To assemble an awesome fantasy basketball roster, it starts with a great draft. And to have a great draft, you need to know which players to go after and which to avoid.
So which players will exceed their average draft position (ADP) this season? Who will elevate their game to another level? And which 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.
Karabell: Vucevic always seems to fall into the fourth round or later of ESPN drafts even though he also always seems to end up finishing as a top-10 option on the ESPN Player Rater. It makes no sense! Vucevic, soon to turn 33 years old, shows no signs of statistical decline, as he is annually among the top centers in rebounding, averaging 11 RPG each season, assists and 3-pointers, and comes off one of his best shooting seasons. No, he doesn't score 20 traditional points per night, but he scores enough. Keep investing!
Snellings: This is largely based on what I saw from him in Vegas this summer. Smith was a strong 3-and-D big man in his rookie season, but he showed a much more diverse offensive skillset in Vegas, and more importantly the will to use it. He was attacking off the dribble, getting to the rim and drawing fouls then finishing through contact. His projections for this season are based largely off what he did as a rookie, but in my personal opinion he feels like someone ready to outperform his late-round draft status and move into the top-75 before the season ends.
McCormick: The team found ways to play sluggish veterans over him for much of last season, but now it's time for Williams to unleash his gifts as a rim-protector and rim-runner. This premise on offense is tied closely to getting a healthy Ball on the floor, so this isn't without risk, but just imagine the potential for special scoring efficiency as a lob threat for one of the world's best overall passers and transition playmakers. Add in that block percentage that neared five percent last season (as in he blocked one out of every 20 opponent 2-point attempts while on the floor), and we are talking about Clint Capela-like fun without the price tag.
Alexander: Johnson's ADP is currently around 75 but I think he's got a chance to be much better than that. Kevin Durant is in Phoenix and Johnson is expected to start at small forward for a team that will be relying on guys like Spencer Dinwiddie, Mikal Bridges, Dorian Finney-Smith and Nic Claxton to handle the scoring in the starting lineup. Bridges broke out for the Nets last season after he was traded from Phoenix and it's Johnson's turn this year. Johnson upped his numbers in his 25 Brooklyn games to career highs of 16.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 steals, and also added 2.3 3-pointers per game for his new team. He should build on those numbers and could easily average 20 points, six rebounds, three assists and close to two steals this year.
Moody: Collins has the potential to finish as a top-100 player in category formats. Victor Wembanyama is receiving a lot of attention, and rightly so, but the Spurs insist he will be a forward. San Antonio will start Collins at center, and he performed very well after the trade of Jakob Poeltl last season. In 19 games, Collins averaged 16.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1.1 SPG and 1.1 BPG in 29.0 MPG. He is a great value in the late rounds of fantasy basketball drafts.
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.
Alexander: Sengun has been a breakout candidate for each of his two years in the league and after failing to do much in his rookie season, he really came on strong in year two. He averaged 14.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.9 blocks last season and should fully breakout in year three. He'll be playing alongside Fred VanVleet and should be unchallenged for minutes at center with guys like Jock Landale and Jabari Smith backing him up at the position. Sengun should clock in at close to 20 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block for the up-and-coming Rockets and is currently being drafted in the mid-50s in fantasy leagues.
McCormick: This breakout was percolating last season in statistical terms, but a series of injuries limited Vassell to just to just 38 games and just shy of 1,200 minutes. At just 23, Vassell has impressively improved his scoring volume and efficiency in each of his three seasons in San Antonio. Most interestingly, his assist rate leapt a great deal last year, signaling he's more than just the 3-and-D archetype. With 2.1 combined steals and blocks per 36 minutes for his career, there is potential for him to erupt into a multi-category star as early as this fall.
Moody: Although Wagner showed improvement from his rookie season last year, he has the potential to go much further this year coming off of an amazing run with Germany in the FIBA World Cup. He can initiate his own offense, create scoring opportunities for teammates, space the floor, drive to the basket and he moves very well in transition. It also helps that the Magic didn't make any moves that will cut into his role this season. Wagner averaged 18.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in 80 games last season and should surpass those per-game averages in his third NBA season.
Snellings: Poole has shown in the last couple seasons, particularly when Stephen Curry was out and he's had to start, that he has the game to be a high-volume scorer on a nightly basis. He'll get that chance this season for the Wizards, and I could see him replicating some of the better numbers we saw out of Bradley Beal in recent years.
Karabell: The Duke center found minutes hard to come by for most of his rookie season, but once Mason Plumlee left town and Williams earned the starting role, he averaged 11.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 1.1 BPG, while hitting better than 62% on field goals. Williams should start this season and thrive with a healthy LaMelo Ball at the point. Expect Williams to average a double-double and easily outshine his underwhelming ADP.
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.
Karabell: This will be the third consecutive season Williamson appears in this bust space, but fantasy managers continue to be fooled. The talented but brittle Williamson has played in 114 of his team's 308 games over four seasons, a ghastly 37%, and while he remains a highlight reel option when he does play, he does not do as much for fantasy managers as they realize. Williamson scores traditional points, but not enough to overshadow his deficiencies. The biggest one is durability.
Alexander: Davis has played in just 56, 40, 36, 62 and 56 games in each of his last five seasons and he'll be 31 years old in March. The Lakers will play it safe with him whenever possible and he's more famous for missing games than anything else at this point in his career. This season should be no different and I think a reasonable over/under target for his games played is about 41, or half the season. He offers more risk than reward possibilities and his first trip to the locker room will probably happen in Week 1 of the NBA season. He's currently being drafted late in the first round and the chances of him playing in 70 games appear to be slim. It's tough to win at fantasy hoops when your first-round pick only plays in half his games.
McCormick: This might appear a bit odd given how impressive he was in the team's title run, but hear me out; he's become almost the epitome of a far better real player than fantasy producer. Consider that even though he's a great help defender for Denver, that he actually sports a subpar steal rate and a modest block percentage. Gordon also doesn't shoot or sink many 3-pointers, and playmaking and scoring aren't really consistent hallmarks of his game since moving from Orlando; he's often fourth on the floor among starters in the scoring and usage pecking order. Finding 16 and six per night without much shooting or defensive juice isn't that tough these days in a deep and gifted era of talent, thus I am not spending anything close to his current ADP.
Moody: Because Lopez was injured in 2021-22, his average draft position was very favorable heading into last season. He played 78 games in 2022-23, logging at least 68 games for the fourth time in five seasons, and rewarded fantasy managers with one of his best statistical seasons of his career (16.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.3 APG and 2.5 BPG). This season, those who want to draft him won't get a discount. Due to the Bucks' recent addition of Damian Lillard, fantasy managers shouldn't expect Lopez to repeat last season's performance as less shots will be available for the veteran big man.
Snellings: I'm staying away from CP3 this season. There have been rumblings out of Golden State that he may start, and with Draymond Green currently injured it looks like he may get that opportunity in the short term. But it just makes too much sense for Paul to come off the bench. The Warriors had one of the best starting lineups already in Curry, Thompson, Wiggins, Green and Looney. Balanced, with every player knowing their role and playing it well. I don't see how Paul replaces any of the four long-term, and if he does come off the bench he just has a much lower ceiling than we're used to seeing for CP3.