To assemble an awesome fantasy basketball roster, you’ll need to make the most of your draft.
So which players will exceed their average draft position this season? Who will elevate their game to another level? And what players pose the biggest risk of taking a step backwards?
Sleeper: A player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues.
Andre’ Snellings — Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets: Sengun started jumping onto the fantasy radar after he flashed in the Las Vegas Summer League right after he got picked. He’s a do-everything center on offense, and his per-36 minute numbers from his rookie season attest to that: 16.7 PP36, 9.5 RP36, 4.5 AP36, 1.6 BP36, 1.4 SP36 and 0.7 3P36. The biggest issue, on the fantasy front, was that as a rookie he only played 20.7 MPG behind Christian Wood. Well, Wood was traded to the Mavericks in the offseason, clearing the way for Sengun to start getting starter minutes. His game should be better as a sophomore, and with the added minutes he has the potential to put up 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 acclimated to the NBA, he averaged 11.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, and 4.4 APG, but his field goal percentage of 36.1% needs improvement. Suggs is not the first highly-drafted 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 will have the opportunity to truly shine doing just that. Suggs will see high usage along with Franz Wagner and continue to have a significant role for Orlando.
Eric Karabell — Tre Jones, San Antonio Spurs: Now entering his third season from Duke, Jones didn’t see many minutes for Gregg Popovich the first two years. Now star Dejounte Murray is gone to the Hawks, though, and Jones should start and see major minutes. Jones started 11 times last season and averaged 13.5 PPG and 7.5 APG, and he shot well from the field and the line. Jones can’t do what Murray does, but he’s worth a top-100 pick for the minutes and potential in assists alone.
Jim McCormick — Devin Vassell, San Antonio Spurs: Only Jokic, James Harden, and Luka Doncic touched the ball than Dejounte Murray’s 87.5 times per game for the Spurs last season. Murray paced all players under 6’7 in rebounding chances per game while also finishing top 10 passes and drives per game. Found deep into drafts, Vassell is a young two-way wing poised to capitalize on the ocean of opportunities available in the wake of 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 3-pointers, 5.9 boards, 3.7 assists, 2.4 combined blocks and steals (per 36 minutes. Even amid the Spurs’ pursuit of lottery odds, there’s a lot to like about Vassell’s trajectory.
Breakout: A player who will leap into or close to the upper echelon of players at his position 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 that he could produce next season while playing next to usage vacuum Luka Doncic, but it was when Doncic was out that 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 in 34.7 MPG. But, the most tantalizing stretch came when Doncic missed the first three games of the playoffs. Brunson responded by averaging 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 during that span. This offseason, Brunson signed to be the new point guard for the Knicks, which means that he now gets the high-use keys to a franchise. He has the realizable upside to jump into the fantasy elite this season.
Eric Moody — Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder: I’m a huge fan of Giddey, even those who read my columns last year will know. The Rookie of the Month Award was bestowed upon him four times last year due to his stellar performance. There was no other player in the 2021 class who earned the award more than twice. Giddey averaged 12.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 6.4 APG, and 1.0 SPG with a 22.2% usage rate. In all of those statistical areas, he is well positioned to see an increase. The statistical leap Giddey may 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.
Eric Karabell — Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets: The Rockets couldn’t wait to part with Wood and it opens up major minutes for Sengun, who averaged 12.1 PPG, 8.2 RPG over 13 starts as a rookie. Those may not be noteworthy statistics for many centers, but Sengun, 20, is also a sneaky strong provider of assists, averaging 3.6 APG in his starts. He can block shots, too. Give Sengun enough minutes and he could easily become a top-50 fantasy option.
Jim McCormick — Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic: Lowkey awesome as a rookie for the Magic, Wagner finished 50th overall on ESPN’s Player Rater as a 20-year-old on a team beset by brutal backcourt injuries and an overall absence of steady point guard play. With Markelle Fultz’s distribution skills and Paolo Banchero’s passing prowess joining the roster, Wagner might finally get some “easy” catch-and-shoot work this season. The Michigan product, meanwhile, was a total boss for Germany at EuroBasket this summer, flashing a series of effective pull-up and step-back 3-pointers from a live dribble. Given what should be a big role as a building block next to Banchero, Wagner becoming a starting fantasy force at both forward spots could be in the works.
Bust: A player who is expected to be a solid starter in standard ESPN leagues but will 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 shortened due to COVID, but then he missed 18 games again last season, in his 17th in the NBA. He was still strong when playing during the season, but in the playoffs, immediately after his 37th birthday, he immediately turned in several of the worst games of his career. During the last five games of his playoffs, Paul averaged only 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 has too high of a likelihood to underperform his typical level and/or be absent during a key portions of the season.
Eric Moody — Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings: Barnes was superb for the Sacramento Kings last season with 16.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.4 APG and a usage rate of 18.2%. Fantasy managers will expect him to replicate these numbers. Given the influx of talent the Kings have had this offseason, including Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, and Keegan Murray, Barnes will find it difficult to do so.
Eric Karabell — Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans: Zion was my pick last season as well, as it was easy to question how soon he would return from foot surgery. He ended up missing the entire season. In addition to major durability concerns, Williamson’s statistics deceive a bit, and may not warrant his lofty ADP. After all, while the unstoppable Williamson can score at will, he’s just a modest rebounder, not a factor on 3-point shooting and he can do major damage to a fantasy team’s free throw percentage. Oh, and did we mention he’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 awesome advanced metrics that often align with team success, and, both his contract and age align much better with the team’s superstar backcourt. With respect to Capela’s fantasy value, last season’s 11.1 points and 11.9 pulls to go with 1.3 blocks in 27.6 minutes per night represents the likely ceiling for this season, one where competition from Okongwu for opportunities will increase. Which is to say, he could be just fine, but there’s really no shot at being special. One of the only viable paths to resetting Atlanta’s position as a tax team (ahead of a hug new commitment to Murray) is moving Capela, adding more uncertainty to an old-school center with a relatively pricey draft position.