Fantasy basketball: Six players ready to make a big leap in year two

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While rookies are the most challenging players to project in a given fantasy basketball season, sophomores aren’t far behind. With the majority of drafted players entering the NBA in their late teens or very early 20s, and many of those players international, the development process from prospect to professional can extend beyond a single season. .

Now, some young players are more ready than others. They are physically gifted, with skill and strong nerves to step in and make an impact right away. Other players never catch up to the NBA game and find their potential unfulfilled. Then, there are the players that just need more time, and at some point in their rookie season or perhaps in the offseason after, the switch flips and they are ready to ball.

As you prepare for your fantasy basketball draft, it will be up to you to identify which young players fit into which category and pick accordingly.

That’s where I come in.

We have already gone through the prospects and fantasy basketball draft outlook for this year’s rookie class. Now, let’s do the same for the second-year players.


Draft-worthy Sophomores

Paolo Banchero, PF, Orlando Magic

Banchero made good on his status as the top pick in the 2022 NBA draft, winning Rookie of the Year honors. Banchero was the top fantasy hoops producer in his class last season, and is favored to be so again this year. He averaged 20.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG and 3.7 APG as a rookie and did a lot of that with pure talent and physical ability. Banchero created a lot of his own looks off the iso, breaking down his defender on the drive or pulling up for 3-pointers… which he shot at a less than 30 percent clip. As a sophomore, particularly one that spent the last month of his summer playing with some of the best talent in the NBA on Team USA for the FIBA World Cup, Banchero should be a more polished player who is confident and established in what he wants to do. I look for him to potentially make a leap and would consider drafting him starting around the middle of the third round of 10-team fantasy basketball leagues. He has the upside to move into the top-20 of the fantasy rankings by the end of the season.

Projected line: 24 PPG (45 FG%, 31 3P%, 75 FT%), 8 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.7 3PG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG

Walker Kessler, C, Utah Jazz

Kessler surprised many last season. He averaged a double-double on excellent scoring efficiency from the field while blocking three shots per game in 32 games from mid-January to the end of March. Kessler’s play earned him a spot on the All Rookie first team, and he joined Banchero on Team USA at the FIBA World Cup to further raise his cachet and confidence entering Year 2. Kessler should come off the board in the sixth to eighth round range of standard fantasy basketball drafts.

Projected line: 11 PPG (73 FG%, 54 FT%), 10 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.0 3PG, 0.4 SPG, 2.7 BPG

Jalen Williams, SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder

Williams entered his rookie season as the less hyped of the Thunder’s two lottery rookies. While second overall pick Chet Holmgren missed the season with a foot injury, Williams went on to have an outstanding rookie season which saw him finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Williams entered the league with an NBA-ready frame and held his own from the start. Williams averaged 19.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.0 SPG and 1.3 3PG over a 25-game period from Feb. 7 to the end of the season, while shooting 55.1% from the field and 89.4% from the line. He appears set for a big sophomore campaign and is value in the sixth to eighth rounds of fantasy basketball drafts.

Projected line: 18 PPG (53 FG%, 37 3P%, 82 FT%), 5 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.6 3PG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG

Jabari Smith Jr., PF, Houston Rockets

Smith Jr. had a very solid rookie season, but still decided to play on the Rockets’ Summer League team. He impressed in Las Vegas, scoring 71 points with a whopping 27 free throw attempts in only 64 minutes of action. Smith always had a strong jumper and good shot-blocking ability, but this summer he showed an aggressiveness and ability to attack off the dribble and finish through contact as well as a desire to take and make the big shot that will serve him very well in his second season. Smith projects as an eighth to ninth round fantasy draft pick, but based on how impressive he was this summer, I might slide him more to the sixth/seventh round range in some of my drafts.

Projected stats: 17 PPG (43 FG%, 33 3P%, 81 FT%), 8 RPG, 2.0 3PG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 BPG, 0.6 SPG

Keegan Murray, PF, Sacramento Kings

Murray is another current member of the NBA All-Rookie First Team that rounds out this list. Murray was almost purely a 3-point shooter for the Kings last season, and that was enough to maintain a solid floor value. But Murray should get the chance to show he has a much more polished, well-rounded offense game beyond spot-up shooting in his second season. He also flashed as a rebounder and defender in the second half of his rookie season. I expect him to improve his numbers on that end of the court as well. He is a solid value in the eighth to 10th round of fantasy leagues.

Projected line: 17 PPG (47 FG%, 42 3%, 77 FT%), 7 RPG, 1.4 APG, 2.1 3PG, 0.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG

Jaden Ivey, PG/SG, Detroit Pistons

Ivey had a strong rookie campaign as a lead/combo guard on the Pistons and has already shown flashes of strong scoring, playmaking and shooting when in rhythm. Those moments should come more frequently as a sophomore, particularly with Cade Cunningham back. The two combine to form Detroit’s backcourt of the future. I would consider Ivey in the 10th round of standard 10-team fantasy basketball drafts.

Projected stats: 18 PPG (43 FG%, 36 3P%, 76 FT%), 4.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.8 3PG, 09. SPG, 0.2 BPG

Other sophomores worth keeping an eye on

Bennedict Mathurin, SF, Indiana Pacers

Mathurin is a pure scorer with 20 PPG upside as soon as this season. He remains on the fringe draft pick in standard fantasy basketball leagues because he doesn’t contribute to may secondary categories, which limits his fantasy scoring average. On the other hand, his scoring also keeps his floor relatively high. Mathurin is potentially more valuable as a role player in catalog leagues than points leagues, and if he develops more versatility in his game as a sophomore, he could become more universally valuable to fantasy teams. Mathurin is worth a late round upside pick in standard leagues. In deeper leagues with 12 or more teams, he is a more definitive late-round selection.

Mark Williams, C, Charlotte Hornets

Williams moved into the starting lineup for the Hornets late last season and averaged a double-double on 63 FG% with more than a block and almost a steal per game. He is worth considering as a defense/role playing center in the last rounds of standard fantasy basketball drafts.

Tari Eason, SF, Houston Rockets

Eason was a regular contributor on the Rockets as a rookie and was another sophomore that I feel was too good to be playing in the Summer League in Vegas. He teamed up with Jabari Smith Jr. to dominate opposing competition, scoring off the dribble and setting up teammates while still focusing on the spot-up 3-pointer that is at the heart of his 3-and-D role in Houston. The Rockets are deep with talented young wings, but Eason should carve out playing time and has fantasy-worthy upside if he is able to be a starter this season.

Shaedon Sharpe, SG, Portland Trail Blazers

Sharpe was drafted in 2022 based on his sheer talent and by the end of the season was a starter and producing for the Trail Blazers. He is a key cog in Portland’s post-Lillard rebuild, and has explosive upside this season as the game slows down for him. Sharpe exhibited a nice rapport with rookie Scoot Henderson in their one game together at the Las Vegas Summer League. If they can translate that connection to the NBA stage, Sharpe could get better looks playing alongside a talented young point guard.

Jalen Duren, C, Detroit Pistons

I would consider Duren in the later rounds of fantasy drafts, but he more likely will be a free agent worth keeping an eye on. Duren has all the physical tools to be a dominant NBA center, but he’s on a deep Pistons’ front court and may not get enough minutes to make an impact. Nevertheless, he is on the fantasy radar purely off potential. His excellent per-minute numbers suggest he could be a nightly double-double threat if he/when he earns consistent starter minutes.

Malaki Branham, G/F, and Jeremy Sochan, SF/PF, San Antonio Spurs

Branham and Sochan both had productive rookie seasons for the Spurs, averaging double digits scoring and displaying flashes of brilliance to suggest they could develop into more. The Spurs were already deep into rebuilding last season, which allowed both to get more playing time in their first seasons. Branham had a 10-game stretch through most of February when he averaged 18.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.9 APG and 2.2 3PG in 32.7 MPG, then finished the season averaging 16.1 PPG, 3.6 APG and 1.4 3PG in 26.8 MPG in his last nine games.

Sochan had several similar extended runs. He averaged 18.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.3 APG and 1.6 3PG in 30.2 MPG over seven games in January, then produced 19.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG and 2.8 APG in 30.8 MPG from late February until injuries derailed his season in mid-March.

Neither Branham nor Sochan enter this season listed as starters on the Spurs depth chart, but both are only 20 years old and have enough talent to earn extended playing time as the Spurs continue their youth movement.



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