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Off-season Player Watch: A “Way-Too-Soon” look into the 2023-2024 NBA Season

The 2022-2023 fantasy season is in the books. The playoffs are heating up (pun intended), and during the breaks between games, it’s only natural to look ahead to next year and start predicting player improvements, regressions, and those to avoid altogether. Drawing insights from the fantasy season, the playoffs, and projected trends for the upcoming season, several players have stood out in various categories. These categories are as follows:

Player Categories

  1. Breakout Players: Embracing the Youth Movement: As the season nears its end, we often catch glimpses of young players unlocking their potential. This year is no exception. Explore the top young talents primed for a significant leap in fantasy relevance.
  2. Expanding Roles: The Sky is the Limit: The NBA is filled with seasoned veterans who possess immense potential, but who among them has the opportunity to truly shine? Discover the veterans poised to take the next major step in their fantasy stardom.
  3. Facing Obstacles but… Fantasy players can encounter setbacks with changes in their roles, which might dampen their potential. However, that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. Find out which players might experience a dip in their production but are still valuable selections for your fantasy team.
  4. Try to Avoid Them: Despite their undeniable talent, a small group of players simply won’t contribute to your quest for a fantasy championship. Who are they? Keep scrolling to find out.

This is entirely too early, entirely too long, and of course not exhaustive, but let’s jump into this list of players that will inform your Fantasy dominance in 2023-2024!

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Breakout Players: Embracing the Youth Movement

  • Walker Kessler (UTA – C): As a rookie, Walker Kessler turned in a top 60 fantasy season as the Utah Jazz big man. While most of that value comes from his elite blocks (2.3), there is plenty of optimism that he is far from reaching his full potential. In the final three months of the season, Kessler averaged 12 points, 11 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, and an impressive 72% field-goal percentage in 29 minutes per game. If he can sustain that level of performance over a full season, Kessler has the potential to deliver a top-30 fantasy season.
  • Chet Holmgren (OKC – PF/C): Unfortunately, Chet Holmgren did not make his NBA debut during the 2022-2023 season. However, the 7-footer is now poised to make a significant impact on an up-and-coming Thunder team that is determined to compete at a high level. A year of rehab has provided Holmgren with an opportunity to study the NBA game, develop his physique, and build chemistry with his teammates. In the upcoming 2023-2024 season, anticipate Holmgren to contribute in scoring, three-point shooting, rebounding, and shot-blocking. Based on early projections, Holmgren is expected to average around 15 points, 2 three-pointers, 8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocked shots.
  • Jalen Williams (OKC – SG/SF): Jalen Williams is undeniably good, I mean seriously good. In his rookie season, Williams delivered an impressive performance, ranking in the top 70. He averaged 14 points and 1.4 steals per game while shooting an impressive 50% from the field. However, it was in the last three months that Williams truly showcased his potential, posting averages of 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.7 steals, and shooting an outstanding 53%. During that stretch, he was a top-25 player. Despite being the third option on the team, Williams consistently finds a way to make an impact on the game. Even with Chet joining the picture next year, expect Williams to continue serving as the glue guy for OKC and establish himself as a top 50 fantasy basketball player.
  • Austin Reaves (LAL – SG): The legend of Hillbilly Kobe continues to grow during the Lakers’ playoff run. Initially overlooked, Reaves has truly found his stride and secured a starting position on a team with genuine championship aspirations. In the final two months of the season, Reaves averaged 17 points, 1.8 three-pointers, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists, while shooting an impressive 49% from the field in 34 minutes per game. It’s worth noting that Reaves does have some weaknesses on the defensive end (from a fantasy perspective, at least), but his overall production still ranked him within the top 90. Anticipate a continuation of this level of performance in the upcoming season.
  • Keegan Murray (SAC – SF/PF): Murray was a no-show in the first three games of Sacramento’s playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. However, the rookie proved that the moment wasn’t too big for him, as he made a significant impact in the final four games. Murray showcases his dynamic potential, particularly in points, three-pointers, and rebounds. Over the last two months of his rookie season, Murray averaged 13 points, 3 three-pointers, and 5 rebounds, shooting an impressive 48% from the field in 30 minutes per game. Expect Murray to see an increase in playing time and gain a boost in confidence, which should translate to a valuable 7th- or 8th-round fantasy value for the upcoming 2023-2024 season.
  • Jaden Ivey (DET – PG): Ivey possesses exceptional talent and displays elite athleticism at the point guard position. This talent was fully showcased when Cade Cunningham was absent from the lineup during the 2022-2023 season, and Ivey did not disappoint. In the final two months, Ivey averaged an impressive 20 points, 2.6 three-pointers, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists, shooting at a 42% clip. While Ivey’s usage may decrease once Cunningham returns, his efficiency is expected to increase. Furthermore, Ivey has immense potential for growth on the defensive end. While he is not yet considered an elite fantasy player, similar to Ja Morant in his second and third years, Ivey has the potential for a significant leap in his performance.
  • Trey Murphy (NOP – SG/SF):At the beginning of the 2022-2023 season, there were rumors circulating that Trey Murphy had experienced a growth spurt of an additional 2 inches over the summer. Now, after witnessing his performance this season, it’s evident that Murphy’s game is also rapidly evolving. Murphy embodies the ideal “3 and D” archetype, which holds immense value in category-based fantasy leagues. In the last three months of the season, Murphy boasted impressive averages of 18 points, 3.3 three-pointers, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.4 steals, while shooting at an impressive 48% from the field and 90% from the free-throw line. Additionally, his low turnover rate adds to his overall value. When considering his production without factoring in turnovers, he is considered a valuable asset with a projected 7th-round value.
  • Alperen Sengun (HOU – C): Dubbed “Jokic-Lite,” Sengun has emerged as a skilled playmaker within the chaotic Houston Rockets system. In the 2022-2023 fantasy season, Sengun proved his worth as a top 75 player, averaging 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block per game while shooting an impressive 55% from the field. As the Rockets mature and establish a more consistent identity, it’s highly likely that Sengun’s numbers will continue to rise in his third year. Keep an eye on his progression as he solidifies his status as a fantasy force to be reckoned with.
  • Jalen Duren (DET – C): Duren embodies the quintessential center prospect with his impressive size, athleticism, frequent dunks, and dominant rebounding skills. At the age of 19, Duren nearly averaged a double-double, posting impressive numbers of 9 points and 9 rebounds on 64% shooting from the field. Moreover, he showcased glimpses of his ability to make smart passes. As Duren further matures, there is great potential for him to become an elite rebounder, with room for growth in points, assists, and blocks as well. Keep an eye on Duren as he strives to secure a spot among the top 100 players for the upcoming 2023-2024 season.
  • Bennedict Mathurin (IND – SG): Mathurin possesses elite athleticism and a relentless competitive spirit. In his rookie season, Mathurin quickly made a name for himself as a scoring threat for Indiana. Coming off the bench as the 6th man, Mathurin averaged 16.7 points and four rebounds per game while shooting at a 43% clip. While these numbers may not appear exceptional, there are promising signs for the future. Key areas of growth for Mathurin in his second year will be three-pointers and steals. When assembling your fantasy basketball team next year, do not chase Mathurin for his points per game. Instead, consider drafting him towards the end of your draft and relish the return on your investment.

Expanding Roles: The Sky is the Limit:

  • Mikal Bridges (BKN – SG/SF): This one’s a no-brainer. Mikal Bridges transitioned from being a ‘3 and D’ role player for the Phoenix Suns to becoming the cornerstone of the Brooklyn Nets after the Kevin Durant trade. Initially, the fantasy basketball community had doubts about how Bridges would handle the increased usage. However, he exceeded expectations. Over the last three months of the season (29 games), Bridges averaged an impressive 26 points, 2.6 three-pointers, 4.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, while shooting at a 47% clip. Not only did he deliver third-round production, but Bridges also managed to play in a staggering 83 games!
  • Jalen Brunson (NYK – PG): If the Knicks’ playoff run served as any indication, Jalen Brunson is undoubtedly a standout player. Often underestimated, Brunson erased any doubts about his ability to lead a team, especially during critical moments. In his first year with the New York Knicks, Brunson averaged an impressive 24.5 points, 2 three-pointers, 3.6 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, while shooting an efficient 49% from the field. This level of production earned him the 36th spot among all players in the 2022-2023 season. Following his remarkable playoff performance, it’s clear that Brunson has taken ownership of the team. Anticipate even greater performances from him in the future.
  • Tyrese Maxey (PHI – PG/SG): The 2022-2023 NBA playoffs may not have been favorable to the Philadelphia 76ers, but they certainly showcased the immense talent of Tyrese Maxey. As the team’s third option, Maxey experienced a breakout season. He averaged an impressive 20 points, 2.7 three-pointers, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in 34 minutes per game. Towards the end of the season, Maxey’s playing time increased to 38 minutes, where he also averaged 4.5 rebounds. Additionally, it’s worth monitoring the James Harden situation. If Harden decides to part ways with the 76ers, Maxey could take on a significant portion of the available usage. Maxey finished as a top 60 player in the 2022-2023 season and has the potential to jump into the top 40 for the upcoming 2023-2024 season.
  • Scottie Barnes (TOR – SF/PF): Barnes had an impressive breakout rookie season, although his second year didn’t quite live up to expectations. Nevertheless, he remains a crucial part of the Toronto Raptors’ future. Throughout the 2022-2023 season, Barnes appeared in 78 games and averaged 15 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.8 blocks, while shooting at a 45% clip from the field. Despite the slight setback, Barnes possesses considerable upside as an all-around player who can contribute in multiple categories. His potential as a “1-1-1” player, providing 1 three-pointer, 1 steal, and 1 block per game, further highlights his versatility. Currently a top 80 player, Barnes has a realistic chance to climb into the top 50.
  • Desmond Bane (MEM – SG/SF): Ja Morant undoubtedly remains the focal point of the Memphis Grizzlies, but Desmond Bane has emerged as their second-best offensive weapon. Throughout the 2022-2023 season, Bane consistently torched opposing defenses, averaging an impressive 21.7 points, 2.8 three-pointers, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal, while shooting at an efficient 47% from the field. With Ja Morant facing a substantial suspension in the upcoming 2023-2024 NBA season, Bane is expected to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load. A breakout year awaits Bane, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him deliver numbers close to a 25-5-5 stat line. Look for Bane to establish himself as a top-40 player next season.
  • Markelle Fultz (ORL – PG) Markelle Fultz’s journey is still unfolding, and he is gradually realizing his immense potential. This season, playing for the Orlando Magic, Fultz showcased his skills by averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 1.5 steals, while shooting an impressive 51% from the field. Fultz has solidified himself as the primary playmaker for the developing Orlando Magic, and he is poised to continue making strides as a valuable contributor in fantasy basketball. In the 2022-2023 season, Fultz ranked as a top 80 player, but we can expect a modest jump to the top 60 in the 2023-2024 season as his confidence grows and he earns more playing time and opportunities.

Facing Obstacles but…

  • Zion Williamson (NOP – PF): Zion Williamson’s career has been marked by his limited game appearances, averaging just 38 games per season in his first three years. Despite his extraordinary potential and impressive production and efficiency, building a winning fantasy team solely around Zion can be challenging. While his upside is undeniable, with last year’s averages of 26 points, 7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.1 steals on an impressive 60% shooting from the field, caution is warranted when considering him as a top selection. In dynasty leagues, his long-term value may be slightly higher, but his lack of playing time raises concerns. As a result, targeting Zion in the middle rounds, starting around the fourth round, is a more prudent approach.
  • Chris Paul (PHO – PG): In his age 37-38 season, Chris Paul once again delivered an impressive performance, appearing in 66 games and averaging 13.7 points, 1.6 threes, 4.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and 1.6 steals on 43% shooting from the field. However, it’s worth considering that age will eventually catch up to Paul, potentially impacting his playing time, number of games played, and overall contribution in various categories. This decline could occur as early as next year or even within the next five years. Additionally, we may see the Phoenix Suns trade Paul to retool around Kevin Durant, creating uncertainty on his role on a new team. Therefore, it’s wise to manage expectations and approach draft day with a cautious mindset, targeting Paul in the latter middle rounds.
  • Rudy Gobert (MIN – C): The Rudy Gobert experiment in Minnesota has been challenging, to say the least. Since his move to Minnesota, Gobert’s numbers have seen a significant decline across the board. As a player who typically ranks within the top 35, Gobert’s fantasy ranking fell into the 60s this season, largely due to his “pedestrian” performance in terms of traditional big man stats. He averaged 13.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks on 65% shooting, compared to his 2021-2022 season where he averaged 15.6 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks on 71% shooting. Despite the drop in production, Gobert still holds value, particularly if you can draft him in the early middle rounds rather than using a 3rd round pick. Minnesota has invested significantly to pair Gobert with Karl-Anthony Towns, indicating their confidence in his abilities. Therefore, don’t hesitate to consider adding him to your team for the 2023-2024 season.
  • Julius Randle (NYK – PF): The New York Knicks had a successful season and even had a dominant performance in the first round of the playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, true to the Knick’s history, the sky now appears to be falling after their loss to the Miami Heat. In this New York tale, Jalen Brunson emerges as the hero, while Julius Randle plays the role of the villain. Randle had a solid year, averaging 24 points, 2.7 threes, 9.8 rebounds, and 4 assists on 45% shooting from the field. However, it seems likely that the Knicks will attempt to trade Randle, which may limit his value in a reduced role on a new team. While Randle remains valuable, it’s important to keep an eye on potential changes in his role and usage, whether it’s with the Knicks or a new team this summer.
  • CJ McCollum (NOP – PG/SG): CJ McCollum will be turning 32 next year, playing alongside Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, and an up-and-coming Trey Murphy on the New Orleans Pelicans. McCollum’s value to the team lies in his leadership, secondary playmaking, and three-point shooting ability. However, his real-life value is not translating as strongly to his fantasy performance. In the 2022-2023 season, CJ averaged 20.8 points, 2.8 threes, 4.3 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on 43% shooting from the field. While these numbers earned him a top 80 fantasy ranking in categorical leagues, he falls slightly short of his expected top 50 production. With a healthy Ingram and Zion ahead of him in the team’s hierarchy, as the Pelicans emerge as playoff contenders, CJ may face challenges in maintaining his fantasy value.
  • DeAndre Ayton (PHO – C): In the aftermath of an early playoff exit at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, and with Kevin Durant overshadowing him, DeAndre Ayton appears to be the odd man out in Phoenix. It is evident that Ayton is on the verge of being traded this offseason. Depending on his destination, his fantasy value could either be unlocked or further diminished in a reduced role. In the 2022-2023 season, Ayton averaged 17.4 points and 10 rebounds on 58% shooting from the field. If Ayton is traded to a favorable situation, anticipate an increase in his scoring and defensive contributions. However, if he remains with the Suns, it is important to be aware that he may no longer be considered a top 75 player, and adjust your draft strategy accordingly.
  • Khris Middleton (MIL – SG/SF): Middleton’s 2022-2023 NBA season was plagued by injuries, limiting him to only 38 games after his return. Despite the limited minutes, Middleton showcased his ability to contribute, averaging 16.7 points, 1.7 threes, 4.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists on 44% shooting. As Middleton approaches the age of 32, there are uncertainties regarding his ability to replicate his previous top-40 production. Additionally, his free agent status further complicates the situation. While we are familiar with his role on the Milwaukee Bucks, there is speculation about a potential move to a team like the Houston Rockets, who have significant cap space and might angle for a potential pairing of Middleton with James Harden. Such a move could either enhance Middleton’s fantasy value or lead to him assuming a “veteran leader” role for young and emerging stars, which may mute his value. Middleton remains a valuable asset for your fantasy team, but it is crucial to stay updated on news regarding his health and future team situation. Keep an eye out for a potential drop in his average draft position this year and seize the opportunity.
  • Bradley Beal (WAS – SG): It has only been two years since Beal was considered an NBA superstar, averaging over 30 points per game. However, his recent performance has fallen off significantly. In the 2022-2023 season, Beal’s numbers declined across the board. He struggled with injuries and played fewer than 60 games. In 2022-2023, Beal averaged 23 points, 1.6 threes, 3.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0,9 steals on 50% shooting from the field. In typical NBA fashion, there are trade rumors surrounding Beal, with potential talks of him joining a true championship contender. On the other hand, there are reports indicating that the Washington Wizards will continue to build their team around Beal. Regardless of the outcome, it is unlikely that Beal’s usage rate will reach the levels that led to his previous top 15 seasons (34.5/35.5 from 2019-2021). While Beal remains valuable and talented, it is important to adjust your expectations and consider him as a top 60 player rather than an elite cornerstone to build your team around.

 Try to Avoid Them

  • Kawhi Leonard (LAC – SF/PF): There is no doubting Kawhi Loenard’s fantasy dominance when he plays. Routinely hovering around top-10 production, Leonard has settled into a 50-55 game per year rhythm that aims to preserve his health for the postseason. While not egregious for his production, this is hard to build a championship team around, especially if you are using a top pick. On top of his reduced workload, Leonard suffered a torn meniscus in the Clippers playoff series. Ideally, on draft day you can just avoid Leonard and let someone else take the risk. If you absolutely have to take him, target the middle rounds at the earliest and then dangle him in a trade.
  • Ben Simmons (BKN – PG, PF): Simmons is currently not a priority in fantasy basketball. While his previous dominance and unique skill set are enticing, his recent performance has been underwhelming and unreliable. In the 2022-2023 season, he averaged modest numbers across the board. However, early off-season reports suggest that Simmons is motivated for the upcoming season. General Managers should remain optimistic about his potential to regain his elite production, but it’s important to manage expectations and consider drafting him based on team needs (punt threes/FT%) and trade value (ROI).
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