With the exit of Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson is on the rise in fantasy.
Believe it or not, the NBA season is right around the corner. That means it’s time to start preparing for your fantasy basketball drafts. There’s been plenty of offseason movement affecting fantasy, creating value late in drafts. Let’s dive into the forward position and highlight some players who could be sleepers and may start rising up draft boards.
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Keldon Johnson, Spurs
The Spurs looked like a team ready to rebuild last season when DeMar DeRozan moved to the Bulls. However, they still finished with a 34-48 record and made the Play-In Tournament.
With the Spurs committing to a rebuild, they dealt Dejounte Murray to the Hawks this summer. He was the driving force last season, averaging 21.1 points, 9.2 assists and 1.4 three-pointers per game. He also averaged 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals, making him one of the most valuable players in fantasy. The primary return in the deal for the Spurs was draft capital, and they did not make any other significant additions to their squad during the offseason.
The trade sets the table for Keldon Johnson as the No. 1 option this season. Among players who appeared in at least 60 games, Johnson was third on the team with a 21.3 percent usage rate and averaged 17.0 points on 47/40/76 shooting with 2.1 assists in 31.9 minutes.
His lack of defensive stats (0.8 STL, 0.2 BLK) and assists limit his upside, but with plenty of shot attempts coming his way, he has the makings of a valuable fantasy option.
PJ Washington, Hornets
Washington was immediately thrust into a prominent role with the Hornets, averaging at least 30 minutes during his first two seasons in the league. However, he took a step backward last season, averaging 27 minutes per game. The emergence of Miles Bridges, plus the addition of Montrezl Harrell, played a part in his reduced role.
As badly as things looked on the depth chart for Washington then, it’s the opposite heading into this season. Harrell departed for Philadelphia, and Bridges is a restricted free agent who has yet to sign with a team because of an arrest for domestic violence. It’s unclear if he’ll play at all this season.
With Harrell and Bridges gone, Washington is lined up to start at power forward and see some time at center in small-ball lineups. The Hornets could start Mason Plumlee or rookie Mark Williams at center, so it’s not like they are loaded at that position, either. In 2020-21, when he played 31 minutes per game, Washington averaged 12.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.2 blocks and 1.8 three-pointers per game. Be sure not to overlook him on draft day.
Brandon Clarke, Grizzlies
Clarke has always been a tantalizing fantasy option. The big man has averaged 18.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes for his career. The problem is that Clarke has never averaged more than 24 minutes per game. Last season, his playing time dropped to a career-low 20 minutes per game.
The Grizzlies have a deep roster again, but they aren’t as loaded at power forward anymore. Kyle Anderson departed for the Timberwolves, and Jaren Jackson Jr. (foot) could miss at least the first couple of months of the season. That might thrust Clarke into a starting role alongside Steven Adams. Even if Clarke doesn’t start, he should play more at a combination of the four and the five. With the potential to play around 25 minutes per game, he can provide standard-league fantasy value.
Lauri Markkanen, Jazz
After years of playoff disappointments, Utah blew up the roster by trading Rudy Gobert to the Timberwolves and Donovan Mitchell to the Cavaliers. They still have veterans Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson on the roster, but expect them to be on the move soon.
Utah is Markkanen’s third team in the last three seasons, as he lasted just one season with the Cavaliers after agreeing to a four-year contract with them. Despite playing in a crowded frontcourt last season, he still put up 14.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.2 three-pointers in 30.8 minutes per game.
Markkanen doesn’t operate much inside the paint. However, he’s an excellent shooter who has averaged at least 2.1 three-pointers per game in each of his five seasons in the league. Markkanen has the makings of one of the Jazz’s top scoring options, even if there’s a late-season risk of the Jazz sitting starting-caliber players to secure a better pick.
Jarred Vanderbilt, Jazz
Vanderbilt was one of the players that the Jazz received in the Gobert trade. He’s not much of a scoring option. Despite playing a career-high 25 minutes per game with the Timberwolves last season, the forward only averaged 6.9 points. He’s effective around the hoop, shooting 58.7% from the field, but he has just three career makes from three.
But he’s excellent on the glass. Even with his muted playing time last season, he provided 8.4 boards per game. He has defensive upside as well, with 1.9 combined steals-plus-blocks in 2021-22.
Markkanen is likely locked into the starting power forward spot, while Vanderbilt is expected to be a reserve. But Vanderbilt is likely to spend plenty of time at center, with rookie Walker Kessler being his main competition for playing time there. Vanderbilt is someone to target if you’re in the later stages of your draft and need rebounds with potential for strong defensive numbers.