Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Everyone’s excited to see how such a rare prospect like Williamson does in the NBA, and he only continues to ramp up the hype with a historic preseason in which he’s shooting 71% from the floor while trying to become the first rookie to average more than 20 points per game in the past 20 years. Williamson put up huge defensive stats at slow-paced Duke, while the Pelicans had the second-highest Pace last season and should move even faster with a healthy Lonzo Ball running point. Williamson will also be given the green light to shoot at will during his rookie campaign, although early indications are that the Pelicans may feature him living in the paint as opposed to working on his outside shot. His preseason outburst means Zion might now cost a second-round pick, but no player is going to be more fun to roster this season.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
He finished his rookie season averaging 24.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 9.2 assists and 2.4 threes after the All-Star break when he also improved to 44.2% shooting from the floor. Fantasy gamers are expecting further growth in Season Two, as Young just turned 21 years old last month and is the face of a young Hawks franchise on the upswing that led the league in Pace last season. He had the 16th highest Usage Rate as a rookie, so there’s a bunch of upside with Young, whose stock is shooting up. He was taken in the first round of the recent Yahoo Friends & Family draft.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
After changing his diet and getting into shape, Green went nuts during the postseason last year, when he averaged 13.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks while shooting 49.8% from the field (with a league-high six triple-doubles). The Warriors can no longer afford to coast during the regular season, so “playoff Draymond” showed up motivated immediately this year, and he’s going to see a jump in Usage Rate with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson missing (D’Angelo Russell enters the mix to offset that some, but there’s little depth on this roster, and KD’s ISO leaving means more of Green initiating Golden State’s offense). Green is an absolute gift if you can get him in the fourth round of your draft.
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
His value increased during the summer when Hassan Whiteside left Miami, and he’s followed that up with a strong preseason. Adebayo was a borderline top-50 fantasy asset when starting last season, a role he now has locked up moving forward, and the 22 year old is only getting better. A solid passing big man, Adebayo is no secret in drafts, as his stock is clearly on the rise.
Thomas Bryant, Washington Wizards
He emerged out of nowhere last season and is now locked into the No. 2 role on a team so otherwise devoid of talent, Bradley Beal is being pushed into the top-10 in fantasy drafts. Bryant shot 78.1% from the line last year while recording more dunks than Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, so he’s versatile, even making four three-pointers during a recent Wizards preseason game. He’s clearly a talented young big man who also happens to be in a situation that’s going to give him a ton of opportunities this year. Basketball Monster projects Bryant as a top-25 fantasy player in 9-cat leagues this season.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
He finished strong last year, put up big numbers when not sharing the floor with Lou Williams and joins a Thunder team that had the sixth-fastest Pace last season and will now be without Paul George and Russell Westbrook. SGA should have no problem coexisting in the backcourt with Chris Paul (until CP3 gets hurt or traded), and the 21 year old suddenly looks like the face of Oklahoma City’s franchise. Gilgeous-Alexander was a top-50 fantasy player over the final month last season and is a budding star who finds himself in a terrific situation to put up monstrous stats as a sophomore, so it makes perfect sense he’s soaring up draft boards.
Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers
After getting traded to Portland, Whiteside openly stated his goal was to lead the NBA in rebounding and blocks this season, which isn’t a stretch considering he’s previously accomplished both feats during different seasons in his career (and crazily, something Shaquille O’Neal never once did throughout his 19-year career). Whiteside is an injury risk (he even left Wednesday’s game with an ankle sprain), but he’s in a good spot to produce as part of a thin Trail Blazers frontcourt with Jusuf Nurkic sidelined indefinitely. Whiteside was a top-10 fantasy player as recently as 2015/16, and his arrow is pointing back up assuming his health cooperates. Teammate Zach Collins is also highly intriguing and has been rightfully moving up draft boards this month.
Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
He finished as the No. 3 fantasy player per game in 9-cat leagues last year and first in the NBA in Real Plus-Minus, and the Clippers are rightfully preseason favorites to win it all thanks in no small part to him joining Kawhi Leonard in LA. But George had double shoulder surgery during the offseason, and he’s in no rush to return after playing through pain last season. Doc Rivers says George is out at least the first 10 games of the season, and there are rumors his absence could extend for the first six weeks of the year, making him increasingly tough to spend a second- or third-round fantasy pick on. The Clippers have title hopes, so load management will take precedence throughout the year with their two new stars. Expect plenty of DNPs from George even after he returns. He’s an easy pass at his cost.
Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors
He was a big contributor to Toronto winning its first championship, and Kawhi Leonard left during the offseason, but Gasol’s fantasy value took a major hit after he was traded to the Raptors last year, and he’ll once again be sharing center minutes with Serge Ibaka (while Pascal Siakam likely makes another leap). Gasol will turn 35 years old this season and is fully expected to have his load managed after playing for Team Spain over the summer, so he lacks upside at this stage of his career and is in a crowded frontcourt that makes it tough to make a profit at draft tables.
Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
He was already overrated in cat leagues as someone who doesn’t contribute many defensive stats, and he’s now dealing with a foot stress reaction that could cause him to miss regular-season games. Kuzma is currently being drafted as a top-90 player in Yahoo leagues, but he wasn’t a top-200 fantasy asset over the final two months last year (despite averaging 17.4 ppg), and he’ll likely be coming off the bench with Anthony Davis now in Los Angeles and refusing to play center. Kuzma shot just 25.0% from downtown after the All-Star break last season, a trend moving in the wrong direction, and it won’t help sharing the court with two heavy Usage Rate teammates while worrying about a foot issue that continues to linger.