Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Breakouts from Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle coming
Looking for the next superstar in Fantasy hoops? We've got some contenders to consider as you prepare to draft.
The start of the NBA preseason is less than a week away, which means Fantasy draft season is about to be in full swing. While identifying potential sleepers and busts is a vital component to success in any league, choosing correctly which players will make the leap from good to very good or very good to great is equally important.
Each of the players highlighted below falls below the elite tiers at their respective positions, but each have the potential to solidify their place as household Fantasy names this season.
The Lakers never truly figured out how to best use Randle, and while he's coming off the best statistical year of his young career, the 23-year-old now moves into what could be a more advantageous Fantasy situation. Randle was in and out of the starting five for most of last season. He played all 82 games but averaged just 26.7 minutes, despite shooting 55.8 percent from the floor and putting up 16.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. While New Orleans retained Nikola Mirotic, that workload feels like the absolute baseline for Randle, whose interior scoring and underrated passing should pair well with Anthony Davis up front.
The Hawks could very well be the league's worst team next season, but that doesn't mean they don't have any young talent. Collins and Prince each look like steals in their respective draft classes, and both will be in position for increased workloads.
Prince started all 82 games a year ago and was one of only a handful of players in the league to average at least 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and two made threes per game. The 24-year-old may not be elite in any one area, but much like Otto Porter and Joe Ingles, his overall body of work and lack of a true weakness buoy his Fantasy stock.
Collins, meanwhile, is coming off an impressive rookie year, albeit one in which he was limited. Even as the Hawks tumbled toward a high draft pick, Collins' workload was kept in check for most of the season. The No. 19 pick averaged just 24.1 minutes per game, which he translated to averages of 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.1 blocks. For now, Collins will likely be primarily a points/rebounds contributor who chips in with blocks, but he flashed an improving three-point stroke at summer league – if that develops into a reliable weapon, his Fantasy stock will rise accordingly.
Like Murray, Gordon is already on the radar as a rising star, but he's yet to put together a complete season. Gordon got off to a red-hot start in 2017-18, but he fell victim to injuries, which robbed him of 24 games as the Magic once again careened into the high-lottery. Gordon was in and out of the lineup for much of the second half of the season, failing to establish a rhythm and becoming significantly less-efficient as a shooter. Nonetheless, Gordon averaged 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 made threes and 1.0 steal per game – not too shabby for a 22-year-old in an injury-riddled year.
If Gordon can stay healthy for 70-plus games and recapture the efficiency that saw him shoot 51 percent from the floor and 44 percent from three over the Magic's first 21 games last season, he'll be on the short list of first-time All-Star candidates in the East.
Murray's 2017-18 campaign could have qualified as a breakout, but as the 21-year-old enters Year 3, it feels like he can reach another gear. After an up-and-down rookie year in which he barely cracked 40 percent from the field, Murray followed up with averages of 16.7 points, 3.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game on 45.1 percent shooting, including nearly 38 percent from three.
The Kentucky product still isn't quite as assertive as he could be, and playing alongside excellent passing bigs in Paul Millsap and, especially, Nikola Jokic does limit his assist chances. Even so, Murray should be in position to make another statistical leap this season. His numbers may never look like those of a traditional point guard, but he has room to improve as a scorer and volume three-point threat after knocking down 2.0 per game as a 20-year-old.
Chances are, no rookie in this class comes close to matching Ben Simmons' or Donovan Mitchell's electric debut campaigns, but Doncic is the best bet to provide veteran-caliber Fantasy production. Doncic isn't a 6-10 freight train like Simmons and he won't win a dunk contest like Mitchell, but he does virtually everything well and should be a multi-category contributor from Day 1.
Doncic didn't play in summer league so he's even more of a mystery than the rest of the rookie class, but early indications are he'll be a key piece for what should be a much more competitive Mavericks team. And given what the Mavs' projected lineup could look like, Doncic might end up with eligibility at three, or even four, positions in some formats.
Like Collins, Allen fared well as a rookie but rarely saw extended minutes. Even with a lack of quality backup options, Allen topped 30 minutes only four times in 72 games. Brooklyn added some frontcourt depth in Kenneth Faried and Ed Davis over the summer, but Faried is a natural power forward, while Davis can swing between both the four and the five. Regardless, Allen is a safe bet to exceed the 20.0 minutes per game he averaged last season, and if that number creeps closer to 30 minutes, he could approach 2.0 blocks per game. One of the youngest players in the 2017 draft, Allen posted per-36-minute averages of 14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks last season.
Even after footage of Fultz's new and improved jumper emerged earlier this week, the jury is still very much out as to how effective it'll be in a game setting. If Fultz looks anything close to the prospect we saw at Washington, he'll be among the biggest steals this draft season.
But even if the jumper lags behind, there's reason to believe Fultz can still be a valuable Fantasy commodity. In that scenario, he'd obviously be a drag on made three-pointers – and perhaps free throw percentage – but Fultz showed flashes last season of the all-around ability that made him the near-consensus No. 1 pick a year ago. When he returned for the final 10 games of last season, Fultz averaged 7.6 points, 4.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and – most impressively – 1.0 steal in just 17.7 minutes per game. He also notched a triple-double in 25 minutes in the Sixers' regular season finale. And that was after sitting out and facing immense public scrutiny for five-plus months. If Fultz's confidence in his jumpshot returns – Brett Brown intimated this week that it has – his upside is higher than anyone's on this list.
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