We are officially one week away from opening night in the NBA. Next Tuesday night, we will have real NBA basketball that counts, meaning we are on the cusp of the beginning of the fantasy season.
Throughout the offseason, I have given you breakout players and busts at each position, some summer league standouts who might be able to make some magic, and now we are onto the second leg of some second-year players that should be taking a step forward this season. Last week we dove into some guards including Tyrese Maxey, Saddiq Bey, and Payton Pritchard to name a few and today we will dissect some forwards who could do the same.
Most of the players on today’s list would technically be classified as big men, but they all are extremely versatile and can play multiple positions depending on the lineup and the needs of the team. All of these guys would be solid candidates in the late rounds of your fantasy drafts, but they could also go undrafted and end up being waiver wire pickups very quickly. Either way, all five names on today’s list should be in for great seasons, so let’s dive into it and get you ready to crush your league.
Isaiah Stewart- Detroit Pistons
Stewart should be in for a huge second season as Detroit is rather thin in the frontcourt. He, as well as Kelly Olynyk, should split time at Center with Luka Garza also getting spot minutes at times. Last season, Stewart got off to a slow start getting acclimated to the NBA, but as the season went on, Stewart got exceedingly comfortable and began to settle into his role with Detroit.
Post-All-Star break, Stewart looked like a different player as he nearly doubled his scoring from 5.4 points in his first 34 games to 10.4 in his last 34. His rebounds also increased from 5.8 rebounds to 7.6 rebounds per game after the break. Stewart was able to ride this second-half surge to a spot on the All-Rookie squad, something that very few people would have expected from him coming out of The University of Washington.
This season, Stewart should start at Center, and if the reports out of Detroit are true that he has become an improved shooter, Stewart could be a solid late-round fantasy option.
“It’s all repetition, with the smoothness and confidence,” said Pistons head coach Dwayne Casey. “He, Luke, and Kelly give us a dimension of 3-point shooting that’s very important.”
After the All-Star break, Stewart attempted 1.7 three-pointers per game and made them at a 34.5% clip. The percentage was not bad, but you would like to see more volume if it is going to be a real area of improvement this season. So far in two preseason games, Stewart is 1-of-3 from the three-point line, so we will see if he can improve upon this once the real games come around.
Jae’Sean Tate- Houston Rockets
Tate also was a member of the All-Rookie squad last season after going undrafted out of Ohio State University in 2018 and playing one season in Belgium and one season in Australia before finally getting his opportunity with the tanking Rockets last season. In 70 games, Tate became one of the most consistent players in Houston’s rotation and proved to be a true plug-and-play at either forward spot alongside Christian Wood and Kelly Olynyk, for the 27 games that he played with Houston to end the season.
Tate started 50 games for Houston last season and averaged 11.3 points on 50.6% shooting from the floor and 30.8% shooting from the three-point line with 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the biggest knocks on Tate was his foul shooting as he shot just 69.4% from the stripe and only attempted 2.1 per game, which is low for someone who plays nearly 30 minutes a game and scores the majority of their points in the paint, you would think he would get to the foul line more.
This season, Tate is on track to start again at the power forward spot, and the Rockets will again be one of the youngest teams in the NBA, therefore they will be prioritizing the development of their young core players like Tate as well as Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr., and Jalen Green, who the team selected second overall in this year’s NBA draft. Tate’s current ADP on Yahoo is 11.4 and he is rostered in 98% of fantasy rosters at the moment, so towards the back end of your draft, Tate is a more than capable option if you need some versatility at the forward spot.
Aleksej Pokusevski- Oklahoma City Thunder
Similar to Jae’Sean Tate in Houston, Pokusevski will be in a situation where he is amongst a host of young players on a team that is going to be right back in the Lottery of the NBA draft next season and could likely be in play for a top-three pick. This means that there will be plenty of opportunities for him to play and put up numbers in year two, as long as he can stay on the floor.
Poku is far from the bulkiest or most sturdy guy on the floor, and last season he missed time at different points of the season with a concussion as well as knee and arm injuries at other parts of the season. But this year is a new year, and according to recent reports, Pokusevski could be in the mix for a starting spot in OKC. Poku’s versatility will allow him to play a multitude of different positions for OKC, which also plays into his hands in fantasy land.
Last season, similar to Isaiah Stewart, the seven-foot forward came on extremely strong late in the season as he more than tripled his scoring after the break going from 3.3 points to 11.1 points per game with 1.7 triples, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. His efficiency was the biggest cause for concern as he shot just 34.1% from the floor on the year. He did, though, end the season on a strong note as he averaged 12.4 points on 46.2% shooting (43.5% 3-pointers) with 2.0 triples per game in five games in May.
If Poku can find a way to build on this type of efficiency in his second NBA season, he will be a steal in the later rounds of your draft.
Patrick Williams- Chicago Bulls
Like Tate and Stewart, Williams’ inaugural season in the NBA earned him a spot on the All-Rookie squad after he averaged 9.2 points on 48.3% shooting from the floor and 39.1% shooting from three with 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 0.9 steals per game in 27.9 minutes. Williams was pretty steady all season long for Chicago, and most importantly, he played in 71 out of a possible 72 games for the Bulls last season. Though he is currently rehabbing a sprained ankle, recent reports have indicated that Williams should be ready to go for the season opener on October 20th against Detroit.
Now this season will look a lot different than last for Williams as he will now be a part of a team that is expected to be a player amongst the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls acquired DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso along with Derrick Jones Jr. this offseason. Williams is still expected to start at the power forward spot alongside Nikola Vucevic in the frontcourt, and DeRozan, Ball, and Zach LaVine in the backcourt.
Though these additions will knock Williams down on the totem pole when it comes to shot priority, they will also command a good amount of attention, meaning that Williams could be the recipient of a lot of open shots this season. Ball has been known as a willing passer since he stepped foot in the league and DeRozan is coming off of a year where he averaged a career-high 6.9 assists in San Antonio. LaVine and Vucevic are coming off of All-Star seasons and likely will command a good deal of attention offensively.
Williams shot 39.1% from three last season on 1.9 attempts per game, and I would be willing to bet that the attempts will surely be up this season so as long as he knocks them in, he should see increases across the board. Williams’ current ADP is at an 11.6 and he is only rostered in 58% of leagues, so he could be a late-round steal if you can snag him on draft day.
Jaden McDaniels- Minnesota Timberwolves
McDaniels is what we would call a boom-or-bust pick as he is not currently someone that would warrant a draft pick, but if you are in the twelfth round and you are feeling ballsy, McDaniels is a guy that could be a steal if he hits his stride this season. People out of Minnesota’s camp have been high on McDaniels after he had a sneaky good rookie season, especially after the all-star break. In 33 games after the break, McDaniels averaged 8.3 points on 49.1% shooting from the floor (38.3% from three) with 1.3 triples, 4.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 0.8 steals per game.
This season he is slated to start at the power forward spot, but because of his versatility, he could play either forward position. Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch did not hesitate to Praise McDaniels this summer when mentioning him with Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards as one of the “core four” members of the franchise.
“And Jaden, as we talked about, has probably been our most diligent worker in the gym,” Finch said. “He has the best foundation in terms of his basketball fundamentals, that is easy to stack skills on. That’s the core four.”
The minutes will certainly be there for McDaniels this season, and it seems like he has the trust and support of his head coach. That right there is what we call a formula for success, and all it is missing is for Jaden to go out there and put the ball in the hoop. But if you are one of those people who wants to wait and see how it looks when the lights come on, keep an eye on McDaniels on the waiver wire early on.