Fantasy basketball leagues may not be won during draft night, but it could definitely be lost by then. This is why it’s of utmost importance to fantasy basketball players that they nail almost all of their draft picks, getting value wherever they can and shooting for the stars if possible.
Future performance (and health) isn’t the easiest thing to predict in the world. Sometimes, intuition is a fantasy manager’s only saving grace; however, belief in someone can either bring forth immense rewards or a harsh facepalm by the end of the season. Even then, fantasy basketball is about taking gambles, and about grabbing the next big thing before they blow up.
And at the center position, there are certainly a few NBA players who could make a fantasy basketball manager look like a genius come March or April. Here are a few sleepers managers must target so they can nail the back-end of their drafts.
(The format used for evaluating these players will be head-to-head, nine categories.)
Top 7 Fantasy Basketball Sleepers At Center In 2023-24 NBA Season, Ranked
7. Dereck Lively II, DAL
2022-23 stats (college): 5.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 65.8% FG, 72.1% FT
2023-24 projected stats (courtesy of Hashtag Basketball): 6.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 63.1% FG, 63.6% FT
Dereck Lively II, a rookie for the Dallas Mavericks, isn’t the most polished player in the world. In fact, he’s quite rough around the edges; he doesn’t have the softest hands yet when catching the basketball, he doesn’t have plenty of moves in the post, and he has a lot to learn on the defensive end of the floor. He tends to foul a lot, and as fantasy basketball managers will attest to, potential wouldn’t amount to much if a player can’t stay on the court.
But what Lively should have for the upcoming season is plenty of opportunities to cement himself as the Mavs’ center of the future. His competition for minutes will mainly be Dwight Powell and Richaun Holmes, with Maxi Kleber as a space-the-floor option, and none of those players present the vertical advantages the 19-year old center should provide Luka Doncic and company.
In late rounds, Dereck Lively II could be an interesting flier for managers who could take hits in points, free-throw percentage, and assists to get more of a boost in field-goal percentage, blocks, and rebounds. But make no mistake about it; owning him in fantasy won’t be an easy ride at all to navigate, as head coach Jason Kidd may end up having a short leash for Lively especially with the Mavs looking to compete next season.
6. Paul Reed, PHI
2022-23 stats: 4.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.7 spg, 0.7 bpg, 59.3 % FG, 74.5% FT
2023-24 projected stats: 10.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.4 bpg, 56.6% FG, 71.0% FT
Paul Reed was a sought-after free agent during the 2023 offseason, even signing an offer sheet with the Utah Jazz. The Philadelphia 76ers, of course, matched that offer sheet, keeping BBall Paul in the City of Brotherly Love for the next three years (for as long as the Sixers make it past the first round of the postseason).
It’s no guarantee that Reed will get the lion’s share of minutes behind Joel Embiid now that he’s armed with a brand new deal. However, with new head coach Nick Nurse at the helm, Reed’s defensive versatility and quickness should be a major weapon for the Sixers. In the past, Doc Rivers, for some reason, decided to give more minutes to the decidedly worse Montrezl Harrell; no coaching malpractice in a similar vein should happen under Nurse’s watch.
Will Paul Reed match those projected stats above? Perhaps not, as that may be too optimistic a projection for his scoring and rebounding given the lack of opportunities he’ll have on offense given the presence of other players who will demand the ball more often. Being a backup to one of the best players in the league won’t help matters much at all as well.
But with Joel Embiid being an injury risk all the time, Paul Reed could be a useful flier in the late rounds for teams looking to shore up their defensive stats. Reed provides great steals for a big man, and he fits quite well on teams that are punting points, threes, and free throws. With an average draft position (ADP) of 143 on Yahoo, there’s plenty of value in stashing Reed, even in his limited role.
5. Jalen Duren, DET
2022-23 stats: 9.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 64.8% FG, 0.9 bpg
2023-24 projected stats: 10.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 64.8% FG, 1.2 bpg
Now with Monty Williams at the helm, there will be no more questions as to who the Detroit Pistons’ starting center will be. Jalen Duren showed in his rookie year that he’s already the team’s best option at center over the likes of James Wiseman, Isaiah Stewart, and Marvin Bagley III, and it’s good for fantasy managers that Duren should be a lock to start for as long as he’s healthy.
Duren’s upside is clear; he provides elite FG%, top-tier rebounding, and he has the potential to be a much better shot-blocker than he’s shown thus far in his career. With an ADP of 99, Duren, if all things break right, could be a double-double machine who puts up 1.5 blocks a night, and he could end up cracking the top-60 when all is said and done.
Of course, the Pistons may end up playing Jalen Duren in a timeshare with those aforementioned bigs. But Duren, if he proves his worth to head coach Monty Williams, should be a runaway candidate to play more than 30 minutes a night, increasing his counting stats and thereby increasing his value as a fantasy asset.
4. Jusuf Nurkic, PHO
2022-23 stats: 13.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.8 bpg, 51.9% FG
2023-24 projected stats: 13.2 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.9 bpg, 54.1% FG
Fantasy basketball managers know all about Jusuf Nurkic’s drawbacks by now. Nurkic, ever since he suffered a major injury in 2019, hasn’t been able to stay healthy; he has missed 91 regular season games over the past three years, and as he’s aged, his production has also declined. Last season, Nurkic finished out of the top-100 in rankings, and his late season shutdown by virtue of the Portland Trail Blazers being bad didn’t help matters at all.
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But now that he’s with the Phoenix Suns, Nurkic won’t be in danger of any late-season shutdowns. The Suns will also be relying heavily on his rim protection and rebounding, as the team’s other options at the position (Drew Eubanks, Bol Bol, and Chimezie Metu) shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to his status as the team’s starting center.
Jusuf Nurkic could also be a more reliable source of out-of-position assists next season; he should run plenty of handoffs with the Suns Big Three, so there’s a chance he could average around 3.5 assists — a solid number for someone with an ADP of 109.6.
Nurkic’s health is a definite concern, but not too many players ranked around 100 on Yahoo provide the same upside he does, especially from a defensive stats point of view.
3. Zach Collins, SAS
2022-23 stats: 11.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.9 apg, 0.8 bpg, 0.9 3PM, 51.8% FG, 76.1% FT
2023-24 projected stats: 13.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.0 bpg, 1.0 3PM, 50.7% FG, 77.2% FT
The San Antonio Spurs are making the wise move in starting Zach Collins, another center, alongside Victor Wembanyama to spare their prized rookie from the responsibility of banging bodies down low with the NBA’s beefier big men. And as a result, Collins should be one of the more underrated centers in fantasy basketball, especially given his ADP of 114.9 on Yahoo.
Collins provides some threes, a rare commodity for a center taken in the latter rounds, and he provides some rim protection as well — a unicorn combo for someone taken so late in drafts. Sure, he doesn’t project to contribute much in other categories, but given the scarcity of those stats from the position, Collins provides so much value to a fantasy team that prioritized the guard stats in the earlier rounds. And for a big man, his free-throw percentage is quite good as well, making him truly suited to punt FG builds.
2. Mark Williams, CHA
2022-23 stats: 9.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 0.7 spg, 1.0 bpg, 63.7% FG
2023-24 projected stats: 12.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 0.9 spg, 1.4 bpg, 63.7% FG
The Charlotte Hornets’ center situation last season was a point of frustration for fantasy basketball managers. Head coach Steve Clifford played roulette when it comes to who gets the lion’s share of minutes on a given night, with Mark Williams, Nick Richards, and Kai Jones all battling for minutes.
But for the Hornets’ sake, they better give the reins to Williams, the second-year big man out of Duke. Williams is unquestionably their best center; in addition to being a beast when it comes to protecting the rim, he’s also a very sturdy rebounder. And as a lob threat, he should feast on passes from LaMelo Ball, the team’s best player who missed 46 games last year.
For teams that are punting FT%, points, and threes, Mark Williams projects to be a huge contributor. Now, the Hornets just need to follow the script and play him 30+ minutes and let fantasy basketball managers who took a chance on him on draft night reap the rewards.
1. Daniel Gafford, WAS
2022-23 stats: 9.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 73.2% FG
2023-24 projected stats: 12.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 71.2% FG
As of the moment, Daniel Gafford is dealing with an injury that could cause him to miss the start of the season. But Gafford reportedly is progressing well from this injury, and he could be back for the Washington Wizards as soon as opening night.
Gafford, unlike Mark Williams, won’t have too much competition at the center position. The Wizards currently have Mike Muscala and Taj Gibson as depth behind Gafford, so head coach Wes Unseld Jr. may not have much choice when it comes to minutes distribution. Gafford is a much better real-life player than those two, and he should be rewarded with as many minutes as he can handle as possible.
Daniel Gafford, despite averaging just around 18 minutes for his career to this point, has tallied 1.3 blocks a night; just imagine him playing around 25 to 30 minutes a night for a moribund Wizards team. Gafford will have plenty of opportunities to excel, and it looks like there will be no extenuating circumstances that will prevent him from truly taking off. Now, if Gafford could control his foul problem and be a better rebounder (although that is unlikely given the presence of Kyle Kuzma), then he may end up cracking the top-50 when all is said and done for the 2023-24 season.