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2023-24 Fantasy Basketball Draft Rankings: What to do with each first-round pick

Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum will be positioning themselves as top selections in fantasy basketball drafts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

By Kirien Sprecher, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

It’s getting to be fantasy basketball draft time, and no pick is more important than the first one. That’s where you get your sure-fire star, or at least, hope you do. This article offers a quick breakdown of what to do at each draft spot in the first round, with some analysis on why said player is ranked higher than those behind him.

1st Overall – Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets

There’s not much to say here. Jokić essentially averaged a triple-double with ridiculous shooting splits (63/38/82) in 2022-23, but somehow didn’t win his third straight MVP. He also posted 2.0 steals-plus-blocks per game and got to the free-throw line consistently. If we are being nit-picky, Jokić appeared in less than 72 games for the first time in his career last season, and he could see periodic rest days to begin 2023-24 after Denver’s long postseason run. However, saying someone appeared in only 69 games is a bit ridiculous considering the NBA’s current resting landscape. Jokić is elite in just about every fantasy statistic, doesn’t miss many games and plays a position of scarcity. Don’t hesitate to take the two-time MVP No. 1 in all formats.

2nd Overall – Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

I don’t feel like I need to justify reaching a couple of spots to take the reigning MVP, but I will anyway. Some fantasy players may have concerns about games played, but he’s actually appeared in more games than Giannis Antetokounmpo in the past two seasons. Plus, the potential absence of James Harden could put even more usage on Embiid’s plate. Snagging Embiid No. 2 overall will also give you a massive positional advantage at center, as there are more guards worthy of rostering later in drafts than quality big men. Embiid just needs to stay on the court to justify this price tag, but that can be said about any pick.

3rd Overall – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis’ relentless nature gives him an incredibly high fantasy floor, but the reason he’s not higher is because his free-throw and three-point percentages can hurt you in category leagues. For those of you in points leagues, I’m still taking Embiid over Giannis for two different reasons. First, the addition of Damian Lillard, plus the potential subtraction of James Harden, could mean more usage for Embiid and less for Giannis. Second, Embiid playing in more regular-season games than Giannis the past two years was already mentioned above.

4th Overall – Luka Dončić, Dallas Mavericks

I’m content with taking Dončić as the first non-big man off the board. He’s the most prolific player in the league when healthy, and the addition of Kyrie Irving didn’t significantly impact Dončić’s numbers last year, so that shouldn’t be a concern. Dončić dealt with an injury during FIBA action this summer, which may be a lingering issue from last year, but it hasn’t stopped him from suiting up or putting up gaudy numbers. I’ll take Jokić, Embiid and Giannis over Dončić strictly to get a positional advantage at center, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the superstar point guard finishes as the top-scoring player in fantasy this season.

5th Overall – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder

After taking a massive leap forward last year, Gilgeous-Alexander is ready to cement himself in the MVP conversation for years to come. With the Thunder on the brink of playoff contention, Gilgeous-Alexander should be leaned on heavily in 2023-24, justifying the reach over guys like Trae Young, Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell, who all have to share the court with other stars. While Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t as prolific of a passer as Tyrese Haliburton, I like the Thunder star’s scoring efficiency, rebounding skills and defensive prowess more.

6th overall – Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

Tatum has been one of the most consistent stars in the NBA for a long time. Some may argue he hasn’t reached superstar status yet, but he’s averaged at least 26 points, seven rebounds, four assists and 1.0 steals in three consecutive seasons, and he’s only heading into his age-25 campaign. The addition of Kristaps Porzingis should open up more driving lanes, meaning an increase in field-goal percentage and added trips to the free-throw line for Tatum in 2023-24. Given his consistency, I don’t think fantasy managers can let Tatum slip past the sixth overall pick.

7th Overall – Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers

Fresh off a massive extension this offseason, Haliburton is ready to solidify himself as the Pacers’ cornerstone player. Haliburton could easily lead the league in assists this year, and he’s consistently put up solid steals numbers. He’s also lethal from beyond the arc, having shot over 40% in each of his first three seasons. Similar to Gilgeous-Alexander, I’m taking Haliburton over guys like Young, Lillard and Mitchell because he’s the clear-cut No. 1 option in Indiana.

8th Overall – Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

It’s his team now. With Karl-Anthony Towns sitting out most of last season, Edwards took over as the go-to player and made Minnesota a surprise team in the West, arguably pushing the Nuggets harder than anyone else did during the postseason. Edwards missed just three games last year and has missed a total of 23 through three seasons. He’s also shown improvement across the board in each of his professional campaigns. Edwards is gonna be out there on a regular basis, and he’s going to fill up the box score more often than not. MVP ascension isn’t out of the question.

9th Overall – Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings

Sabonis can match Jokić, Giannis and Embiid occasionally, but his prolific scoring outings aren’t as often as the the Big Three. Regardless, Sabonis offers elite production for his position and is consistently on the court. His three-point shot is a work in progress, but his rebounding and distributing should make him a top fantasy producer and a safe pick at the end of the first round.

10th overall – Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns

There’s always concern about Durant missing time at this stage in his career, but there’s simply too much value when he’s on the court, so you can’t let him fall out of the first round. Across eight regular-season games with the Suns last year, Durant averaged 26.0 points (57/54/83 shooting splits), 6.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 blocks.

11th Overall – LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Same story as Durant. Games played in recent years are certainly a huge red flag, but when available, James has consistently put up elite fantasy production. Across 55 games last year, James averaged 28.9 points (50/32/77 shooting splits), 8.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.5 steals-plus-blocks.

12th Overall – LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets

After a strong sophomore campaign, Ball vaulted himself into first-round territory last year, but multiple ankle injuries have turned managers off this season. He’s often falling into the second round, but given he’s younger and the clear No. 1 option on his team, I’m taking Ball over the honorable mention guys. There are understandable concerns about Ball’s efficiency, but I think he has a similar upside to Haliburton, who I’m taking five picks earlier.

Honorable Mention