Emerging talent is a constant phenomenon within the NBA. As established players reach the twilight of their prime, fresh young prospects step onto the scene. These are the up-and-comers.
In the fervor to secure the next prominent star, valuable players often get overlooked. They slip down draft rankings despite their potential. If you’re astute, you can seize the opportunity to acquire one of these hidden gems.
Outlined below are three guards each that can be categorized as either rising stars or under-the-radar sleepers.
Mikal Bridges – Nets
Bridges commenced the previous season with the Suns before transitioning to the Nets as part of the Kevin Durant trade. Upon joining Brooklyn, he assumed the role of the primary scoring option for the revamped team that had sent Kyrie Irving to Dallas in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie. Bridges’ usage rate of 28.8% would have ranked 23rd if extrapolated over the entire season.
Bridges effectively demonstrated his capacity to create his scoring opportunities, an aspect that he had not fully exploited during his time in Phoenix. The mid-range jump shot became a cornerstone of his offensive arsenal, notably sinking 41 out of 82 attempts from long mid-range distances. Additionally, he displayed greater aggression by drawing an average of 6.6 free throws per game, more than doubling his rate from his tenure with the Suns. Overall, he posted averages of 26.1 points per game on 48/38/89 shooting, accompanied by 4.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.6 combined steals and blocks per game across 34.2 minutes.
This season, Bridges is expected to maintain a similar role, showcasing his potential for second-round fantasy performance based on his limited stint with Brooklyn. Early drafts indicate that fantasy managers are confident in his abilities by selecting him in that range. At 27 years old, he has entered his prime and is prepared for his most high-usage season to date.
Jordan Poole – Wizards
After being chosen as the 28th overall pick by the Warriors in 2019, Poole’s tenure in Golden State has concluded. The previous season was characterized by fluctuations and tension stemming from an incident in practice involving Draymond Green’s altercation with Poole. Nevertheless, the guard achieved career-best statistics in points (20.4) and assists (4.5) per game over an average of 30 minutes. The postseason displayed a different narrative, with Poole contributing an average of only 10.3 points and 3.5 assists per game while shooting a disappointing 34.1% from the field.
Nonetheless, playoff performance is not a significant concern in the realm of fantasy basketball. Poole now finds himself in a new environment following his transfer to the Wizards. This move places him in a more substantial role, potentially making him the primary offensive option and the team’s No. 1 choice.
During the previous season, when both Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were off the court, Poole showcased his capabilities by averaging 27.7 points and 5.4 assists per 36 minutes, with a usage rate of 35.5%. This rate, if sustained over an entire season, would have ranked fourth in the NBA. Although this doesn’t translate perfectly to his expected role with the Wizards, it underscores his ability to perform effectively with greater involvement.
Desmond Bane – Grizzlies
Bane is entering the new season on the heels of a career-best performance, displaying notable progress as both a scorer and playmaker. He significantly enhanced his true shooting percentage (60.6) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.0) while achieving career highs in points (21.5) and assists (4.4) per game. This combination of efficiency and increased output is a rare feat.
In the upcoming season, Bane is presented with another opportunity for growth, driven not only by his development as a young player but also by unique circumstances. Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension and Dillon Brooks’ move to Houston have created a significant void in usage for at least a third of the season, which Bane is anticipated to fill. While Marcus Smart will also contribute to playmaking, Memphis’ roster (without Morant) lacks trustworthy playmakers for fantasy managers to rely on.
During moments when both Morant and Brooks were off the court in the previous season, Bane exhibited a usage rate of 29.4%, averaging 27.7 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. While projecting these statistics for an entire season may be ambitious, there will undoubtedly be instances where the Grizzlies will rely on Bane to produce substantial scoring.
Collin Sexton – Jazz
The last two seasons have seen a downturn for Sexton. He endured an ACL injury after just 11 appearances in the 2021-22 season with the Cavaliers, and he participated in only 48 games (starting 15) for the Jazz in the subsequent season, primarily due to hamstring issues. Over his first three seasons, he posted averages of 20.2 points and 3.4 assists while shooting at percentages of 46/39/83.
The Jazz have significant financial commitments to Sexton over the next three years, making this an opportune moment to assess his potential for a resurgence. He has previously demonstrated the capacity to deliver mid-round fantasy value. While selecting him that early this season might be premature, taking a chance on Sexton toward the end of drafts could be a strategic move.
Malcolm Brogdon – Celtics
While Derrick White garners well-deserved attention as a rising star in the fantasy realm, Brogdon is a player who merits closer consideration. The gap created by Marcus Smart’s departure should provide both Brogdon and White with increased opportunities. The extent of these opportunities will also hinge on Payton Pritchard’s readiness for greater responsibility and the Celtics’ lineup configuration. Nevertheless, Brogdon remains the sole dependable backup guard on the team.
Following his Kia Sixth Man of the Year accolade last season, Brogdon averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 26 minutes per game. It’s reasonable to expect an uptick in his workload, ranging from the high 20s to the low 30s in terms of minutes. Injuries have impacted Brogdon’s fantasy value, but preliminary mock drafts suggest he can be acquired well outside the top 100. He has consistently delivered in fantasy, with rankings never dropping below 119th in 8-category per-game value and a peak ranking of 52nd.
Gary Trent – Raptors
Trent experienced a slight regression last season following a breakout year in 2021-22, particularly after being relegated to a bench role following Jakob Poeltl’s acquisition at the trade deadline. While he started in 44 of his 66 appearances, he averaged 17.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. Trent’s fantasy value lies in his three-point shooting and defensive contributions, as evidenced by his averages of 2.5 three-pointers and 1.6 steals per game.
Despite the dip in performance, Trent managed to provide sixth-round per-game value when accounting for turnovers. With Fred VanVleet’s departure, a void has emerged in terms of minutes and shot opportunities within the backcourt. While Dennis Schroder and Scott