Fantasy Basketball - Way-Too-Early 2023-2024 Ranks

Fantasy Basketball - Way-Too-Early 2023-2024 Ranks

It's never too early to start preparing. I mean, it kinda is too early, but ranks are fun, draft season is fun, and who are we kidding – we're all basically addicted to this silly hobby.

So, with the obvious caveat that lots can and will change between now and the start of next season, let's look at where things stand.

The premise is simple: if, for some stupid reason, you were in a redraft league that was drafting today, how should the first round go?

Tier 1: The "don't overthink it, the only reasonable option for first pick" tier

1. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

Historically, there isn't a ton of shifting at the top of Fantasy draft boards. We are currently in the reign of Jokic. Joel Embiid made impressive inroads closing the gap this year, buoyed by career highs in points, assists, FG%, and FT%. Sure, it's possible Embiid repeats this effort and sneaks past Jokic to claim the No. 1 spot next year. However, in the unlikely event that happens, Jokic will probably still be right there at No. 2. Embiid is far more likely to fall outside the top 10 than Jokic is to fall outside the top 3. 

Tier 2: The "don't lose your draft in the first round" tier

2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder

Gilgeous-Alexander was the most influential draft pick of the 2022-23 season, providing top-3 value at a mid-40s ADP. His improvement was important. But of similar importance is the end of the tanking-era Thunder. After four years of attempted tanking (though only two of actually being bad), the Thunder will finally be in win-now mode in 2023-24. That eliminates the biggest threat to Gilgeous-Alexander's dominance: fake late-season injuries. He'll be 25 years old at the start of next season. As good as he is, he's not yet in his prime and will likely continue improving. There's no reason to get ahead of our skis and draft Gilgeous-Alexander before Jokic, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Gilgeous-Alexander challenging Jokic for the top spot next season.

3. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

We have to acknowledge the elephant in the room: Doncic hurts in FT% and turnovers. In roto leagues, that knocks him down a few spots. But we've reached the point where those flaws are over-discussed (especially TOs, where he's similarly harmful to most other first-round picks), and his incredible strengths are overlooked. He's a massive plus in five of the six counting categories. His combination of points, rebounds, and assists are reminiscent of prime LeBron James, and currently bested only by Jokic. Doncic basically locks head-to-head managers into a punt-FT% build, but that's OK, as he's a top-three player for that strategy. An added benefit is he's shown a bit more durability than the players in Tier 3, though the actual difference there is smaller than most would guess.

4. Tyrese Haliburton, Pacers

I'm not sure if Haliburton will be better than the Tier 3 players in 2023-24, though I think he'll rise into the per-game top five in the next couple of seasons. But the players in Tier 3 are all on the wrong side of the aging curve, and all pose meaningful injury risks. Haliburton could lead the league in assists (he was second in 2022-23), which provides a massive advantage in Fantasy's second-scarcest category. Furthermore, he and Jokic are the only elite passers who don't tank a team's field goal percentage, adding to Haliburton's strategic benefit. Haliburton is just 23 years old and already inside Fantasy's top 10. I'll happily wager that he'll continue to improve.

Tier 3: The "injury-prone contenders with a real chance to finish No. 2 in per-game ranks" tier

5. Joel Embiid, 76ers

The first three seasons of Embiid's career – during which he played a combined 31 games – loom unfairly large in the Fantasy community's perception of the big man. His track record since then is better than he gets credit for. During Doncic's five-year career, he's averaging just six games per season more than Embiid. Over the last four seasons, Giannis Antetokounmpo averages just 4.5 extra games over Embiid. Over the last three years, Embiid has played more games than every player older than him listed in this article (including the honorable mentions).

That said, the injury risk for a seven-foot, 300-pound center about to turn 30 and with a history of foot problems is far from zero, and it's enough to justify knocking Embiid down our boards at least a few spots. 

And then there is the likelihood of a production drop-off. 30-year-old centers don't typically put up career bests in four categories, but that's what he'd have to do if he's going to remain close to Jokic at the top of the Fantasy leaderboard. Jokic barely held off Embiid for Fantasy's No. 1 spot in 2022-23, and I understand if you want to take Embiid second in drafts. Given his age and the risks, however, this is the highest I can recommend the likely MVP. 

6. Stephen Curry, Warriors

One reason to draft Curry is that we get to have added interest in rooting for the most fun and likable player in the league. There are better reasons, like his continued dominance from behind the arc and incredible efficiency, but don't sleep on the "drafting Curry is fun" factor. 

If you want a more numbers-based defense, focus on Curry's resilient ability to remain atop the Fantasy leaderboard. Excluding his injury-lost 2019-20 season, Curry has finished in the per-game top six for both 8-cat and 9-cat every year since the lockout (more than a decade ago). Luka Doncic is the only guard who averaged both more assists and a better FG% last season. And Curry is an underrated rebounder, averaging more than five per game in each of the past six seasons.

7. Kevin Durant, Suns

Durant is the best Fantasy producer this century by far, and somehow he continues to excel 14 years after his first No. 1 overall finish. Availability has become a major issue, but he laid down yet another top-five season in the per-game ranks in 2022-23. My philosophy is that it takes skill to make the Fantasy playoffs, but it takes luck to win a championship. Draft Durant, and your fate becomes intertwined with the timing of his inevitable missed game – i.e., luck. If Durant is healthy during the Fantasy playoffs, there is a good chance he'll be the best player in any matchup. Granted, that's a big "if", and you'll probably have to take fewer risks throughout the rest of the draft to ensure your roster can make the playoffs if/when Durant misses time. But the upside is worth the risk.

Tier 4: The "awesome building blocks, but with a caveat" tier

8. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

Tatum's ADP will almost certainly be higher than this, and fairly so. The 25-year-old All-NBA star has finished in the top-15 for four seasons running, and he's arguably the most durable (so far) player who might go in the first round. The only reason I have him this low is that I fetishize per-game production, and I doubt Tatum's ceiling in that regard. Despite posting career bests in five categories and his second-best numbers in two more, he still only managed to finish eighth per game in eight category leagues (11th in 9-cat). He's a positive contributor in seven categories – combine that with his durability, and Tatum deserves consideration as high as second overall. However, I'd rather have the riskier options with better per-game upside.

9. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks

Antetokounmpo's situation is similar to Doncic's, except with slightly more downside and slightly less upside. Doncic probably forces a team to punt FT%, but it's possible to overcome the deficit if you make that a priority. There is no coming back from Antetokounmpo's FT% drain. Antetokounmpo makes a few more turnovers. And where Doncic is a net positive in six categories, Antetokounmpo only helps in five. And while Antetokounmpo once ranked among the league leaders in stocks, he dropped below one steal and one block per game last season.

Regardless of the downsides, however, Antetokounmpo is an incredible building block to anchor a team around. He's likely to finish near the top of the leaderboard in points and rebounds, and he gets more assists than many starting point guards. His actual games played record is worse than his reputation for durability would imply, but he's never missed 20 games in a season, so he's still got a solid floor there.

10. Anthony Davis, Lakers

Davis is a cleaner fit with the players in Tier 3, both due to his per-game upside and his notorious injury risk. But his days of threatening for a top-two finish seem over, and I have a hard time trusting either him or the Lakers' front office (as good as the Lakers' deadline moves were, they were merely climbing out of a hole they dug themselves into). While the risks are well known, the production is still excellent. He remains among the league leaders in blocks and led the league in rebounds per game after Russell Westbrook was traded away. Davis should still be a first-round pick, though many managers may be able to get him in the early second.

Tier 5: The "take a shot, you're gonna get another great pick soon" tier

11. LaMelo Ball, Hornets

Perhaps this is unfair, but Lonzo Ball's injury history colors my perception of LaMelo Ball's injury risk. The Hornets' bad records likely contributed to their erring on the side of caution, but Ball has missed a ton of games in two of his three seasons. And by the time his brother returns to action from his current injury, Lonzo will have played just 90 games in four years. 

When LaMelo is on the court, however, he's a poor man's Steph Curry. The youngest Ball was one of four players to average at least four threes per game this season, and he slightly exceeds Curry in rebounds, assists, and steals. The similarities fall apart when you look at their field goal percentages, where Ball is a massive negative, but otherwise, they hold up pretty well. If Ball can stay healthy and continue improving into his age-22 season, he will easily justify this rank.

12. Kristaps Porzingis, Wizards

The Wizards are probably headed for a tumultuous offseason, and many of their possible paths forward would lead to less usage for Porzingis. Because of that, my guess is that Porzingis will fall out of my top-12 over the coming months. But, as things stand now, we should acknowledge the original unicorn's incredible production since arriving in the capitol city. He was precisely 14th per game in both 8-cat and 9-cat this season, and he jumped into the top seven after the All-Star break. After getting acquired at the 2022 trade deadline, Porzingis had that same 14th rank in 9-cat down the stretch (19th in 8-cat). Entering his age-28 season, Porzingis could again be an underrated and excellent Fantasy asset.

Honorable Mentions

For years, Fantasy basketball didn't have enough first-round-worthy producers to actually fill a 12-team first round. But we're in a golden age right now. While there's no debate at pick No. 1, any of the next eight names could be justified at pick No. 2. There is enough depth that, if I can't have Jokic, I'd rather pick towards the end of the first so that I can double-dip in this loaded upper tier. It is no slight, therefore, to the next few players that they missed the cut. 

Note: the players below are not necessarily listed in rank order.

Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

I doubt he can repeat his career-best 2022-23 numbers, but he should remain an elite point guard option.

Domantas Sabonis, Kings

Entering his age 27 season, right in the heart of his prime, and none of his 2022-23 numbers look destined for regression.

James Harden, 76ers

Past his prime but still highly productive.

Jaren Jackson, Grizzlies

The 2022-23 leader in blocks would be an easy first rounder if he could figure out how to stop fouling so much. 

Trae Young, Hawks?

Assuming Young remains a Hawk, he warrants consideration in the mid-second round; if he gets traded, he'd probably rise a few spots.

Dejounte Murray, Hawks

IF Trae Young gets traded, an absolutely ginormous "if", Murray would instantly jump into my top 18, and possibly higher.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

We didn't get much opportunity to see how the twin towers lineups will work in Minnesota, but Towns is just 27 years old and has several top-10 seasons under his belt.

Anthony Edwards, Timberwolves

He'll need to continue improving to justify inclusion here, but I remain super optimistic about Edwards' ceiling. 

Walker Kessler, Jazz

You read that right. I am currently looking at Kessler as a second-round pick. He was top-40 from February on, blocks are scarce, and he'll only be 22 years old.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Rikleen
Rikleen writes the NBA column "Numbers Game," which decodes the math that underpins fantasy basketball and was a nominee for the 2016 FSWA Newcomer of the Year Award. A certified math teacher, Rikleen decided the field of education pays too well, so he left it for writing. He is a Boston College graduate living outside Boston.
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