Fantasy basketball: Five players to target in the middle rounds

After an impressive rookie season, Evan Mobley has the talent to take things up a notch. David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

"When is 'Winning Time'?"

Thanks to HBO's "Winning Time: The Rise of the Los Angeles Lakers," one of my favorite draft-season sayings is understood by people under 30.

(Hopefully, "Winning Time" Season 2 helps the same demographic understand the personnel-based brilliance of Jerry West. If you're going to portray West as a mad genius... maybe show some of the genius part once in a while.)

Within these pale fantasy confines, "Winning Time" constitutes the phase of a draft with the highest concentration of midrisk, high-reward players. Every draft season produces its own draft rhythms. It's one of the dynamics that lend fantasy basketball an air of annual freshness and excitement.

It's not hard to pinpoint Winning Time; I look at projections, my projections, André Snellings' rankings, ESPN.com's Live Draft Trends... and identify the range where the players with the highest likelihood of overperforming said ADPs reside. This isn't about Round 1.

This isn't about Round 2, though that round approaches as perilous, red-flag-rich territory. This isn't about "hot sleepers" (a fantasy oxymoron... if we're talking up a player, he's drowsy at best.) This isn't about end-game swings that pay off 100-to-1.

We're talking medium risk, high reward. Fourth-rounders that deliver second-round production. Sixth-rounders that finish top-30 on the Player Rater. In Monopoly terms: Marvin Gardens at a Connecticut Avenue price.

In 2022-23, Winning Time begins at pick 46.

Evan Mobley, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers (ADP 46.4)

The negatives I read depressing Mobley's draft position seem to have little to do with the play of Mobley.

"Donovan Mitchell will hoover up a hunk of usage."

"Jarrett Allen is ambulatory after missing the last month of the season."

At worse, I scan the occasional callout on Mobley's middling free throw percentage (66.3 FT%.)

In two years? Mobley will blow past Mitchell and Allen in ADP. Mobley will be a superstar. A top-20 fantasy pick. An across-the-board mega-producer at a shallow position. I'm not booking Mobley to get there in 2022-23. But there's surefire second-round upside here.

Kristaps Porzingis, PF/C, Washington Wizards (ADP 52.5)

To be fair: circa fall 2022, 52.5 is a solid median valuation of Porzingis' fantasy value. Like Mobley, Porzingis' has a second-round ceiling. Unlike Mobley, Porzingis has a 12th-round floor.

We fear Porzingis. His annual slide into part-time status. But, did you watch Porzingis the last month of last season? I did. Every game. And in a load-management dynamic? Porzingis was dynamic: 22.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.6 3s, 1.5 blocks. A true shooting percentage over 60 percent. And not many observers took note because he's Porzingis and it will always end in tears.

But you know what motivates Porzingis? Touches. Possessions. You know who quietly posted the highest usage rate of his career last season? Porzingis. You know who will be playing under less NBA pressure than he's seen since ...ever? Porzingis. The man is a Wizard now. It's not Titletown. It's "Let's Hope We Make It To The Play-in" Town. And he's grown a beard -- his Play-In beard.

Scottie Barnes, SF/PF, Toronto Raptors (ADP 60.7)

The reigning Rookie of the Year is still sitting in the fantasy green room at pick 60? What did Canada ever do to you? In my experience, Toronto can be relied upon for serial niceness, game-changing comedy and music, gravy-based culinary breakthroughs, and criminally underdrafted fantasy producers.

Barnes is an ideal mid-round selection for a well-rounded team. He does a little bit of everything; what I call 1+1+1 production. He's a lock for heavy minutes. He qualifies at fantasy's thinnest position (small forward.) Adjusted for positional scarcity, I have Barnes as a top-40 player from the drop.

Jordan Poole, PG/SG, Golden State Warriors (ADP 73.7)

If the Warriors stay relatively healthy this season, 73.7 will be about right. But the odds of the Warriors staying healthy are looking a little low. And if a starter ends up on the shelf, Poole will be the next man up in terms of minutes and usage.

Over the last month of the regular season, playing over 35 minutes per game and sporting a huge chunk of possession, Poole delivered top-25 numbers: 25.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 4.1 3s. His super-secret sauce: Poole is an elite free throw producer. Around pick 70, Poole sports no risk. But he's got a ton of proven, documented upside.

Jalen Green, SG, Houston Rockets (ADP 79.3)

Posted a monster final month last season (22.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.2 3s, huge jump in TS%). High athletic ceiling and skill set. Guaranteed MPG in the mid-30s. Will post a usage rate over 25.0. Playing in a low-pressure, developmental situation. Plays at a thin position that lacks mid-round depth.

Unlike Poole, Green's ceiling doesn't depend on the health of established older superstars in his rotation. Houston is a G-League team this season -- a loaded G-League team -- with stats that count in NBA fantasy. With a clear-cut rotation and a steady diet of minutes just waiting to be had, big things are ahead for Green in year two.