It was last season, during the first round of the playoffs, when I realized that Desmond Bane was a star.
After having started 17 of 68 games and averaging 9.2 PPG as a rookie, Bane had begun last season in a battle with 10th overall draft pick rookie Ziaire Williams and De'Anthony Melton for a starting spot next to Dillon Brooks on the wing. Brooks was injured to start the season, allowing Bane to start next to Melton, and he played so well that he never relinquished his spot, averaging 18.2 PPG on excellent shooting (46.1 FG%, 90.3 FT%, 43.6 3P%) with 4.4 RPG, 3.0 3PG, 2.7 APG and 1.2 SPG in 29.8 MPG on the season.
In the first round of the playoffs, he kicked it up a notch like Emeril. While the world focused on the transcendence of Ja Morant, as well as the budding rivalry/bromance between Morant's father and Karl-Anthony Towns' dad, it was Bane who was the best scorer on the court for the majority of the series. Over the last four games, while Morant was slumping to 18.5 PPG on 32.8 FG%, Bane closed out the Timberwolves by averaging 27.0 PPG (52.1 FG%, 84.6 FT%,53.5 3P%), 5.8 3PG, 4.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.5 BPG and 1.3 SPG in 40.9 MPG. But, if you blinked, you might have missed Bane's star turn, because he suffered a back injury at the end of the series that would plague him for the rest of the postseason.
But I noticed.
Thus, when I was projecting every NBA rotation players' stats this offseason in preparation for the 2022-23 season, I made note in my player outlook for Bane that his excellent postseason run pre-injury "gave an indication of Bane's upside this season."
Through the first four weeks of the season, Bane has shown he is ready to reach that upside. He has started this season right where he left off before the back issues, averaging 28.5 PPG (53.4 FG%, 89.5 FT%, 53.7 3P%), 5.1 RPG, 4.5 3PG and 4.4 APG in his eight most recent games leading into Friday night.
There are important elements of Bane's game and development path that indicate this star turn is legit, and not just a flash in the pan. First, Bane was an excellent, efficient shooter in college and entered the NBA as the last pick in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft with the profile of a 3-and-D wing in the pros. He had decent height but an NBA body, making him strong for a wing. His ability to knock down treys at an over 40% clip plus his effort and physicality on defense were thought to be his tickets to playing time at the NBA level, giving him a high floor.
And they were, but Bane's shooting ability translated so faithfully that it has opened up the rest of his game. Bane shot 43.2% from downtown on 4.0 attempts per game as a rookie, then upped that to 43.6% on 6.9 attempts as a sophomore. Importantly, not only did his efficiency hold steady as his volume increased, but he also had a lower percentage of his 3-point field goals assisted in his second season (83.3% were assisted) than in his first (93.2 3P%). Thus, while Bane had proven that he could be among the most efficient volume long-range shooters in the league while playing off easy looks created by the most electric floor general in the league in Morant, he also was starting to prove that he could create his own 3-point shot off the dribble and still finish at a high clip.
What happens when an excellent shooter proves to the league that he can consistently knock down the trey? Opponents have to respect the shot and try to run him off the 3-point line. This means that defenders are running at him when he gets open spot-ups, and they also have to come further out to defend him when he ISOs beyond the arc. This allows Bane to space the floor and make it easier for his teammates to score when he's on the court, which shows up tangibly in his Real Plus Minus (RPM) scores. Bane was second among shooting guards and 17th in the NBA in RPM last season and currently ranks 21st in RPM early in this season.
But, on fantasy basketball front, the respect Bane draws behind the arc also opens up the court for him to attack and generate his own box score stats. Bane is on a by-far career-best scoring pace, but doing so with only 41.7% of his 2-point field goals assisted and only 65.9% of his 3-pointers assisted. Instead of being set up, Bane is the one creating offense for both himself and his teammates. He's averaging 4.7 APG thus far, almost twice as many as his previous career-high of 2.7 APG. According to Second Spectrum, Bane is creating 1.3 points per direct isolation as the ball handler, a skill that he's improved dramatically since he's been in the NBA.
Because he's attacking more off the dribble, particularly against imbalanced defenses trying to prevent his long-range shooting, Bane has significantly increased the number of fouls he draws. He's currently taking 4.5 FTA per game, more than twice the career-best 2.0 FTA he averaged last season. As a 90% free throw shooter, this ability to draw fouls makes him a more effective scorer overall, but in category fantasy hoops leagues this makes him a free throw percentage influencer that can be invaluable to your roto teams.
Bane showed me in the playoffs that he was ready to be a star. I believe his fast start will only continue and, if anything, strengthen as the season progresses. Couple that with the fact that he's not yet a household name, and that he's been a relative iron man thus far in his NBA career in terms of games played, and Bane could be an excellent trade target in fantasy hoops league. I've written this week that fantasy managers might sleep easier if they're able to trade away volatile, high-risk players like Kyrie Irving or Anthony Davis at value. Well, Bane is the other side of that trade discussion. He's shown himself to be a relatively low-risk contributor with star impact that many people still think of as a subordinate role player.
If you can trade for Bane and get him for anything less than star value, it could do more than just set your team up for success. At the right price, Bane could very well be a league-winning FBA contributor.