The NBA officially tips off in less than one week, which means Fantasy draft season is in full swing. As such, it's time to make some Fantasy basketball awards predictions. Included are Fantasy awards that mirror real-life ones, like MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, but also Fantasy-specific ones like Bounceback Player and Best Undrafted Player.
This feels like cheating. Jokic is the clear No. 1 overall pick in Fantasy for good reason, and he shows no signs of slowing down. There are some concerns about periodic rest days following a short offseason, but the NBA's new load management policy should prevent extended absences. If you don't have Jokic on your team, you are already at a disadvantage.
Here's a list of valuable players who can be selected outside of the first round but who aren't prolific enough for me to label them MVP candidates:
Sabonis has averaged at least 18 points, 12 rebounds and five assists per game in three straight campaigns and is consistently on the court, starting 79 of 82 regular-season games in 2022-23. While a lot of the consensus first-round picks in Fantasy this year have injury concerns, you can count on Sabonis to be on the court nearly every night, and his steady production speaks for itself.
Brunson flourished in his first season in New York, posting career highs in points (24), assists (6.2) and minutes (35) per game, and he's slated for similar usage in 2023-24. It's hard to quantify the value of a guy who's consistently available, plays heavy minutes and nearly always delivers quality production.
Siakam has hit a plateau in recent years, but with Fred VanVleet out of the picture, he's slated for an increased role. He has always been consistently available and played heavy minutes, but an increase in usage could go a long way in improving his overall numbers.
Fantasy Defensive Player of the Year
Nic Claxton, Nets
After being limited by injuries over his first three seasons in the NBA, Claxton stayed healthy last year and emerged as one of the best young defenders in the league. He appeared in 76 regular-season contests, nearly averaged a double-double and finished tied for second in the NBA in blocks per game (2.5). For good measure, he also added a career-high 0.9 steals per contest. Only Jaren Jackson (4.0) had more steals-plus-blocks per game than Claxton (3.4) in 2022-23. Jackson should be at the top of the DPOY conversation once again, but I'm taking Claxton over the reigning winner because he fouls less. Claxton averaged 2.8 fouls per game last year, while Jackson averaged 3.6.
Fantasy Rookie of the Year
This is a loaded rookie class. Victor Wembanyama looks the part of a generational talent, Chet Holmgren is healthy, Brandon Miller has flashed during preseason action and the Thompson twins (Ausar and Amen) are poised to play key roles for their teams right away. However, Henderson, the former G League Ignite superstar, finds himself in the most Fantasy conducive setting. The Trail Blazers opted for a rebuild and traded away Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic this offseason, and they likely aren't done acquiring assets for the future, meaning Jerami Grant and Malcolm Brogdon could also be on the move soon. Even if those veterans stick with the team until the trade deadline, Henderson will still operate as the team's go-to playmaker. Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Deandre Ayton, Grant and Brogdon figure to have their opportunities as well, but this is Henderson's team moving forward. Wembanyma and Holmgren should see their fair share of off days, while Miller and the Thompson twins are at best the third or fourth options on their respective teams. Strictly based on usage, I'm rolling the dice with Scoot leading this stacked rookie class in most major statistics.
Most Improved Fantasy Player
Edwards has improved in each of his first three seasons in the NBA, and I'm expecting him to take another leap and possibly flirt with MVP ascension this year. With Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert missing extended time last year, Edwards flourished as the leader in Minnesota, and the team responded by making a strong push in the playoffs against the eventual NBA Champion Nuggets. The only hole in Edwards' game is his efficiency, and while that's not always an easy fix, it's certainly something he's focused on this offseason. Edwards was terrific for a Team USA squad that struggled to find consistency at the FIBA World Cup this summer, and I expect him to build off that performance during his fourth NBA campaign.
Bounceback Fantasy Player of the Year
Ben Simmons, Nets
Simmons is never going to be an elite shooter, but he can certainly get back to his early-career form and be an above-average Fantasy producer this season. After two lost seasons due to injuries, the 6-foot-10 point guard appears to be at full strength during the preseason and is slated to resume a starting role. Simmons averaged at least 15 points, 7.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.4 steals in each of his first three NBA campaigns. If he can get back to that level of production in 2023-24, Simmons will be firmly in the conversation for Bounceback Player of the Year after posting a measly 6.9 points per game last year.
Most Valuable Undrafted Player
Hachimura is going undrafted in most leagues, but he's vying for a starting spot and is coming off an incredible performance in last season's playoffs (four 20-plus point outings). I believe Hachimura can crack Fantasy relevance even when sharing the court with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves and D'Angelo Russell, but I think Hachimura's true value will come when James and/or Davis is sidelined throughout the campaign. Over the last three seasons, Davis has missed 114 games and James has missed 91, so Hachimura should have plenty of opportunities to operate as the second or third scoring option this season.