June 13, 2024

Every year at this time, I project the box score stats for every rotation player in the NBA in preparation for the upcoming season. I then use those projections as the basis for my preseason FBA player rankings. The positive of this quantitative approach is that I divorce my analysis from traditional name-value recognition, and instead look more towards team situation and expected values in making my initial rankings. But, when taking this approach, there are often results that might not fit with preconceived expectations. That’s why we’re here today.

The top of this season’s rankings includes some names that we’re not used to seeing in this space. But I don’t want anyone to be shocked if they’re expecting to see a King James and instead find an Ant Man. If they’re looking for an Easy Money Sniper but instead encounter an NBA Ironman. Let’s talk about some of these new names at the top, and talk about why you might consider taking them so early in your fantasy hoops leagues.

Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Edwards feels like a star that’s about to go supernova. When Edwards was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the story was a rawer prospect that chose basketball over football later in life. He had an extremely high ceiling but needed to work to polish his game.

He’s done the work.

Edwards took the reigns of the Timberwolves last season, particularly after Karl-Anthony Towns went down with a calf injury. After averaging 20.3 PPG (42.9 FG%) with 3.4 APG through his first two NBA seasons, Edwards stepped up to average 26.0 PPG (46.1 FG%, 37.9 3P%, 77.9 FT%), 6.0 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.7 3PG, 1.8 SPG and 0.9 BPG during the 50 games from when Towns’ absence began on November 28 through his own brief absence (illness and calf injury) in mid-March.

Then, after returning to finish the regular season strong, Edwards exploded again in the playoffs. This time while playing with Towns, who had returned. After a down first game of the series, Edwards popped to push the eventual champs with Jordanesque averages of 35.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 3.5 3PG, 1.8 SPG and 2.3 BPG over the last four games. When reflecting on the series in the offseason, then-Nuggets wing Bruce Brown called Edwards the toughest player to guard in the NBA and said “Ant (Edwards) is next up”.

Then, late in the summer, Edwards went to play for Team USA in the FIBA World Championships and completely changed the way Team USA and Golden State Warriors head coach Steven Kerr thought of him. After reportedly telling Edwards before the 2020 NBA Draft that he “wasn’t working hard enough” and if the Warriors had the No. 1 overall selection they would not have drafted him, this summer Kerr considered Edwards the best player on a USA team full of young All Stars and impact players. “He’s unquestionably the guy,” Kerr said of Edwards, continuing with “I think he’s taking a leap.”

I agree with Edwards’ peers and coaches. Edwards has three seasons under his belt but is still only 22 years old, still rapidly improving. Edwards has reportedly grown multiple inches in height since he was drafted, and with his amazing athleticism this gives him a high ceiling as a defender in addition to his offensive skill. He also rarely misses games, having played in 223 of a possible 236 games since entering the NBA. Put this all together, and this season Edwards projects to stats that easily slot him into the top-10 of fantasy basketball point scorers and earn him a spot in the top-10 of the points rankings.

Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets

Bridges was considered one of the better young 3-and-D wings in the NBA over his first several NBA seasons with the Suns, but everything changed when he was traded to the Nets as the centerpiece of a deal for Kevin Durant. In 27 games with the Nets, Bridges exploded to average 26.1 PPG (47.5 FG%, 37.6 3P%, 89.4 FT%), 4.5 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.5 3PG, 1.0 SPG and 0.6 BPG in 34.2 MPG. The Nets did not significantly change their personnel over the summer, so Bridges should be expected to resume a similar role for the team this season.

But, there’s another aspect of Bridges’ game that really boosts him toward the top of the rankings: his iron man status. In a world where NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has announced added sanctions meant to stop players from load managing, Bridges has never missed a single game in his NBA career. Last season, because of the midseason trade, Bridges managed to start 83 games in an 82-game season.

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