As we continue to slog through the dog days of the NBA offseason, the time has come to begin preparing for 2022-23 Fantasy Basketball drafts.
At the top, the league is stocked to the brim with as much talent as any period in league history. That talent pool only expanded in the wake of the 2022 NBA Draft, with names like Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith infusing major upside to three of the league's bottom-feeders. No. 4 overall pick Keegan Murray also projects to see big minutes in Sacramento, while fellow-top-10 selections Bennedict Mathurin, Jaden Ivey and Johnny Davis could each be difference-makers in Year 1.
Of course, this latest group of rookies enters the NBA on the heels of a potentially historic 2021 class led by Evan Mobley, Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green and reigning Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes. Mobley, Cunningham, Barnes and Franz Wagner each finished inside the top-65 in total value (8-cat) last season, while Green's explosive second half – 22.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 3.1 3PM/G, 47.6% FG after the All-Star break – provided a major boost for many Fantasy managers down the stretch.
Only time will tell just how many rookies will be significant difference-makers this time around, but with Summer League behind us and draft season quickly approaching, it's time to evaluate which first-year players you should consider targeting in the middle-to-late rounds:
Chet Holmgren, Thunder
Back in June, just after the NBA Draft, I ranked Holmgren as my No. 4 rookie in re-draft formats. I noted that he vaults to No. 1 in dynasty leagues – that's still very much the case – but I was a bit concerned about how his game, and especially his body, would translate from college to the NBA. Those concerns still do linger, but Holmgren showed enough in a handful of Summer League games to convince me that he'll find ways to be plenty productive in Year 1.
Historically, Summer League isn't always the best predictor of future success – obligatory Josh Selby shoutout – but it was hard not to be impressed by how skilled and confident Holmgren looked on both ends of the floor. There will still be some nights when he's pushed around and picks up three fouls in eight minutes, but Holmgren's statistical upside – particularly on the defensive end – is immense enough to propel him ahead of Banchero and Smith on my board.
Holmgren could be an immediate 3.0 blocks/steals per game player who also adds scoring, rebounding, lower-end assists and, most importantly, high-volume 3-pointers. While Holmgren will slot in as the third option behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, he's not the type of player who needs to dominate the ball to be effective. Much of his scoring tends to come within the flow of the game, and that shouldn't change with more-talented teammates around him.
Paolo Banchero, Magic
Another big name who turned heads at Summer League, Banchero was so good in Las Vegas that the Magic opted to shut him down after seeing what they needed to see in just two games. For the most part, Banchero arrived as-advertised. He's a jumbo-sized forward who handles the ball like a guard and is more than happy to facilitate in the halfcourt.
As was the case in Vegas, Banchero's field goal and 3-point percentages will likely go through some major swings over the course of the season, but on balance he projects to have a well-rounded stat profile buoyed by above-average passing for his size and position. Rebounding and scoring shouldn't be a concern, though it remains to be seen how much of an impact Banchero will make at the defensive end. He's also a below-average free throw shooter (72.9% FT as a freshman at Duke), which may be a concern if he's able to get to the line at anywhere close to the rate he did in Vegas (20 FTA in 60 total minutes).
There may also be some concern as to where Banchero fits in on a Magic roster that includes Wagner and 2021 No. 5 pick Jalen Suggs, as well as other recent first-rounders in Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac and Chuma Okeke. It's true that Orlando has more talent in place than most teams that historically pick No. 1 overall, but Banchero is easily the highest-upside piece of that group, so I'm not overly concerned about the team failing to prioritize his development as a future No. 1 option.
Jabari Smith, Rockets
Smith was No. 1 in my initial batch of rookie rankings, and while he fell two spots, it's worth noting that the gaps between Holmgren, Banchero and Smith are quite thin.
Smith gets penalized for a fairly underwhelming showing in Vegas, but despite shooting 38 percent from the field and floating around at times, there were still plenty of positives. For one, Smith grabbed 9.4 rebounds in fewer than 30 minutes per game – a strong indicator for a player who will almost certainly open the year as Houston's starting power forward next to Alperen Sengun. Smith also racked up 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game while getting to the free throw line at a decent clip. As expected, Smith did not offer much as a passer, but assists will never be his Fantasy calling card.
In terms of his basketball situation, Smith should be in a great position to see a ton of minutes as a rookie. Houston moving on from Christian Wood clears the way for a Sengun-Smith frontcourt of the future, and there is not much depth beyond that pairing. However, Smith could begin the year as the No. 4 option behind Jalen Green, Kevin Porter and even Sengun, who averaged 12.5 points (10.0 FGA/G), 7.5 boards, 3.2 assists and 1.2 blocks in the 30 games in which he saw at least 22 minutes as a rookie.
Smith is not an inherently ball-dominant player, so where he ultimately settles in that pecking order will be with monitoring very closely early in the season.
Keegan Murray, Kings
While Holmgren and Banchero commanded the attention at Summer League, it was Murray who may have solidified his Fantasy value the most. History dictates that Fantasy managers should be inherently skeptical of any player drafted by the Kings, but the early returns on Murray are overwhelmingly positive.
In four Summer League games, Murray turned in four 20-point efforts, averaging 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 3.5 made 3s per contest. Just as he did at Iowa last season, Murray played within himself and consistently capitalized on fast breaks and advantage situations. The 3-point shooting (40% 3PT, 8.8 3PA/G) was especially encouraging for a player who will likely have plenty of open catch-and-shoot looks as a rookie.
He'll fall in line behind De'Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and perhaps one of Harrison Barnes or Kevin Huerter, but if Murray's defensive numbers at the college level (3.2 blocks/steals per game) translate, he could easily threaten for a top-75 finish.
Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers
On Draft night, it looked as though Mathurin would be joining a fairly crowded backcourt, but the Pacers swiftly shipping Malcolm Brogdon to Boston seemingly clears the way for the No. 6 overall pick to start alongside Tyrese Haliburton. If the Pacers end up moving one or both of Myles Turner and Buddy Hield – a distinct possibility – then Mathurin would have an even clearer path to elevated usage in Year 1.
The Arizona product was yet another player who fared well in Las Vegas, cobbling together averages of 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 made 3s in just 22.4 minutes per game (three appearances). A very good athlete with prototypical size, Mathurin should be able to adapt well to the NBA game, and playing alongside a strong playmaker in Haliburton will only ease the transition.
Like any rookie guard, Mathurin will have to prove that he's not a drag on field goal percentage, and ideally his frame and aggressiveness would translate to a higher steal rate. But as long as Mathurin can shoot the ball even relatively efficiently, he'll be in an excellent position to play a ton of minutes and push for a top-100 finish.
Jaden Ivey, Pistons
Coming off of an electrifying sophomore season at Purdue, the Pistons made Ivey the No. 5 overall pick and the first guard off the board. Pairing Ivey with Cade Cunningham gives Detroit its high-upside backcourt of the future, and while there's a lot to like about Ivey's long-term Fantasy potential, I'm a little bit skeptical that he can be a top-100 player in Year 1.
While Ivey is the better athlete between him and Cunningham, he's not nearly as polished of an all-around player as Cunningham was prior to his rookie season. Ivey is an elite attacker who got even better as a finisher during his sophomore year, but his outside shot is still a question mark, and he's never been a great free throw shooter. He also failed to reach 1.0 steals per game in either of his collegiate seasons.
Ultimately, Ivey's upside is tantalizing enough that he's absolutely worth a late-round stab, but he's the type of player who will likely have a much more encouraging rookie season in real life than in Fantasy. Realistically, how likely is it that Ivey outperforms Jalen Green's 2021-22 production? Green posted 17.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.7 steals and 2.3 3s per game on 43/34/80 shooting and still finished outside the top-130 in 8-cat total value (152nd in per-game value).
As a No. 22 overall pick who was traded a week after the draft, Kessler's is a unique situation, but he's a player every Fantasy manager should be closely monitoring. Initially, it looked as though Kessler would settle in as Karl-Anthony Towns' backup, but in the wake of the Rudy Gobert trade, the Auburn product could very well be in line to open the season as Utah's starting center.
Kessler still has some developing to do – he saw limited action as a freshman at North Carolina before transferring to Auburn – but there's plenty to like about a seven-footer who averaged 8.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 4.6 blocks in just 25.6 minutes per game last season. If Kessler can stay on the floor and that block rate even remotely translates, he'll be a Fantasy mainstay as a rookie.
Johnny Davis, Wizards
On Draft night, it looked as though Davis would be in line to start alongside Bradley Beal in the Washington backcourt, but in the time since the Wizards have added both Will Barton and Monte Morris. That complicates exactly where Davis will fit in the hierarchy – particularly after a fairly disappointing showing at Summer League (27.6% FG across three games).
The Wizards shouldn't let that extremely small sample color their evaluation, however. Davis still projects as a capable, diverse scorer who rebounds extremely well for a guard. A shaky 3-point shot (30.6% at Wisconsin last season) will likely hinder his value early on, and it remains to be seen if he'll make much of an impact in the defensive categories.
When the Wizards are at full strength, Davis could struggle to be a Fantasy option worth rostering in standard leagues. But if Bradley Beal were to suffer an injury – or be moved at some point – Davis would be first in line to benefit.
More rookies to consider
Tari Eason, Rockets: One of the Rockets' three first-round picks, Eason arrives with much less hype than Jabari Smith, but both could be Fantasy options in 2022-23. That's particularly true for Eason if the Rockets end up moving Eric Gordon. In five Summer League appearances, Eason posted 17.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.4 3s.
Shaedon Sharpe, Trail Blazers: The biggest mystery in the draft remains almost a complete unknown after a shoulder injury limited him to less than six minutes of action in Summer League. After reclassifying, Sharpe did not play a single second for Kentucky last season, but his scoring ability is viewed as special enough to justify a top-10 selection. Long-term, Sharpe has major upside, but on a Blazers team looking to surround Damian Lillard with a win-now rotation, it's unclear how he'll fit in alongside Anfernee Simons, Gary Payton III and Josh Hart.
Jalen Williams, Thunder: OKC has assembled a deep stable of wings, but I like Williams' chances to separate himself and become a fixture in the rotation early in the season.
Jalen Duren, Pistons: As a big-time athlete with great size and shot-blocking upside, Duren will be on the Fantasy radar as another member of the Pistons' improved young core. The hope is that Dwane Casey turns the Memphis product loose at some point, but he'll have to battle with Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley and Kelly Olynyk for minutes out of the gate. The addition of Nerlens Noel also further complicates Duren's outlook.
Jeremy Sochan, Spurs: Sochan did not play in Summer League and remains somewhat of an unknown commodity, but he should be a rotation player right away for the rebuilding Spurs. If Sochan pushes his way onto the Fantasy radar as a rookie, it will be due to his defensive production.
TyTy Washington, Rockets: Washington won't be drafted in most leagues, but he's a guard I'll be monitoring. He could easily beat out Trey Burke and spend much of the season as the Rockets' No. 2 point guard.