With the NBA season beginning tonight, it seemed like an appropriate time to see what questions people are asking leading into the season. Sure enough, users on Reddit were not shy about the things they’ve been wondering. In fact, so many questions were asked that I was only able to answer about half of them here.
We’ll kick things off today with the higher profile questions before diving into some deeper league stuff tomorrow.
What’s the deal with Kawhi? Injury anything to worry about?
Kawhi Leonard’s injury is the most compelling storyline of the early season for two reasons. The first is that he is incredible. He has the tools to be the best player in fantasy, only trailing Kevin Durant in my personal rankings when healthy. He was being drafted too low even before news broke that he’d be missing games to start the year. Now he’s dropped down to ninth in ESPN’s average draft position. The chance to get a player of his caliber at the end of the first round (and in a lot of cases, the second round) is captivating.
The second reason it is a compelling bit of news is because we do not know very much about his injury. We know that he is having lingering issues with his quadriceps. We know that he has had minor trouble with quad ailments in the past. We know that Gregg Popovich has said that Leonard’s recovery is behind schedule. Lastly, we know that he missed the entire preseason and will miss the season opener.
That’s about it. We don’t know when he is expected to return, nor do we know if he will be affected when he does return. There isn’t any reporting that definitively tells us how serious this is, which is incredibly frustrating. However, this is why you may have had the opportunity to take Leonard in the second round. That is preposterous.
We know for sure that Leonard will miss one game, and that is it. If he ends up being ready for game two, it would not contradict any of the reporting we’ve seen to this point. Even if he misses a few weeks, you’ll have him for the majority of the season. Most importantly, you’ll have him for the part of the season that matters: the playoffs.
It is incredibly difficult to pair top end players together. If you can sacrifice some of your early season win percentage to stack your roster later in the year, you are giving yourself a better chance to win your league.
I know it can be scary to take an injured player, especially one with no timetable to return, but if you let that fear get the best of you and you take a player that is merely excellent in the late-first or early-second round when you could have had Kawhi F. Leonard, there’s a very good chance you’ll be kicking yourself later on.
Who doesn’t love a good rookie? They offer more name appeal than other players available in the eighth round or later, and once in a while you can draft a big man out of Kentucky that turns in a top twenty fantasy season out of nowhere.
There were a couple of questions about this year’s class in the mailbag, so I’ll make things simple by leading off with my top ten rookies and explaining my way through them.
- Ben Simmons, PHI
- Lonzo Ball, LAL
- Dennis Smith Jr., DAL
- Markelle Fultz, PHI
- De’Aaron Fox, SAC
- Frank Ntilikina, NYK
- Lauri Markkanen, CHI
- Josh Jackson, PHX
- Kyle Kuzma, LAL
- Malik Monk, CHA
Let’s start at the top. I have Ben Simmons first among all rookies because he is a better prospect than anybody from this year’s draft class, he has been getting his feet wet in the lifestyle of the NBA for a year already, and he has the chance to be a Draymondesque Swiss army knife sort of a player. He’ll end up with a fifth-round ADP when the season begins, which is too high simply because there are a lot of unknowns. However, for an owner that is willing to take on some risk, Simmons could end up contributing substantially in three categories and mildly in up to seven.
Lonzo Ball is probably the most divisive rookie, in part because of the hubbub around his dad but also because of his unique skills. He really does look like he can be a top-end floor general from day one, which makes him a safer pick than Simmons in my book. However, there are a lot of decent point guards out there, so a sixth round price tag seems unnecessary for a guy that only really promises to contribute to your assists column. He shot threes well in college, but his clunky form and meh college free throw percentage both suggest he’ll be disappointing in that regard.
He also doesn’t figure to get you too many points, but it is up to Luke Walton and the Lakers whether his field goal percentage will hurt you or not. In college, Ball was not aggressive attacking the basket and it turned into a 55.1 percent mark from the field. If the Lakers want him to pursue his shot with more fervor, that number could drop substantially. Ball lands at my second spot in the rookie rankings because of his high floor as an assist-getter, but he is a player to avoid if guys like Jrue Holiday and Ricky Rubio are available. They may not have that big shiny name, but there is just about no way Ball has a better season than either of them, barring injuries.
The fun “I know my stuff” pick is Dennis Smith. His athleticism and propensity for slashing remind of a young Derrick Rose, while he benefits from playing under offensive maestro Rick Carlisle. There won’t be much competition at point guard, though Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry both turned in solid performances last season. Best of all, the Mavericks seem set on making Smith the centerpiece of their franchise moving forward.
Here is where the concern sets in. Per basketball-reference.com, only two rookies have averaged 20 or more minutes per game under Carlisle in the past ten seasons. One was Ferrell last season. The other was Dorian Finney-Smith, also last season. On one hand, the fact that Carlisle seems more taken with rookies now that his team is not a contender is encouraging. On the other hand, he hasn’t shown a propensity for putting up with struggling players. To be fair, the Mavericks have not had a rookie of Smith’s caliber since Dirk Nowitzki. Still, Smith is not projected to be the most polished point guard at this point, which really could cause problems early in his career. He has the upside to be the best rookie this season, and I love that he has been drafted two rounds later than Ball most of the time. But understand that your sneaky rookie sleeper is more likely to bust than break out. In dynasty leagues, I have him over Ball. As far as this season goes, he is a step behind for owners that want to avoid major risks.
The last rookie to be drafted ubiquitously across leagues is Markelle Fultz. For a dynamic scoring guard taken with the first pick in the real NBA draft, he seems to have fallen by the wayside a bit. That may be in part because he figures to suffer from the same struggles that many similar players do early in their careers, or perhaps it is because he won’t be the center of attention in Philly the way that Ball and Smith will be in their respective cities. Whatever the case, you probably nabbed him in the ninth or tenth round of your draft, which actually feels like the best value of the top four rookies. He’s not going to light it up for 20 points a night as a rookie, but he really does offer more of a scoring boost than his ADP peers. He comes with no guarantees throughout the rest of the box score, but the only category I am especially worried about is field goal percentage, which young scoring guards do notoriously struggle with. Still, that’s not a bad kind of player to be getting behind Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol.
De’Aaron Fox and Frank Ntilikina both figure to be underwhelming point guards that get plenty of minutes as rookies. In Sacramento, Fox will be somewhat confusingly stuck sharing minutes with George Hill, but that shouldn’t stop him from seeing 24 or more per game. The bigger concern is his complete lack of a jump shot. He has a lot of Elfrid Payton to him, which is actually pretty exciting if you can get him in the twelfth round. He won’t promise to help you outside of assists and steals, but he’ll probably give you those. He could end up being a sneaky good backup for teams punting free throws (a role that Payton has excelled in for three years now).
Out in New York, the man is Ntilikina. He has less impediments to his minutes, but is also not the same caliber of player as Fox. He actually figures to look a little bit like Hill, the veteran that figures to take a couple of minutes out of Fox’s hands every game. Ntilikina has good size for a point guard and a comfortable shot from range. He has the upside to be a reliable defender despite average athleticism. The real problem is that he is not a proven passer or shot creator, which begins to limit the number of categories he can provide a boost in. Still, the minutes should be there. That’s enough for me to consider him a worthwhile pickup in deeper drafts.
Rounding out the class of exciting rookies with obvious minutes are Josh Jackson and Lauri Markkanen. The fun thing about Markkanen is that you know what you’re getting, and it is something that not everybody will have. He really does project to be a sniper from long range to a degree matched only by a couple of other players at the power forward position. For teams willing to sacrifice their traditional big man categories for some extra threes, that’s great. If you want solid rebounds, some blocks, and a decent shooting percentage, you may want to look elsewhere. Out in Phoenix, Jackson occupies a unique space in the player development spectrum. He figures to be a solid defender, an adequate playmaker for a forward, and a reasonable scorer. However, he doesn’t figure to be particularly good at any of these things just yet. He’ll get minutes on a depleted Phoenix roster, but expecting efficiency just yet could be a mistake. In dynasty leagues, he could be a new Andre Iguodala, but you’ll have to give it time.
Call me a skeptic, but I refuse to get worked up about Kyle Kuzma. I think he could be a very solid player, but he really doesn’t figure to do more than shoot threes as a rookie. If he is asked to do more than that, there is a good chance that he will have some difficulties. If you want to make that fun, sexy pick and try to convince your league mates that you’re smarter than them, go ahead and take him. Just don’t say that I told you to, because a ninth round price tag is preposterous for a guy that you only care about because of an exciting preseason (I repeat: preseason).
Rounding things out is Malik Monk. He comes with a lot of the concerns of Fultz and Smith as a young scoring guard, but he also comes with less promise for immediate opportunity and less to like about his game. I only see him as a draftable player in the deepest leagues, and even then you should understand that the reward may not be as high as you’re used to getting attached to so much risk. I can’t see him topping 15 points per game this year, even in my most optimistic fantasies. I can, however, easily see him with below six. Sadly, there aren’t any other categories he expects to be useful in (besides three-pointers, where he could be average), but several that he could be a drain on. He does have some intrigue in dynasty leagues, but don’t expect much from him as a rookie.
I’ve heard from people in some of my leagues that they just don’t see the hype with this class, which I think is both fair and unfair. For people that only care about the league’s top 100 or so players, this class is not that exciting. Only a handful of players expect to reach that mark, and even the top prospects have been mismarketed a bit. Ball isn’t likely to be the point guard of the future, but he’s likely to be a rich man’s Ricky Rubio. To some people, that statement is a bummer. To a lot of people, that is really exciting.
This draft class isn’t sexy, but it is deep. Guys like Jordan Bell and Josh Hart could be relevant years from now, which is hard to say about later picks most years. So yes, if you want the sex appeal of a rookie like Karl-Anthony Towns tearing up the league, or a dynamo of top talent, this class is a let down. However, it is wrong to say that it isn’t a good class. Spiel over.
Are Kristaps Porzingis and Myles Turner worth a second rounder?
Let’s kick this one off with some trivia (like all good trivia, it involves Raef LaFrentz). Here are the seven players to have ever taken one three per game, made 34 percent of their threes, pulled down seven rebounds, and blocked 1.9 shots per game over the course of a season in which they played at least 40 games, sorted chronologically:
- Chris Webber, 1996-97
- Raef LaFrentz, 2000-01
- Raef LaFrentz, 2001-02
- Serge Ibaka, 2014-15
- Kristaps Porzingis, 2016-17
- Myles Turner, 2016-17
There isn’t much value in setting up such specific criteria in terms of measuring the actual value of these players, but the point is that they are rare, yet two of them entering their primes are going to be available in the third round of your draft.
Last season, Myles Turner finished the season rated as the 25th best player (per FB-ninja.com), while Kristaps Porzingis ended up at 30th. With each of them losing a superstar (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, respectively), it is fair to think that the points will go up, which pushes both players into borderline second rounder territory.
Though I have been a Turner fan for longer than Porzingis, I think it is Porzingis that will see the bigger boost. He is a more natural scorer, so an increase in volume is likelier to do big things for him. I do worry about Turner’s field goal percentage dropping off a bit if he is forced to create more of his own shots, so it may be best to assess him as if he will perform just about identically to last season while expecting a slight increase from Porzingis.
The great thing is that there is no reason to expect either of these players to take a step back. Both have put multiple strong seasons on the board, and both are young enough that we can expect some natural progression from them. If either is going to break through into second-round status this year, I’d bet on Porzingis, which is why I see him as the slightly better pick this year.
A final note: if you care about the statistical makeup of your team, be advised that Porzingis is the more unique of the two, especially in leagues that offer him center eligibility (looking at you, Yahoo users). He sacrifices field goal percentage that Turner gives you, but makes up for it by hitting three times as many threes. Neither is a good rebounder, but both block shots well without hurting your free throw percentage. The point is that if your strategy is to max out the guard categories, Porzingis is probably the better pick for you. If you’re just looking for a big man that helps make up for some of the things you lost by drafting Jimmy Butler or John Wall, Turner can offer you that from the center slot while boosting your field goal percentage.
Why is John Wall such a god and how did he not go top five?
Point guard depth is getting out of hand. Seriously, you can get Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry in the third round. If you’re taking a guy in the first or second round, he better be able to give you a lot. John Wall seems to exist in the second tier of point guards, at least in the eye of drafters. He won’t make it to the top half of the first round like Russell Westbrook or Stephen Curry, instead going alongside Kyrie Irving and just in front of Chris Paul and Damian Lillard in most leagues.
This question was asked by somebody that obviously drafted Wall, which is why I’m scared to say what I really think: Wall is being taken too high.
Please, put your pitchfork down. Let me explain.
Per FB-ninja.com’s player rater (a fine tool that I recommend you take a gander at), Wall finished last season as the 18th best player. In the year prior, he was 22nd. This put him below Paul, Lowry, and Lillard both years.
Wall offers excellent security and some truly elite numbers, but if we’re talking about players that bring the best overall numbers, he isn’t a top ten guy. If you believe he’s in for a career year, he will probably justify your pick. If he performs like he has lately, he’ll end up being a slight overdraft. When it comes to point guards, you’re better off waiting until round three and seeing who is left. Somebody solid almost certainly will be.
Just for fun, here are my point guard rankings heading into the season:
- Russell Westbrook, OKC
- Stephen Curry, GSW
- Chris Paul, HOU
- John Wall, WAS
- Kyrie Irving, BOS
- Damian Lillard, POR
- Kemba Walker, CHA
- Kyle Lowry, TOR
- Mike Conley, MEM
- Ricky Rubio, UTA
The point of showing you these rankings is to emphasize that my concern with Wall is not his ability. I like him as the fourth best point guard this year. But there is so little separating him from Walker, who I have rated eighth and is consistently available a round or two later.
As you can see, I am not counting James Harden as a point guard, the reason being that he’s more valuable to you as a shooting guard regardless of whether he has point guard eligibility in your league. I value him more than Westbrook, but if you’re using him at your point guard slot you might be wasting it a tiny little itty bitty itsy bit.
The other thing I feel inclined to mention before moving on is Ricky Rubio at number ten. Yes, I can hear you laughing from here. No, I don’t care. He has been a reliable top fifteen fantasy point guard for some time because of those assist and steal numbers. Some people say he’s in for a career year shooting the ball. I don’t buy that, but I do think he is in a great position to succeed. More importantly, I think he has fewer question marks than other point guards you may consider in the area.
Eric Bledsoe is always an injury away from breaking your heart. Jeff Teague is about to be in a somewhat confusing Minnesota offense where he may be the fourth fiddle. Dennis Schroder is going to be playing for one of the worst teams in the league, which may help him score points but will probably hurt his (already bad) field goal percentage and turnovers marks. Are you really going to bet on Elfrid Payton over Rubio?
I would be surprised if Rubio finishes the season as a top ten point guard, but drafting is a probabilities game. Rubio comes with less risk than the other players vying for that tenth spot, which makes him the best bet even if he doesn’t have as much upside.
How good can Aaron Gordon really be?
A conversation broke out the other day in the GroupMe for my 30-team dynasty league. Who is going to win Most Improved Player?
Most guys pumped up their own player, which is to be expected. However, when the dust settled it appeared that Aaron Gordon was among the most popular picks, and it isn’t hard to see why. After getting crammed into the small forward slot last season, it looks like he will get to run in some slightly smaller lineups this season, which should be great for his offensive numbers. He is an explosive athlete with a balanced game. He hasn’t shined yet, but the sky is the limit for him.
If the question is purely his upside for this season, the answer is that he could be a top 50 player. Top 40 wouldn’t blow my mind. Top 30 would only blow my mind a little bit. His ceiling is ridiculous.
The problem is that he hasn’t actually done anything well yet, at least from a fantasy perspective. His rebounding and field goal percentage are adequate at best for a forward, while his three-point shooting and defensive numbers have really underwhelmed. He finished last season as the 136th rated player in fantasy, per FB-ninja.
If I had to guess where he ends up this season, it would be scoring about 15 points per game on 48 percent shooting, hitting 1.5 threes per game with questionable efficiency, snagging 7 rebounds with 2 assists, a steal, and 0.8 blocks. He’ll probably hit about 75% of his free throws. If this sounds a bit underwhelming, just know that these would be career highs in every category.
The point I’m making is that there isn’t any reason to expect him to be a top 75 player, and even top 100 would be a huge step up for him. If you took him in the ninth round, it is because you are fine letting him sit on your bench and figure things out. If he does, you might have gotten the steal of the draft.
A Quick Story About a “Bad” Trade
I mentioned that I am in a 30-team dynasty league. As you can imagine, this league is full of owners that know their stuff. I am consistently impressed with the insights of my league mates (it is also a really fun way to play. If you are open to studying up on lower-end guys, I highly recommend trying a deep dynasty league out).
I made a trade yesterday. I sent a late first round 2019 rookie pick for Doug McDermott. My team is a free-throw punting semi-contender in desperate need of threes, so he seemed like the right fit. Considering the mixed bag that is picking later than 25th in the rookie draft (especially two years from now), I felt confident about the odds of McDermott being better over the next three seasons than the guy I would’ve taken with that pick.
I still feel this way, but my league mates sure don’t.
“So we’re just giving away firsts for free now?”
“Eric Gordon OTB. Apparently going rate for 3’s is eight lottery picks. HMU.”
Needless to say, I “lost” the trade. I really can’t blame anybody for thinking so, either. McDermott wasn’t even a top 250 player last season. I think he’ll be better this year, but he’s never going to enter the top 150.
The reason I bring this up, other than to humiliate myself in public, is to remind everybody that you’ve got to do what you believe is best for your team. Sometimes people will be critical of your decisions, especially if you go against the grain. Don’t be afraid to make a “bad” move if you think it is the best one for your team. Will it bite you sometimes? Sure. But that’s worth it for the feeling of pulling it off, which you will do often as long as you are diligent about the decisions you make with your team.
Make a plan. Execute the plan. Don’t worry about anybody else’s plan.
How did I have a choice between Westbrook and Giannis at the 6th pick?
These things sometimes happen. Just think: if only you had the seventh pick, you would have gotten one of those guys and picked earlier in the second round. The grass is always greener…
Is my team going to win me the championship?
Yes. Everybody that reads this post is going to win their league. That is a guarantee from me to you. The only way you can lose now is if somebody else in your league reads another, newer post of mine and you don’t. In that case, you will lose and it will be all your fault. Don’t let that happen to you.