Fantasy Basketball: 5 Stars to Avoid Entering the 2022-23 Season
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 should you avoid at their current average draft position (ADP)? Here are my five nominees.
Note: Fantasy point metrics reference FanDuel's standard scoring.
Stephen Curry, Warriors
In Yahoo leagues, Stephen Curry is a fringe top-five pick right now. That's insanity.
Curry's 2021-22 regular season doesn't merit that. Curry was 17th in fantasy points per game last season (43.1) and played just 64 games. That was behind Pascal Siakam and Paul George, both of whom are rightfully not going in the top five.
Keep in mind, that was with half a season where the Warriors didn't have Klay Thompson. After Klay returned on January 9th, he (28.8%) actually had a higher usage rate than Curry (28.3%). That's a disaster for a top-five pick when 62.4% of Curry's fantasy points in that stretch came from just scoring.
Golden State is the reigning champion for a reason. With Curry, Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Jordan Poole all capable of dropping 30 points in a given contest, all are going to rest somewhat frequently as the Warriors prepare for what really matters -- the playoffs.
A first-round pick in fantasy basketball should be a star with regular-season motivation and minimal competition to score, rebound, and assist from their teammates. Curry is the exact opposite.
LeBron James, Lakers
For the first time since he was a rookie, LeBron James might slip out of the first round of your fantasy basketball draft.
Entering his age 37 season, James is still producing when he's on the court. He was fifth in fantasy points per game (53.0) even with the hefty usage Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis also occupied for the Lakers.
So, why is James a bad pick at the start of the second round? He's just on the court far less.
LeBron has played just 50.5 games per season in the past two campaigns with Los Angeles. L.A. also hasn't finished higher than the seventh seed in this time, so it really wasn't strategic rest.
He has dealt with lower-body injuries for back-to-back years, and it's a wild assumption say he'll bump right back to 75 games a year considering his age. Plus, if the Lakers are somehow elite again in 2022-23, it'll be due to a mammoth breakout from Westbrook or Davis, which will only hurt James' fantasy outlook.
There will be young stars that emerge in the second and third rounds of fantasy basketball drafts this year. Let one of your leaguemates deal with LeBron's constant shuffling in and out of the lineup.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves
I'm fascinated with the two-center approach the Minnesota Timberwolves are taking to slow down divisional juggernaut Nikola Jokic. I just don't think it'll help Karl-Anthony Towns in fantasy basketball.
The T-Wolves traded for Rudy Gobert this offseason and kept their entire core in the process. Personally, they're right there with the Clippers as the best team out west. But, naturally, there's only one basketball, and Minnesota added another piece who will rebound it plenty.
Gobert was the NBA's leading rebounder in 2021-22 with 14.7 boards per contest. He's set to play the five with Towns shifting to the four. As a result, Gobert will likely crash the glass, and Towns' contributions will come offensively.
Here's the problem -- Towns has competition there. Both Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell held at least a 25.0% usage rate, so it's not like Towns was an elite, go-to scorer. He was 36th in the NBA in shots per game (16.2).
Now, all three should see a tiny step back with Gobert, as well. Towns is still going around the first round, but there's a chance he's squeezed out to fourth- or fifth-round production in this new hierarchy.
I'd rather not take that chance.
Dejounte Murray, Hawks
Dejounte Murray was a league-winning pick last year. This year, he might be a league-losing one.
On a terrible Spurs squad, Murray turned a career-high 26.8% usage rate into 49.8 fantasy points per game. Murray was second to only Nikola Jokic in triple-doubles (13). His ability to contribute on the glass and with swipes (2.0 steals per game) does leave somewhat of a floor, so "league-losing pick" might be a bit strong.
He still really just doesn't have a ceiling in this new Hawks pecking order. Trae Young is still the starting point guard, and Young's 33.3% usage rate was fourth amongst qualifiers last season. He's going to dominate the ball and take plenty of shots.
Murray is now forced to an off-ball role, and the best example of this is when he played with Derrick White in San Antonio last season. His production dropped 0.10 fantasy points per minute compared to normal.
In those situations, just 39.7% of Murray's fantasy output came from scoring. That's probably a similar formula to this season in Atlanta. While he's still going to give you production and a healthy number of games (68 last season), he just doesn't have the upside to be a top-10 guy unless Young gets hurt.
Kawhi Leonard, Clippers
Avoid the L.A. Clippers in fantasy basketball if you can this season. The Clippers just are too deep with too many injury-prone veterans to be a plum spot in this domain.
That starts with the returning Kawhi Leonard, who will come back to the court for the first time since 2021 as the season starts. The two-time NBA champion has made no secret he's not interested in regular-season accolades or team records.
He fostered the "load management" era by playing no more than 57 games in any of his three seasons with Los Angeles. That's unlikely to change this year.
There isn't exactly gold at the end of the rainbow even if Leonard plays 70 games. He was just 18th in fantasy points per game (44.2) in 2019-20, which was the bubble year and his last year of regular-season action. That Clips rotation didn't also have John Wall or Norman Powell, and they barely had Reggie Jackson before his 2021-22 emergence with the team.
Right now, he's coming off the board in the third round on Yahoo. I get the appeal to casual fans because Kawhi is an uber-talented player for a third-round pick. He's just not interested in helping your fantasy team.