Now that we’ve unveiled our overall Top 250 for fantasy basketball drafts, it’s time to break down some of the biggest breakouts and sleepers to target, along with some busts to avoid on draft day.
We’ll start here with breakouts, which I’m defining as players who are likely to emerge as rock-solid fantasy studs this season. Many of the following 10 players have shown flashes of their fantasy upside in years past, but inconsistency has plagued them throughout the years. In 2016-17, however, these guys are high-ceiling picks to target in the middle rounds once you establish the foundation of your roster.
I’m not including obvious top-20 candidates—namely, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Hassan Whiteside—as you shouldn’t need much coaxing to take them around the turn of the first and second rounds. Instead, the following 10 players should all have little trouble living up to their relatively lofty average draft positions.
Victor Oladipo, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder (ADP: 31.0)
Victor Oladipo was a popular breakout pick last season, burning a number of fantasy owners—present company included—when that top-tier campaign failed to materialize. Former Orlando Magic head coach shoulders the brunt of the blame for that, though, as he inexplicably decided to shift Oladipo to the bench for a month, sending his fantasy value careening. With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka both no longer in Oklahoma City, the Thunder will need complementary offensive support so Russell Westbrook doesn’t have to shoot 40 times per game, which is where Oladipo should thrive. He could push for a 20-5-5 campaign with nearly two steals and two treys per game, making him a no-brainer third-round pick.
Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets (ADP: 45.7)
Much like the fantasy community as a whole swooned over C.J. McCollum heading into last season, Nikola Jokic is one of the breakout candidates de jour this year. For those looking at his per-game production last season—10.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 0.6 blocks in 21.7 minutes—the infatuation may be inexplicable, but consider this: Jokic finished as fantasy’s 66th-best player last year despite that paltry amount of playing time. With Joffrey Lauvergne now in OKC and Jusuf Nurkic unlikely to cut into Jokic’s role too severely, the Serbian big man should be headed for north of 30 minutes per night. Given Jokic’s well-roundedness, a top-50 finish is all but assured so long as he can stay healthy.
Goran Dragic, PG, Miami Heat (ADP: 47.0)
Losing both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all but crushed the Miami Heat’s hopes of making the playoffs this year, but Goran Dragic’s fantasy owners can’t complain. Head coach Erik Spolestra has discussed running an up-tempo offense to maximize the talents of Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow, which bodes well for all three players’ fantasy value. While the Dragon has been underwhelming from a fantasy perspective during his first season-and-a-half in South Beach, his 17-point, 11-assist preseason outing in 29 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets on Oct. 11 speaks to the type of early-round upside he possesses.
Dennis Schroder, PG, Atlanta Hawks (ADP: 59.3)
When the Atlanta Hawks traded Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers in June, Dennis Schroder immediately began shooting up fantasy draft boards. In 16 games as a starter across his three-year career, the German floor general has averaged 13.9 points, 6.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds in just 29.1 minutes, and he’s put up per-36-minute averages of 16.8 points, 8.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds in his first three preseason outings. With Jarrett Jack still on the mend from ACL surgery, Schroder figures to be fed all of the minutes he can handle, making him a top-tier mid-round target for those who pass on point guards early in drafts.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors (ADP: 60.0)
Is this the year Jonas Valanciunas finally receives more than 30 minutes of playing time per night? Fantasy owners can only hope Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has come to his senses, particularly with Bismack Biyombo having departed Toronto in free agency. Despite playing just 26.0 minutes per game and missing 22 contests last year, Valanciunas finished as the 75th-ranked player in fantasy by averaging 12.8 points on 56.5 percent shooting, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. If his playing time edges north of 30 minutes per game for the first time in his five-year career, he’ll have little trouble returning positive value on his average draft position.
D’Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers (ADP: 61.7)
The D’Angelo Russell breakout tour is here, and it is beautiful. Through five preseason games, the former No. 2 overall pick is averaging 20.2 points on 50.0 percent shooting, 4.6 assists, 2.6 triples, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals in just 29.6 minutes, looking like an entirely different player under new Lakers head coach Luke Walton. With Byron Scott no longer around to sabotage Russell, the Ohio State product could be heading for a monster sophomore campaign. Invest confidently in him as a high-upside, high-floor mid-round pick.
Evan Fournier, SG, Orlando Magic (ADP: 64.3)
For owners in need of points and three-pointers in the middle rounds, look no further than Evan Fournier. The Frenchman broke out in a big way last year, putting up 15.4 points on 46.2 percent shooting, 2.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.0 treys and 1.2 steals in 32.5 minutes per game to finish as the 53rd-ranked player in fantasy. If the preseason is any indication, he’s picking up right where he left off. Through four games, Fournier has gone off for 18.5 points on 57.1 percent shooting, 2.8 triples, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 26.7 minutes. He’s not going to be a huge contributor in terms of rebounds, assists and steals, but he could flirt with 20 points and 2.5 treys per game.
Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns (ADP: 70.7)
Any concerns about Devin Booker’s fantasy stock as a sophomore should be assuaged by his scorching-hot preseason. Heading into Monday, the Kentucky product leads the league with 21.5 points per game across his four preseason contests to go with 3.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 treys in just 25.2 minutes per game. With Suns head coach Earl Watson having tabbed him the team’s starting 2-guard ahead of Brandon Knight, there’s little doubt that Phoenix plans on featuring the precocious 19-year-old heavily this season. Throw in the possibility of the Suns trading Knight at some point in the year and Booker should be a hot target in the middle rounds, given his top-50 upside.
Gorgui Dieng, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves (ADP: 71.7)
Those who jumped ship on Gorgui Dieng after a slow start to the season last year would grow to regret that decision, as he finished ranked 32nd in total fantasy value and 53rd in per-game fantasy value by averaging 10.1 points on a career-best 53.2 percent shooting, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals in 27.1 minutes. Then-interim coach Sam Mitchell frustratingly refused to start Dieng alongside Karl-Anthony Towns for roughly half the season, but once he gave in and moved Dieng into the starting lineup, the Louisville product began to soar. Dieng will have no such problem this season with Tom Thibodeau at the helm, making him a high-upside mid-round target for those in need of rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage.
Myles Turner, C, Indiana Pacers (ADP: 77.3)
If Myles Turner falls to the eighth round of your fantasy league, as his average draft position suggests is possible, pounce on him immediately. Through three preseason games, the second-year Texas product is averaging 10.7 points on 48.3 percent shooting, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in 23.8 minutes, including a 17-point, six-rebound, three-block outing in 32 minutes against the Orlando Magic. He’s taking over the starting 5 spot for a Pacers team that wants to run more up-tempo this season, both of which are recipes to fantasy success. Get in on the ground floor now before Turner winds up being a top-50 pick next season.