Fantasy basketball season is still a ways away, but the NBA Playoffs are an opportunity to see how players perform on the brightest stage. Last postseason, the public witnessed the meteoric rise of Jalen Brunson as he turned his phenomenal run through the Western Conference Finals into becoming the Knicks' franchise point guard. I doubt we'll see any players increase their value that much in this postseason, but a handful of players stood out through their on-court performances. Here are five risers from the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Booker was arguably the best player during his 11-game postseason run. He went ballistic, averaging a playoff-best 33.7 points per game along with 4.8 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 2.8 threes, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks and 59/87/51 shooting splits.
His game went to another level, posting 55.0 fantasy points per contest compared to 42.7 in the regular season — but with so much influx in Phoenix right now, can fantasy managers trust Booker in 2023-24?
The answer is yes.
Booker underperformed relative to his ADP this past season, but the Suns have many looming concerns. Chris Paul, 38, is in the twilight of his Hall-of-Fame career and is also coming off his worst NBA season since his rookie year. His contract is partially guaranteed, so I'll bet he stays on while the Suns actively try to offload their disgruntled star, Deandre Ayton. Paul's decline and Ayton's inevitable departure will only give more usage to Booker.
New Suns head coach Frank Vogel is not known for his creative genius offensively, but he has a track record of letting his stars run the show (like his stint with the Lakers, LeBron James and Anthony Davis in 2020). Sure, everything went south in LA after their Bubble Championship, but Vogel's offense will undoubtedly run through Booker and Kevin Durant.
Booker proved he could thrive alongside KD as he posted slightly better numbers with him in the lineup than without. It was a small sample size but:
-8 games with KD: 28.5 points, 6.9 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals - 49/32/86 shooting splits
-45 games without KD: 27.6 points, 5.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 0.9 steals - 49/36/86
His 31st finish in 9-cat leagues this year puts him as a third-round player, but given the situation and play throughout this postseason, Booker is an early second-round pick for me in 2023-24.
Countless moments throughout the postseason have redefined Jimmy Butler into Himmy Butler. He outperformed his ADP of 30 this season, finishing 11th in 9-cat leagues after putting up his most efficient season to date. That consistency carried over to the postseason, and then some. Butler led the underdog Heat through a challenging gauntlet of opponents (Bucks, Knicks and Celtics) all the way to the NBA Finals.
After going nuclear on the Bucks in the opening round by averaging 37.6 ppg, his scoring came back to Earth a bit, averaging 23.5 ppg since the Conference Quarterfinals. Despite that dropoff, he's been one of the most clutch players when the game is on the line, locking up on D (leader in total steals in the postseason) and continually putting his teammates in a position to succeed.
He certainly helped his fantasy stock in this historic postseason run, but how high will he go in next season's drafts?
Expecting him to replicate a top-12 finish is a bit rich, but he should be a second-round pick that could fall into the third round because of his age and risks around load management — even though he played 64 games this past season.
Murray's ascension in the playoffs is up there with the likes of Jimmy Butler, Devin Booker and Nikola Jokić. Murray became a different breed as soon as the postseason began. His last playoff performance in the 2020 Bubble was memorable, but he's turned it up in 2023.
He finished the regular season averaging 20.0 points, 6.2 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 2.6 threes, 1.0 steals and 45/40/83 shooting splits. In 17 games this postseason, he's leveled up to 27.0 points, 6.6 assists, 5.4 rebounds, 3.1 triples, 1.6 steals and 48/39/93 shooting splits.
Murray outperformed his ADP of 76 in the preseason, finishing 52nd in 9-cat leagues. He and Jokić are quickly becoming one of the best duos in the NBA, and after playing 65 games this year, his draft stock should be through the roof next season.
He's fully healthy (two years removed from his ACL injury), and with his combination of scoring, facilitation and defense, I'd aggressively target him in Round 3 heading into the '23-24 season.
Caleb Martin, Miami Heat
For the uninitiated, Martin's unrelenting grind set him up for success throughout this postseason. He went undrafted in the 2019 NBA Draft, signed a 10-day contract with the Hornets (that turned into a two-way deal) and eventually landed a multi-year deal. He was cut after two seasons and found himself unemployed in a gym playing pick-up with famed rapper, J. Cole.
As Martin tells it, J.Cole reached out to Caron Butler, who got him a tryout for the Heat, and the rest was history. He ground it out again, from a two-way deal to signing a 3-year/$20M deal through 2025.
The Warm Up became the Come Up.
As for fantasy managers, they should be more than familiar with Martin as he proved to be a useful waiver wire asset throughout the '22-23 regular season. Much of his opportunities came from injuries — the Heat had the most missed games through injuries or health protocols this year, so their "next man up" mentality is no surprise. But that's not a knock to Martin, as his play has earned the trust of his teammates, staff and organization.
Martin's sporting the second-highest effective field-goal (eFG) and true-shooting (TS) percentages of the playoffs, and coming into the NBA Finals, his 68.4 eFG% was the highest in NBA playoff history with at least 150 field-goal attempts, per NBA Advanced Stats. His ability to knock down catch-and-shoot threes was a game-changer, especially in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Martin averaged 19.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 3.1 threes and 1.4 stocks with absurd 60/49/88 shooting splits across the seven-game series.
Though he didn't take home the award, he had my vote for Eastern Conference Finals MVP. While the Heat continue adjusting their lineup in their quest for a championship, Martin may not be utilized as he was in the prior rounds. But make no mistake — Martin is a key member of the Heat and should compete for a starting role next year. His ridiculous display of efficient shooting is unsustainable, but confidence does wonders, and I think this was a coming-out party of sorts for Martin.
The return of Tyler Herro likely puts a damper on his opportunity, but his performance in the postseason opened up more minutes at the SF and PF spots heading into next season. He should be a late-round selection and could be a top-100 player if he gets minutes in the 30s as he has in the 2022-23 playoffs.
Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves only lasted five games, but Edwards provided yet another glimpse of what we can expect heading into next season. He averaged 31.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 3.0 threes, 1.8 steals and 2.0 blocks with only 1.6 turnovers in his first-round series against the Nuggets. His shooting splits were strong, too, going for 48/35/85.
Fantasy managers are well aware of the upside Edwards brings in 9-cat leagues, and though he underperformed relative to his ADP (he finished 37 with an ADP of 20 in preseason), I came away excited about how the playoff version of Edwards could be unleashed heading into his fourth NBA season. He saw the third-highest usage rate in the playoffs at 33.3 and was third on the team in potential assists and rebound chances. He was also aggressive on both sides of the ball and was the only player in the postseason to average at least 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks.
He's improved his points, rebounds, assists, 3pt percentage and FG percentage in each season since he's entered the league. Dropping two 30-point games — with a 41-point outing against the Western Conference champs — shows that he's ready to take that next leap.
The Timberwolves know that their Twin Cities' experiment in the frontcourt didn't work, so if Karl-Anthony Towns is moved this offseason, that could allow Ant-Man to operate more in space and take the reins of his team.
Despite finishing with fourth-round value in 9-category leagues, fantasy managers should be drafting him as a late-second/early third-round pick next year.