We’re four weeks into the fantasy basketball season, and it’s time to tackle (or headlock, if you’re Draymond Green) the unexpected in fantasy basketball.
Below are six players who’ve surprised me in fantasy hoops — those who’ve outperformed expectations to those who’ve underwhelmed. Let’s dive in.
Scottie Barnes – SF/PF, Toronto Raptors
I was high on Barnes coming into the season, but he’s playing at a level I didn’t think he’d reach. His current production is tracking to rare territory, where he’s doing numbers that only DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Garnett and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have reached.
(For those that don’t know, prime Boogie was a problem.)
Barnes’ versatility on both sides of the ball has transformed him into the ideal fantasy basketball archetype. His rookie season was special — beating out Evan Mobley and Cade Cunningham to win Rookie of the Year. He was so good that fantasy managers drafted him aggressively ahead of the ’22-23 season, only to see him disappoint relative to his ADP.
But now, under new HC Darko Rajaković, he’s been unlocked as a stat-stuffing machine. He’s over 20 points per game, is rebounding like a big man, dishing out assists like a guard while being one of the top defenders in the league. This major breakout will likely lead to an All-Star appearance and possibly a Most Improved Player award.
RJ Barrett – SG/SF, New York Knicks
Talk about defying expectations. The fifth-year forward previously struggled with efficiency, but that has yet to be the case through seven games. He’s shooting almost 49% from the field, 50% from three and 85% from the charity stripe.
The efficiency gains have led to him being in the top 70 in category and points leagues, which we don’t typically see. However, ranking in the 95 percentile in three-point percentage is not sustainable, and a drop-off is likely around the corner.
Everything else is pretty well aligned with what fantasy managers signed up for, but to be shooting this well is undoubtedly a development that many didn’t project.
Luguentz Dort – SG/SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
I have a lot of fantasy teams and Dort was not drafted on any of them. Once rookie phenom Chet Holmgren was going to step on the court, I figured there was no place for anyone left to shine in OKC. And it’s not like there was any indication Dort was ready to make some sizable leap offensively — he’s objectively been an abysmal shooter prior to this year. Before this season, his highest shooting splits were 40/34/77. I was calling for Cason Wallace to take over his starting spot after seeing how good he was at the Vegas Summer League.
However, that was premature and disrespectful to a player who makes his bones on the defensive end.
It’s been a different story through 11 games. Like Barrett, Dort dramatically improved his efficiency. He’s upped his shooting splits to 49/47/80, which is quite impressive. You won’t notice much difference in Dort’s growth in points leagues because his stats are pretty consistent to last season, but in category leagues, he’s currently a top-50 player. His stocks have been a nice boost to his value, too, averaging over a block and a steal per game.
Given the seismic leap in his efficiency, his value will almost certainly come crashing down at some point soon — although his defensive numbers look like they can stick. Despite the good start, he’s an easy sell-high.
Jaden McDaniels – SF/PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
I had McDaniels pegged as one of my breakouts this season, but the usage and production offensively aren’t there — to the point where I’m having to consider dropping him in 12-team category leagues.
Strong shooting splits and stocks propped up his value, and while he’s still shooting a very solid 55% from the field, the stocks are nowhere to be found. His low scoring rate was always a red flag for points leagues, but with his points, rebounds and assists trending down from a year ago, I see little upside here despite getting a substantial extension for a young, emerging team.
Markelle Fultz – PG, Orlando Magic
Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game, and my shares of Fultz are falling fast. He continues to be day-to-day with tendonitis in his left knee, but the more concerning element of his injury is that he is dealing with some swelling from his surgically repaired knee.
It’s been a frustrating ride for fantasy managers because there’s been a pattern of Fultz being listed as questionable on the injury report only to be ruled out moments before tip-off or getting ruled out a day in advance. Either way, it’s not meeting expectations, especially for a player in a contract year and running the offense for an improved Orlando Magic squad with a ton of talent.
It’s still early, so I’m hopeful we’ll see him back soon. If you don’t have an IL spot, however, he’s a drop.
Jordan Poole – PG/SG, Washington Wizards
He’s a buy-low, but I understand if you don’t want to accept an invite to the Poole party. He’s awful right now, and while there was definitely a thought of him not being as advertised, I didn’t think it would be this bad. I ranked him just outside the top 50, expecting the version of Jordan Poole who went nuclear whenever Steph Curry missed games. But, whether it’s being unserious, playing for a team with no semblance of a winning culture or opponents are keying in on him, Poole’s been a major disappointment in fantasy.
Pick your poison — his minutes, scoring, rebounding, FG%, FT%, 3PM are all down.
Scoring is the area he’s endured the steepest decline, going from 20 per game a year ago to only 16 per game through 10 games. He’s gone through droughts before, so he likely needs more time to acclimate to his new team and role as the primary scorer. But Kyle Kuzma looks just fine, and it’s possible that I and many others mistakenly dove head-first on a guy who is traditionally categorized as a boom-or-bust player.
Poole thrived playing alongside Hall-of-Famers, which Daniel Gafford and Kyle Kuzma are most certainly not.