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.
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.
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.
To put that in perspective, since entering the NBA in 2018 this is how Bridges’ games played compares with three legends we are accustomed to being perennial staples at the top of fantasy hoops rankings: Over a five-season span, Bridges has played 114 more games than LeBron and a whopping 177 more games than Durant. In fantasy basketball, availability is very arguably the most important ability. Factoring Bridges’ elevated stat line in with his iron man status, he actually ranks in the top-10 in projected fantasy points this season. His current ADP is 23.6, making him a late second/early third round pick in most leagues. If his projections pan out, Bridges is excellent value and likely to outproduce that draft slot.
Poole has been an honorary Splash Brother for the last couple seasons as the third guard for the Warriors. His upside was limited as a sixth man, and even when he started he played on a veteran Warriors team with championship aspirations, a structure, and other talented scorers that kept Poole’s scoring creativity in check.
Even so, he has shown when given extended chances to start – typically when Stephen Curry was injured – that he has the ability to put a lot of numbers on the board in a hurry. In 43 starts last season, Poole averaged 24.6 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.1 RPG, 3.0 3PG and 0.9 SPG in 33.0 MPG. On a rebuilding Wizards team that traded both of their leading scorers from last season in Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, Poole should have the ultimate green light and has a chance to follow in Beal’s footsteps from a few seasons back as a challenger for leading scorer in the NBA.
Even if he doesn’t end up exploding to that extent, Poole projects to very high volume on offense, and he quietly played in all 82 games last season and 158 of 164 games the last two seasons. Poole currently carries a third round ADP of 26.5, but he ranks in the top-15 in projected fantasy points.
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