With the NBA season set to tip-off in just over a month, it’s time to start thinking about fantasy basketball. In this post I’m going to be focused on five potential breakout players for the 2021-22 NBA season. These are five players I think will either see an expanded role, a usage bump, have promising talent, or all of these things. These breakout candidates will lead you to getting ahead and winning your league.
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5 Breakout Players for 2021-22
When looking for breakout performers we try to get ahead by looking for players who are proven to be efficient and who we think will see an increase in minutes for the new season. Minutes = money in fantasy basketball. Isaiah Stewart checks both of these boxes. He has only one other C to compete with on the, shall I dare say it, newly exciting Detroit Pistons. That’s rookie Luka Garza (note: they also drafted Balsa Koprivica but I don’t expect him to be a factor in sharing minutes). While I believe Garza is a sneaky draft pick for them, I can’t imagine he’s going to be pushing more than 20 minutes a game. I’d expect Stewart to average around 27-32 minutes this year. Per 36 minutes in his age 20 rookie season, Isaiah averaged 13.3pts and 11.2reb while being a disruptor mostly coming off the bench.
Stweart is no slouch on defense either. He’s big-bodied, has a motor, and the numbers back it up. In the final two weeks of last season, he started seven games as a sneak peek into this year. In those games he put these numbers in the blocks category: 3, 3, 1, 3, 3, 2, 0; and steals: 1, 1, 1, 0, 1, 0, 2.
I’m bullish that Beef Stew can find a line something close to 15 pts. 10 rebs. 2 blks and 1 stl in a breakout season with room to go nuclear. The combination of being this talented at that age, the big minutes bump, and the Pistons landing Cade Cunningham to orchestrate and play-make for the offense, has me all-in on reaching for Isaiah Stewart in drafts this year.
While you can certainly say Keldon broke out last year, I think there is another level. The Kentucky alum was arguably the third, sometimes fourth option in the offense last year, but still put up great numbers and Pop loves his motor. He averaged 28 minutes per game in his second season. This year he’s going to be maybe the 1B option, or at least the second option behind Derrick White to score the bulk of the points for this team. This is the function of LaMarcus Aldridge gone (now signing with BKN) and DeMar DeRozan heading to the Bulls this offseason. If we see a slight minutes bump combined with an increase in usage, we can intuitively predict that Keldon has a chance to break out in his second full season (his rookie year was short–derailed by injury).
He’s still only 21 and turning 22 in Oct. Keldon is in a ‘good spot’ as they would say. The Spurs really got a steal here in the 2019 Draft when they got him at pick 29 overall. He’s a fantasy breakout for me this year.
There’s not much to say, but also everything to say. A freshman who led his team to a National Title game, averaged 29 min; 14.4 pts, 5 rebs, 4.5 asts, and 2 stls as a consensus All-American, plays both sides of the ball, plays up-tempo like the NBA loves, looks every bit like a leader, and will likely be the starting PG in Orlando.
The eye test tells me he looks a lot like Jason Kidd. He may never be that, but to have this kind of effect this early in his career tells me all I need to know. Barring injury, he’s going to be great. I don’t know if it’s generational talent, but it’s certainly the type of talent to make you a top 10-20 player for the next decade.
Jalen was recently quoted saying that he’s never had an entire offseason to prepare strictly for basketball. Mostly because he was a two-way star in high school and excelled at being a QB. His junior year of high school he led his team to a State championship and his senior year he was runner up. He has leadership qualities plain and simple. Now envision this type of talent meshed with being given the highest form of talent development (the NBA) and him finally putting all of his time/energy into perfecting his game. He’s a slam dunk breakout for me. We most certainly won’t see him at his highest form in his Rookie year, but at the same time, this is the only time we will be able to get him at a discount in drafts. Feel free to reach for him in the middle rounds.
Speaking of late-round steals. Jordan Poole is your 2021-22 Sixth Man of the Year? Maybe. That’s why he’s here. If you watched any bit of the final month of last year you’d feel similarly. He’s not necessarily going to stuff the stat sheet, but while you find a way to balance your fantasy team by categories, look for Poole to help in the scoring category. He has the ability to get you 15-20 pts any given night.
Poole is said to be the hardest working guy on the team (including Steph). Word is he’s relentless in the gym and has insane confidence in himself. He’s also around the ‘right’ veterans. Speaking of, if you watched him play in the final month you may have noticed that he’s incorporating some of Steph’s trademark re-location off-ball movement. This tells me he’s making sound improvement to develop. He’s very clearly the first man off the bench for Golden State and reminds me a bit of Jordan Clarkson. Jordan just won the Sixth Man Award as a very similar aggressive high-volume shooter who gets buckets quickly.
The Warriors are going into the season with the second-highest odds to win the 21-22 Championship. You can say that Vegas likes them. The last time we saw the Warriors making runs into the playoffs, that meant Curry and Thompson were killing. The function of this is: they’ll be out in front often. The likelihood that Kerr will decide to rest Curry and Klay in games where they are really out front adds to Poole’s appeal. I believe Poole will be able to not only help in meaningful minutes but also in garbage time if the superstars are rested as history has indicated.
The Nate McMillan-led Hawks are just a different team. Proven by their success in last year’s playoff run; they did it with mostly grit. Jalen Johnson is a 6’9”, 220, super athlete who embodies grit. While I don’t expect him to be in the starting lineup to begin the season, I do expect to see him make his name known off the bench. The 19-year-old out of Duke looked like perhaps the steal of the 2021 Draft in Summer League. He is full throttle on offense and defense. He averaged roughly 19 pts, 10 rebs, 1 blk, in 28min/g.
Considering his immediate talent at this level after only playing a combined 278 minutes of college ball at Duke, tells me everything. He’s going to be a force. All he needs is the playing time to break out for your fantasy team.
He’s someone I’m aiming for in drafts considering the Hawks like playing their youth, and the up arrow that organization has at the moment. He’s a no-doubt dynasty pick this year for me and in re-drafts, I am willing to use my last pick on him to find out if the break out is this year.
For more great rankings and analysis, check out the 2021-22 Fantrax Fantasy Basketball Draft Kit!
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