NBA

Fantasy Basketball: Jordan Poole, Mikal Bridges headline 10 breakout players to target in 2023 drafts

It’s time to start preparing for your fantasy basketball drafts.

The star players you’ll select in the first few rounds will shape your team, but getting the most value out of your middle-round picks can elevate you to championship contender status.

After a long offseason that had no shortage of big free agency signings, trades and an exciting crop of rookies, who are some players that are in line for bigger roles for the 2023-24 season?

The Sporting News takes a look at 10 breakout names to have on your radar on draft night.

10 NBA players poised for a breakout fantasy basketball season

Mikal Bridges, Nets

Bridges headlines this list as the clear No. 1 player poised for a breakout fantasy basketball season.

As the centerpiece of the deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix, Bridges took the reins as Brooklyn’s No. 1 option. The two-way star was already a fantasy gem because of his contributions to defensive counting stats, but his scoring outburst with the Nets makes him a top-20 caliber player.

Bridges averaged 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.0 steals over his final 27 regular season games in Brooklyn. If he can maintain that over an 82-game season — as one of the league’s most durable players — he’s in for a monster year.

Tyrese Maxey, 76ers

This might be foreshadowing a bit, but Maxey is ready to take the keys to the 76ers’ backcourt if and when James Harden is traded.

The 22-year-old guard thrived next to Harden last season, averaging a career-best 20.3 points and 2.7 3-pointers made per game on efficient .481/.434/.845 shooting splits. While his assists per game (3.5) took a hit from the season prior (4.3), he would regain his position as Philadelphia’s primary playmaker if Harden gets moved.

With the ball in his hands more often, Maxey could elevate his worth as a scorer and passer, and he’s proved he can add some steals on the defensive end with his performance during the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

Jordan Poole, Wizards

Poole will be a trendy pick in fantasy drafts this season, assuming he has the ultimate greenlight after being traded from the Warriors to the Wizards.

Even playing alongside scorers like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins, Poole averaged 20.4 points and 4.5 assists per game last season.

His field goal attempts (15.6 per game) are sure to inflate in Washington and while inefficiency and an increase in turnovers would be a valid concern, he should contribute so much to points, assists and 3-pointers — in addition to being one of the league’s best free throw shooters — that the two categories he’ll negatively impact shouldn’t be a huge issue.

Desmond Bane, Grizzlies

Bane will rise up draft boards because of his expected production during superstar guard Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension. The reality is Bane was already valuable even as Morant’s wingman.

According to ESPN’s final Player Rater rankings for the 2022-23 season, Bane finished as the 61st-best player in fantasy. He averaged career-bests of 21.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists while also contributing one steal and nearly three 3s per game.

Without Morant for more than one-third of the fantasy season, drafting Bane could get your team off to a great start. Just be aware that newly acquired Marcus Smart may take away from some of his touches as a playmaker.

Derrick White, Celtics

Speaking of Smart, the Celtics’ blockbuster trade to bring in star forward Kristaps Porzingis has paved the way for White to take over as the full-time starting point guard.

White wasn’t a fantasy standout by any means last season, but he was a consistent contributor across all categories. His ability to block shots gives him a unique boost over other guards at his level.

He started to show his potential as a scorer last postseason and has a chance to break his career-high of 4.9 assists per game this year. This isn’t to say it’s worth reaching for White in the first five rounds of your draft, but start considering him shortly after that range.

Walker Kessler, Jazz

Kessler was a diamond in the rough for fantasy managers last year, finishing as a top-70-ranked player despite consistently being drafted late (if he was drafted at all). He’s a field goal percentage booster (shooting 72.0 percent), he finished fourth in the NBA in total blocks (173) and he tallied 20 double-doubles as a rookie.

With a year of experience under his belt, Kessler is sure to become an everyday starter in Utah. His fantasy value will only increase with a larger role.

Jabari Smith Jr., Rockets

If the end of the 2022-23 season and Summer League is any indication, Smith Jr. is starting to get comfortable.

The 2022 No. 3 overall pick had a slow start to his rookie campaign but averaged 16.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 stocks (steals+blocks) to go with eight double-doubles over the last month of the season. He carried that momentum into Summer League, going for 33 and 38 points in his only two games to lead the exhibition showcase in scoring.

The Rockets are looking to be a more competitive team this season and Smith Jr.’s development is a key part of those aspirations. Don’t let him slip too far on draft night.

Tre Jones, Spurs

The Spurs will be the Victor Wembanyama show this season, but someone has to get the star big man the rock. Jones proved to be a solid starting point guard — and fantasy contributor — last season, averaging 12.9 points, 6.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

His job should be even easier this season and there isn’t much competition for minutes as the team’s lead playmaker.

Jalen Duren, Pistons

Duren is a bit of a flier on my part given the Pistons’ crowded frontcourt with Isaiah Stewart, James Wiseman and Marvin Bagley III, but I love the 19-year-old’s potential.

In 31 starts last season, Duren averaged a double-double of 10.5 points and 10.6 rebounds. He can contribute to both blocks and steals, and he’s a field goal percentage booster, shooting 64.8 percent from the field.

With a pick-and-roll playmaker like Cade Cunningham back in the mix, Duren should get even more easy looks around the basket this season while continuing to bring physicality on the glass and the defensive end. Don’t be surprised if he emerges as the best player in Detroit’s big-man rotation.

Onyeka Okongwu, Hawks

Clint Capela is still the starting center in Atlanta, but John Collins being traded to Utah opens up some minutes for the No. 6 overall pick in 2020.

Okongwu has proven he can be a fantasy asset when given the playing time, averaging 15.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes last season. If you’re looking for a bench big in the mid-to-late rounds, give Okongwu a chance in case head coach Quin Snyder unlocks the 22-year-old’s potential this season.

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