The term "breakout" is defined differently across the fantasy community, but I'm using breakout to describe players who should exceed their average draft position (ADP) relative to their real-life position on the court and see a boon in minutes and opportunity. I've already presented my case for three breakout guards, so it's only right we turn to the forwards.
First up, Evan Mobley.
Evan Mobley - PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers
Another second-year player who I'm expecting to improve this season. I've been vocal about my confidence and exposure to Mobley in fantasy drafts — and the addition of Donovan Mitchell into the Cavs lineup will make him even better. As Kevin O'Conner so eloquently stated, the key to unlocking the Cavs championship upside hinges on the development of Evan Mobley's offensive game. We already know what he can do defensively. He received 13 NBA All-Defensive second-team votes after finishing his rookie season with 1.7 blocks and 0.8 steals per game. Oh, and an All-Rookie first-team nod (and should have been Rookie of the Year too, but I digress).
Mobley finished 81st in per-game value last season — primarily due to his poor free throw shooting (66.3%) and lack of three-pointers (0.3 per game). So, from a fantasy perspective, this is the area of growth we'll want to see most. With another shot creator and playmaker like Donovan Mitchell in the fold, Mobley will see more scoring opportunities around the rim, in transition and on the perimeter. He showed promise last year but only shot 25 percent from three and 33% on jumpers. Despite having good form and several offensive moves, he lacked consistency.
However, I've been following his development this offseason, and he's been making strides to improve his shooting. He's been working with a personal shooting coach along with Cavs assistants Luke Walton and Greg Buckner on his range. Head coach JB Bickerstaff has seen enough to give Mobley the green light on the perimeter.
We're about to witness Mobley turn into a three-level scorer who will wreak havoc on defense. He has the tools to be one of the best two-way stretch fours in the league and it starts now. Not only will he exceed his ADP, but he'll also be in the conversation for making his first All-Star appearance. Breakout incoming.
Franz Wagner - SF/PF, Orlando Magic
The second-year pro is garnering a lot of attention from his offseason performance at Euro Basket 2022. Wagner finished the tournament averaging 15.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.1 threes and 1.2 stocks (steals plus blocks) with 53/46/89 shooting splits. While his numbers were nowhere near All-Tournament-team worthy, he left basketball fans and fantasy managers salivating over his offensive and defensive repertoire. And Wagner put up similar stats for the Magic in 2021-22, earning him First Team All-Rookie honors.
His play over the summer proved his playmaking, shot creation, and on/off ball defense was no fluke — and that he's about to transform from a solid role player to a budding two-way star in the NBA this season.
He passes the eye test and is a darling of the advanced analytics community. I'm not saying he's Jayson Tatum in the making, but at 20 years old, their stats are eerily similar. Wagner is going in the seventh round (ADP 80.8), but I'm banking on him to finish as a top-50 fantasy player by the end of the season.
His minutes should ramp up from 30.7 per game to at least 33.0 per game. And, standing at 6'10", he'll get playing time at both forward positions. Per Cleaning the Glass, Wagner finished in the 84th percentile in usage rate among forwards last year, which can only grow as his role continues to expand. For the year, my projections have him delivering 18.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.7 threes, 1.1 steals and 0.7 blocks with 48/38/86 shooting splits.
The arrival of rookie Paolo Banchero gives the Magic a sorely needed scoring threat on the wing to pair with Wagner. Since both are capable passers with high basketball IQs, I'm confident they'll thrive in the frontcourt and be an effective one-two scoring punch for Orlando this year. Head coach Jamahl Mosley said Wagner will get opportunities to run the point in transition, which boosts his assist potential. Magic F Jonathan Issac is still out indefinitely, so the Magic will lean on Wagner to be the disruptive wing defender they're currently lacking.
Get on the hype train because it's about to leave the station.
Jalen Smith - PF, Indiana Pacers
The former Maryland product is relatively unknown in fantasy basketball because he hasn't received a significant amount of minutes entering his third NBA season. Initially drafted by the Suns, you may remember he put Mason Plumlee in a body bag, drawing flashbacks to former Suns All-Star Amar'e Stoudemire. Smith's stint was brief in Phoenix, only registering five starts across 78 games. In those starts, however, he was quite productive, averaging 16.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 0.8 threes and 1.0 block with 55/33/90 shooting splits.
The Suns decided to trade Smith to the Pacers in exchange for F Torrey Craig around the trade deadline and it was probably the best-case scenario for the young power forward. After 22 games in a Pacers uniform, it was clear that Indiana found itself a foundational piece to a rebuilding franchise. In 22 games last season, Jalen Smith averaged 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 1.4 threes, 0.4 steals and 1.0 block with 53/37/76 shooting splits in 24.7 minutes per contest. Over the season's final two months, Smith finished 86th in per-game value. That was enough to ink a 2-yr/$9.7M contract and become the starting PF of the future for the Pacers. But what would his stats look like with more minutes?
That's why I'm expecting him to break out in Year 3. His ADP is 121.8 (10th round), but his per-36 numbers from last season are 19.6 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 2.1 threes and 2.1 stocks. He racked up six double-doubles off the bench for the Pacers. Of those six double-doubles, only two of them came with more than 30 minutes of playing time. Smith has immense potential and, with his size, he's able to play both power forward and center positions.
A potential Myles Turner trade will only accelerate Smith's path to relevancy. As a late-round pick, you're essentially getting a guy with the capability for a nightly double-double who also provides threes, blocks and has a low turnover rate — a rarity for the center position for fantasy. Smith will finish in the top 100 this year, and if he gets 30+ minutes a night, one could make a case for him to finish with top-75 per-game value by season's end.