Fantasy Basketball: Rising and sleeper guards

When preparing for drafts, it’s important to know who is poised to outperform their rank. Find out who are the rising and sleeper players at the guard position.

Cam Thomas looks to carry his strong Summer League performance into the upcoming season.

The offseason is wrapping up, so it’s time to look ahead to fantasy drafts. Every season brings fresh options at each position. New opportunities have opened up for many of the league’s young guards, especially in rebuilding situations like San Antonio and Orlando. When preparing for drafts, it’s important to know who is positioned to outperform their rank from last season. Below is a list of guards who are primed to do so.

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Tre Jones, Spurs

Jones is slated to get first crack at trying to fill the shoes of Dejounte Murray, who’s now in Atlanta. The 2020 second-round pick offered a glimpse of what he might be capable of providing as a starter, averaging 14.0 points (on 49.1% shooting, including 37.5% from distance), 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals across 32.6 minutes in five late-season turns with the first unit. 

Zooming out to the larger sample of his 11 total starts on the season, Jones finished with averages of 13.5 points on 48.8% shooting, 7.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 32.7 minutes, further supporting the notion of his ability to thrive in an expanded role. The rebuilding Spurs will be hungry for offense. If Jones can improve on what has been a very inefficient long-range shot thus far at the pro level, he could prove to be an advantageous all-around fantasy asset in multiple categories.

Markelle Fultz, Magic

Fultz’s NBA journey has been arduous relative to the hefty expectations he entered the league with. However, Fultz has clawed his way back and could be poised to finally enjoy a breakout season if he stays on the court. The only time he came close to playing a full allotment of games – the 2019-20 campaign, his first in Orlando – Fultz averaged 12.1 points, 5.1 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals across 27.7 minutes over 72 games, shooting a solid 46.5% in the process. 

He may have been primed to take a significant step forward the following year, but an ACL tear sidelined him after just eight games. Fultz returned to action for 18 games at the tail end of last season and encouragingly shot 47.4% while being limited to 20.0 minutes per game. 

It was enough of a sample to get him reacclimated to game action and set the stage for what is expected to be a starting point guard role to open the new season on a Magic squad that’s now loaded with young talent. An above-average facilitator, defender and shooter from in front of the arc, this could be the season Fultz finally puts together a body of work befitting the pedigree he carried into the NBA after one stellar college season at Washington. 

Devin Vassell, Spurs

Vassell is the second member of the Spurs’ backcourt that should be due for an exponential boost in production this coming season after already putting up 12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals across 27.3 minutes in 71 games a year ago. The third-year wing was particularly impressive over a 25-game starting run from Feb. 11 through the play-in game loss to the Pelicans, generating 14.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals across 31.0 minutes per contest while draining 40.0% of his attempts from distance. 

Like his projected backcourt mate Jones, Vassell will likely be leaned on quite a bit for his scoring, and the FSU product is a more proven commodity at the NBA level. Vassell could stand to boost his overall efficiency after shooting just 42.0% from the field in his first two seasons, but there’s some reason for optimism in that regard when looking at the 49.0% figure he put up in his second and final season with the Seminoles. 

Bones Hyland, Nuggets

Jamal Murray is expected back healthy this season, and Hyland slots in as his primary backup after the trade of Monte Morris to the Wizards. Consequently, last year’s No. 26 overall pick should have plenty of opportunity to build on the strong rookie season in which he averaged 10.1 points, 2.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds across 19.0 minutes while shooting 36.6% from 3-point range over 69 contests.

The VCU alum had his moments in the first-round loss to the Warriors, putting together a trio of double-digit scoring efforts in five games with a modest allotment of 17.4 minutes per contest. Hyland should see a slight improvement in his overall 40.3% shooting from last season, as well as a considerable bump in both playing time and usage rate when considering Will Barton, another key component last season, also departed this offseason.

Jalen Williams, Thunder 

Williams improved his numbers each season at Santa Clara and finished with averages of 18.0 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.2 steals across 33 games as a junior last season while garnering WCC All-Conference First Team honors. Just as impressive was Williams’ offensive efficiency, as he drained 51.3% of his shots, including 39.6% of those from behind the arc.

The No. 12 overall pick’s 6-foot-6 frame allows him to jump in at either wing spot on a rebuilding Thunder squad that should have plenty of minutes for a talented young player with Williams’ draft pedigree. There aren’t any discernible holes in Williams’ game as he enters the pro level, and he has the benefit of more college seasoning than many other high draft picks, which could help him hit the ground running. 

Max Strus, Heat

Strus drew just 16 regular-season starts a year ago, but he also logged 18 postseason turns with the first unit. He could open the 2022-23 campaign as the Heat’s starting shooting guard if head coach Erik Spoelstra opts to have the injury-prone Victor Oladipo, who’s on a one-year deal, come off the bench. The career-high 23.3 minutes Strus logged during the regular season led to new high-water marks of 10.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists per contest, along with a career-best 41.1% success rate from 3-point range.

Strus was even better as a scorer (10.9 ppg) and rebounder (4.1 rpg) in Miami’s playoff run, which may have laid the foundation for a more confident and battle-tested player this coming season. With an aging Kyle Lowry as his potential backcourt mate, Strus could develop into the starting five’s most reliable long-range marksman and see a nice boost on last season’s 17.7% usage rate.

Cam Thomas, Nets

Thomas followed up a solid rookie season with a strong Summer League stint, and he heads into the new campaign with a chance to see an increase in his 2021-22 average of 17.6 minutes per contest. The Nets have ironed out their troubles with Kevin Durant for the moment and will also presumably have Ben Simmons at full health, but Thomas could be an increasingly important component of the second unit and take on a bigger role if Durant is eventually moved or Joe Harris struggles with his surgically repaired ankle.