Fantasy Basketball: SGA, Mikal Bridges and a key NBA rookie top biggest 2022-23 surprises
During this fantasy basketball season, the Sacramento Kings soared to unexpected heights and LeBron James ascended to the all-time scoring leader in the NBA. Countless other moments captivated NBA fans — from blockbuster trades to resurgent rookies — and now, I'll revisit three surprising narratives of this memorable year, along with my early 2023-24 draft projections for each.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: The leap into the fantasy elite
SGA is arguably the best value pick this season as he's on pace to finish 4th in per-game value and 2nd in total value in his fifth NBA season. Not only does he have the Oklahoma City Thunder in the thick of one of the most competitive playoff races in recent memory, but he's also one of two players who appear on 30 percent or more of the best teams across Yahoo public leagues this year.
Gilgeous-Alexander finished last season 34th in per-game value, so while many expected him to improve, he suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain before training camp, which suppressed his ADP to 46.9. There was also the looming question about whether he'd be load-managed at the end of the season, which has become the norm across his last two seasons. As such, I witnessed SGA go in the fourth round of drafts on a few occasions in the preseason, and that discount likely catapulted many fantasy teams into the upper echelon of their leagues.
He's on track to play the most games since his second year in the league and put up career-highs across multiple categories, including points (31.5), field-goal percentage (51%), free-throw percentage (90.4%), steals (1.7) and blocks per game (1.0). And more impressively, he's adapted his game to take high-efficiency shots. He's on pace to average the 4th-most 2-point FGs per game behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Zion Williamson. And from 10-14 feet, he's knocking down mid-range jumpers among the likes of Kevin Durant, Brandon Ingram and DeMar DeRozan.
He's in rare air, as he and Michael Jordan are the only players to average at least 30 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1 block while shooting 50% in a season, per Stathead. It's been a remarkable season for the first-time All-Star, who is blossoming into one of the best fantasy players in the game and one of the top young stars in the NBA today.
Mikal Bridges: How an unlikely trade created an unsuspecting star
Did anyone expect the Suns to trade for Kevin Durant?! It's a shame we've only been able to witness three games with KD in the lineup since the deal went down, but man, the emergence of Bridges has been one of the best things to watch since Feb. 10. Bridges was already a top-40 player for much of the season, but his usage and production have skyrocketed since joining the Nets.
The NBA's new iron man is averaging close to 27 points per game for Brooklyn, which is up by nearly 10 points since leaving Phoenix, in addition to increasing his volume and efficiency from the perimeter. He's shooting 49% from the field over his past 20 games while upping his attempts from 13 to 18 per contest. He's also making nearly three 3s per night and hitting them at a 41% clip, which would be the second-highest of his career.
He's been so aggressive offensively it's unpacked another aspect of his game that didn't draw a lot of attention while with the Suns (likely due to his role), and that's getting to the foul line. He's made the sixth-most free throws since the trade deadline (at 92%) after attempting almost 7 per game since Feb. 10. Here's Nets HC Jacque Vaughn talking about Bridges' growth in various aspects of his game in only a short period of time:
Really appreciated Nets coach Jacque Vaughn’s candidness when talking about the development of Mikal Bridges (specifically in Brooklyn) this season
His response pre-game on what that’s looked like and what we should expect to see from Bridges going forward
He dropped 44 tonight pic.twitter.com/rHtVlv0l9M
— Adam Koffler (@AdamKoffler) March 27, 2023
Much of his maturation has been in scoring because that's what the Nets' desperately needed since losing such polarizing stars like Kyrie Irving, Durant and James Harden over the past two seasons. But one thing is for sure, Bridges has the makings of a cornerstone franchise player, and he's already showing he's a top-20 fantasy asset with the Nets' current roster.
I will be targeting him as an early second-round pick next year because, with his toughness, efficiency and defensive upside on top of his volume scoring, he's an exceptional player to build your team around.
Jalen Williams: The best rookie of the 2022-2023 class?
I'm strictly talking about redraft fantasy here (Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren truthers, relax), but J-Dub is statistically the best fantasy rookie this season. He's currently 72nd in per-game value, and while Walker Kessler is right on his heels at 77, J-Dub's success has been more eye-opening than Kessler's.
Williams' preseason ADP was just under the top 150 at 142, but he's consistently improved month over month this season. I first mentioned picking up Williams in Week 3, and I said that "given the Thunder's reputation for mailing it in early, Williams is a player I like now and for the rest of the season."
While I'm not here to brag, this is more about how early Williams displayed the tools of a solid fantasy player. His versatility (which was well-documented before he came into the league) and size allow him to wreak havoc on opposing teams thanks to his ability to defend multiple positions — from point guard to power forward. He's averaging 2 stocks per game after the All-Star break, including being top-4 in steals since the trade deadline.
Here's J-Dub blocking Suns' backup center Jock Landale at the rim:
In addition to his defensive contributions, he also fills up the box score. He's raised his scoring, rebound and assist averages every month this season.
Every. Single. Month.
That's unreal progression and growth, and he's on pace to finish March averaging 18.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. Plus, his efficiency improved with the increased usage and volume. His shooting splits for March are 55/49/86, but he's been shooting 50% from the field for much of the season — another rarity for a combo guard in only his first season in the league.
He's the basketball version of a five-tool baseball player who doesn't hurt you in any particular category. Considering he's making this much of an impact in his rookie year, he's already ahead of Josh Giddey in 9-cat leagues and is making a strong case to be a late-fourth to mid-fifth-round pick next season. Let's just hope that he doesn't hit a second-year wall like Scottie Barnes did this season.