I know; I know – it’s been a long wait and you just want the real games to begin. You want to be able to pour over box scores, check your fantasy match-ups and find out if Kris Porzingis really can play at this level. I get it.
With preseason play concluding this weekend, many of you will be holding your fantasy drafts and wanting to set your expectations for the season. How will Emmanuel Mudiay’s play translate to fantasy value? Can I trust Derrick Rose? And just how will the return of Kevin Durant impact Serge Ibaka?
Here are 10 observations from the NBA preseason and what you should learn from them.
1. We may have all jumped the gun on Rudy Gobert
Gobert was magnifique after the Enes Kanter trade last year and we all expected him to dominate this season from the get-go. However, after a ho-hum showing at EuroBasket last month and very little to inspire us in the preseason (6.6pts, 6.8reb, 1.2blk, .400 FT%), are we all expecting too much from the Stifle Tower? Right now, we need to give him the benefit of the doubt, but the player who is going 19th on average in Yahoo leagues and 18th in ESPN leagues, needs to show a little something early to stop owners jumping off the top level of L’Toure.
2. Kevin Durant is back
Rust? You were expecting rust? Please. The former MVP, who managed all of 27 games last season, looks sensational right now. Through the first 5 games of preseason, KD is averaging 18pts, 4.2reb, 2.8ast, 1stl, 1blk and 1.6 3ptm in 24.8 mpg, while shooting a ridiculous .593 from the field and .571 from downtown. He looks set to have another MVP-calibre season as he tries to lead the Thunder back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012, and those of you lucky enough to draft him with the 4th overall pick should enjoy the ride.
3. Paul George will be just fine at PF …
… and the Pacers will be better than people expect with him there. That’s right people. Not only does PG-13 look all the way back athletically, with plays like this and this, the Pacers are succeeding so far with their smaller line-up. They went 5-2 in the preseason, rank 4th in offensive rebounds, 5th in defensive boards and 1st in blocked shots. Roy who? PG-13 may not be sold on playing the four spot, but if they win games, he’ll get over it quickly enough. He’s been able to score at will against slower, larger opponents and held his own defensively, capped by a 26 point, 13 rebound preview of his ability this season versus Chicago.
4. The Sacramento Kings could surprise
We all take preseason results with a grain of salt, so the Kings’ 5-1 record shouldn’t be seen as a sign of things to come, however the way the Kings are winning is encouraging. Not only have they won against the Spurs and the Pelicans, but they’ve had contributions from a number of different players. DeMarcus Cousins has not led the team in scoring yet in any preseason game. Rudy Gay looks to be in great form, the Rondo/Collison timeshare is paying dividends in terms of having a creator on the floor at all times. Plus, after stinking from long-range last year, they now have shooters ready in Ben McLemore and new acquisition Marco Belinelli, who is hitting 2 triples per game and scoring 15.7pts off the bench. The Kings have also been active defensively; ranking 8th in steals and blocks and 9th in defensive rating (per NBA.com/stats). Maybe the snakes have all migrated south for the Winter.
5. Nerlens Noel is going to be fun to watch
There’s still not that much to be excited about in the City of Brotherly Love, however you can get excited about Nerlens Noel. The second year Power Forward is leading the league in steals this preseason at 3.0 per game, while also ranking 14th on the boards (8.5 rpg). He’s also blocking 1 shot and dropping 3 dimes per game for good measure. The addition of Jahlil Okafor takes some pressure off Noel both on the boards and on the offensive end and allows him to use his athleticism to wreak havoc in transition and defensively. He’s a nice upside pick in the 3rd round of fantasy drafts right now.
6. Andre Drummond is entering beast mode
To borrow a nickname from the Seattle Seahawks running back, Drummond showed glimpses of beast mode last season, but couldn’t put it all together consistently. After a second full pre-season under Coach Stan Van Gundy, Drummond looks poised to make the leap towards dominating on a nightly basis at both ends of the floor and on the boards. He’s leading the league in rebounding through the preseason with 12.6reb, while also scoring 15.9 points, has blocked 6 shots, swiped 6 steals and hit over 53% of his FGAs. Ilyasova, Morris and Johnson help to spread the floor for him and the last time Stan Van Gundy constructed a roster like this, it went to the Finals and their Centre dominated the league.
7. This rookie class may pleasantly surprise
It wasn’t supposed to be as talented as last year’s crop but the 2015 rookie class has impressed so far in preseason. #1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns looks like the best incoming big man since Anthony Davis, Detroit’s Stanley Johnson, who struggled for consistency in his only year at Arizona, will likely be starting at some point this season, Nemanja Bjelica may turn out to be a steal for the Wolves, while Frank Kaminsky has shown he’s not afraid of anything at this level, including public humiliation.
In all seriousness though, Mudiay, Towns, Okafor, Johnson, Russell, Cauley-Stein, Hezonja, Booker, Kaminsky, Bjelica, Anderson, Turner and of course Porzingis should all deliver some value in 14-team fantasy leagues.
8. Is Draymond Green still hung over?
It’s fair to say no-one on the Warriors partied harder than Draymond Green this off-season. It started in the post-championship celebrations and continued for some time thereafter. He signed a massive contract extension this Summer (5 years, $82 million) and based on his play in preseason so far, he’s been celebrating his ring and his newfound “Green” ever since. Through 7 games, Draymond is shooting just .375 FG% and a woeful .200 from deep. He’s averaging a paltry 7pts, 5.6reb and 2.3ast, plus just 0.8stl and 0.4blk and while he hasn’t been playing big minutes, the lack of production is cause for concern for those who drafted him in the 3rd round.
9. Don’t sleep on the Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are now 6-1 through their first 7 preseason games, have a point-guard who has returned to health, an All-Star Centre who took the Summer off from FIBA play to prepare for the season and they’ve added depth to their bench during the offseason.Brandan Wright will provide depth and production up front behind both Gasol and Randolph, while the addition of Matt Barnes should give them some additional shooting, defense and playoff experience but they may want to confiscate his car keys. At least they only travel to New York once. The Grizzlies pushed the Dubs in the second round without a healthy Conley and shouldn’t be overlooked when talking about contenders out West.
10. It’s go time for Bradley Beal
Entering his fourth season, Beal needs to make the leap this year. He’s shown promise since entering the league out of Florida, but injuries slowed his progression last year after a promising sophomore campaign in 2013/14. He’s eligible for a contract extension right now, but word is the Wiz are low-balling him to maintain flexibility for next summer. So he’s effectively in a contract year and may need to bet on himself Jimmy Butler style. He’s looked focused and sharp in preseason play (.589 FG%, .429 3FG%) and if he stays healthy, I don’t think 19-20 ppg is out of the question.
As you finalise your fantasy drafts and rosters for week 1 or just get set for the action, keep these observations in mind.
Music of the Traffic (my weekly fantasy column) will return next weekend. Until then, here’s to a healthy and productive season for all.