From Deep Positional Recap: Young stars offer fantasy basketball managers exciting center options

Victor Wembanyama is going to be a top fantasy basketball pick next season, but he's not the only young center who will go high in drafts. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Victor Wembanyama is going to be a top fantasy basketball pick next season, but he's not the only young center who will go high in drafts. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)

The 2023-24 NBA season continues to be a roller coaster of highs and lows even into the playoffs, bringing with it an array of hits, misses and unexpected breakout stars across all positions. From point guards (PG) who defied expectations to centers (C) who dominated the paint like never before, we learned a lot to take into next year.

In this five-part series within From Deep, we'll dissect each position — PG, SG, SF, PF and C — sharing insights into the players who made waves, those who fell short, and the newcomers who burst onto the scene.

Let's close out the series with the centers.

The Thunder desperately needed a big man to stretch the floor and lock in defensively, and Holmgren immediately stepped up. He wasn't far behind Victor Wembanyama when it came to making an impact in fantasy as a rookie, finishing as a second-round value. That's two rounds better than his ADP.

He excels in category leagues because of his efficiency, though a projected boost in scoring and rebounds will push him well inside the top 50 for points leagues, too. The combination of his offense with stocks raises his ceiling above most fantasy centers, and could have him shooting up draft boards.

No one hit closer to their ADP than Şengün. He opened the season with a 60.5 ADP and finished 61st.

The budding third-year big was on pace to outperform his ADP before he suffered a grade three ankle sprain that took him out for the season. Through five games in March, though, Şengün averaged 24/12/5 and three stocks.

He's a key component of the Rockets' bright future, and he'll be a third — or fourth-round pick next season.

Few had a better glow-up this season than Gafford. A mid-season trade sent him from the bottom-feeding Wizards to a Western Conference finals appearance with the Mavs. Besides averaging a noteworthy 2.6 stocks, he shot 78% from the field in 21 games with the Mavs. Fantasy managers were spot on with Gafford's ADP in points leagues (100th), but he leveled up in category leagues and finished 38th.

His chemistry as a lob threat with Luka Dončić was evident, as 52 of Doncic's 58 assists to Gafford were at the rim. His efficiency improved, too, as those easy buckets propelled Gafford to lead the league in field-goal percentage for the first time. Despite never averaging over 30 minutes in any season, Gafford remains effective on a per-minute basis and is in a great position to be a fantasy asset in Dallas moving forward.

After receiving the third-most votes for Rookie of the Year a season ago, we rightfully expected Kessler to be better in year two. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, as Kessler fell to 87th in category leagues, failing to live up to his fifth-round draft status.

When looking at his numbers from last year, the blocks were there; however, he wasn't as good near the rim and adding the three-ball hurt his efficiency. And while the minutes were comparable, he produced just seven double-doubles compared to 20 as a rookie.

It takes time for young players to progress, especially with teams getting film on you and your tendencies. I talked to Kessler at All-Star weekend, and it was interesting to hear how opposing teams adjusted to his game and how he's working to improve.

He gets it, and we'll see a better version of Kessler in year three. Depending on how the Jazz handles veterans like John Collins, Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson, Kessler should be a sixth or seventh-round pick.

Injuries derailed the Hornets' season, and Williams was regretfully a part of it. He played in 19 contests after he couldn't return from a lingering back injury. Fortunately for Williams, the injury didn't require surgery, so he should be fully recovered by training camp. Still, he went in the eighth round in drafts and should be considered a disappointment after missing over 75% of the season.

Williams dismissed the notion that he's injury-prone, and I'd be OK drafting him in the eighth or ninth rounds, considering he averaged 13 points, 10 boards and almost two stocks when he played.

Robinson was the top offensive rebounder in the league before suffering an ankle injury that required surgery in early December. He returned later in the season, but Isaiah Hartenstein had already run away with the job. His rebound and stock numbers were fine, but the drop in FG percentage and scoring put Robinson outside of the 170s in points and category leagues.

Fantasy managers selected him as one of the top 100 players, but he obviously missed the mark. The Knicks' decision to bring back Hartenstein will dictate Robinson's fantasy outlook next year.

I've extensively discussed Wemby's rookie year this offseason because he was one of the best in basketball history. He could've easily been within the hits after finishing in the top 12 in points and category leagues and going in the late second/early third in drafts last season.

Wemby has yet to scratch the surface of his potential, so this is likely the last time we'll see him finish outside the top two overall.

Duren anchored many of my teams, so it was great to see him deliver. He was in the top 10 in double-doubles and improved his free-throw percentage considerably to 79% this season.

He's drawn comparisons to Dwight Howard, and I see it. He just needs to get those blocks up, and he'll look like a top-50 guy in short order.

A delayed breakout but a breakout nonetheless, the 25-year-old enjoyed his best fantasy season filling in for Mitchell Robinson. Before the '23-24 campaign, Hartenstein had only one top-150 finish in category leagues. This season, he finished 73rd while undrafted in 93% of leagues. As such, he was one of the best waiver pickups of the year and will get the bag on the open market this summer.