Fantasy Basketball 2022-23: Rookies to target in fantasy drafts

Evaluating the rookie class and drafting smart can provide a key edge to your fantasy season.

After a long offseason, the start of the 2022-23 NBA season is quickly closing in. With preseason games tipping off Friday, it’s officially time for managers to begin drafting teams, crafting fantasy basketball rankings and deciding which players to target and which to avoid.

Each year, a key component of draft prep is evaluating the incoming rookie class. Last year’s group was highlighted by Scottie Barnes, Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham – each of whom were high-impact players in fantasy basketball. Josh Giddey and Franz Wagner also provided plenty of value, while No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green enjoyed a strong second half and now enters Year 2 with significant momentum.

On paper, the 2022 NBA Draft class may not be quite as impactful when it comes to fantasy, but that’s partially due to the fact that the top fantasy prospect in the class – Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren – will miss the entire season due to a Lisfranc injury. In my eyes, Holmgren is still the best long-term fantasy prospect in the class – he’ll remain a hot commodity in dynasty formats – but he obviously should not be drafted in season-long leagues.

With Holmgren out of the picture, No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero leads the way as RotoWire’s top fantasy rookie. Let’s take a look at what to expect from Banchero this season, as well as the other first-year players worth considering in fantasy drafts.

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Top-100 targets

Paolo Banchero, Magic

As of late-September, Banchero is essentially the consensus top rookie in the class, and that’s borne out in early ADP data. As a freshman at Duke last season, Banchero lived up to his billing as the top player in his high school class, averaging 17.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks and 1.1 threes per game while shooting 47.8 percent from the field. Banchero is a very good passer for his size, and he’s a strong finisher around the rim.

In terms of his fantasy profile, three-point shooting (33.8% at Duke) remains a question mark, and he’s not a great free-throw shooter (72.9% FT). Either way, Banchero should see plenty of opportunities to operate as the No. 1 option in Orlando, and he’ll likely be a good source of points, rebounds and assists. If he can improve at the charity stripe and carry over his defensive production, Banchero could have top-50 potential as a rookie.

Jabari Smith, Rockets

Smith was widely considered the favorite to go No. 1 overall leading up to the draft, but he ultimately fell to the Rockets at No. 3. Smith landed in an excellent spot, as the Rockets are in need of a power forward and he should easily slide into the starting lineup right away.

Following a good-not-great showing at Summer League in July, Smith’s stock is a bit lower now than it was a few months ago, but he should be a reliable source of points, threes and rebounds, along with decent defensive numbers. As a freshman at Auburn last season, Smith shot 42.0 percent from downtown and posted a combined 3.0 blocks/steals per game.

Ultimately, Smith’s fantasy upside will be determined by where he fits into the Rockets’ offense. Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Sengun and Eric Gordon will all be ahead of him in the pecking order to begin the season, but Smith should still be a high-minute player who’s more than capable of filling a complementary role.

Keegan Murray, Kings

As the No. 4 overall pick, Murray arrives in Sacramento with high expectations, but those expectations were raised after the Iowa product put on a show at Summer League. The Las Vegas Summer League MVP looked plenty comfortable against NBA competition, and he should step into a major role for the Kings right away. Murray will have a good chance to start at one forward spot next to Harrison Barnes, and while he may not have the same level of upside as Banchero, Murray projects to have a high fantasy floor.

While Murray is not a great passer, he’s an excellent three-point shooter for his size and is capable of handling the ball and finishing in transition. He won’t be a primary option for a Kings team led by De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, but – like Smith – Murray should be able to thrive as an overqualified role player. If Murray’s defensive contributions at the college level – 1.3 steals, 1.9 blocks per game last season – carry over, he could easily push for a top-75 finish.

Late-Round Targets

Bennedict Mathurin, Pacers

There’s an argument to be made that Mathurin is in the best pure fantasy situation of any rookie. The Pacers cleared the way by dealing Malcolm Brogdon to Boston over the summer, and more moves – potentially involving Myles Turner and/or Buddy Hield – could be coming as the franchise reluctantly embraces a rebuild. At some point this season, it’s quite possible that Mathurin is operating as the true No. 2 option alongside Tyrese Haliburton.

Either way, there’s a lot to like about the Arizona product and reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year. Mathurin has prototypical size for an NBA two-guard and has few holes in his stat profile. He should be a strong source of points and threes right away, with lower-end contributions in rebounds, assists and steals.

Like virtually all rookie guards, Mathurin is unlikely to be a plus when it comes to field goal percentage, as well as turnovers. But as long as he can avoid disaster in those departments, Mathurin will be well worth a draft pick.

Jaden Ivey, Pistons: In many drafts, Ivey will likely go ahead of Mathurin, but to me that’s a mistake. I love what Ivey can grow into long-term, but I’m far from convinced that he’ll be a strong fantasy contributor in Year 1. Like Mathurin, Ivey’s field goal percentage will likely be a thorn in the side of fantasy managers. Beyond that, Ivey is yet to prove that he can shoot the three consistently, and he was a sub-par free throw shooter at the college level. He also didn’t generate assists or defensive stats at a high rate, and that’s unlikely to change this season with Cade Cunningham running the show in Detroit. In dynasty formats, I’ll be getting as many shares of Ivey as I can, but I think he could face a difficult adjustment period in Year 1.

Walker Kessler, Jazz: With the Jazz acquiring Kelly Olynyk from Detroit earlier this month, Kessler’s fantasy upside may not be quite as high as it once was, but the Auburn product is still a dark-horse player worth grabbing late in drafts. The big man blocked a whopping 4.8 blocks per game last season – in only 25.6 minutes – so even if he slots in as the backup to Olynyk, he could still see enough minutes to easily eclipse 1.0 swats per game.

Tari Eason, Rockets: One of my favorite non-lottery prospects, Eason posted well-rounded numbers at LSU last season, and that carried over to Summer League, where he averaged 17.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.4 threes per contest. To begin the year, Eason will likely play a minor role off the bench – he could even land in the G League – but as the season goes on, I like his chances to work his way into the rotation. That’ll be especially true if the Rockets are able to move Eric Gordon’s expiring contract at some point.

Other Rookies to Monitor

Jalen Duren, Pistons: It’s unclear exactly where Duren will fit into the Pistons’ plans this season, but there’s no question that he has immense long-term upside. He’ll have to contend for minutes with Isaiah Stewart, Nerlens Noel and Marvin Bagley, but if Duren is able to find a consistent role, he’ll have some upside in deeper leagues. For now, though, Duren has more appeal in dynasty formats.

Mark Williams, Hornets: As is the case with Kessler, for Williams it’s all about his upside as a shot-blocker. The Duke product racked up 2.6 blocks in 23.6 minutes per game last season, though it’s unclear if he’ll be able to find sufficient playing time behind Mason Plumlee, Nick Richards and PJ Washington. Early on, Williams may need an injury or two to be fantasy-relevant, but the 7-1 center is a name to monitor closely.

Jeremy Sochan, Spurs: Sochan is considered somewhat of a developmental prospect, and missing out on Summer League certainly didn’t help. The Baylor product has plenty of long-term appeal as a defensive-minded forward with excellent instincts and athleticism, but he’s unlikely to be much of a fantasy contributor as a rookie.

Shaedon Sharpe, Trail Blazers: Perhaps the biggest risk/reward prospect in the class, Sharpe remains shrouded in mystery after reclassifying and sitting out all of last season at Kentucky. He suffered an injury during his first Summer League appearance, so it’s extremely unclear just how NBA-ready he may be. Sharpe has the scoring talent to develop into a star down the road, but with the Blazers looking to contend for a playoff spot this season, it’s quite possible that Sharpe ends up utilizing his rookie season as a developmental year.

Dyson Daniels, Pelicans: Like Sharpe, Daniels was injured early in Summer League, so we never got much of a look at the No. 8 overall pick out of Australia. On a crowded Pelicans roster flush with talent, Daniels will likely play a small role in Year 1.

Johnny Davis, Wizards: Davis struggled through much of Summer League, but he’s coming off of a fantastic sophomore season at Wisconsin, where he posted 19.78 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Davis is a well-above-average rebounder for his size and position, but he’ll likely struggle to score efficiently enough to warrant fantasy attention in standard leagues.

Jalen Williams, Thunder: Oklahoma City is perennially a difficult team to evaluate for fantasy purposes, but Williams should be able to work his way into a consistent role off the bench. The Santa Clara product could be especially valuable later in the season, should OKC once again opt to shut down any of its key players in the interest of draft positioning. 

TyTy Washington, Rockets: The Rockets are on the short list of rebuilding teams who could produce some unlikely fantasy contributors. At present, Washington might be the Rockets’ No. 3 point guard, but who knows what the rotation – let alone the roster – could look like a few months from now. In most leagues, Washington won’t be worth drafting, but Houston doesn’t have much proven depth at any position, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Washington is given some extended looks later in the season.