Fantasy basketball leagues are historically won at the end of the drafts and through the wire.
Many teams will get an all-star player or two in the first round, but how does your roster fill out? What separates the good from the great? It starts with hitting a home run in the later rounds of your draft. These players won’t fit in our top 50 rankings for the 2022-23 season, but they’re great additions to your roster once the top names fly off the board.
Last season, players like Darius Garland, Jordan Poole, and more had breakout seasons to help championship-winning teams. Here are the 10 sleepers to keep an eye on this season.
1. Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers
This is the easiest money in the history of fantasy sports. You can have any opinion you want about Russell Westbrook the basketball player, I’m not his biggest fan at times. That being said, he’s being ranked as low as 115th on fantasy draft rankings. I’m being a little hypocritical because I have him 52nd, but I expect him to outperform even my expectations this season.
Westbrook has a real argument to be considered the greatest fantasy sports athlete of all time. Triple doubles fare well for fantasy basketball, not to mention decent steal and block numbers for his career.
Just last season, an off year for the basketball player, he was 20th in fantasy points. Just to repeat: in a bad year, Russell Westbrook was a top 20 fantasy scorer. So please, draft the fantasy GOAT and worry about where he’ll play later. Whatever situation Russ is in, he’s going to find a way to score fantasy points. Simple as that.
2. Kyle Kuzma, Washington Wizards
Somewhat under the radar last season, Kuzma was a valuable player for the Wizards rotation. Along with 17.1 points per game on solid efficiency last season, Kuzma set career-high marks with 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Washington has young players desperate for minutes at the wing positions, but Kuzma outperformed all of them in 2021.
Players of Kuzma’s caliber who stuff the stat sheet tend to do well in fantasy situations. He was 50th in scoring for fantasy last season, and he’s currently being drafted around pick 90. That’s a lot of value for a quality power forward.
3. Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz
Speaking of quality power forwards, Markkanen is coming off of a productive summer for Finland at Eurobasket and is stepping into a role built to maximize his fantasy value. A lot of things went right last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but one thing that went wrong was Markkanen trying to play small forward next to Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen.
Now he’s in Utah, where the selling spree continues after the Bojan Bogdanovic trade and Markkanen should have the green light from anywhere on the court. Jordan Clarkson and Malik Beasley could also be gone before the season starts, and the last time Markkanen had this sort of freedom, he averaged 18.7 and 9 rebounds with the Chicago Bulls in 2019.
An underrated athlete and quality offensive player, Markkanen could shine on a tanking Utah Jazz team.
4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons
There still hasn’t been enough of an adjustment to Bey’s production on the court. Last season, he was fantasy basketball’s 46th best player, thanks in large part to participation in all 82 games. This year, he’s ranked in the mid-90s so far to start this season.
While it’s fair to assume the addition of Jaden Ivey into the offense and the development of Cade Cunningham will decrease his production, nothing leads me to believe that Bey won’t stop shooting the basketball. He’s not a great category league player, mainly because he’s woefully inefficient as a shooter, but a durable and consistent player can go a long way into daily production. If he’s available later in your draft, take Bey and bank on a consistent 25-30 points a night.
5. Tre Mann, Oklahoma City Thunder
If you’re looking for the next Jordan Poole, the next two players are great candidates. Not that Mann will become an elite sixth man on an NBA Finals-winning team next season, but he can score the ball and showed promise as a solid guard last season. He’s currently not even in ESPN’s preseason top 200 rankings, so he’s a deep-cut draft pick.
The one knock on Mann is his production last season was solely dependent on the health of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With SGA already due to miss time, Mann averaged nine more minutes per game and five more points per game with him out. If they can figure out to coexist in the Thunder lineup, it could become a potent backcourt duo in 2022.
6. Anfernee Simons, Portland Trailblazers
Simons isn’t as much of a sleeper as some of the other players here. He’s currently projected in the top 100. What is undervalued is his ability compared to his peers. Currently, some websites have Poole projected 20 spots higher on draft boards than Simons, which is surprising, given that one is projected to start and it isn’t the Golden State player.
So if you need a little scoring in the middle rounds and Poole’s name is already off the board, Simons is a player who could represent better value for fantasy purposes. Their stats were pretty comparable last season, now Simons should thrive playing off of Damian Lillard next season.
7. Darius Bazley, Oklahoma City Thunder
The lack of Bazley’s love for fantasy makes no sense. Despite being in the top 125 players last season, he wasn’t in NBA’s top 150 rankings and isn’t on some draft boards altogether.
Chet Holmgren’s injury was an unfortunate development for all basketball fans, but Bazley is probably set to benefit more than anyone else from it. There’s little competition now for the power forward spot, so his minutes should go back up to his numbers from two years ago when he averaged 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. The biggest development that could push Bazley into the top 100 is his shot-blocking. He was 23rd in the league in blocked shots last season, and another year of similar production could pay dividends to any fantasy team.
8. Spencer Dinwiddie, Dallas Mavericks
Everything seemed to click into place for Dinwiddie after he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks last season, resembling the player that showed so much promise in Brooklyn. He averaged nearly 16 points per game, plus was one of the lone bright spots in the Mavericks’ five-game series loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
In 2022, Jalen Brunson is gone to New York after a breakout season, and Dinwiddie is left to fill the void. Brunson was a top 100 fantasy player last season, while Dinwiddie is ranked preseason around 115. I don’t think there’s a huge drop-off from Brunson to Dinwiddie and he could replicate the numbers Brunson had last season.
9. Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio Spurs
Speaking of undervalued centers, why isn’t Poeltl closer to the top 50 on most boards? He’s currently 54th on mine but is ranked in the mid-70-80s on consensus boards. Poeltl is never going to average 20 points per game or become an elite NBA player, but he’s coming off a career-best season (13.5 PPG, 9.3 RPG) and is on a roster that was gutted by the Dejounte Murray trade. The only knock is free throws, which won’t be great in category leagues.
The Spurs may be tanking for Victor Wembanyama, but he’s not there yet and Poeltl should benefit from the tanking situation.
10. Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors
Flying under the radar this offseason, Golden State lost virtually their entire bench from the championship-winning squad last season (Poole notwithstanding). The biggest losses were Otto Porter Jr., Nemanja Bjelica, and Gary Payton II provided valuable wing minutes to the Warriors’ rotation.
This season, Klay Thompson is fully healthy and Jamychal Green and Donte DiVincenzo are in the fold, but this team needs wing production from their bench players to badly step in. Currently, Kuminga and Moses Moody are not ranked by most fantasy sites but expect at least one to be valuable to the team next season.
I’m betting on Kuminga, who averaged over 22 fantasy points a game in 12 starts last season. A good rebounder and terrific athlete, Kuminga is going to produce with minutes. I expect a heavy influx of minutes this offseason, leading to more fantasy value in 2022.