 and has hauled in at least five rebounds in just four of those matchups. Murray has averaged just 0.2 turnovers per game during that stretch and has shot 45.3 percent from the floor and 48.1 percent from beyond the arc, but he's averaged just 10.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 28.1 minutes per game.

Murray has continued to see his fair share of playing time for the Kings, and there's little reason to think that won't continue down the stretch. He isn't a must-start option in most redraft leagues at this point, but his fantasy potential would improve greatly if he's able to become more efficient on a game-by-game basis.

Jalen Duren, Pistons

Duren has been among the most inconsistent players in the 2022 draft class, but he took on a starting role in early December and has been much more productive since then. He posted a double-double off the bench against the Pelicans on Dec. 7 and started in his 15 appearances since then. Over his last 16 outings, he's averaged 9.6 points and 11.3 rebounds in 28.7 minutes per game.

The 19-year-old's recent results have made him one of the top rebounders in the rookie class. He's been propelled to No. 178 in the nine-cat, per-game rankings for this season as of Jan. 12. Unfortunately, he's also been limited to single-digit scoring totals in eight of his 15 appearances since claiming a spot in the starting lineup. However, Duren has tallied at least eight rebounds in 15 of his last 16 appearances, which helps offset his slight inconsistency on the scoreboard.

As long as he remains in the starting lineup, Duren has made himself a strong fantasy option after a relatively slow start to the 2022-23 campaign. Marvin Bagley also underwent hand surgery in early January and is expected to miss approximately six weeks, so the rookie should have a chance to have a particularly sizable role in Detroit's frontcourt upon his return.

Walker Kessler, Jazz

Kessler has been efficient when on the court over the first half of the season, but the presence of Kelly Olynyk has limited his playing time. However, Olynyk recently sustained an ankle injury and is expected to miss at least a week, which should give fantasy managers a preview of Kessler's potential with a full workload.

Kessler has been especially productive over his seven starts this season, as he's averaged 8.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 25.7 minutes per game, and he's shooting 70.3% from the free-throw line this season. The Jazz are doing slightly better than expected this season and are 21-23 as of Jan. 12, ninth in the Western Conference. However, the team could still look to move some players ahead of the trade deadline, and Olynyk is a player who could be sent to another team.

Kessler already ranks as one of the top rookies from a defensive perspective, and that outlook would improve if he no longer had to compete with Olynyk for playing time over the second half of the season. The 22nd overall pick's value for the remainder of the season will largely depend on what Utah decides to do at the trade deadline. Kessler has been an inconsistent scorer but has had success in rebounds, blocks and efficiency from the floor.

Fantasy managers who acquire Kessler as a fill-in option during Olynyk's absence may want to hold onto him in case the 10-year veteran is moved before the trade deadline.

Jabari Smith, Rockets

Smith has shown glimpses of upside early in the 2022-23 campaign and is tied with Banchero with seven double-doubles to begin the year. However, Smith has been much more inconsistent than the top pick in the draft, and he ranks 147th in nine-cat, per-game rankings as of Jan. 12. His inconsistency has been on full display over the last few matchups, as he posted a 14pt, 13-rebound double-double during the Rockets' loss to the Pelicans on Jan. 4 but has averaged just 6.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 26.7 minutes per game over his three appearances since then.

The Rockets have the worst record in the league as of Jan. 12 at 10-30, and the team is widely expected to trade some players ahead of the deadline, which could help Smith's role increase slightly. However, the 19-year-old is already averaging 29.8 minutes per game, and one of his main struggles is his efficiency. He's averaging just 1.4 turnovers per game, perhaps one of his most appealing fantasy marks, but he's also shooting just 38.3 percent from the floor this season, which ranks sixth-worst in the league among forwards who have played at least 30 games. He also doesn't offer much production outside of averaging 11.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

While the No. 3 pick could see an uptick in volume, his fantasy upside will remain limited unless his efficiency improves. Fantasy managers have certainly been encouraged by the abundance of playing time, along with the occasional double-double and lack of turnovers, but his inefficiency and lack of output in categories other than points and rebounds have prevented him from taking the next step from a fantasy perspective.

Jalen Williams, Thunder

Williams was shuffled between the starting lineup and a bench role earlier in the regular season, but he's maintained a consistent spot in the starting lineup over the last 15 games. He's been productive over that stretch, averaging 13.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 combined steals/blocks in 30.9 minutes per game. He's been especially productive on the defensive side of the ball over the last eight matchups, averaging 2.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game during that time.

Williams will have to split more duties once Aleksej Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl are cleared to return from their injuries, but it's not yet known when those two players will be back in action. Given the production that Williams has displayed when given a consistent starting role, it's also possible that the Thunder will keep him in a prominent role once the team is closer to full health.

Regardless of the rookie's long-term value, the 21-year-old has proven to be a solid fantasy option in recent weeks and should at least be in the mix to provide value down the stretch.

Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers

Mathurin has come off the bench in all but two appearances, and he's been a solid scorer. The 20-year-old has scored at least 15 points in eight of his last nine appearances and has averaged 17.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game during that time.

Despite his scoring prowess, he is far from cracking the top 200 in nine-cat, per-game fantasy value, partially due to the 1.8 turnovers per game that he's averaging this year. Mathurin doesn't offer much fantasy value outside his scoring, making his turnovers particularly detrimental.

The 20-year-old is a strong player for the Pacers in real life, and it wouldn't be surprising to see his role increase after Tyrese Haliburton sustained a knee injury Wednesday that left him on crutches. Even if Mathurin's role increases, he has yet to offer much from a fantasy perspective outside of his consistent scoring and occasional production on the boards. Fantasy managers in redraft leagues who roster him should keep him around to see what his role will be like in Haliburton's likely absence, but Mathurin's lack of versatility limits his fantasy appeal.

Jaden Ivey, Pistons

Ivey has been a more well-rounded contributor than Mathurin in most areas, as he's had success in the scoring column — albeit with less consistency — and has also been more productive on the boards and as a passer, averaging 4.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game this season. However, like some of his other productive rookie counterparts, Ivey has had trouble maintaining possession, as he's averaging 2.8 turnovers per game to begin the 2022-23 campaign. He's also shooting just 72.3 percent from the charity stripe over his first 41 appearances in the NBA.

Ivey is among the best passing options in this year's rookie class, but he has much more value in eight-category leagues due to his turnover concerns. He's also posted just three double-doubles this year and hasn't accomplished the feat since Nov. 9. However, fantasy managers able to deal with his turnovers and lack of free-throw efficiency can benefit from his relatively solid production in scoring, assists and rebounds.


Tari Eason, Rockets: Eason has had consistent playing time off the bench this season and has shown glimpses of production in scoring and rebounds while averaging 1.6 combined steals/blocks per game. If the Rockets choose to trade some players in the coming weeks, the 21-year-old could see his role increase down the stretch.

Jeremy Sochan, Spurs: Sochan came off the bench in three of his four appearances after returning from a five-game absence, but he's reclaimed his starting role over his last 12 outings. The 19-year-old has been a relatively well-rounded contributor during that time, averaging 11.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.6 combined steals/blocks in 28.6 minutes per game.

Andrew Nembhard, Pacers: Nembhard has maintained his starting role for the Pacers and has shown glimpses of production, especially on the scoreboard. He's averaged 8.3 points, 3.3 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 31.0 minutes per game in his last 16 appearances but needs to be more consistent to be a viable fantasy option outside of deeper leagues.

AJ Griffin, Hawks: Griffin has had spurts in the starting lineup over the first half of the season, but he's come off the bench in 10 of his last 12 appearances. He's had a few productive games on the scoreboard across that span but has averaged just 8.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per game during that time, making him a lackluster fantasy option in his current role.

Malaki Branham, Spurs: Branham scored in double figures in three of his last four appearances, but he has yet to have much production in other areas this season, averaging just 1.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. The 19-year-old shouldn't be on the radar of many fantasy managers outside of the deepest leagues.

Shaedon Sharpe, Trail Blazers: Sharpe continues to see a regular allotment of playing time off the bench but has averaged just 7.2 points and 2.4 rebounds in 18.4 minutes per game over the last 14 matchups, making him a relatively unappealing fantasy option.

Mark Williams, Hornets: Williams has been with the parent club over the last nine matchups, and he's averaged 6.9 points and 7.0 rebounds in 16.7 minutes per game during that time. While his production on the boards has been encouraging, he's a risk to head back to the G League at some point and isn't a player whom fantasy managers in most leagues should consider.

Christian Braun, Nuggets: Braun entered coach Michael Malone's rotation over stretches in December, but the 21-year-old has played double-digit minutes in just two of his last seven appearances.

TyTy Washington, Rockets: Washington spent time with the Rockets in late December and early January but was sent to the G League last week. While it's possible he'll see some playing time for the Rockets if they make some moves before the trade deadline, he doesn't currently have much fantasy relevance.

Johnny Davis, Wizards: Davis was in the G League recently and is now dealing with a hip injury. It's not yet clear when he'll be able to return, but even when he's healthy, he's unlikely to have a fantasy impact as a rookie.

Dyson Daniels, Pelicans: Daniels continues to garner consistent minutes for the Pelicans but has averaged just 2.8 points and 3.1 rebounds in 17.4 minutes per game over his last 15 appearances. As long as the Pelicans stay relatively healthy, Daniels doesn't have much value in redraft leagues.

MarJon Beauchamp, Bucks: Khris Middleton has been sidelined since a knee injury in mid-December, which has put Beauchamp back in the Bucks' rotation. Although he's played double-digit minutes in 13 of the last 14 games, he doesn't carry much fantasy appeal since he's averaged just 7.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in 16.5 minutes per game during that time.