We're in the second half of Week 18, which means the fantasy playoffs are just a few weeks away, but also, the trade deadline (for most Yahoo leagues) ends next Thursday, March 2. Whether you're cruising to a bye week or fighting for the final spots in the playoff race, it's time to make moves.
You'll find my full rest-of-season rankings at the end of this column, but first, I'll break down the top three risers and fallers to close out the season. Let's jump in.
Mikal Bridges - SF/PF, Brooklyn Nets (30)
Preseason rank: 55
ROS rank: 20
Rank differential: +35
We got a glimpse of what Bridges could be as the top dog in Brooklyn right before the All-Star break, where he dropped a career-high 45 points along with 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals and 4 triples across 36 minutes. This game was the coming-out party that made me believe Bridges could be the next star in BK. He was already a top-30 player as a member of the Phoenix Suns, thanks to having a career year in points, rebounds and assists per game while sustaining a level of efficiency that sets him apart from most forwards in the league today.
And that's why I'm hyped for his rest-of-season outlook.
Previously, he was the third option in Phoenix, but now, with so much 3&D depth on the wing and not many pure scorers around, Bridges has the opportunity to become the top scoring threat for this new-look Nets franchise down the stretch. Bridges averaged a cool 17 points with 4 rebounds and 4 assists and just over 1 steal for the Suns this season, but there's much more to get excited about seeing a substantial boost in usage. It's a small sample size, but in two of his first three games where he's played at least 30 minutes with the Nets, he's racked up at least a 26% usage rate.
Top-20 is definitely in sight as I expect he'll continue on his career-year trajectory and "Bridge" the gap on becoming one of the best fantasy players in 9-cat leagues.
Markelle Fultz - PG/SG, Orlando Magic (101)
Preseason rank: 188
ROS rank: 71
Rank Differential: +117
I don't have any fantasy shares of Fultz, but since the trade deadline is around the corner, I'd be looking to buy. He's been on a tear lately and has shown so much growth from earlier in the year. He's still a liability from the three-point line but is surprisingly emerging into a Kyle Lowry-esque point guard at age 24. I mean, look at the comparison:
He's way more efficient than Lowry at this stage in his career, shooting a career-best 52.9% on 2-point field goals. Fultz cracked the top 70 over the past two weeks after increasing his production to 15.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks across 34 minutes per night. According to Magic HC Jamahl Mosley, everyone is healthy after the All-Star break, so we'll see if Cole Anthony or Jalen Suggs eat into Fultz's minutes, but they don't pose an actual threat at the moment.
"He's the ultimate team guy. He trusts them, and they trust him. He slows the game down enough that it allows guys to find reads and the right reads..."
Jamahl Mosley talks about Markelle Fultz's game management. 🎙@OrlandoMagic | #MagicTogether pic.twitter.com/7BpHEBC4oU
— Bally Sports Florida: Magic (@BallyMagic) February 14, 2023
Mosley's recent post-game presser sounds like a coach who trusts Fultz to continue being the engine of this team as they fight for their playoff berth in three seasons.
The arrow is pointing up for Fultz, having averaged his most minutes (33.4), points per game (16.5), rebounds per game (5.5), free-throw percentage (95%), usage rate (21.6%) and true shooting percentage (58.8%) in February.
Walker Kessler - C, Utah Jazz (81)
Preseason rank: 191
ROS rank: 35
Rank differential: +156
While this may appear to be an overreaction, it's not. Kessler is a fantasy beast. He's steadily climbed my rankings all year, but the rookie has been a top-40 player over the past month. He's entered an elite echelon of big men in 9-cat leagues — joining the likes of Kristaps Porzingis, Myles Turner, Nikola Vucevic, Domantas Sabonis and Jarrett Allen (yeah, I'm still out on Rudy Gobert — sorry, not sorry).
Since becoming the starter for Utah 17 games ago, Kessler is averaging 11.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per contest. According to Basketball Monster, Kessler is the 37th-ranked player per game over that stretch. He also happens to have the second-most blocks over that span, too. So, assuming he continues to play on this level, he'll finish the season as a top-35 player.
Tyrese Maxey - PG/SG, Philadelphia 76ers (118)
Preseason rank: 48
ROS rank: 105
Rank differential: -57
This one Hurts — not as much as the Eagles' defensive meltdown in the Super Bowl, but, still disappointing nonetheless.
I touted Maxey as a breakout performer all season, and that damn foot injury in mid-November really set him back. He was on track to be a top-50 player, but once he returned in early January, his role with the Sixers diminished and the production followed.
He scored over 22 points per game with a shade under 4 rebounds and 4 assists across 36 minutes of action in the first two months of the season. However, his numbers in February have been brutal, producing 16.8 points per game with less than 3 rebounds and 3 assists across 29.1 minutes per night.
He's been relegated to the sixth man, which makes sense since the first-unit offense is funneled through Joel Embiid and James Harden. However, Maxey playing less than 30 minutes a night isn't ideal, and the Sixers' second unit certainly isn't scaring anyone. His scoring can undoubtedly take a jump back into the high teens. Still, unless there's an injury to De'Anthony Melton or James Harden, I see little room in other areas that would be helpful in 9-cat formats outside of points, threes and free-throw percentage.
He'll have some spike games here and there, much like Jordan Poole earlier in the season, but it will take a lot of work to expect the earlier season version of Maxey to appear this late into the season.
Jalen Green - SG, Houston Rockets (186)
Preseason rank: 64
ROS rank: 180
The Houston Rockets are firmly in the Wemby sweepstakes — especially when their owner, Tilman Fertitta, comes out during Mardi Gras lit up and openly admits to it. But more concerningly, Green is dealing with a groin injury and has been ruled out ahead of Friday's matchup versus the Warriors — which is not a good sign for fantasy managers approaching the most critical point of the season (especially those that don't have IL+ and have to potentially wait for three games to be able to stash him on IL).
He was already underperforming in 9-cat leagues, ranking 186 in per-game value coming into Thursday. But now, after a week-long hiatus, he comes out of the All-Star break with a day-to-day injury designation heading into the weekend.
Kevin Porter Jr. is back doing some 3-on-3 drills at practice, but given their current standing and injuries, the Rockets will exercise caution with Green, too, with only 24 games left in the season. Hopefully, he'll return soon because despite his poor standing in 9-cat leagues, he's still been solid for points leagues (top-80 player), and his ability to put points on the board and knock down threes has been helpful in category leagues.
Still, Green has a ways to go in being a top-100 fantasy player, which will stay the same in the final stages of this season. I was ambitious, thinking he could be a top-70 guy in 9-cat leagues this season, but his lack of defensive contributions, poor field-goal percentage and high turnover rate will continue to hamper his fantasy value.
Check out my full rankings below: