Fantasy basketball players who can make or break your draft

There are many types of risk to be aware of when it comes to evaluating NBA players in fantasy basketball, whether it be a player’s age, injury history, role in the rotation or perhaps a statistical shortcoming you’ll have to build the rest of your team around.

As you put together your fantasy basketball roster, the size and competitiveness of your league will help you determine how many risks you need to be willing to take to position yourself for a true shot at the championship.

In this column, we will focus on 10 of the biggest risk/reward players who can make or break your team in 2022-23.

Anthony Davis, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers

Davis is one of the league’s most dominant power forwards when he’s on the court, and he averaged 23.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.3 blocks per game last season. The question with Davis, as has seemingly been the case since he entered the league in 2012-13, is whether he can stay healthy. He played in just 40 games last season after logging 36 games in 2020-21, and has reached the 70-games-played mark only twice in 10 NBA seasons (2016-17 and 2017-18). With a 25.6 average draft position in ESPN leagues, Davis is going in the third round in most 10- and 12-team leagues, and he might slide to the fourth round in eight-team leagues, making him a steal if — and it is a big if — he can stay on the court.

Tyrese Haliburton, PG/SG, Indiana Pacers

The secret is out about Haliburton, a savvy midround selection last year who is now a high second-rounder in most leagues (13.5 ADP). He takes over as the primary ball handler in Indiana with Malcolm Brogdon now in Boston, and there’s reason to believe that the well-rounded 22-year-old can improve upon the 17.5 PPG, 9.6 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 2.2 3PG and 50.2 FG% that he posted after joining the Pacers last season. In fact, Halliburton is a legitimate candidate to lead the league in assists. The issue is that Haliburton went from being a nice puzzle piece last year to a foundational player on fantasy rosters this season. Anything less than second-round production, and fantasy managers will wish they went with another highly regarded option in Round 2.

Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

Williamson is looking fit and appears to be in great health leading up to this season. In May, he was cleared for all basketball activities after imaging on the fifth metatarsal on his right foot came back clean. Hey, that’s good news, and we’ll take it. Williamson enters the season with renewed hopes and a new five-year extension worth up to $231 million. In that deal is a clause requiring the 22-year-old to maintain a certain weight, which should serve as somewhat of a safeguard. Still, questions remain about his durability. He hasn’t played in a game since May 4, 2021, and enters his fourth NBA season having played a grand total of 85 games. With a 24.4 ADP, it will take a second- or third-rounder to land him this season, and there’s nobody who has a greater risk/reward — especially in points leagues. Zion has the potential to finish as a top-10 player if he can stay healthy.

Kawhi Leonard, SF/PF, LA Clippers

Leonard missed last season because of a torn ACL, and the last time fantasy managers saw him on the court, he averaged 24.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.2 APG and 1.6 SPG. It’s no slam dunk that Leonard is going to return to the court and quickly be a fantasy dynamo. Any way you look at it, Leonard has missed a lot of games throughout his career; he hasn’t ever played 75 games in any of his 11 NBA seasons, and he hasn’t played more than 60 in any of the past five (one being shortened by the pandemic). Now age 31, it’s very possible that Leonard’s workload will be managed and gradually increased as the season progresses. In addition, the Clippers have 15 back-to-backs this season, and that is likely to cost Leonard at least some games. He has top-tier talent when he plays, but the lack of games is concerning for someone with a 26.3 ADP.

Ben Simmons, PG, Brooklyn Nets

Simmons averaged 14.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.6 SPG and 0.6 BPG in 58 games in 2020-21, so it’s clear to see why — even after a missed season — the 26-year-old former No. 1 overall pick has a 67.6 ADP. He can do so much on the court, so the upside is easy to see. On the flip side, how many games he’ll play and where he’ll be mentally and physically are the biggest questions after a year and a half off. He must also prove that he can coexist with his teammates. Simmons and the Nets know it will take time for him to get back to his old self. It’s important to determine your level of patience as a fantasy manager before you draft him.

Kyrie Irving, PG/SG, Brooklyn Nets

Irving is one of the most unpredictable fantasy basketball players in recent memory. Due to his vaccination status, he played in only 29 games last season, putting up 27.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.8 APG and 1.4 SPG while shooting 47% from the field. NBA players won’t need to be vaccinated to play in the States this year, but Irving still won’t be able to play in Toronto, and in recent years he’s missed games for a variety of other reasons. Entering the final year of his contract, Irving has a lot to play for and has the talent to carry fantasy teams. Just know what you’re drafting if you take him, as his 30.2 ADP means it will take a pick in the first four rounds of most leagues to land him.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG/SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

In 56 games last season, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 24.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, and 0.8 BPG. He is one of the league’s brightest young stars. Sadly, Gilgeous-Alexander plays for the Thunder, a team with a long history of tanking. They are surely already eyeing top prospect Victor Wembanyama for next year’s NBA draft, and with Chet Holmgren — the No. 2 overall pick in 2022 — already out for the season because of a foot injury, the fear of tanking is real in OKC. In September, Gilgeous-Alexander suffered a grade 2 MCL sprain that further complicates his situation. The talent is there for SGA, but a 44.9 ADP makes him a risky pick under the circumstances.

Russell Westbrook, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

Westbrook’s fantasy game has always relied on volume, and at this stage of his career, he is better suited for points leagues, as his FT% has taken a nosedive in recent years and his turnovers have remained high. Westbrook’s reduced role for the Lakers last season hurt his fantasy value, but he still managed 18.5 PPG, 7.1 APG and 7.4 RPG — numbers that many players would love to claim. After an offseason to better understand what worked and what didn’t, it’s possible the 33-year-old point guard can bounce back this season under new head coach Darwin Ham, an ex-Milwaukee Bucks assistant who insists that Westbrook is crucial to the team’s success this season. With an ADP all the way down to 75.1, that’s a spot in the draft where it might be worth taking a flier on the future Hall of Famer.

LeBron James, PG/SF/PF, Los Angeles Lakers

James was superb last season for a Lakers team that was without Anthony Davis for most of the season, and he finished with 30.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.3 SPG and 1.1 BPG. After signing a $97.1 million, two-year extension, James enters Season 20 with the same lofty expectations that have surrounded him since he was a teenager in Akron, Ohio. The problem is James has a 10.8 APD, meaning it will take a late first-rounder or an early second-rounder to land him, and that’s a lot for a player who turns 38 in December and has missed 63 regular-season games the past two seasons. Taking into account LeBron’s age, career minutes played and what figures to be a healthy amount of rest days this season, there are reasons to be cautious here. But when he’s on the court, James is still one of the game’s best.

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