We got our first dose of NBA Basketball Thursday as the Mavericks and Timberwolves opened up preseason action in Abu Dhabi. Luka Dončić was unstoppable, and Karl-Anthony Towns put on a clinic in Minnesota’s 111-99 victory. Training camps are underway, and to close my breakout series, I’ll discuss which ascending centers will go off in fantasy basketball this season.
The term “breakout” is defined differently across the fantasy community. I’m using breakout to describe players who have yet to finish in the top 75 in per-game value, should exceed their average draft position (ADP) and see a boon in minutes and opportunity.
You won’t see players like Walker Kessler or Nic Claxton here because they don’t meet the criteria.
So if I’m not going to rep those guys, who’s left?
Alperen Şengün – C, Houston Rockets
Everything I’ve read and seen throughout the offseason and preseason has me hyped for what the third-year center can bring to the Rockets and fantasy managers this season. He was the best fantasy player for Houston last season (which isn’t saying much because he finished 85th in per-game value), but the drastic overhaul of the Rockets coaching staff and roster is only to Şengün’s benefit.
He had a mini-break out last season, raising his scoring average by over five points per game, upped his rebounding to nearly 10 per game and increased his FG percentage by over seven percent. He did all of this in under 30 minutes per night, too.
Anytime a player gets more efficient with more usage and involvement in the offense, it is a good sign of things to come.
The previous coaching regime needed to play more to his strengths as a versatile, playmaking big man. Ime Udoka has already emphasized getting him to initiate more on offense and encouraging him to shoot more when defenders sag:
Şengün’s been working all offseason on extending his range and is confident in his growth as a shooter. He might fit a punt-free-throw roster build well since he’s been a low 70s free-throw shooter thus far, but with the improved shooting stroke, who’s to say that can’t rise to the mid to high 70s this season?
The defense has always been the question mark. Early reports suggest that he’s been aggressive in attacking pick and rolls and putting in the work to prove he’s not a liability on D. And it’s not like he’s a complete cone out there; he’s averaged over 1.8 stocks (steals + blocks) in both seasons so a larger commitment on the defensive side will only raise his floor.
There’s too much potential to ignore here, and with a competent coaching staff that’s brought in proven veterans, it will only be a positive for Şengün’s outlook this year. A 17/10/5 with two stocks line is attainable, and if the efficiency holds, his fifth-round value will look disrespectful.
Jalen Duren – C, Detroit Pistons
Duren, by all accounts, had a successful rookie season. He made the All-Rookie team and averaged a respectable 9.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 stocks while shooting 61% from the field. Not bad for a guy who only played 25 minutes a night and had to compete with a slew of big men all year for minutes.
Like Şengün, Duren will benefit from a new coaching regime and better talent surrounding him. Monty Williams stated that James Wiseman and Marvin Bagley III are competing for the backup center spot — which anoints Duren as the starter. It’s great that it’s been established at the onset, especially when starting PG Cade Cunningham is back and ready to rock.
The chemistry between Cunningham and Duren is undeniable — they were the talk of the Select Team this summer after running what appeared to be some unguardable pick and rolls, so that’s only a taste of what we can expect heading into this season.
Duren’s drawn comparisons to Dwight Howard — you know, the guy who should be a Hall of Famer and was one of the best big men of this era? In case you missed it, he had a Dwight-like-type game last year where he went off for 30 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks. And don’t sleep on this man’s passing either!
Jalen Duren was undeniable Friday night, muscling his way to 30 points with 17 rebounds and four blocks as Detroit beat the Spurs at LCA. Duren, drafted 13th overall, is the first teenager in NBA history to put up 30+ and 17+. He’s like a cross between Shawn Kemp and Ben Wallace. pic.twitter.com/Olf1qeNmmI
— Brett Usher (@UsherNBA) February 11, 2023
I thought it was cap, and then I heard Paul George talk about how strong, athletic and skilled Duren is. Monty Williams isn’t one for stats, but it’s clear that Duren made a significant impact whenever he touched the floor last season:
The NBA Rookie of the Year contest should really be only between Walker Kessler and Jalen Duren. For rookies with at least 1,000 minutes, here are the leaders for the advanced categories:
If there are other advanced stats that can compare across positions, I’ll add them. pic.twitter.com/l7jZz5Qc45
— 🎃 Jack 5KLellington 💀 (@5kl) February 14, 2023
The soon-to-be 20-year-old has already stepped into a leadership role, and considering Williams’ rotations in Phoenix, Duren is on track to play 30 minutes per night and with per-36 averages of 13.2 points, 12.8 rebounds, 2.2 stocks, this guy is going to vastly outperform his ADP.
Mark Williams – C, Charlotte Hornets
Another second-year player, Williams, came on after the All-Star break, averaging 12 points with 10 rebounds and 1.3 stocks. Hornets HC Steve Clifford is raving about the possibilities of utilizing Williams’ athleticism on defense, and it’s conceivable given how well Williams played when given the opportunity post All-Star break.
Rookie Mark Williams was a huge reason for Charlotte having the 8th best defensive rating in the NBA post All-Star
Imposing 7-footer with a 7’7 wingspan & can actually move his feet. Killer offensive rebounder too. Will help win the possession game for a long time in Charlotte pic.twitter.com/lapTNuMxWt
— NBA University (@NBA_University) August 3, 2023
The rotation has yet to be defined, but Williams is the presumed starter, with Nick Richards coming off the bench. Kai Jones is away from the team, so that’s one less person to compete for minutes in the frontcourt. The Hornets are a team of offensive-minded players, with Williams being the critical element in anchoring the Hornets’ defense and rim protection. And on a per-36 basis, he had the ninth-highest rebound rate last year (ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Domantas Sabonis and Walker Kessler). There’s a ton of potential from a rebounding and stock generation standpoint.
I don’t expect Williams to see a 17% usage rate because the Hornets are bringing back many players from either injury, suspension or contract extensions. Still, Williams fits the profile of a player who can sustain a high FG percentage and average a double-double with two stocks. Much of his success in the tail end of last season wasn’t with LaMelo Ball, so I’m anticipating a lot more of this as he and Williams refine their two-man game.
Williams added a three-ball to his repertoire this offseason, so fantasy managers can get an unexpected bonus if playing in category leagues. He is going right around Duren in drafts, and while I’m higher on Duren, Williams is another guy poised to break out with a healthy and motivated Hornets squad.