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Where Should We Draft Last Year's Fantasy Basketball Breakouts In 2023-24?

Every year all types of fantasy sports bring surprises and disappointments, values and busts, and so forth. The 2022-23 basketball season was no exception to this dynamic, and navigating through players that fall under these categories properly can often make or break fantasy rosters.

For instance De'Anthony Melton and Trey Murphy III probably helped your team a ton during the campaign’s first half either by drafting them late or picking them up while certain starters were injured. On the flip side, spending a first-round pick on Karl-Anthony Towns proved to be detrimental with a calf injury that cost him more time than Minnesota anticipated, coupled by a mostly unsuccessful shift to power forward to accommodate for Rudy Gobert.

This article focuses on last year’s risers and how to treat them in 2023-24 leagues ahead of training camp. Most, if not all, of these guys are coming off the board higher than they did last fall, so let’s see if they’re worth the price of admission at their inflated costs.

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2022-23 Fantasy Basketball Risers (Guards)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander- PG/SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

As the surprise 2022-23 Thunder team avoided tanking for the third straight year even without Chet Holmgren, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander bloomed into a 9-category fantasy sensation in the first year of his new massive contract. The first time All-Star checked every box one could ask for, averaging 31.4 points on 51% shooting, 5.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.0 blocks, and 90.5% free-throw shooting on a monstrous 10.9 attempts. The slashing SGA is a top-five fantasy pick with OKC appearing to enter the next phase of their rebuild.

Jalen Brunson- PG/SG, New York Knicks

I'll concede as someone who scoffed when the Knicks spent $104 million to sign Jalen Brunson last offseason. The former second-round pick silenced any doubters questioning his ability to command an offense. Brunson’s defensive shortcomings can partly be swept under the rug after the 27-year-old took a Year 4 leap akin to Bradley Beal at one time, averaging 24 points on 49.1% shooting, 6.2 assists, 2.0 three-pointers on a 41.6% clip from beyond the arc, and 82.9% FT shooting on sizable volume.

Brunson performed as one the best offensive players in the NBA during his Knicks debut season and has earned fourth-/fifth-round treatment in 2023-24 drafts. The sixth-year playmaker's grounded style of play should maintain his health throughout the course of the campaign.

Donovan Mitchell- PG/SG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Donovan Mitchell has proven to be one of fantasy’s very best stalwarts with a 2022-23 move to Cleveland translating to his best season yet. The 26-year-old averaged career-high 28.3 points on 48.4% shooting alongside Darius Garland in the Cavaliers backcourt. Mitchell is a bankable selection in terms of health, workload, and skill set akin to Stephen Curry, just short of the latter's elite downtown shooting. Safety is a cardinal rule of early-round selections, and Mitchell fits the bill as a rock-solid pick around the Round 1/2 turn.


2022-23 Fantasy Basketball Risers (Forwards)

Jimmy Butler- SF/PF, Miami Heat

Jimmy Butler’s efficiency took a surprising rise, particularly via enhanced three-point shooting (35.0% clip matched his highest rate since Timberwolves days), in Year 12. Load management is probably bound to be an annoying issue, but the 34-year-old has been one of fantasy’s sturdiest two-way assets for nearly a decade. Damian Lillard’s potential arrival would unquestionably hurt the points-league appeal, but should see Butler's efficiency reach a career-best level.

Mikal Bridges- SG/SF, Brooklyn Nets

Does Mikal Bridges have everybody’s attention now? An annually undervalued fantasy asset, the 26-year-old saw his transition to Brooklyn as their go-to option rocket his value to the moon. Bridges handled the added volume seamlessly, averaging a robust 26.7 points, 4.7 boards, 2.9 dimes and 2.6 threes while flirting with 50/40/90 shooting splits.

The two-way star's newfound ability to create his own shot will make him far more expensive than the mid-round pick he was during his time with the Suns in the desert. With a blend of iron-man status and a 9-cat friendly game paralleled perhaps only by Jayson Tatum, Bridges sports a compelling dark-horse 2023-24 MVP case.


2022-23 Fantasy Basketball Risers (Centers)

Jaren Jackson Jr.- PF/C, Memphis Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. put to bed any fear of limitations after he missed 2020-21 with a meniscus tear. The 23-year-old led the NBA in block rate (9.6%) and became an instant league-winner after returning from a stress fracture in his foot during mid-November. Jackson is worthy of late-first/early-second round treatment in category leagues this fall with Ja Morant suspended for the first quarter of the year. JJJ is averaging 20.6 points in 43 career games sans Morant as opposed to 16.3 points in all other games with the superstar guard.

Lauri Markkanen- SF/PF, C, Utah Jazz

2022-23's Most Improved Player of the Year, Lauri Markkanen put together all the offensive talent that nicknamed him "Lauri Legend" as a 2017 first-round rookie. A three-level-scoring wing in a center’s body, the 25-year-old should dominate the offensive fantasy categories, but lose a bit of shine defensively unlike his unicorn counterpart, Kristaps Porzingis. After averaging 29.1 points in 12 games post-All-Star break following Utah's subtraction of several key contributors, Markkanen should be a fixture on the Round 2/3 turn this fall.

Brook Lopez- C, Milwaukee Bucks

Once a boring late-round pick, Brook Lopez didn’t look the part of that in 2022-23. The 35-year-old’s elite rim protection (6.7 BLK%) and unexpected jump in rebounding (6.7 boards were his most since Nets days) allowed Lopez to impose himself as an upper-echelon fantasy center. Most of the Bucks benefitted usage-wise with Khris Middleton a virtual non-factor, however, via injuries and minutes caps, and Lopez got more work in the post in Middleton's absence.

Lopez averages 15.4 points in 66 career Milwaukee games sans Middleton and 12.5 points in all the rest. "Splash Mountain" remains an optimal fit as a pick-and-pop big alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo in real life, but Lopez's destined hike in ADP might make the veteran big man a fantasy fade this fall.

Nicolas Claxton- C, Brooklyn Nets

A 2022-23 fantasy sleeper to live up to the hype, Nicolas Claxton broke out for the highest effective field-goal rate (70.5%) in the NBA. The 23-year-old was handed the reins at the 5 for Brooklyn after playing second fiddle to various Nets castoffs such as DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Drummond in years past.

Claxton’s FG% went down post-All-Star break with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving gone, but his FT rate actually went up (63.2%) as a sign of promise in this area. The paint beast's 7.1 BLK% could make Claxton a worthy top-50 selection in some drafts for those punting the FT% category this season.

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