2023-24 Fantasy Basketball: Wembanyama, Henderson lead rookies to target in drafts

2023-24 Fantasy Basketball: Wembanyama, Henderson lead rookies to target in drafts

While fantasy football draft season is reaching its pinnacle, the 2023-24 NBA season is just around the corner. With training camps set to begin in roughly a month, it's time for managers to lock in fantasy basketball rankings and draft prep.

A key component of that annual preparation is evaluating the incoming NBA rookie class, which is headlined by one of the biggest prospects in league history. Unlike last season, when fantasy managers were able to draft No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero in Round 6, landing Victor Wembanyama will likely require a significantly more aggressive approach – perhaps pulling the trigger as early as the middle of Round 2.

While Wembanyama will undoubtedly command most of the attention early on – the Spurs have six national TV games in the first month of the season – he's far from the only rookie fantasy managers will need to know. This year's No. 2 pick, Brandon Miller, should see big minutes right away in Charlotte, as should No. 3 overall pick, Scoot Henderson, who continues to wait out The Damian Lillard Saga in Portland.

Further down the board, Amen and Ausar Thompson are oozing with fantasy upside, while college basketball fans will recognize names like Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker, Anthony Black and Taylor Hendricks, all of whom have some appeal as later-round targets.

This year's rookie class also gets a unique boost in the form of a highly regarded 2022 draft pick, Oklahoma City's Chet Holmgren

While fantasy football draft season is reaching its pinnacle, the 2023-24 NBA season is just around the corner. With training camps set to begin in roughly a month, it's time for managers to lock in fantasy basketball rankings and draft prep.

A key component of that annual preparation is evaluating the incoming NBA rookie class, which is headlined by one of the biggest prospects in league history. Unlike last season, when fantasy managers were able to draft No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero in Round 6, landing Victor Wembanyama will likely require a significantly more aggressive approach – perhaps pulling the trigger as early as the middle of Round 2.

While Wembanyama will undoubtedly command most of the attention early on – the Spurs have six national TV games in the first month of the season – he's far from the only rookie fantasy managers will need to know. This year's No. 2 pick, Brandon Miller, should see big minutes right away in Charlotte, as should No. 3 overall pick, Scoot Henderson, who continues to wait out The Damian Lillard Saga in Portland.

Further down the board, Amen and Ausar Thompson are oozing with fantasy upside, while college basketball fans will recognize names like Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker, Anthony Black and Taylor Hendricks, all of whom have some appeal as later-round targets.

This year's rookie class also gets a unique boost in the form of a highly regarded 2022 draft pick, Oklahoma City's Chet Holmgren, making his return to action after a Lisfranc injury sidelined him for the entire 2022-23 campaign. Holmgren has reportedly added some muscle and was a clear two-way standout at Summer League in July before being tabbed to practice with Team USA ahead of the FIBA World Cup.

Let's take a closer look at what fantasy managers can expect from the 2023 NBA rookie class: 

TOP-30 UPSIDE

Victor Wembanyama, Spurs

Arguably the best prospect since LeBron James, Wembanyama's upside in fantasy basketball is just as high as his real-life potential. At 7-foot-5 with uncanny mobility and length, it wouldn't be a surprise if Wembanyama pushes for the league lead in blocked shots as a rookie. He'll also contribute plenty as a rebounder and scorer, and he showed off some advanced passing vision during his brief Las Vegas Summer League run.

In most leagues, drafting Wembanyama will likely require a second or third round pick. That's not an easy pill to swallow – especially with the number of proven talents available in that range. While the shot-blocking alone should give him a very high floor, Wembanyama will likely be an inconsistent offensive player – especially early in the season. As we saw in Las Vegas, Wembanyama is susceptible to getting pushed around by NBA bodies, and though his jumper is about as smooth as it gets for a player of his size, it still runs hot and cold.

Chances are, Wembanyama will address those weaknesses and improve as the season goes along, but the biggest concern, fantasy-wise, is how many games he'll ultimately play. The Spurs know they're in this for the long game and will ensure they're not over-extending their new franchise cornerstone in Year 1. That will likely mean limited action on back-to-backs and perhaps even a late-season shutdown. If Wembanyama ultimately plays between 65 and 70 games as a rookie, fantasy managers should be thrilled. 

Chet Holmgren, Thunder

The return of last year's No. 2 overall pick is one of the most intriguing storylines as we look ahead to the 2023 season. After spending the last calendar year rehabbing a foot injury, Holmgren is back up to full speed and ready to team with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams to form one of the best young cores in the league. 

According to early ADP figures, Holmgren tends to go at least a full round or two ahead of where Banchero typically came off the board this time last year. Grabbing a big man with foot problems in Round 4 or 5 is a risk, but it's easy to see why Holmgren could easily finish as a top-30-to-40 player if he's able to stay healthy.

Like Wembanyama, Holmgren's shot-blocking should provide him with a comfortable floor, and he returns to a roster in dire need of a big man with his skill set. In four Summer League appearances, Holmgren averaged 16.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 3.5 blocks and 1.0 steals per game (29.8 MPG). 

TOP-100 UPSIDE

Scoot Henderson, Trail Blazers

Of course, we're obligated to mention that, yes, Damian Lillard is technically still a member of the Portland Trail Blazers. But at some point between now and Oct. 24, that will almost certainly change. We'll have to wait and see what Portland ultimately gets back in a Lillard trade, but the silver lining of parting ways with a franchise icon is it clears the way for Henderson to take over at point guard.

With Portland likely to enter a multi-year rebuild, Henderson should have a long leash and be in line for a significant workload right away alongside fellow-high-upside young players Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe. Henderson has the talent to be the Blazers' offensive hub, though he'll cede plenty of possessions to Simons and Jerami Grant, who the Blazers signed to a lucrative extension this offseason. So while Henderson has the keys to the franchise long-term, he's not exactly walking into a barren wasteland of a roster. 

In terms of what fantasy managers should expect, Henderson will likely go through the usual rookie guard ups and downs: field goal percentage and turnovers could be an issue, as could both three-point (27.5% FG in the G League) and free-throw shooting (76% FT). Even so, Henderson should rack up counting stats with ease, making him even more appealing to managers in points leagues.

Brandon Miller, Hornets

While Miller went a spot ahead of Henderson in the 2023 NBA Draft, Henderson is going a few rounds ahead of the Alabama standout in most fantasy drafts. Miller's size, length and college production are hard to argue with, but he struggled at Summer League, which could portend a rough adjustment period to the NBA game. It's also entirely possible that, like many very good NBA players, he simply had a rough stretch in Vegas and will be completely fine. 

Either way, Miller will have some work to do in carving out a major role with the Hornets. Miller and LaMelo Ball are the franchise cornerstones, but Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges will each command plenty of touches. Charlotte may also hang on to PJ Washington, who would provide even more competition for minutes.

Make no mistake: Miller's development will be a priority for the Hornets. However, similar to Jabari Smith in Houston a year ago, this is not a situation in which the No. 2 overall pick will be the featured offensive option on a nightly basis. Still, Miller should provide value as a scorer and rebounder, even if his efficiency tends to come and go.

Amen Thompson, Rockets

Evaluating prospects from Overtime Elite is uncharted territory, but both Thompson twins ultimately showed enough to warrant top-five selections. In landing with the Rockets, Amen joins a suddenly loaded young core that also features Jabari Smith, Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Tari Eason and fellow-first-round-pick Cam Whitmore. Houston also brought in veterans Dillon Brooks and Fred VanVleet this offseason, so while Thompson is an ultra-intriguing prospect, it's fair to question where he'll slot into a crowded depth chart.

On paper, VanVleet-Green-Brooks-Smith-Sengun is the most likely starting five, so don't be surprised if Thompson begins his career in a bench role. Regardless, he should still have ample opportunity to showcase the athleticism, ball-handling and all-around production that made him the No. 4 overall pick. Thompson's jumper remains by far the biggest question mark, but if the minutes are there he projects as a very good per-minute source of points, rebounds, assists and steals. 

Ausar Thompson, Pistons

Like his twin brother, Ausar landed in a good situation but one that already features a pair of primary ball-handlers in Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, as well as an ascending young big man in Jalen Duren. Thompson should still have a good chance to grab hold of a starting spot on the wing, but he'll take a backseat to Cunningham and Ivey when it comes to scoring and playmaking.

Even so, Detroit doesn't have a ton of reliable depth at forward, so Thompson could be looking at a 30-plus-minutes-per-night role from the jump. The hope is that his strong Summer League numbers – 13.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.8 blocks in 29.2 MPG – are an indication of a well-rounded fantasy profile at the NBA level.

LATE-ROUND TARGETS

Cam Whitmore, Rockets

Medical concerns caused Whitmore to slide all the way out of the lottery, but he immediately made his presence known at Summer League, putting up 19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game en route to MVP honors. There's a lot to like about the Villanova product, but concerns about where he falls on the Rockets' depth chart are valid. Dillon Brooks, Amen Thompson, Jabari Smith and Tari Eason could all begin the season ahead of him.

Jarace Walker, Pacers

Another rookie who fared well in Las Vegas, Walker should be in line to compete for a starting frontcourt spot in Indy. Even if Obi Toppin beats him out, at the very least Walker projects as Indiana's first big off the bench. Walker's numbers at Houston were relatively modest, but he does the little things defensively and racked up 2.3 combined blocks/steals in 27.6 minutes per game. 

Taylor Hendricks, Jazz

On Draft night, Hendricks landing in Utah felt like a perfect fit. But after the Jazz went on to add John Collins via trade, Hendricks' fantasy ceiling is considerably lower. He'll still be a part of the rotation, but Collins, Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler will each eat up significant minutes up front. Hendricks' ability to play forward or center should keep him very much in the mix, but he may need an injury to be truly fantasy-viable in standard leagues.

DYNASTY LEAGUE WATCH

Anthony Black, Magic: An intriguing combination of size, defense and passing ability, Black has plenty of long-term upside but his role in Year 1 is unclear.

Cason Wallace, Thunder: Perhaps the best guard defender in the draft, Wallace could have some viability as a steals specialist.

Jett Howard, Magic: An efficient, high-volume three-point shooter, Howard will have to earn his minutes off the bench.

Gradey Dick, Raptors: This feels like an inflection-point season for Toronto, but for the time being Dick will battle Gary Trnet for minutes – and shots – off the bench.

Jordan Hawkins, Pelicans: A true shooting guard, Hawkins could struggle to beat out Dyson Daniels, Trey Murphy, Herbert Jones and even Naji Marshall for minutes.

Keyonte George, Jazz: If Utah takes a step back, or parts ways with Collin Sexton and/or Jordan Clarkson, George will be a player worth monitoring.

Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A multi-time FSGA and FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM Fantasy alongside Jeff Erickson, as well as The RotoWire NBA Show on Sirius XM NBA with Alex Barutha. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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