Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons each have the talent to be fantasy basketball stars -- and all of them have shown it in the past -- but each also comes with quite a bit of risk entering the 2022-23 NBA season.
Is it worth using a high draft pick on any of them? How cautious should you be with each of them? And when is the right time to draft them?
Here are our fantasy basketball experts -- André Snellings, Eric Moody, Eric Karabell, Jim McCormick and John Cregan -- to explain their draft-day approaches.
Average draft position (ADP): 24.1
Snellings: Davis is another whose injury history makes it difficult for me to draft him with my first couple of picks, but a) when he's out it's typically due to a physical injury, b) he's under immense pressure to perform this season for a Lakers squad with all eyes on them, and c) I believe he'll feel that pressure and use it to drive himself towards a strong season. With that said, I still wouldn't take him before the third round in most scenarios despite my projecting him with the ninth-highest fantasy scoring average. It's possible I could get him in the early third round of some leagues. But, I'd want to have two more trustworthy top picks on my team before I'd feel up to dealing with the risk/reward roller coaster.
Moody: Last season, Davis averaged 23.2 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.3 BPG, and 1.2 SPG. New head coach Darvin Ham claims to want to run the offense through Davis. Also, he seems to be in great shape to avoid injuries. I'm drawn to him like a moth to a flame. Over 60 games from him could make him a league winner for fantasy managers. Davis is a very good pick at his current draft position.
Karabell: I'm actually a bit surprised Davis isn't going in the top 10 anymore. That said, he shouldn't, based on the myriad missed games and the modest drop in production. Davis isn't 25 PPG and 12 RPG anymore, not with his health and with LeBron James at his side. but he still provides potential top-10 production if we could count on some durability. I'd say late Round 2 isn't bad value, even though I am unlikely to invest.
McCormick: There is enough risk baked into Davis' current ADP to take the leap. Only Myles Turner averaged more blocks than Davis last season, which we recognize as one of the most difficult stats to secure. Oh yeah, he's also one of the best sources of steals from any frontcourt player in the league. Davis couldn't find his shot from 3-point range last season, but he also shot a career-best 57.1% from 2-point range. Even amid some decline from his prime production with the Pelicans, we can reasonably project Davis to slash for roughly 24 points and10 boards with real chance to pace the league in blocks. I'm in.
Cregan: I would love to marshal the wherewithal to push for a comeback fantasy campaign for Davis. But even tabling the poor health for a beat, Davis' fantasy production in key areas continued the disquieting slide last season. His continual. concurrent slide in 3-point percentage and rebounds speak to a player who is secretly old beyond his years -- and not in the good, crafty Luka Doncic way, more like in the caveat emptor Greg Oden way.
Snellings: Zion was someone I took chances on last season. I spent big money to keep him in an industry dynasty league, and I took him when available in the 3rd round of several leagues with the expectation that his foot injury was minor. It was not. I actually believe that he will come into this season healthy and motivated, but he's also on a team where the usage is shared among more impact players than before. My projections have him 22nd in fantasy points per game. I'd consider drafting him in the fourth round, maybe as early as late 3rd round if I'm feeling particularly lucky, but his ADP is currently 23rd so I doubt I'll get the chance in any leagues.
Moody: I'm perfectly fine with selecting Williamson. His five-year extension shows the Pelicans' confidence in him. Williamson appears in great shape based on reports and videos and I expect to see the player we saw during the 2020-2021 season, who averaged 32.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per 40 minutes. Williamson could easily outperform his ADP if his defensive statistics improve.
Karabell: I'm always willing to draft a player if the value makes sense with my expectations, but I just can't imagine it will in Zion's case. Perhaps he plays in every game this season, or he misses only 10. OK, awesome! Williamson can score with the best of them but in order to warrant a top-30 pick he'd have to become a more well-rounded statistical option, rebound more and miss fewer free throws. I can't invest a top-50 pick in someone so flawed, despite their talent.
McCormick: Understanding the risk of missing out on prime Shaq-like scoring efficiency, I'm fine not landing Williamson this season. He's clearly more valuable in points leagues given his elite scoring potential, but for category-driven formats, there are some drawbacks to consider. In an 85-game career sample he's averaged just 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks in nearly 32 MPG. Sluggish free throw production -- at high volume -- combined with a modest career rebounding rate means Williamson could be a player entirely reliant on his special efficiency at heavy scoring volume. Zion is an outlier in general, so I could be wrong, but he's been a better real player than fantasy star so far.
Cregan: In a points league, I'm in. Like a late-third-round kind of in, but it's a start. Williamson's singular combination of usage, true shooting percentage, and volume scoring-playmaking portfolio make him a medium-risk/high-reward points play. Anyone who will have the ball in his hands as much as Williamson is worth it, despite his two well-documented flaws: health and free throw percentage. The punt potential of Williamson's free throw production and the lack of surety he cracks 60 games are why I'm still waiting a year before jumping in on the Roto side.
Snellings: I don't have a full-on "Do Not Draft" list, per se, but Irving has come the closest to getting a special exemption due to his propensity to miss high volumes of games every year. I wondered if the pendulum might have gone fully the other way, though, this season. Because now everyone is so used to him potentially missing half a season or more, for matters that might not even involve injury, that I thought his draft stock may have fallen into the fourth/fifth round range where I might consider him. He's eighth in my projections for fantasy points per game, and if I could get him after already securing my top three or four picks, then I'd consider it. But his ADP is still pretty high, so it'd likely take a league full of Irving skeptics for me to have a shot at him.
Moody: Even though Irving is one of the most unpredictable fantasy basketball players in recent memory I'm still very comfortable selecting him at his average draft position. Irving only played in 29 games last season, but the statistical results were glorious. He averaged 27.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.8 APG and 1.4 SPG while shooting 47% from the field. He is well positioned to greatly outperform his ADP.
Karabell: He's such a talented player but it is hard to trust he'll show up for two-thirds of his team's games, well, ever. It's always something. Yeah, I would consider Irving if it didn't take a top-50 investment but of course that won't happen in many leagues. Irving has top-10 upside but I want to invest in more reliable options so chances are he won't end up on my teams.
McCormick: I am willing to take on Irving this season. One angle I honestly consider is how impending unrestricted free agency next summer offers unique motivation to be productive and available this season. There is obvious risk given the track record, but I don't think it's due to the systemic statistical flaws Williamson and Simmons present. As one of the most efficient high-volume scoring guards in the league, this guy can still contribute at a difference-making statistical level on a per-game basis. This is more of a bet on availability than his ability to actually be a fantasy force.
Cregan: It's going to feel like I'm being slightly hypocritical -- Irving has garnered more negative publicity than anyone -- but it hasn't dented his draft standing. Irving is one of those players who inspires selective memory in fantasy managers... we tend to remember the good times. And Irving did post some monster lines last season. In Roto, playing 70-75 games, Irving is a borderline first-round talent. But Irving will miss time. But other than trips to Toronto, it's impossible to peg when he elects to take the occasional personal day. It's the randomness that will make me avoid Irving in Roto. I'm fine with Irving missing 10 games or so in the aggregate, but his playing pattern will be randomized to the level where he becomes untenable in points leagues. Because there will be a week or two where he blows a matchup.
Snellings: Simmons is another I took chances on last season and got burned, but of this group he's the one I'm most likely to have some shares of this season because his ADP is so low. My projections would have him 33rd in the league in fantasy points per game, and I'd be willing to take a chance on upside with my fifth or sixth round pick. Since that's where his ADP rests, I may draft him in a few leagues.
Moody: When I look at the other players with a similar average draft position like Josh Giddey, Christian Wood or Jalen Green it's unlikely Simmons will find himself onto any of my fantasy basketball teams. The way Simmons looks, how many games he'll play, and where he'll be mentally and physically remain to be seen after a year and a half off. He must also gel with his teammates. Since there is a lot of uncertainty, I'm out. Simmons will have to drop considerably in fantasy drafts for me to draft him.
Karabell: Fantasy managers aren't fooled anymore, and Simmons will probably go late enough in drafts -- after Round 7? -- that I would have to consider him, despite my personal feelings on a talented player who treated my favorite team so embarrassingly poorly. Simmons is not a scorer. He won't hit 3-pointers or free throws. However, his combination of assists and steals with rebounds is special. If he feels like playing.
McCormick: In his preseason debut with Brooklyn, the three-time All-Star posted six points, four rebounds, and five dimes in 19 first-half minutes, well on his way to one of his patented (with royalties to Jason Kidd) 12-8-10 lines. We know about the triple-double skill set and a steal rate that will be among the league's best, yet we also know his free-throw clip could cripple your efficiency in category formats. Like with Williamson, I'm more willing to consider Simmons in points leagues, but it's tough to invest in modest scoring, no 3-point production, and one of the weaker free-throw profiles when talking about eight- and nine-category leagues.
Cregan: I like players whose draft value is depressed by bad publicity. The fact that the last time we saw Simmons in a meaningful game was his infamous playoff meltdown helps. In points formats, peak Simmons is a top-30 player (as he was his rookie year when he played 81 games. The idea of Simmons playing 81 games today reads like Sean Marks fan fiction.) In a competitive points league where I need to take some big swings, Simmons is draft-worthy, and earlier than you think... say late-sixth round. But there are just too many question marks regarding his overall health, his 3-point shooting, and free throw shooting for me to go near Simmons in Roto.