Dallas Mavericks PG/SG Luka Doncic has never been a league-average free throw shooter, but Doncic doesn’t actively hurt fantasy basketball rotisserie/category teams with his percentage, and he has been relatively consistent year over year in his career.
Milwaukee Bucks PF/C Giannis Antetokounmpo, however, as great as he is in just about every other fantasy category, is a problem from the free throw line. He is a big problem.
As another fantasy basketball regular season approaches the end and we begin to look ahead to the fall and 2023-24 drafts — it is never too early, trust me — it may seem strange to see Antetokounmpo outside any top 10.
It is strange. Antetokounmpo is a marvelous player, an annual, real-life MVP candidate, but the myriad missed free throws and annual uncertainty keep him well outside the top 10 on ESPN’s Fantasy Player Rater, which measures roto value. He’s outside the top 50, in fact.
Things are different in our standard points formats, where Antetokounmpo may finish in the top 10, but even then, he is not among the top two or three players, which is how he is regarded as an overall NBA player.
Not only does Antetokounmpo make roughly 65% of his free throws, among the worst figures among qualifiers in the league, but he gets to the line 12.7 times per game, easily leading the league. He misses more free throws per game than all but roughly 40 NBA players even attempt!
Regardless, here is my very early top 25 for roto formats for the 2023-24 season, perhaps most noteworthy not by the names you see at the top, but from the names you do not see.
Several pending Hall of Famers who have been fantasy first-round staples for more than a decade no longer make the list at all. This is about statistics for fantasy basketball, and both percentages and volume play key roles. Here we go!
Early roto Top 25
1. Nikola Jokic, C, Denver Nuggets: You cannot be surprised. On his way to a third consecutive league MVP award, he easily leads the Player Rater as he averages a triple double and shoots great. No debate here in fantasy.
2. Luka Doncic, PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks: One can debate here, as Doncic may not finish this season in the top five on the Rater, but his free throw percentage (73.6%) is not exactly Shaquille O’Neal-like, either. Doncic has been quite consistent in his five seasons. Another awesome player.
3. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG/SG, Oklahoma City Thunder: Few saw an emergence at this level from the fifth round to the top of the draft, but the marvelous numbers demand it. SGA is likely to end up No. 2 to Jokic on the Rater, and he can still improve in rebounding and 3-point shooting as the team builds around him.
4. Jayson Tatum, SF/PF, Boston Celtics: We used to complain about him not producing enough rebounds and assists, but no longer. Tatum averages 30 PPG and his rate of 3-pointers attempted and made rises every year, too.
5. Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers: It is another fantastic season as he continues to raise his scoring level and play more games than most realize. Embiid should sail past 60 games for the second consecutive season.
6. Kevin Durant, SF/PF, Phoenix Suns: Speaking of durability, yes, we have concerns here, but Durant’s numbers are so great, especially the shooting, that we must overlook the potential for missed games to some degree. Protect your shooting percentages, fantasy managers!
7. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers: Great to see him back averaging better than 30 PPG, while still delivering a top-10 performance in assists.
8. Stephen Curry, PG, Golden State Warriors: Missed more time than we would have liked in his age-34 season, but the numbers, especially in shooting as with Durant, are wild. He’s clearly not done yet.
9. James Harden, PG/SG, Philadelphia 76ers: The league leader in APG is also on the other side of 30 years of age, but if he splits with Embiid next season, as is rumored, look for Harden’s scoring to return to higher levels of the past.
10. Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks: The team’s acquisition of star Dejounte Murray took some scoring and 3-point volume from Young, but his assist rate rose to 10 APG and he is young enough to keep improving.
11. Tyrese Haliburton, PG/SG, Indiana Pacers: Building fantasy rosters around point guards that average at least 20 PPG and 10 APG is a wise move, especially when they shoot so well. Perhaps Haliburton keeps increasing his scoring, too.
12. Domantas Sabonis, PF/C, Sacramento Kings: Traded for Haliburton, Sabonis raised his game to another level in assists and field goal shooting, while averaging 12 RPG for the fourth consecutive season.
13. Giannis Antetokounmpo, PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks: One may counter the anti-Antetokounmpo argument that a fantasy manager can punt free throw percentage. Yes, they can, but it makes it tougher to win.
14. Devin Booker, PG/SG, Phoenix Suns: A groin injury cost him significant playing time, but the numbers remain great, and the team adding Durant should not alter his statistics negatively.
15. LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets: His third NBA season was truncated by injury, but we should stop short of calling him brittle and fading him in drafts. Ball continues to statistically improve.
16. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Minnesota Timberwolves: Towns has not played since November due to a calf injury, and his numbers were down at that point. Still, he is in his prime and can return to top-10 level.
17. Donovan Mitchell, PG/SG, Cleveland Cavaliers: Many thought the trade from Utah would hurt his numbers. It did not. Mitchell has never scored more or shot better.
18. Bam Adebayo, PF/C, Miami Heat: He seems to be a safe second-rounder annually, and for good reason. He keeps delivering points, rebounds, steals and great shooting.
19. Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies: The shooting is not great, but he is a terrific scorer and strong assist provider.
20. Anthony Edwards, SG/SF, Minnesota Timberwolves: People may not realize the league leader in minutes is also top-10 on the Rater and in points formats. He may not score this well with Towns back next season, though.
21. Nikola Vucevic, C, Chicago Bulls: Annually underrated, Vucevic is just outside the top 10 on the Rater thanks to his rebounding, 3-pointers and strong shooting, and he is durable.
22. Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Brooklyn Nets: It may seem too early for him, but this is the most durable player in the league, and that matters. Also, his Nets numbers are outstanding and perhaps a harbinger of continued excellence.
23. Julius Randle, PF, New York Knicks: Similarly, here is another season of durability, workload and reliable scoring and rebounding. Randle was clearly underrated entering this season.
24. Pascal Siakam, PF/C, Toronto Raptors: His scoring finally reached a level we thought possible, as did the assists. Perhaps the rebounds come next.
25. Kyrie Irving, PG/SG, Dallas Mavericks: Still a dynamic player whose production is never in doubt, and he has been healthy this season.
Who missed and why
—Los Angeles Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis continue to deliver fantastic numbers, but they just do not play enough games anymore. How do we define “enough?” I don’t know. James will fall short of 60 games for the fourth time in five Lakers seasons. Davis may fall short of 50 games for the third consecutive year. It’s just not enough for me and these fellows seem unlikely to change their ways moving forward, especially James, who turns 39 later in 2023.
–Staying in the City of Angels, LA Clippers SF/PF Kawhi Leonard and SG/SF Paul George have played well this season, though neither is providing expected numbers. There is also concern about missed games here.
—New Orleans Pelicans PF Zion Williamson simply cannot stay on the court by any definition, and this will be his third season out of four in which he misses more than half the team’s games. If these were Anthony Davis numbers, with great boards and blocks, we might overlook it. We cannot.
—Utah Jazz SF/PF Lauri Markkanen is healthy and may earn the league’s honors for most improved. Some will say he clearly deserves a top-25 ranking since he is a near top-10 option on the current Rater. Others will say he cannot do this again. I think he can, and he is among my top 30 players.
—Washington Wizards PF/C Kristaps Porzingis may end up in the top 10 on the Rater, but the numbers are never in doubt with this player. It’s the missed games. Give him credit for a mostly healthy season, but we cannot be sure if this is a new trend. His teammate SG Bradley Beal has missed more games and no longer averages close to 30 PPG.
–Atlanta Hawks PG/SG Dejounte Murray has had a solid season, but his rebounds and assists took a big hit leaving the Spurs. Still, do not let him fall too far in drafts. Same with Sacramento Kings PG De’Aaron Fox. I sure like the top point guards.
–Milwaukee Bucks C Brook Lopez and Memphis Grizzlies PF/C Jaren Jackson Jr. offer the valuable combination of blocked shots and 3-pointers, but we just don’t get enough points and rebounds for the first three or four rounds of a roto draft. Indiana Pacers PF/C Myles Turner gets there, though.