Fantasy MVP, Rookie of the Year (so far)
The Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year conversations tend to differ between "raw" and fantasy basketball, with narratives and storylines having a significant (and sometimes outsized) impact on the former. With a little time before play resumes after the All-Star break, the Rotoworld NBA crew is looking at who they would select for fantasy MVP and Rookie of the Year at this stage in the season. Denver's Nikola Jokić figures prominently in the conversation, which should surprise no one as he's on track to become the first center to average a triple-double. As for the top rookies, Utah's Walker Kessler looks like a franchise cornerstone, whether we're talking about the Jazz or dynasty league teams.
If the season stopped today, who would be your pick for fantasy Most Valuable Player?
Noah Rubin: Nikola Jokić
Before the season, the narrative surrounding Jokic's MVP resume consisted of standards like “well, maybe if Denver is the top seed in the West AND he averages a triple-double, but it'll be difficult for him to win a third straight MVP without doing those.” Well, we're about three-quarters of the way through the season, and the Nuggets are 41-18, which has them sitting a game behind the Celtics for the best record in the NBA. Jokic is averaging 24.7 points, 11.5 rebounds, 10.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, and 0.8 triples while shooting 63.2% from the floor and 82.2% from the line. He is 0.1 steals and 0.1 blocks away from leading his team in the five major categories. His scoring and rebounds are down a tad from last season, but the assists and field goal percentage are both career highs. The only knock against him is his 3.5 turnovers per game, but they're down from 3.8 last season.
There isn't much of a margin for error when your ADP is 1.3, but the Joker has delivered. He is on his way to his third straight finish atop the 9-cat per-game rankings, and the only player standing between Jokic and another first-place finish in total value is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has played two extra games. It's hard to continually deliver on preseason expectations of being the best player in fantasy. Still, Jokic has done it again, and he'll likely have a similar ADP for drafts next season.
Zak Hanshew: Jaren Jackson Jr.
I'm going with Jaren Jackson Jr., but this is close to being a 1A/1B situation with him and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Let's make the case for SGA first.
Gilgeous-Alexander's ADP fell way down to 45.4 (per Hashtag Basketball), despite him finishing 34th in per-game fantasy value a season ago. The risk of injury or shutdown (91 total games played over the last two seasons) was a contributing factor to his depressed price tag on draft day. Still, he's missed only four games this season while producing career-high numbers in multiple categories. SGA ranks fifth in the Association in points per game (30.8), but he's far more than a scorer. His 1.6 steals, and 1.1 blocks are both career highs, as are his excellent shooting percentages (50.8 FG%, 91.2 FT%), and his assist and rebound numbers are far better than serviceable. He ranks 4th in per-game fantasy value and 1st in total value, making him one of the biggest steals of fantasy drafts. The Thunder have played competitive basketball this season, so a shutdown seems highly unlikely.
Now on to JJJ. Jackson Jr. averaged just 42 games played over his first three seasons in the Association, but he provided unprecedented durability in 2021-22 with 78 games played. Disaster struck when the Grizzlies announced he underwent surgery on a stress fracture in his right foot and would miss the beginning of the 2022-23 season. That news drove his ADP way down to 132 (according to Hashtag Basketball), but JJJ returned after missing only 14 games to open the season, and he's played 40 of a possible 43 games since re-joining the lineup. Jackson Jr. is enjoying the best season of his career, averaging 16.9 points and career highs in rebounds (6.7), steals (1.1), and blocks (3.3). He's ranked 10th in per-game fantasy value, and managers who snagged him are likely sitting pretty in their leagues.
Either player would be a fantastic choice, but I'm going with JJJ because there's a good chance you were able to nab him outside the top 100 picks. That means you could have drafted both he and SGA to your fantasy teams without sacrificing any early-round draft capital.
Raphielle Johnson: Joel Embiid
As much as I've liked what we've seen out of SGA this season, it feels like destiny that a big man will be the MVP as far as fantasy is concerned. The aforementioned Jokic is on track to become the first center to average a triple-double for a season. At the same time, JJJ has offered elite production since returning from injury, especially as a defender. But I'm going with Embiid for fantasy MVP, as he's in the midst of the best offensive season of his career to date. Appearing in 45 games, The Process is averaging 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.5 blocks, and 1.1 3-pointers in 34.9 minutes, shooting 53.7% from the field and 85.8% from the foul line. Embiid is posting career-highs in points, steals, and field-goal percentage, and he entered the All-Star break ranked 2nd in 9-cat, per-game value.
The only played he trails right now is Jokic, but Embiid's usage (37.2) is nearly 10 points higher than the Joker's (27.3). Usage may not be a statistical category in fantasy basketball, but it should count for something here, especially when both players are averaging the same number of turnovers per game (3.5). No one should be up in arms over either choice, given how productive Embiid and Jokic have been thus far. It's close, but give me Embiid in this spot.
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Who would be your pick for fantasy Rookie of the Year if the season stopped today?
Rubin: Walker Kessler
After being selected by the Timberwolves with the 22nd pick in last year's draft, Kessler didn't have a clear path to minutes behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid. He lucked out by being included in the blockbuster deal that sent Rudy Gobert to Minnesota. Kessler started the season out as a reserve behind the frontcourt of Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Olynyk, and Jarred Vanderbilt. He had a double-double in his first game and four blocks in his second, but he wasn't able to establish a consistent role. He got his first start on December 7th and showcased his fantasy potential by contributing 10 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks in just 24 minutes.
It took him some time to become a consistent starter for the Jazz, but in his 23 starts, he has averaged 10.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks while shooting 71% from the field in just 26.7 minutes per game. He's fifth in the league in blocks per game despite playing significantly fewer minutes than everyone close to him. Despite an ADP of 134.8, Kessler has provided 7th-round value this season, making him the only top-100 rookie in 9-cat leagues. Not only has he been the best rookie this season, but he should be a premier fantasy asset for years to come.
Hanshew: Jalen Williams
This is an interesting one, and I think three players should be considered: Jalen Duren, Jalen Williams, and Walker “The Ranger” Kessler. Here's a quick look at their preseason ADP, per-game fantasy ranks over the last month, and full-season fantasy ranks.
Per-Game Rank (last month)
Per-Game Rank (full season)
132 (4th among rookies)
107 (2nd among rookies)
78 (1st among rookies)
As you can see, there aren't any major differences in recent per-game value or preseason ADP. Duren has been a rebounding machine, leading all rookies with 8.7 per contest. Kessler is second with 7.7. Kessler leads the 2022 class in FG% (71.2), but Duren is second at 65.3. Kessler comfortably leads all rookies in blocks per game at 2.1, and he's accomplished that feat in only 21.3 minutes per contest. Williams leads all rookies in steals per game at 1.2, but over the last month, he's ranked second in steals per game (2.2) and tied for first in total steals (28). All three players have played over 50 games, so missed contests have not been an issue with this trio.
Why are we rolling with Jalen Williams, despite Kessler ranking significantly higher in full-season value and providing coveted blocks? Kessler and Duren are prototypical big men, delivering elite efficiency, strong rebounds, and key defensive stats. Blocks are one of the hardest stats to find on draft day, especially on the waiver wire, but big men who don't pass or shoot outside the paint can also prove detrimental if not added to the right build. Williams, however, offers an all-around skillset that fits well with any team. He doesn't offer a huge negative impact in any category, and we have yet to see his best play. Williams has improved throughout the season, and we can expect even better play down the stretch.
Three of the last six Rookie of the Year award winners have also been the highest-ranked fantasy rookie. With Orlando's Paolo Banchero being the betting favorite to be named Rookie of the Year, it appears likely it will become three out of the last seven. The best fantasy rookies to this point in the season have been Kessler and Oklahoma City's Jalen Williams, two players who needed some time before solidifying starting roles for their respective teams. In the case of Kessler, he's a major reason why the Rudy Gobert trade has looked so lopsided.
Appearing in 57 games (23 starts), he's averaging 8.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.4 steals, and 2.1 blocks in 21.3 minutes, shooting 71.2% from the field and 54.4% from the foul line. Despite the limited scoring and poor foul shooting, Kessler sits a few spots outside the top-75 in 9-cat, per-game value. He isn't the scorer that Banchero, or even Williams or Keegan Murray, has proved to be. But scorers are a dime a dozen in fantasy basketball. Landing a rookie who is fourth in the league in blocks and would be second in field goal percentage if he had enough attempts is more difficult.
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