As a fantasy basketball analyst, the end of the regular season presents an opportunity to evaluate preseason predictions. Attempting to predict what will happen throughout the long and arduous NBA season can be daunting, especially when it's filled with so much variance. From the uncertainties around player injuries to the unexpected absences thanks to load management — and, can't forget the midseason trades that shake up the basketball landscape along the way.
The moral of the story is that fantasy basketball is a grind. However, it's worth revisiting where I found success — or, you know, completely whiffed on my projections from earlier this year.
This two-part series dives into my process of evaluating players based on per-game value — which takes into account a range of outcomes across a whole season when deciding where to rank players before drafts get underway.
While looking at history and factoring in health, roles and minutes played, my approach puts on-court productivity above all else. Since I kicked things off with my hits last week, let's dive into the predictions I got wrong for the '22-23 fantasy basketball season.
Forecasting the Grizzlies' frontcourt
It was all bad — starting with ranking Jaren Jackson Jr. (you know, the 2022-23 Defensive Player of the Year) 100th overall.
That decision led to a couple of corresponding moves, believing that Santi Aldama and Brandon Clarke would outperform their ADPs and become steals in the latter rounds of drafts. That certainly didn't pan out, as Aldama finished the season ranked 187th and Clarke 144th.
Here was my logic. JJJ suffered a stress fracture in his right foot, and there was limited information on how or when it occurred. Then, in late June, the Grizzlies dropped a press release stating he would miss 4-6 months after surgery, putting JJJ's timeline to return between October and December. Given his injury profile, I was on the pessimistic side of that recovery window, considering he missed 126 games through his first three seasons (with a 78-game season in '21-22).
The Grizzlies front office was mum on his status until media day in late September when Grizzlies HC Taylor Jenkins said JJJ was progressing well in his rehab update but still had no timetable for his return. That was only two weeks before my final draft rankings were complete. Much to my surprise, JJJ was cleared to make his debut in mid-November; the rest was history.
Aldama and Clarke shared a moment, but it was curtains for them as soon as JJJ returned. Jackson Jr. finished the year 14th in per-game value while playing 63 games and only missing five games from November through April. I won't make the mistake of doubting him again and have already aggressively mocked him in the first round heading into next season.
Ranking Nic Claxton outside of the top 150
A huge, gigantic, ungodly fumble by marking the 24-year-old Brooklyn center 180th in my final rankings. I ranked him that low thinking the talent surrounding him would typecast Claxton into a low-usage, rebounding rim protector who would only see 20 minutes per night. While that mostly held true, I vastly underestimated how quickly he'd master finishing at the rim and blocking shots at a high-rate relative to his peers. It didn't matter if the Nets blew up their squad midseason because Claxton performed at a high level (a top-50 player) for most of the '22-23 season.
He accomplished a lot in his fourth NBA season, leading the league in eFG and 2-point FG percentages, along with finishing second in the league in blocks per game (2.5). Claxton fell just shy of putting up a double-double too, and based on this year's numbers, he's improved year-over-year for the past four seasons. He's becoming one of the best young big men in the Eastern Conference, and it's not out of the question for him to put up 15 points and 10 rebounds with 2+ blocks per night next season.
Failing to buy Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's dip in market price
I admitted being lower than most on Gilgeous-Alexander coming into the season because he suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain right before training camp. The injury raised enough concern that it put his availability at the start of the season in doubt. As a result, his ADP dropped to the fourth round in most drafts. I'm still mad at myself for not investing at least a small percentage of shares into SGA at the discounted ADP.
The talent was never in question — it was the ambiguity around his durability and load management that I was grappling with while crafting my rankings. Between JJJ and SGA, I don't know which miss felt worse. But the days of drafting SGA that cheap are long gone, and the numbers he put up this season warrant a top-5 pick heading into '23-24.
Brook Lopez turning back the clock
When assessing my peers' preseason rankings (shoutout to Matt Lawson of Fantasy Basketball International), I was pretty close in consensus regarding the expectations for the 15-year pro. But it must be flagged anytime I'm off by over 100 spots in my rankings. Lopez's resurgence was a revelation this season as he ranked 22nd, his highest finish since 2015-16.
He was one of the most efficient bigs shooting the ball, knocking down 53% of his shots from the field, 37% from distance and 78% from the charity stripe. He even reminded the NBA that he's not to be played with, swatting over 2 blocks per game for the fourth time in his career.
One might call him a Tower of Terror, but I'll call him one of the best value picks of the '22-23 season. He'll be a free agent this summer, and with Mike Budenholzer gone, let's see whether Splash Mountain rides it out with the Bucks or has his sights on a new attraction.
Jalen Smith breakout? More like captivity
I predicted Smith to be one of three breakout forwards/centers this year. Big yikes. Coming into the season, he showcased enough last year and in the preseason to become a fixture of the Pacers rotation.
It didn't happen.
Instead, my man played under 20 minutes per night and was passed over by 6'5" "power forward" Aaron Nesmith. No disrespect to Nesmith because clearly, he was a better fit for the Pacers system than Smith.
Statistically speaking, it wasn't a terrible year for Smith. He averaged 9 points with 6 rebounds and almost a block per game. But, because his minutes were so erratic, he couldn't be trusted for more than a desperation injury add off of waivers throughout the season. He finished outside of the top 200 (223, to be exact).
I ranked him 71st. That's right, 71.
Looking at my peers, I was the most bullish on him and man, do I regret it. I had too many shares of him and even held onto him longer than I should have, waiting for Myles Turner to be traded. But even then, those minutes would've primarily gone to Isaiah Jackson.
It was all bad, and don't worry; Smith will not be near my top 100 for 2023-24, barring any wildly unforeseen improvements to his game.