Fantasy Basketball: 5 Stars to Target Entering the 2022-23 Season

Which studs should you prioritize at the top of drafts this year?

Season-long fantasy basketball is unique.

It's because if there's any league that might need to pare down its schedule, it's the NBA. Only 8 of the top-15 players that led the league in per-game scoring -- your stars -- played more than 65 total games last season. Guys take nights off due to back-to-back games, chronic ailments, or ice-cream headaches.

No other fantasy sport you'll play will have healthy players regularly out of the lineup.

As a result, the hardest picks in NBA season-long formats might be the stars. Depth will shuffle all season, but we have the best idea of who are going to be those players to lead the NBA in scoring averages. It'll just be crucial to get them right.

Which ones will actually return value on the draft capital you invest in them? Here are my five best guesses.

Note: Fantasy point metrics reference FanDuel's standard scoring.

Luka Doncic, Mavericks

For the second year in a row, this list starts with Luka Doncic as the betting favorite to win MVP.

Many know Doncic's Mavericks overachieved to reach last year's Western Conference Finals, but fantasy basketball players remember his gaudy stats during the run. He was third in per-game scoring (56.3 fantasy points) behind Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo last postseason.

Doncic only played 61 games last year, but it wasn't "load management". He had two separate ankle and calf injuries that caused the absences. With better luck, Doncic will look to play upwards of 75 games considering he wasn't listed out due to rest a single time last season.

Even with the absences, Doncic was third in total fantasy points behind Jokic and Russell Westbrook, who played all 82 games.

Jokic was 14th in overall fantasy scoring (44.3 points per game) the last season both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. were available in Denver. On the other hand, Luka just lost the second-highest usage rate (Jalen Brunson) in his offense.

I think he's the clear top option in drafts -- even if you're picking first.

Ja Morant, Grizzlies

The "midseason leap" is a great strategy to target in fantasy basketball.

Ja Morant's overall scoring averages won't blow you away from 2021-22, but the former Murray State star made a massive leap in his sophomore campaign late.

From January 1st through the end of the season, Morant was sixth in the NBA in fantasy points per game (47.8), and his 1.40 fantasy points per minute eclipsed both Kevin Durant and Trae Young. Yet, he's currently going in the second round of smaller leagues. Huh?

Morant's biggest boost came due to the separation from Desmond Bane in the Grizzlies' pecking order. His usage rate in that period (35.8%) stomped Bane's (23.9%) after the year started with the two much closer.

Morant was getting MVP buzz last year, and on a team that is likely to be a top seed once again, he'll keep playing down the stretch just as Jokic and Joel Embiid did last year chasing that award.

The only real drawback to Morant is that he did play only 57 games last year due to a nasty ankle injury in November. It's a definite risk considering his size, but it wasn't rest-related. As long as he's on the court, he's got a role and a talent level worth a first-round pick.

Kyrie Irving, Nets

This is kind of where we have to separate art from the artist.

Kyrie Irving is bizarre and aloof. His decision to not get vaccinated last season isn't even really what I'm referencing there. He's randomly decided not to show up to work before, and he's said the Earth is flat. Objectively, though, with the vaccine mandate behind him, he's going way too late in fantasy basketball drafts.

When Irving got to play last season, he gave you first-round production in fantasy basketball. He was ninth in per-game fantasy scoring (48.8) with a healthy 28.3% usage rate. But, due to the obvious stench around his off-court antics, he's a third-round pick right now in 10-person leagues.

Really, this Brooklyn team is an ideal target for a star. They were 10th-best in offensive rating last year but also 10th-worst in defensive rating. Ben Simmons will likely help the latter a bit, but this still won't be a team built on defense.

Plus, they're not very deep. They need Irving, Simmons, and Kevin Durant to win games. They were a play-in team with all three missing extended periods. As a result, all three are pretty solid picks in fantasy basketball, personally.

Domantas Sabonis, Kings

We've yet to get a full season of Domantas Sabonis at center, but the results could be stellar.

Sabonis was paired with Myles Turner for most of his career in Indiana. As a result, his rebounding numbers weren't quite what the other top bigs in the league like Jokic or Embiid could muster. We know he's capable, though.

Since the start of 2018 with Turner off the floor, Sabonis averaged 13.5 rebounds per 36 minutes in Indiana. That translated to 1.32 fantasy points per minute overall, which would have tied for 14th in the NBA last year. He's a monster.

He was traded to the Kings last February in a blockbuster deal, but he wasn't quite free of all competition yet. They used him alongside near-seven-footers Richaun Holmes or Trey Lyles. This year, Sabonis has been listed atop the depth chart at center, and rookie wing Keegan Murray will start at the four next to him.

With some uncertainty in the scoring hierarchy, Sabonis is -- by far -- my favorite way to target a Sacramento squad that will vie for a play-in spot this season.

Bam Adebayo, Heat

Bam Adebayo is talking about increased offensive aggressiveness. We should all listen.

The talented Miami center says he wants to get closer to 18 shots per game this year. Last year, he averaged 13.0 per contest, so that would be a seismic leap. He'd have finished second among centers in the entire league behind Joel Embiid with that volume.

That's really the lone remaining piece missing in Adebayo's fantasy profile. He otherwise collected 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, and he adds 3.6 assists per minute as well. Adebayo's defensive prowess (4.5 blocks plus steals per 36 minutes last season) shouldn't go ignored, either.

There are plenty of mouths to feed in the Heat's backcourt. Jimmy Butler is obviously the lead guy, but they just forked over a ton of cash for Tyler Herro, Victor Oladipo might return to his All-Star form given what we saw last postseason, and Kyle Lowry is also still there.

Bam is the safest way to get a piece of a Miami squad that should be efficient on both sides of the ball.