Fantasy Basketball risers & sleepers: Centers

RotoWire breaks down 6 centers to keep tabs on heading into the 2023-24 fantasy basketball season.

Houston’s Alperen Sengun and Utah’s Walker Kessler are 2 centers to keep tabs on in fantasy hoops.

The center spot is having a revival, with the past two Kia MVPs — Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic — playing the position. But who are the up-and-comers? For fantasy, knowing who’s next is just as important as knowing who’s there now.

Rising talent goes quickly in fantasy drafts as well. Managers love rostering young, exciting players. That leaves value at the end of drafts, however. Sleepers can shift fantasy fortunes, especially those found outside of the top 100.


Walker Kessler, Jazz

The No. 22 overall pick in the 2022 draft, Kessler went from inconsistent minutes off the bench to a starting gig, which fueled his rise into finishing third in Kia Rookie of the Year voting. An injury to Kelly Olynyk in mid-January thrust Kessler into a starting role — one he held for the remainder of the campaign.

Once a full-time starter, the rookie averaged 28.2 minutes, 11.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game while shooting 71.7% overall. His total rebound percentage (19.7) ranked ninth, and his block percentage (8.6) ranked second. Kessler’s free-throw percentage (48.3) was horrific but was on low volume (2.6 FTA).

Kessler will unquestionably begin 2023-24 as Utah’s starting center. Considering he returned second-round per-game fantasy value after becoming a starter, the 22-year-old comes into the year with hype. Reaching into the second round for Kessler may be unwise, since his offense doesn’t project to scale up much. Still, early Average Draft Position data suggests he’ll be a consistent target in the late-third to early-fourth round, and with fair reason.

Alperen Sengun, Rockets

Last season, Sengun built upon his promising rookie campaign. The No. 16 overall pick in 2021 was given a full-time starting role and set career highs nearly across the board. His playing time was noticeably increased after the New Year — the center averaging 15.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4.9 apg, 1.1 spg and 1.0 bpg in 30.9 mpg in his final 43 appearances.

The 21-year-old has already proven to be one of the best post-up and passing bigs in the NBA. He’s also a potent offensive rebounder, with his 12.1 offensive rebound percentage ranking 12th last season. In the vein of Nikola Jokic or Domantas Sabonis, Sengun is one of the few centers through which the offense can be run.

While the Rockets did add Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks in the offseason, Sengun should still be a crucial part of the offense. Adding a great pick-and-roll passer in VanVleet could boost Sengun’s field-goal percentage and scoring, even if it comes at the expense of some assists. Even if the team isn’t leaning its full weight on Sengun, fantasy managers shouldn’t be scared off. His promise at such a young age is rare.

Jalen Duren, Pistons

The 13th overall pick in the 2022 draft, Duren had an impressive rookie season. The Memphis product came off the bench for his first 24 appearances but made his first start Dec. 9, as coach Dwane Casey shifted the struggling Marvin Bagley to the bench. Duren started 27 of his subsequent 28 showings, averaging 10.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 1.5 apg in 28.1 mpg. Duren was then moved back to the bench for 11 of his final 15 appearances after the Pistons acquired former No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman from the Warriors.

Though Duren’s role fluctuated, he proved to already be one of the league’s best rebounders, finishing seventh in total rebound percentage (19.7) and fifth in offensive rebound percentage (14.7). That translated to 12.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. The 6-foot-10 Duren was also an effective finisher, shooting 64.8% overall. While his shot-blocking was underwhelming, Duren was a great swatter in college, averaging 2.1 bpg in 25.3 mpg and that could be an area of improvement this season.

Duren is expected to start for Detroit this season. Wiseman is still around, as are Bagley and Isaiah Stewart (who signed a four-year, $64 million extension over the summer). Duren, 19, shows the most promise and he returned 12th-round per-game value in nine-category fantasy leagues last season. This season, he’ll be selected much sooner.


Zach Collins, Spurs

Collins’ career started slowly after being selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2017 Draft. For his first two seasons, he was stuck behind other bigs. Then, injury issues resulted in Collins appearing in just 39 games over the next three years.

Before last year’s trade deadline, Collins played a backup role to Jakob Poeltl. But after the veteran was dealt to the Raptors, Collins became the full-time starting center. During his final 19 appearances, Collins posted 16.5 ppg on 49.4% shooting, making 1.6 3-pointers per game at 39.2%. He also compiled 8.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.1 blocks in 28.8 minutes per game. From Feb. 10 onward, Collins returned fourth-round per-game fantasy value in nine-category formats.

Early indications out of San Antonio are that rookie Victor Wembanyama will likely be playing power forward, meaning Collins is expected to retain his starting center spot. Given how barren the Spurs’ rotation was to end 2022-23, Collins probably won’t see the same volume of touches he did toward the end of last season. But it’s clear he has upside as a strong per-minute producer who could see consistent minutes in the mid-to-high 20s. With that in mind, fantasy managers are within reason to draft him in standard leagues, possibly inside the top 100.

Daniel Gafford, Wizards

Gafford has produced nearly identical back-to-back seasons while with Washington. He’s played a flex-starter role, getting the nod in 100 of his 150 appearances while averaging 9.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg and 1.0 apg in 20.3 mpg. Last season, his 11.7 offensive rebound percentage ranked 15th, and his 5.2 block percentage ranked ninth.

Impressive rate stats should be music to fantasy managers’ ears, as Gafford is expected to be the full-time starter and see more minutes in 2023-24. Kristaps Porzingis is now in Boston, and Washington’s reserve center depth is thin with Mike Muscala as the likely No. 2 option.

After the New Year last season, Gafford returned ninth-round per-game fantasy value in just under 25 minutes per game. With the potential for Gafford to trend closer to 30 minutes and be more featured in the offense, he should be drafted sooner than the ninth this year.

Mark Williams, Hornets

The 15th overall pick in 2022, Williams spent the beginning of his rookie campaign in the NBA G League while nursing an ankle injury. The seven-footer didn’t become a consistent aspect of Charlotte’s rotation until after Christmas. Even then, Williams was being squeezed into a backup role behind Mason Plumlee and Nick Richards.

However, once Plumlee was traded to the Clippers at the deadline, Williams took over as the Hornets’ starting center. In his final 18 appearances (17 starts), the big man averaged 11.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg and 1.1 bpg in 26.6 mpg. After Feb. 10, Williams ranked 103rd in nine-category per-game fantasy value. Williams, 21, has proven capable of producing quality traditional big-man stats.

There’s plenty of reason for optimism this season. Williams is expected to begin the year as the Hornets’ starting center, and having LaMelo Ball throw lobs is a fantastic way to create an efficient scoring profile as a rim-running big. Given that Williams has already demonstrated near-top-100 upside as a low-minute starter, he’s in great position for a small breakout. With the lack of name recognition, you may not have to reach inside the top 100, but it’s hard to argue with trying to secure Williams as early as the eighth round.

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Alex is RotoWire’s Chief NBA Editor. He writes articles about daily fantasy, year-long fantasy and sports betting. You can hear him on the RotoWire NBA Podcast, Sirius XM, VSiN and other platforms. He firmly believes Robert Covington is the most underrated fantasy player of the past decade.