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2022-23 Fantasy Basketball Comeback Candidates - Wings and Big Men: Part 1

There is a thing the NFL does that the NBA does not: hand a Comeback Player of the Year award after every season. As the very own NFL defines it, this award is given "to the player who shows perseverance in overcoming adversity, in the form of not being in the NFL the previous year, overcoming a severe injury, or simply a poor performance."

With that in mind, I'm bringing this accolade to the realm of (fantasy) basketball and giving you some names of who should be candidates to have a "Comeback Season" in 2022-23 after missing time of late or straight playing way below their true-talent level in the past few months and/or years. With more than 450 players regularly playing in the NBA, it's understandable that you have forgotten about some of those guys missing time recently and for long periods of time.

Here are a few picks of players with Forward and Center eligibility expected to have bounceback campaigns when the upcoming season tips off that you might draft without other fantasy GMs really noticing those players' presence on the board after they forgot about them!

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Fantasy Basketball Comeback Candidates - Wings and Big Men

Michael Porter Jr., SF/PF - Denver Nuggets

Back in 2018 when Denver drafted MPJ with the last lottery pick (14th) of the draft, nobody was that shocked. Yes, Porter had slipped a bit through the cracks considering his high school pedigree, but that was mostly because of the injury concerns surrounding him and sublimating in a lost rookie year (didn't play in 2019 at all) and a 2020 debut after a season on the shelves.

MPJ has yet to play a full season--or more than 61 games in a single year, for that matter--but when available, he's been more than worth that "late" draft pick. Porter only started eight games in his first season but once he got to a starting role in 2021, he finished that campaign averaging a 19-7-1 per-game line with 0.7 SPG and 0.9 BPG. His shooting was impressive, posting a 66+ TS% thanks to a saucy 54.2/44.5/79.1 shooting splits.

That 2021 season was impressive and there is no possible arguing against that. Last year, though, didn't go too well for him even leaving his injury to the side. In nine games, MPJ turned the ball over at a higher rate, was grabbing the fewest rebounds (worrying offensive rebounding, to say the least) in his career, blocking the fewest shots, and having silly bad outcomes from the charity stripe.

Of course, Denver didn't have Jamal Murray available in 2021 and that had its impact on MPJ's lesser numbers. Denver should have the full pack available from the get-go next season and everybody will benefit from that. Most fantasy GMs are aware and are drafting MPJ at an overall ADP of 67th in early Yahoo drafts. That's reasonable (and a bit of a bargain, even) considering MPJ's best year finished with him ranking nearly into the top-50 players of the league and a top-20 F-eligible player.

T.J. Warren, SF/PF - Brooklyn Nets

The COVID-19 pandemic came to entirely disrupt our perception of time and alter the continuum of our lives forever. Thank god we had T.J. Warren to plant a flag right in the middle of it all--inside a Walt Disney Bubble, of all places--for us to have a reference point to which to look back on and properly set a timeline of events.

Such impactful was Warren's bubble run in his first season with the Indiana Pacers. That happened only two seasons ago, even though it feels like it's been 20 years since that moment. Warren finished the full (disrupted) 2020 season averaging nearly 20 PPG,  4+ RPG, 1+ APG, and 1+ SPG while not committing even 1.5 TOPG. He did all of that with an absolutely ludicrous shooting efficiency on top of everything, posting a sky-high 61.0 TS%.

Warren's calling card was simple to figure out: play a lot of minutes (32.9 MPG), hoist a lot of shots (14.9 FGA per game), and hit them at barely-believable levels (53.6/40.3/81.9 shooting splits). The minutes and the shooting attempts had been there for Warren in past seasons even though he was just 26-years-old when the bubble arrived, but only once (and in a limited 43-game season) had he approached that TS% (58.2 in 2019).

Even while it'd be a little bit naive to think about Warren as someone capable of replicating that version of himself going forward--let alone coming off nearly two years off the court with just four games played in the last two seasons combined--you should keep in mind that he'll be the leading man of the Nets second unit so he will have a huge role when it comes to usage, taking shots, and putting up all of the numbers he wants. If Warren can make it back healthy enough to play some 65+ games and 28+ MPG, he might be good for a 15-3-1-1 season as part of Brooklyn's second unit.

Zion Williamson, PF/C - New Orleans Pelicans

Including Zion Willamson in this list should be forbidden because he's presence here should be so obvious. Just looking at Zion's last active season (2021) and comparing it to other similar years from NBA's yesteryear gives you a pretty nice picture of how ridiculously impossible Zion is. Just applying a simple per-game filter (27 PPG, 7 RPG, 3 APG) yields a meager 92 comparable campaigns.

Adding a small quirk (.640+ TS%) removes almost all competition from the list. The remaining player campaigns: 1988 Barkley, 2013 KD, 2019 Giannis, and 2022 Jokic... along with 2021 Zion. Uh oh, this Williamson kid.

Anyway, and even if you didn't know about those little particular details of greatness, discussing Zion's statistics and historical performances feels like wasting your and my time. Zion is the preternatural either/or, boom/bust fantasy player. If you have a high tolerance for risky plays, then Zion falls right up your alley. If you prefer to play it safe, then Zion is probably out of your drafting equation. It is what it is.

The "generational player" label gets tossed around a bit too much these days, but Williamson surely is one of them. Can he stay on the floor for long enough to sustain the numbers and produce proper season-long outcomes? That's an entirely different matter coming off a season lost in full and having played just a combined 85 games in his first two campaigns. Zion will make it back to a basketball court having spent nearly a year and a half recovering since the last time we saw him. Even if he goes on to play just 60 games, he should be a lock for a top-15 finish overall and top-five among F-eligible players. Seriously.

Brook Lopez, C - Milwaukee Bucks

One of the few true centers coming back from an injury-ridden season, Brook Lopez was always a lock to feature in this type of list. Yahoo! is very flexible with its center-designated players (the likes of Giannis, Siakam, and Draymond Green are eligible at the position) but when it comes to players with C-only eligibility, Lopez has the 17th-highest ADP among those in that crop.

Call me crazy, but I see no real path for (just to name a few) Mo Bamba, Alperen Sengun, or Ivica Zubac to beat Lopez over a full season in fantasy leagues--assuming all of those and Lopez stay healthy for at least 85% of the year. Barring last season, when Lopez missed 69 games, he had played 68+ games in seven consecutive seasons with the Nets, Lakers, and Bucks. Call last year an injury-fluke season.

Lopez is about to play his age-34 campaign and 15th season as a pro. He's not going to change his game anymore, but that's only because he already changed it in 2017 when he went from attempting 0.2 3PA to 5.2 (!) in his last year in Brooklyn. Lopez is now an above-average efficiency player posting nearly 1.00 FP/min and averaging some 24-to-26 FPPG. He will give you the customary points and rebounds with a fantastic outcome on the blocks cat and limited turnovers.

If healthy for at least 60 games, Lopez should be a lock to break the top-80 barrier while finishing as a top-15 C without any sort of trouble getting there.

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