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So which players will top their average draft position this season? Who takes their game to another level? And which players are most at risk of stepping back?
Our fantasy basketball experts — Andre’ Snellings, Eric Moody, Eric Karabell and Jim McCormick — bring their best sleepers, breakouts and busts for the 2022-23 season.
Sleeper: A player who will far exceed his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues.
Andre’ Snellings — Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets: Sengun started jumping on the fantasy radar after flashing in the Las Vegas Summer League right after being picked. He does everything in attack and his 36-minute figures from his rookie season testify to this: 16.7 PP36, 9.5 RP36, 4.5 AP36, 1.6 BP36, 1.4 SP36 and 0.7 3P36. The biggest problem in the fantasy realm was that as a rookie he only played 20.7 MPG behind Christian Wood. Well, Wood was traded to the Mavericks in the off-season, which paved the way for Sengun to get starting minutes. His game should be better as a sophomore and with the added minutes he has the potential to put in strong numbers this season.
Eric Moody — Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic: Suggs had a rookie season for the Orlando Magic full of ups and downs, including injuries and roster inconsistencies. A rookie trying to get used to the NBA, he averaged 11.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG and 4.4 APG but his 36.1% field goal percentage needs improvement. Suggs isn’t the first high-ranking NBA player to struggle in his early career, and he won’t be the last. Suggs is a better role player than a star, and with the Magic selecting Paolo Banchero No. 1 overall, he gets the chance to really shine by doing just that. Suggs will be widely used along with Franz Wagner and will continue to play an important role for Orlando.
Eric Karabell — Tre Jones, San Antonio Spurs: Entering his third season of Duke, Jones hasn’t seen many minutes for Gregg Popovich in the first two years. Now, however, star Dejounte Murray has gone to the Hawks and Jones should start and see key minutes. Starting 11 times last season, Jones averaged 13.5 PPG and 7.5 APG, shooting well from the field and the line. Jones can’t do what Murray does, but he’s worth a top-100 pick for minutes and assist potential alone.
Jim McCormick — Devin Vassell, San Antonio Spurs: Only Jokic, James Harden and Luka Doncic hit the ball more than Dejounte Murray’s 87.5 times per game for the Spurs last season. Murray set the pace of all players under 6’7 in rebound odds per game, while also completing top 10 passes and drives per game. Deep in draft, Vassell is a young two-way wing ready to take advantage of the ocean of opportunity available after Murray’s departure. In just over 400 minutes with Murray and Derrick White off the floor last season, Vassell, at age 21, posted 17.1 points, 2.8 three-pointers, 5.9 boards, 3.7 assists, 2.4 combined blocks and steals (per 36 minutes. Even amid the Spurs’ hunt for lottery odds, there’s a lot to like about Vassell’s trajectory.
Breakout: A player who jumps into or near the top echelon of players for the first time because of a dramatic increase in production compared to his previous seasons.
Andre’ Snellings — Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks: Brunson showed he could produce next season while playing alongside Luka Doncic, but when Doncic was out, Brunson really showed his potential. During a 10-game Doncic absence in December, Brunson averaged 21.0 PPG (51.3 FG%, 37.5 3P%, 77.5 FT%), 7.4 APG, 3.5 RPG and 1.5 3PG into 34.7MPG. But the more tempting part came when Doncic missed the first three games of the playoffs. Brunson responded with an average of 32.0 PPG (50.7 FG%, 41.2 3P%, 85.0 FT%), 5.3 APG, 5.3 RPG, and 2.3 3PG in 39.4 MPG over that period. This off-season, Brunson signed on to become the new point guard for the Knicks, meaning he now gets the much-used keys to a franchise. He has the realizable advantage of jumping into the fantasy elite this season.
Eric Moody — Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder: I’m a huge fan of Giddey, as those who read my columns last year will know. The Rookie of the Month Award was awarded to him four times last year for his stellar performance. There was no other player in the 2021 class who earned the award more than twice. Giddey had an average of 12.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 6.4 APG, and 1.0 SPG with a 22.2% utilization rate. In all those statistical areas, he’s well positioned to see an uptick. The statistical jump Giddey can make in his second season could be similar to that of LaMelo Ball. Other than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey, the Thunder don’t have many playmakers.
Josh Giddey did a lot of things right as a rookie last season. AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Eric Karabell — Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets: The Rockets couldn’t wait to say goodbye to Wood, and that resulted in significant minutes for Sengun, who averaged 12.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG over 13 starting as a rookie. Those may not be significant stats for many centers, but Sengun, 20, is also a secretly strong assist provider, averaging 3.6 APG in his starts. He can also block shots. Give Sengun enough minutes and he could easily become a top 50 fantasy option.
Jim McCormick — Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic: Lowkey great as a rookie for the Magic, Wagner finished 50th overall on ESPN’s Player Rater as a 20-year-old on a team plagued by brutal backcourt injuries and an overall absence of a regular point guard . With the distribution skills of Markelle Fultz and the passing talent of Paolo Banchero in the roster, Wagner could finally get some “easy” catch-and-shoot work this season. The Michigan product, meanwhile, was a total boss for Germany at EuroBasket this summer, delivering a series of effective pull-up and step-back 3-pointers from a live dribble. Considering what should play a major role as a building block alongside Banchero, Wagner could be in the works to become a nascent fantasy force in both front seats.
Bust: A player expected to be a solid starter in standard ESPN leagues, but fail to live up to those expectations this season.
Andre’ Snellings — Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns: Over the three seasons from 2016-17 through 2018-19, Paul missed an average of 23 games per season due to injury. He was relatively healthy for the next two seasons, both of which were cut short due to COVID-19, but then missed another 18 games last season, his 17th in the NBA. He was strong during the season, but in the playoffs, right after his 37th birthday, he immediately played some of the worst games of his career. In the last five games of his playoffs, Paul averaged just 9.4 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.4 RPG and 3.6 TO/G in 32.3 MPG. His poor performance played a big part in the Suns being upset in the playoffs. This season, the risk of injury and the risk of age-related decline overlap in such a way that Paul is too likely to perform below his typical level and/or be absent for a significant part of the season.
Eric Moody — Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings: Barnes was fantastic for the Sacramento Kings last season with 16.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, and an 18.2% usage rate. Fantasy managers will expect him to replicate these numbers. Given the influx of talent the Kings have had this season, including Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk and Keegan Murray, Barnes will find it difficult to do that.
Harrison Barnes could see his utilization rate drop this season with more scorers on the Kings. AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Eric Karabell — Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans: Last season, Zion was also my choice because it was easy to wonder how soon he would return from foot surgery. He ended up missing the entire season. Besides major concerns about durability, Williamson’s stats are a bit deceiving and may not justify his high ADP. After all, while the unstoppable Williamson can score at will, he’s only a modest rebounder, not a factor in 3-point shooting, and he can wreak havoc on a fantasy team’s free-throw percentage. Oh, and did we mention it’s far from durable?
Jim McCormick — Clint Capela, Atlanta Hawks: Onyeka Okongwu is the center of the future for the Hawks. The third-year center claims some great advanced stats that often align with team success, and both his contract and age match the team’s superstar defender half much better. Regarding Capela’s fantasy value, last season’s 11.1 points and 11.9 pulls at 1.3 blocks in 27.6 minutes per night represent the likely ceiling for this season, a season where Okongwu’s competition for opportunities will increase. That is, he could be fine, but there’s really no chance to be special. One of the only viable ways to reset Atlanta’s position as a tax team (in anticipation of a massive new commitment with Murray) is to relocate Capela, adding more uncertainty to an old-fashioned center with a relatively expensive draft position.