The regular season is almost here, with there being three games remaining on the preseason schedule. Friday’s slate ran eight games deep and included Kyrie Irving’s return to Boston and Jrue Holiday’s return to New Orleans. But even with the exemplary performances put forth by some of the NBA’s biggest stars, there were some young players whose play should not be overlooked. Immanuel Quickley had another good game, while Darius Bazley looks to be entrenched as a starter and Shake Milton and Caris LeVert will figure prominently in their respective teams’ rotations.
A quick note before getting into Friday’s happenings: for those looking to get ahead of the competition before the start of the regular season, be sure to check out our 12 Days of Roto page. That has helpful information for fantasy basketball, and other sports, with a nice holiday sale to boot.
Shake had himself a night in Indy
Doc Rivers said earlier this preseason that he hopes go go 10-deep with his rotation, and the 76ers’ new head coach has been high on Milton. With Philadelphia’s need for perimeter shooting in the first unit Shake stands to be used as an “anchor” for the second unit, and he had himself a good preseason. In Friday’s win over the Pacers he played 21 minutes off the bench, finishing with 15 points, three rebounds, five assists and two 3-pointers.
The three turnovers were a tad high for those in nine-category leagues, but Milton will provide solid fantasy value coming off the bench. I wouldn’t go so far as to take him in the middle rounds of standard leagues, but Milton won’t be far off. What could change things is if Philadelphia were to make a major move, as the 76ers are one of the teams that has been mentioned in connection with Rockets star James Harden.
Sabonis, Oladipo look to be in good form
While Domantas Sabonis was a top-50 fantasy player last season, earning his first All-Star Game appearance in the process, Victor Oladipo missed much of the regular season as he continued to work his way back from a ruptured quadriceps tendon. And once back on the court he didn’t look all that sharp, especially after the NBA season resumed on Orlando. Oladipo looks to be on his way back to his pre-injury form, posting a 20/2/2/2 line with four 3-pointers Friday night.
Personally I’d take Oladipo within the top-50 picks of standard leagues, especially with the Pacers due to play at a faster tempo offensively under first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren. As for Sabonis he played extremely well, and is also a top-50 player regardless of league format. He finished Friday’s loss with 26 points, 11 rebounds, two steals and one 3-pointer in 27 minutes.
LeVert as Brooklyn’s Manu Ginobili? Why not?
With regard to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving there wasn’t much to take from the Nets’ whipping of Boston, as both looked sharp and ready for the regular season. But LeVert coming off the bench, with Spencer Dinwiddie in the starting lineup, is very interesting. One of the breakout stars of the bubble, LeVert’s fantasy value may actually improve if he stays with the second unit.
He was the only Nets reserve to hit double digits in field goal attempts (13) Friday night, finishing with 18 points, two rebounds, one assist, one steal and two 3-pointers in 21 minutes. Steve Nash mentioned Manu Ginobili and the role that he filled for the Spurs when asked about LeVert earlier this week. And if he is indeed asked to serve as Brooklyn’s sixth man, LeVert could threaten top-100 status in both eight- and nine-category formats.
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Patrick Williams gets another start
The rookie forward out of Florida State replaced Otto Porter in the starting lineup for the second straight game, and while he wasn’t as impactful this time around Williams once again outplayed Porter. It appears likely that Williams will be the Bulls’ starting small forward, and his fantasy value will only increase if Chicago finds itself well off the pace for a playoff spot as the season progresses. And in that scenario, it would not be a surprise if Porter was made available ahead of the trade deadline in late-March. Williams projects to be one of the top fantasy rookies in this class, likely in the second tier behind the likes of LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes, Isaac Okoro and Deni Avdija.
Bazley, Mike Muscala worth tracking in OKC
Many expect this to be a rebuilding year for the Thunder, and in the case of Bazley he could be poised to flourish as a result. A breakout player in the bubble, the second-year forward appears to be firmly entrenched as Oklahoma City’s starting power forward. Friday night Oklahoma City rolled out a starting five of Bazley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, George Hill and Al Horford, and the general feeling is that this is the group that Mark Daigneault will roll with when the regular season begins. That’s good news for those who are already on the Bazley bandwagon, and he could turn out to be one of the biggest risers in fantasy hoops this season. I have him as a breakout player in our annual draft guide.
And keep an eye on Muscala, who blocked four shots and knocked down three 3-pointers in 18 minutes off the bench. I don’t expect him to be a top-100 player coming off the bench like Nerlens Noel was last season, but being Oklahoma City’s unquestioned backup center will improve Muscala’s fantasy value exponentially. Don’t hesitate to use a late-round pick on him.
Quickley shines for New York
Playing on rosters chock full of bonafide draft prospects can limit the expectations on a draft prospect, and we’ve seen that happen on a few occasions in the past when it comes to players within the Kentucky program. Two that immediately come to mind are Devin Booker, who came off the bench during his lone college season, and Jamal Murray. Could Knicks rookie Immanuel Quickley follow a similar path? After playing off the ball for most of his time at Kentucky, Quickley was used at the point and played very well to end the preseason.
In Friday’s beating of the Cavaliers he started at the point and played 29 minutes, racking up 22 points, one rebound, five assists, five steals and three 3-pointers. Oh, Quickley was responsible for just two turnovers. Of course, it’s the preseason and it was the Cavaliers. But did the Knicks find the answer to their nagging point guard question? New York isn’t expected to be a playoff team, and extended minutes at the point would improve Quickley’s fantasy value. He could turn out to be one of the most underrated rookies in this class when it comes to his value. And for those on “Mitchell Robinson Foul Count” watch, he had none Friday night while racking up 10 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in 27 minutes.
KZ Okpala impresses in preseason finale
Starting for Jimmy Butler, who will be ready to go when the Heat open the regular season on Wednesday, Okpala played very well in Miami’s win over the Raptors. In 33 minutes the rookie wing accounted for 24 points (9-of-15 FGs), five rebounds, two assists, one steal, one blocked shot and six 3-pointers. Kendrick Nunn also being out ensured that Okpala wouldn’t lack for minutes, and to his credit he made the most of the opportunity. Given how deep Miami is on the wings it may be difficult for Okpala to crack the rotation once the regular season begins, but at the very least he’s given Erik Spoelstra something to thing about. Keep him on your fantasy radar.
And Precious Achiuwa deserves a mention, as he scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds off the bench. Could the first-round pick steal some minutes from Kelly Olynyk/Meyers Leonard? Maybe not early on but given the belief that Achiuwa could, in time, follow the path charted by Bam Adebayo it could be tough to keep him out of the rotation.
Hop on the Chris Boucher bandwagon while there’s still room
Going “all in” with Boucher can be a risk, due to his prior medical history and inconsistency when on the court. He won’t lack for opportunities to prove himself this season, and appears to be locked into the backup center role. As we saw with Serge Ibaka, there is fantasy value to be had there. Boucher accounted for 12 points, one rebound, one steal, two blocks and three 3-pointers in 18 minutes Friday night. He’s worth taking a late-round flier on, but Boucher will need to be better as a rebounder if those who do so are to cash in.
And Kyle Lowry looked sharp in his preseason debut, playing 27 minutes and knocking down six 3-pointers. Even with his age, Lowry is a top-50 option in both eight- and nine-category formats. But if you can pair him with Fred VanVleet in order to account for the possibility of a lightened workload on some nights, do so.
Lonzo Ball looks good in preseason finale
The Pelicans point guard, playing alongside Eric Bledsoe for the first time, posted a line of 19 points (7-of-11 FGs, 2-of-3 FTs), five rebounds, eight assists, two steals, one blocked shot and three 3-pointers in 34 minutes in Friday’s win over the Bucks. Ball’s perimeter shooting struggles have limited his fantasy value since he entered the league, and it is understandable if people exercise caution when it comes to his fantasy value. But even with the inconsistent shot Ball was a top-75 player in nine-cat formats last season, and threatened top-50 status in eight-cat. Personally, I’d take Ball before the end of the fourth round in standard formats and that doesn’t feel like much of a gamble at all.
And Zion Williamson appears ready to explode from a fantasy standpoint, as he’s healthy and won’t have to deal with a minutes restriction. It doesn’t feel crazy to expect top-25 value from the second-year power forward this winter. Bledsoe and J.J. Redick, both seeing their first action this preseason, both looked sharp in their respective roles. Bledsoe will start alongside Ball, while Redick will once again provide consistent late-round value as a points and 3-pointers option.
Nuggets small forward job remains up for grabs
Michael Malone has yet to decide who will be his starting small forward once the regular season begins, with Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton being the two candidates. Porter struggled as the starter in Denver’s first two preseason games, while Barton was a starter before a knee injury ended his 2019-20 campaign prematurely. Barton started Friday’s rout of Portland and played 20 minutes, accounting for three points, three rebounds, four assists, two steals and one 3-pointer. Porter accounted for 20 points, nine rebounds, three assists, one steal and four 3-pointers in 22 minutes.
Based upon box scores, Porter was the better performer Friday night. But numbers aren’t all that Malone will go by before he decides which will start Wednesday’s opener, which could be good news for Barton. Porter, even with his ceiling being higher than Barton’s, could be of greater value fantasy-wise — and to Denver’s loaded rotation — as a marquee scoring option for the second unit. This is a decision that could go either way, and the reserve (especially if it’s Porter) would be the better choice for those who still need to draft their teams.
A quick note on Portland from this one: Rodney Hood started and played 19 minutes, finishing with seven points, one rebound, three assists and one 3-pointer. He’s still working his way back from the Achilles injury that ended his 2019-20 season in December, so it will likely take a little time for Hood to get back to full speed. With that being the case Gary Trent Jr., who signed a sneaker deal with Adidas on Friday, stands to be a much better choice even if he continues to come off the bench.
Anthony Davis looks good to go
The aforementioned Harden has been the most popular top pick in Yahoo leagues, as he has an ADP of 2.1 with Dallas star Luka Doncic (2.4) next in line. But an argument can be made for Davis (3.4 ADP) to be the top pick in standard leagues, even though he shares the court with a ball-dominant lead guard in LeBron James. Davis looked sharp and ready to go for the regular season in Friday’s comeback win over the Suns, pumping in 35 points to go along with six rebounds, three assists, one steal, three blocks and six 3-pointers (on seven attempts) in 30 minutes. Both he and James were done by the end of the third quarter, as there was nothing else that Frank Vogel needed to see from either of his superstars.
If there’s a concern when it comes to Davis it’s his past injuries, and it seemed as if he was good for at least one trip to the locker room every other game last season. He played in 62 of the Lakers’ 72 regular season games last season, and only twice in his NBA career has Davis missed fewer than ten games. But the talent/production is worth taking a gamble on in any league, regardless of format.
Jevon Carter plays well in spot start
Phoenix was without its starting point guard for Friday’s game, as Chris Paul was a late scratch due to right ankle soreness. But instead of Cameron Payne sliding into the vacated spot it was Carter who Monty Williams called upon, and he played well. Twelve points, four rebounds, six assists, four steals, two 3-pointers and two turnovers in 36 minutes, while shooting 5-of-10 from the field (2-of-5 3-pointers).
Carter can be an absolute pest defensively, but the limited offense is what not only kept his fantasy value down but also made it difficult for him to crack the rotation in Memphis. Carter has played well for the Suns, especially in the bubble, especially when it comes to his shooting. If Paul has to miss time this season due to injury Carter, and not Payne, may be the one to watch for those in need of a short-term fix. Payne played 16 minutes Friday, finishing with nine points, two rebounds, two assists and one 3-pointer.