What’s your name? Who’s your daddy? Is he rich like me? Has he taken, any time, to show you what you need to live? Tell it to me slowly, tell you what? I really want to know-ow. It’s the time of the season for LEARNING!
Preseason is over. The regular season tip-off is imminent. So what have we learned from the past 3 weeks of games? Who will really contribute? Who has earned extra playing time? What should we ignore or avoid going into the games that count? Here is one observation from each NBA franchise and what it means to help you round your fantasy team into shape, or start planning for the flurry of trade offers that will surely be made over the coming weeks.
Before we dive in, I want to emphasise that I do not put much stock in preseason numbers. I use these games mostly to watch. Who has been working on improving their game all summer? Who has shown the ability to earn a bigger role? What do the rotations look like? And how do teams look like they are meshing? I do not analyse numbers in depth because they are typically either magnified by playing against training camp invitees or playing ahead of veterans who are resting, or may be reduced by limited minutes. They are rarely indicative of regular season production and should be taken with a proverbial grain of salt.
Atlanta Hawks: Kyle Korver has sneaky value. With Lou Williams likely out through the all-star break, and John Jenkins and DeMarre Carroll not ready to take on big roles offensively, Korver will play slightly more than the 30mpg he earned last year with the Hawks and will be the clear 4th option behind Horford Millsap and Teague. His 3pt shooting should improve with Millsap replacing Smith and being more interior orientated, helping the Hawks spacing. Korver could sneak up to 12.5ppg, 5rpg, and should hit 3s at a slight up-tick over his .457 3FG% from last year.
Boston Celtics: Temper expectations on Jeff Green. One thing evident from the Celtics preseason games is that Jeff Green will take time adjusting to being the #1 option on offense. He has the ability, but may struggle early and his FG% will suffer as a result. Don’t reach before the 4th round for him.
Brooklyn Nets: Brook Lopez will average more than 20ppg this season. Sure he averaged 19.4 last year, but plenty of experts predicted a slight decrease with the additions of Pierce and Garnett in the starting line-up. However it is clear that Lopez is an extremely efficient interior scorer, and the Nets offense will focus on utilising that efficiency, even once Deron Williams is back.
Charlotte Bobcats: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should be avoided outside of deep roto leagues. He struggled to score consistently last year as a rookie (PER of 14.0) showing no ability to shoot from the perimeter, and shot a woeful .361FG% in 7 preseason games. He will rebound and get you close to a steal and block per game, but does not help in any other way. Official entry to Bust Central is just around the corner for the former #2 pick.
Chicago Bulls: You’re expecting me to tell you how Derrick Rose is back, right? Well seeing as you already know that, I’m going to share another observation with you instead. Taj Gibson is damn good. Yes he’s still behind Carlos Boozer. Yes I already said to take pre-season numbers with a grain of salt. But Mr Gibson has been consistently productive throughout the preseason. He has starter level talent and will find a way to make the PF minutes in the Windy City (32.2 to 22.4 in Boozer’s favour last season) more of a timeshare this year. Target him in a trade to fill out your bench and wait for the production to follow. Oh and by the way, Derrick Rose is worthy of a 1st round pick if you haven’t drafted yet!
Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson is ready to make the leap. Coming into training camp there were a couple of concerns over Thompson’s role this year. Firstly they drafted a PF with the #1 overall pick, secondly they signed Bynum meaning if he was healthy, Varejao may play some minutes at PF, and thirdly he decided to switch shooting hands 2 years into his pro-career which just seemed odd. If you followed FIBA Americas, he quickly alleviated concerns over the hand switch, and has continued that during preseason play, shooting an impressive .521FG% while actually improving his sub-par FT% (.667 vs. career .586). His 5th and 6th preseason games resulted in an impressive 32 pts and 30 rebounds combined, and I have him marked down for 13ppg and 9.5rpg this season. Just be weary of what an Andrew Bynum return may do to his production.
Dallas Mavericks: Don’t forget about Dirk. Many people have written him off as a top fantasy contributor following his lowest scoring season since his rookie year. But the fact is he missed the first 29 games of the season and then came off the bench for the following 6. It took him a while to round into shape. Over the final 30 games of the regular season, Dirk eclipsed the 50/40/90 mark, upping his scoring to 18.9ppg (19.6ppg over the final 20 games), grabbing 7.7rpg and hitting 1.3 3s per game (both right around his career mark). Add to that the fact that he is 100% healthy coming into this season, will be playing alongside a pass-first PG in Jose Calderon, a rim-protecting center in Samuel Dalembert, and a legit 20ppg threat in Monta Ellis, and things are looking up for the Diggler entering his 16th season. He can still get it done with legit 2nd round value.
Denver Nuggets: Avoid the Nuggets’ back-up PGs. Andre Miller and Nate Robinson will get in each others’ way all season. Neither is used to splitting minutes as a back-up, plus this is clearly now Ty Lawson’s team with Andre Iguodala gone. It’s just not a fantasy friendly situation, so don’t expect a reproduction of what both provided last year.
Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond will finish in the top 5 in rebounding per game this season. I will concede, I may have been a little hasty in my preview column when I called Drummond over-hyped. I stand by the premise that he’ll be brought along somewhat slowly and Smith will play PF minutes in Motown, but Drummond’s talent is going to make it hard to hold him back for the whole season. He is a magnet for rebounds, a terrific weak side shot blocker, and will score cheap buckets from put-backs, open cuts and transition post entry. I’d be surprised at this stage if he doesn’t average a double-double on the season, even if it is of the minimum chips variety (i.e. 10 and 10).
Golden State Warriors: Andrew Bogut will define the Warriors season. It is clear from watching them in pre-season that Bogut’s defensive presence is transformative for this up-tempo, offensive minded group. He controls the paint defensively, is a very strong defensive rebounder, and will allow Curry and Thompson to gamble for steals while also masking some of David Lee’s defensive deficiencies. Barring another freak injury, Bogut will play 70-75 games, average at least 9 rpg, 1.5-2bpg and chip in with 8-10ppg. Good for 7th round value and a 5 seed in the west for the Dubs this season.
Houston Rockets: Dwight Howard will return to 1st round value in head to head leagues. Even though it was only pre-season, Dwight Howard looked like a different player already from the one we saw in LA last year. He looks more explosive, faster, and most importantly engaged and happier. In addition, McHale knows how to utilise a dominant big man better than D’Antoni, which all translates to Dwight returning to the form that made him the best Center in the league whilst in Orlando. Mark him down for a conservative 18, 13 and 2.5 bpg, while continuing to simultaneously kill your FT%, which is why you punt it in head to head.
Indiana Pacers: As a Pacers fan, it pains me to say that even though Danny Granger still has a lot of talent, he will not help the Pacers much this year. He has looked good in spurts during pre-season, and despite the poor shooting which I put down to rust, he should be a key part of the Pacers run at the East title this season. Unfortunately, I don’t think his body will hold up. Weak knees can put strain on other parts of your body very easily, and Granger’s pre-season calf strain is evidence of this. I would have loved to see him as the 6th man, leading the second unit with Luis Scola, but instead will likely see him in street clothes much of the season, leading the towel waiving with Rasual Butler. Avoid him in remaining drafts and on the waiver wire.
LA Clippers: To steal a phrase from Bill Simmons, Chris Paul will be in “Eff You” mode all season. Having only made it past the 1st round of the playoffs twice in his career, and never beyond the second round, Paul will be determined to prove his nay-sayers wrong. Criticised for Vinny Del Negro’s firing, Paul has bonded very quickly with Doc Rivers, and showed some of that in pre-season. You don’t play 42 minutes and drop 40 pts with 11 dimes, 7 boards and 2 3s in a preseason game, unless you’ve got something to prove. My point being, don’t be surprised for a second when he challenges Durant and LeBron for top 2 fantasy player value.
LA Lakers: Neither Shawne Williams or Jordan Hill will start at PF. Pau Gasol will. For all this talk of moving Pau back to his natural Center position, I refute it with factual data that shows Pau had 3 of his best 5 career seasons, and won 2 championships, while playing PF alongside Andrew Bynum. Chris Kaman will start at Center, and has already looked good working high-low with Pau. Their skill sets allow them to be interchangeable and complement each other. Kaman has looked spritely in the pre-season, and should provide 7th to 8th round value as the Lakers’ starting Center.
Memphis Grizzlies: Ed Davis makes for a nice sleeper pick at the end of drafts or via the waiver wire early on. He is the clear #2 PF on the Grizzlies’ depth chart, and has proved what he can do, when given the chance, previously in Toronto. They traded for Davis in the Rudy Gay deal last year as their Z-Bo replacement, and he will make strides towards that in his first full season in Memphis. Look for him to try to replicate what Taj Gibson does behind Boozer in Chicago.
Miami Heat: Chris Bosh will have a bounce back year. Producing his lowest scoring average since his rookie year (in line with his field goal attempts), and a career low rebound average, Bosh should benefit from Wade and Ray Allen’s ageing process this year. He will be counted on to carry more of the scoring load, and has proven to be an efficient scorer over his career, despite his playoff struggles last season. His PER (20.0) was actually the highest since joining the Heat, and he has shot over .500FG% in those 3 seasons in Miami (continuing that in 7 preseason games). Look for Bosh to increase his scoring back over 18ppg and grab 7.5rpg with great percentages and a PER approaching 21. Good for 3rd round value.
Milwaukee Bucks: Hank: You folks see that flashing sign up there? Now, that sign says: “Applesauce.” No, no, I’m kidding. It says “applause.” Ray, do me a favor. Could you flick that once? [crowd applauds] All right. Now remember. You’re all a big part of the show, so the better you are, the better Larry is. Yes, yes, a quote from HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show”. This is kind of how I feel about Milwaukee’s version. It is still developing; not everyone has really seen it yet; but with the right support it could be really great as soon as this season. Sanders has struggled in the preseason with fouls and FG%, but the talent is there, and the minutes are there for him to enter the MIP conversation. Don’t expect a massive leap in scoring this season, but 13ppg, 11rpg and close to 3bpg is entirely possible, nay probable.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio is over-rated as a fantasy PG. Don’t get me wrong; I love watching him on League Pass as much as anyone, but there are probably 11 or 12 PGs I would draft ahead of him this year. Don’t underestimate his value in steals (2.3spg career) and assists (7.7apg), and rebounds well for a PG (4.7rpg), but realise those are the only categories he helps you in. He will only score about 11-12ppg this year (which would be a career high), doesn’t hit 3s, shoots a pedestrian .800FT% for a PG, has a barely league average 15.5 career PER mark, and kills your FG% (.359 career). His play in Eurobasket for Spain was sloppy, and his preseason numbers have not impressed outside of slightly improved shooting %s (.391 FG and 6-11 from 3pt range). Just don’t own him because he is fun to watch …. it won’t help you win your league.
New Orleans Pelicans: Eric Gordon could be a difference maker this year. Normally I’d let someone else take the burden of a perennially injured player, but Gordon has looked very sharp this preseason. Averaging 17ppg in just 20.8 minutes over 4 games, the former Clipper shot the ball at a ridiculous .583 FG% and .526 3P%, proving his knees and ankles are stronger. He did manage to play in 42 games last season, and having the emerging superstar Davis alongside him, as well as the additions of J’Rue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, should take some pressure off and open things up for Gordon this year. He has also not shied away from contact this preseason, getting to the FT line 17 times in those 4 games. As long as you don’t reach for him before the second half of your draft, he is worth the gamble.
New York Knicks: The next generation is coming faster than you think. That’s right, Tim Hardaway Jr. may turn out to be a steal for the Knicks. Despite a talented wing trio in Melo, Shumpert and J.R. Smith, Tim Jr. showed an ability to make an impact right away. The second leading scorer for the Knicks in preseason, Hardaway has emerged as a shot maker off the bench, making 18 3pt shots (from 44 attempts) at a respectable .409 clip. His overall FG% was poor (.373) but he didn’t turn the ball over (1 per game), and even hit a game winner in his first ever game. J.R. Smith opens the regular season with a 5 game suspension, giving Hardaway Jr. a few more chances to carve out a consistent role with the second unit this season.
Oklahoma City Thunder: While the former NY Yankee of the same name was nicknamed “Mr October” for his postseason heroics in the late 1970s, OKC’s Reggie Jackson has also had a nice October during preseason play. Already pencilled in as the 6th man for this season after his break out in the 2013 playoffs, Jackson has played the starting PG role in Russell Westbrook’s absence, and played it well. Averaging 15.4ppg at a solid .488FG%, Jackson also made 24-26 FTs and dished out nearly 6 dimes per game in just 28 minutes per contest over 7 games. Jackson will continue to start at PG as long as Westbrook is out (expected to be the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season), and will then resume his 6th man role where he will continue to provide 8th to 9th round value. If you can trade for him somehow or still draft him, he could become the straw that stirs your fantasy squad’s drink.
Orlando Magic: Jacque Vaughan is going to need a calculator to divide the minutes amongst his front court. Vucevic is locked as the 5 man, and Nelson, Afflalo and Oladipo will split back court minutes, but how to divide time between Harris, Harkless, Nicholson, Davis, Maxiell and O’Quinn will hurt Vaughan’s head all season. Clearly Harris and Harkless are the most talented of that bunch, but Davis and Nicholson will need minutes too. Nicholson is a very efficient scorer who has added a 3pt shot this off-season. Davis gives them a veteran presence that can score down low and help Vucevic on the boards. O’Quinn has also shown he is deserving of minutes, but likely as the back up 5. In any event, the timeshare puts a cap on the values of all those guys not named Nikola.
Philadelphia 76ers: The 9-73 record for futility is in range. Yes, the Sixers will be THAT bad this season. As far as I can see, they have exactly 1 player worthy of starting in the NBA and that is Thad Young. Turner and Hawes will provide starting production, but on many other teams would be back-ups. MCW is far from ready, Anderson is only playing cos there is literally no-one else at SG, and their bench is really D-League material. I feel for Brett Brown, but he knew what he was signing up for. Thad Young career year – mark it down.
Phoenix Suns: Don’t over look Alex Len. Yes he’s had an awful, virtually non-existent preseason, but GM Ryan McDonough believes in him enough to trade Gortat before the season even started. Len has had a rough time of it after off-season surgery on his ankles. He missed Summer League play and FIBA Eurobasket while recovering. Even now that training camp and preseason have concluded, he is still rounding into shape and adjusting to pace of the NBA. The Suns will bring him along slowly and likely start Miles Plumlee or Channing Frye early on, but I believe Len will be starting by season’s end. Look at Valanciunas’ rookie season in Toronto last year in terms of usage, and Len will likely be similar.
Portland Trailblazers: Wes Matthews is the big loser from the Mo Williams acquisition. There was a lot of talk about how Mo-Will would stifle the development of CJ McCollum (out with fractured foot). However, with Lillard insisting he’s a shoot first PG, Williams will end up playing heavy PG minutes alongside Lillard at times, meaning Matthews’ minutes will have to come down from his typical 33-34mpg. Matthews may find himself on the trade block once McCollum returns.
Sacramento Kings: Isaiah Thomas still has value. Yes Greivis Vasquez is in town. Yes Greivis Vasquez will start at PG. But IT2 will still play significant minutes off the bench, and is probably more talented. These two PGs actually complement each other nicely, as they each bring different things. Vasquez is a pass first PG, who is all about the team system and getting others involved, which is great with Cousins and Thornton both capable of scoring 20ppg. IT2 will be a change of pace reserve that can score or distribute, depending on what is needed. With Vasquez’s size (6’6”), the two can also play together at times, so don’t worry about IT2. He’ll get his.
San Antonio Spurs: Roto league players take note. Kawhi Leonard is a roto beast. He showed what he’s capable of on the biggest stage last season during the NBA Finals. A nightly threat for 15, 8, 2 3s, 2 stls, 2 dimes, 1 block and only 1 turnover, he also shoots it at over .500FG% and was over .4003P% in the post-season. Leonard led the Spurs in scoring this preseason in only 18mpg. Popovich has talked him up during training camp, and I see no reason why he won’t return late 2nd or early 3rd round value in most formats, but especially roto.
Toronto Raptors: Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry may both be on the trade block already. New GM Majai Usiri already found a home for Andrea Bargnani, and will want to build this team his way. Gay and Lowry have shown no interest in trying to help Jonas Valanciunas develop offensively (Tyler Hansbrough took nearly as many shots as JV in preseason), while Usiri sees him as a franchise Center (as do I). There is also the über talented Terrence Ross stuck on the bench behind Gay and DeRozan. Unless something drastically changes with the way Gay and Lowry have been playing, then get used to hearing their names in trade rumours and be weary of them in your fantasy leagues.
Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors is a candidate for both the rebounding title and Most Improved Player this season. Averaging 10.9rpg in 26 preseason minutes, and 11.5 rebounds with 2.2 blocks per 36 mins since joining the Jazz in 2011, Favors will be force fed minutes this season with Millsap and Jefferson gone, and will gobble rebounds at a ridiculous rate. The former #3 overall pick, entering his 4th season, should be the #2 option offensively behind Gordon Hayward (ahead of Enes Kanter), and could make a Nikola Vucevic type leap in his first year as a full time starter.
Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal was often compared to Eric Gordon when he was coming out of Florida. Well you can stop that now, because he’s going to be better. That’s right, better. While I don’t endorse getting carried away with preseason numbers, this was a coming out party of sorts for Beal after an injury interrupted rookie campaign which limited him to 56 games and only 46 starts. Beal’s per 36 minutes numbers were pretty strong for a rookie last year, but his FG% let him down. He shot it at an amazing .519 clip during 7 preseason starts (including .472 3P%), scoring 20.7ppg in 30.3mpg. While he won’t replicate those percentages for a full season, if he can even just split the difference and hit at around .465 FG% and say .430 3P%, then his value goes way up. He’s been going around the 4th to 5th round in most drafts, ahead of Eric Gordon. He also doesn’t have the injury risk that Gordon carries, so is excellent value there if you ask me.
Most of your drafts will be done by now, but you can still use this as a guide for what to expect this season. For some of you, it may lead to a trade that could make the difference for your squad. For others in late drafting leagues, take advantage of what we have learned from the full preseason.
The real stuff tips off this week, and I cannot wait. I try not to panic with any players over the first 3-4 weeks of the regular season. Let rotations shake out, let chemistry develop, and let yourself take a good look at your squad before making changes.
Now that we’ve learned all we can from the preseason ……
 Lyrics adapted from “Time of the Season” by the Zombies, 1967.