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Fantasy Basketball Draft Strategy & Advice: Third-Year Breakouts (2022)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Oct 11, 2022
Devin Vassell

Sleepers. Breakouts. Busts. They are loose terms that have different meanings to different players. But breakouts is always the term that is the hardest to quantify in fantasy sports. For basketball, it’s a little bit easier.

I tend to look at the players who are among the top listed players for Most Improved Player at sportsbooks. And if you look at the past award winners, there’s a trend with those. They are typically third-year players. See, second-year players can break out, of course, but they don’t get the credit for growth from a rookie year as players do in their third or fourth years.

And we can apply this to fantasy, too, as third-year players are often some of the best to target if you’re looking for a true breakout where the players will take a significant leap in production and value.

While there are quite a few non-third-year players I like this year, I’m going to highlight some juniors who I expect to take a sizable leap in production that I’m looking to target.

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Onyeka Okongwu (PF/C – ATL)

The Hawks love to draft players who are blocked by others. We saw that with A.J. Griffin this year. But for Onyeka Okongwu, it’s been two years sitting behind Clint Capela in the pecking order.

While Capela has his value for fantasy, Okongwu is already the better player and will be a fantasy stud. It just might not be this year.

We saw the Hawks trust him more down the stretch, giving him more minutes, but the likelihood is that, barring a trade or an injury, Okongwu will top out around 21-22 minutes per game. He is a per-minute stud, and if he takes the next leap forward like many expect him to, he could force the Hawks’ hands as a double-double threat with good STOCK numbers.

Patrick Williams (PF – CHI)

Patrick Williams is a forgotten man this year due to his injury last season. But he’s back now and will claim the empty power forward role in the Bulls’ lineup. Williams showed flashes his rookie year, and he rewarded the Bulls when they announced that he’d be part of the starting unit in his first game.

The defense is the significant part that stood out from Williams’ game, but there’s a lot to like about his offensive game to think he’ll take a step forward. With Nikola Vucevic taking a backseat to DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine on offense and Lonzo Ball dealing with his chronic knee issues, Williams should see his usage and role on offense tick up this season.

Devin Vassell (SF – SAS)

The Spurs are in full tank mode, and after seeing the display that Victor Wembanyama put on during his exhibition display, they’ll ramp up those efforts. But someone has to score for them, right? Jakob Poeltl will accrue his big-man stats down low, but without a contract extension, he could be on his way out at the deadline. That leaves Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson as the primary scorers for this young Spurs team.

Vassell has a three-and-D profile but will be one of the lead options and will see his minutes tick up to the 30s this season. His field goal percentage isn’t great, but he’ll help you elsewhere – especially with steals and out-of-position boards.

Aleksej Pokusevski (SF/PD – OKC)

Will the Thunder tank again this year? Is the sky blue? Well, after Chet Holmgren‘s season-ending injury, the answer to both appears to be yes. There are a ton of young pieces to like on this team, led by Josh Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. But there’s a strong likelihood that both Giddey and SGA are shut down at some point this year.

That means that players like Aleksej Pokusevski, Jalen Williams, Tre Mann and Ousmane Dieng will get a ton of run as the OKC roster continues to get packed with talent from another lottery season ahead of them. Poku is in year No. 3, and we’re slowly seeing the unicorn transform into a good NBA player with high upside.

Jaden McDaniels (SF – MIN)

The biggest immediate winner in the Rudy Gobert trade is Jaden McDaniels. He gets to start at small forward, surrounded by a who’s who of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Gobert. We know his defensive ability, but for him to take a fantasy leap, we have to see more offensively.

His likely role is a defensive stalwart and sitting in the corner for spot-up threes. Having a 1/1/1 player is nice, but we need more from him this year. Playing with KAT and Gobert will take away from his rebounding, but the hope is that the uptick in minutes will offset that.

Tre Jones (PG – SAS) 

Do I think Tre Jones is particularly good? No. Do I think he has the point guard minutes locked up like many others? No. But he is the frontrunner to start at guard for the Spurs and should handle the bulk of the minutes.

He has the lowest upside here by far of the players listed, but if you’re a longtime reader of mine, you know how much I value opportunity. Jones will have that, and even if he loses time to Malaki Branham, Blake Wesley and Joshua Primo, Pop will trust him early on as the “vet” of the group.

Paul Reed (C – PHI)

If Joel Embiid gets hurt, Paul Reed could be in a good spot to see an increase in value. Montrezl Harrell is there, of course, but we saw a glimpse last year of Reed’s per-minute numbers, and he’s been getting the second-team run over Harrell in the preseason so far.

James Wiseman (C- GSW)

It’s a make-or-break year for James Wiseman, as the Warriors have so many contract decisions they have to make as far as extensions go. Kevon Looney is starting, but that shouldn’t be a hurdle for anyone – let alone someone with Wiseman’s pedigree.

We saw what he could do in the preseason in Japan, but we need to see it translate to the league. He’s nothing but a last-round flier at this point, but he could work his way into the top 120 or so early on.

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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