As we approach the final week of the NBA regular season, many fantasy championships have already been decided. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the season that was and name some fantasy award winners.
Rookie of The Year: Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic
This season’s rookie class was dealt a blow early on when the Thunder lost Chet Holmgren (foot) before the regular season began. There have been several bright spots, though, including Banchero. The top pick in the draft has jumped right into a starting role, averaging 34 minutes per game.
The transition to the NBA has looked seamless for Banchero. He is already one of the leading performers for the Magic, providing 19.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.2 3-pointers per game. If there is a downside for fantasy managers, it’s that he shot just 42.6% from the field, 29.2% from behind the arc and 74.2% from the charity stripe. The sky is the limit if he can improve his efficiency next season.
Honorable Mentions: Jalen Williams, Walker Kessler
Most Improved Player: Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz
This one might be the most challenging decision of all of the awards. There are a few great candidates, with Markkanen ultimately getting the nod for me. He was dealt from the Cavaliers to the Jazz during the offseason in the trade that landed Donovan Mitchell in Cleveland. It was an upgraded situation for Markkanen in fantasy, given that he went to a rebuilding team that lacked quality scoring options.
While many predicted increased production from Markkanen, few thought he would play this well. He has blown past his previous career high in scoring, averaging 25.7 points per game. His usage rate jumped to 26.5%, which helped his cause. However, what really helped increase his fantasy value is that he shot 50.1% from the field, including 39.6% from behind the arc on his way to averaging 3.1 3-pointers. Add in his 8.6 rebounds per game, and those who selected them in their drafts were thrilled with the results.
Honorable Mentions: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jalen Brunson
Most Reliable Player of The Year: Julius Randle, New York Knicks
After adding Jalen Brunson during the offseason, the Knicks had expectations of being one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. The addition of Brunson has vaulted them into a higher tier, but so has the improved play of Randle. After a bit of a down 2021-22 campaign, Randle has bounced back to average 25.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.8 3-pointers per game. He hasn’t been able to duplicate the 41.1% shooting from behind the arc that he posted in the 2020-21 season, but he has shot 34.3% from deep and 45.9% from the field.
Not only has Randle’s overall production been stellar, but entering Friday, he had not missed a single game this season. With teams resting players and the myriad of injuries across the league, having a player of Randle’s caliber play every game is huge for fantasy managers. Ironically, he left Wednesday’s game against the Magic with an ankle injury that will keep him out for the remainder of the regular season. Still, Randle’s availability up to his point earns him this award.
Honorable Mentions: Mikal Bridges, Domantas Sabonis
Defensive Player of The Year: Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Jackson is a fantasy unicorn. He hasn’t always contributed a ton of rebounds, and he has struggled with his shooting efficiency over the last two seasons. However, his versatility is tantalizing. Last season, he averaged 2.3 blocks, 0.9 steals and 1.6 3-pointers per game.
As good as Jackson was in those departments, he has taken things to another level this season, especially defensively. He has averaged 3.1 blocks and 1.1 steals. No other player in the league has averaged more than 2.5 blocks per game, and the big man is the only player to average at least two blocks and one steal. That clinches this award for him, and it should be noted that he also became a better shooter, shooting 50.3% from the field.
Honorable Mentions: Brook Lopez, Nic Claxton
Most Valuable Player: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
The Fantasy MVP Award is very different from the NBA MVP Award, which is down to Jokic, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis is ruled out of the conversation for the fantasy award because he is only shooting 64.8% from the free-throw line. That is especially troubling when factoring in his average of 12.2 free-throw attempts per game.
As good as Embiid has been, the hands-down winner is Jokic. He is putting up insane numbers, averaging 24.9 points, 11.9 rebounds, 9.9 assists and 1.2 steals per game. A center averaging nearly a triple-double is as rare as it gets in fantasy. In addition to his averages, he is shooting 63.4% from the field and 82.3% from the free-throw line. Yes, he doesn’t provide much in the way of blocks, and he is only averaging 0.9 3-pointers. However, that’s nitpicking for a player who enters next season as the undisputed No. 1 overall pick in fantasy.
Honorable Mentions: Joel Embiid, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Mike started covering fantasy sports in 2007, joining RotoWire in 2010. In 2018, he was a finalist for the 2018 FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year award. In addition to RotoWire, Mike has written for Sportsline, Sports Illustrated, DK Live, RealTime Fantasy Sports, Lineup Lab and KFFL.com.