Fantasy Basketball Breakout Candidates: Seven NBA players ready to make a leap

By Henry Weinberg, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

By the conclusion of the 2021-22 season fantasy basketball, guys like Tyrese Haliburton, Anfernee Simons, and Tyrese Maxey showed elite skills and bright futures. The aforementioned names are key contributors on their teams and will likely pick up where they left off this season. However, the following list features players poised to make a leap or burst onto the scene. These seven breakout candidates below warrant serious attention.

Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves

Edwards is well-positioned to climb into elite territory in Year 3. He is physically gifted, thriving with volume, and on a talented roster that can spare him energy when needed.

Post All-Star break, Edwards connected on 36.4 percent of his threes. He attempted the sixth-most threes per game last season. Of those six players, only four (Stephen Curry, Fred VanVleet, Buddy Hield, and Edwards) ranked in the top 100 in three-point percentage, with Edwards ranking 91st. Even a slight uptick in percentage would vault him into the top tier of shooters.

A boost in his playmaking capabilities would unlock new dimensions to his offense. Getting screens from new addition Rudy Gobert will be helpful. Minnesota should run more stretch-four offensive sets to clear the lane for Edwards. You'll have to pay up for Edwards in drafts as he's currently going in the late second or early third round on Yahoo.

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Collin Sexton, Utah Jazz

While on the 2019-2020 Cavaliers, Sexton averaged 20.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 47.2% from the field and 38.0% from three. Cleveland finished with the second-worst record in the NBA that season. Utah profiles similarly and represents a suitable environment for stat accumulation.

Sexton averaged 24.1 points and 4.4 assists during the following campaign, showing improved passing chops. With a healthy number of shooters surrounding him in Utah, the 23-year-old returning to that level and achieving new facilitating heights is possible.

He has elite scoring abilities regardless of his environment. Sexton is currently the only ball handler baked into Utah’s future. His role will support strong production.

Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic

Many traits that made him the No. 1 pick remain. Fultz generates separation well, is an excellent finisher with good body control, succeeds in mid-range, and is a quality attacker/playmaker. Fultz trailed only Trae Young in high-value assists (creating three-pointers, open looks at the rim and free-throw attempts) per possession last season. When he was on the floor, Fultz assisted on 45.2 percent of his teammates' buckets — highest in the league.

Admittedly, Fultz's sample last season post ACL-recovery was just 18 games. Nonetheless, he’s very clearly a gifted facilitator. As a scorer, Fultz assertively gets to his spots, but his shooting range is still a glaring weakness (4-for-17 3Pt last season).

Getting to play with potential supernova Paolo Banchero, alongside impressively polished Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter, Fultz is in his best situation yet. The 24-year-old is a dark-horse candidate for the Most Improved Player award.

Is Markelle Fultz ready to deliver for fantasy basketball managers this season? (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Is Markelle Fultz ready to deliver for fantasy basketball managers this season? (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) (Jacob Kupferman via Getty Images)

Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

At 6-foot-10, Wagner possesses elite size as a combo forward. He’s a stout defender with a well-rounded offensive game. As a rookie last season, Wagner averaged 15.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 combined steals-plus-blocks. Wagner is a triple-threat option and multi-level scorer. He can draw fouls and already carries a credible handle and three-point stroke.

With Fultz back and Banchero now in the mix, Wagner's life should be much easier this season. A lot of gravity will be attracted elsewhere. His usage could suffer, but Wagner’s talent still puts a breakout on the horizon.

Alperen Sengun, Houston Rockets

Sengun is an up-and-coming versatile option for the Rockets. There are a range of quality metrics to support that reputation:

  • 2.3 Block% and 1.6 Steal% (74th and 83rd percentile among bigs, respectively)

  • Drew fouls on 16.1% of his offensive possessions (74th percentile among bigs)

  • Houston’s offensive rebounding rate improved 4.5% when he was on the floor

  • 19.2 Assist% (93rd percentile among bigs)

The No. 16 pick in the 2021 draft, Sengun is only 20 years old. The Turkish center struggled with his efficiency as a rookie. After the All-Star break, his playing time jumped to 25.1 minutes per game, but he shot just 46.3% from the field. He still averaged 11.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 steals-plus-blocks in that span — alluding to plenty of talent.

The Rockets’ trading Christian Wood unlocks additional usage for Sengun. Settling into a consistent role could boost his efficiency. He's a good partner for Jabari Smith, who projects as a fantastic catch-and-shoot option.

Isaiah Jackson, Indiana Pacers

Jackson blocked 3.5 shots per 36 minutes last season — leading all qualifiers. Indiana can only benefit from seeing Jackson in a larger sample size. The Pacers are supposedly in ongoing trade talks surrounding starting center Myles Turner, and a deal is crucial for Jackson's breakout.

Offensively, the 20-year-old profiles as a pure rim-runner for the upcoming season. Notably, his three-point shooting experiment isn’t fruitless, as Jackson connected on 31.3% (5-of-16 3Pt) of his triples as a rookie.

Defensively, the shot-blocking profile, active hands, and stellar length overshadow some concerns that could keep him off the floor, like frequent fouling and poor positioning and awareness.

Although his ceiling is currently limited, Jackson is logically due to grow. His numbers are hard to argue against. Jackson’s full per-360-minute stats amount to 19.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, 1.7 steals, 0.7 assists and 2.7 turnovers per game.

Caleb Martin, Miami Heat

Martin is slated to step into his first full-time role this season. Miami lost PJ Tucker, leaving Martin, scrapper Haywood Highsmith, and rookie Nikola Jovic as the power forward platoon. Assuming Miami doesn’t constantly resort to ultra small-ball lineups, Martin should get sizable work at the four.

Off-the-charts volatility in Martin’s career performance raises eyebrows.

Logging 19.3 minutes in 15 appearances as a rookie in Charlotte, Martin drained 20-of-34 three-pointers. However, his next season in Charlotte was terrible, with Martin shooting 25.6% from beyond the arc (31-of-121).

Last season with Miami, Martin logged nearly 1,600 minutes — vastly surpassing his two seasons in Charlotte combined. Martin connected on 42.1% of his threes while attempting 2.6 per game across 60 appearances. That appears unsustainable. It's tough to tell where the median is.

The power forward in Miami’s offense is responsible for floor spacing and switchable defense, including significant assignments against larger frontcourts. Martin isn’t as physical as Tucker, but he’s significantly younger, slightly taller and slightly quicker. He's graded as a plus-defender throughout his young career. If the shot holds, Martin is a breakout candidate.