If you’ve played fantasy football, you know how hazardous banking solely on preseason play and narratives can prove. We can reference Ja’Marr Chase‘s training camp struggles as a recent and telling example.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t glean meaningful and actionable information from the NBA’s exhibition season, rather we’ll want to apply a more discerning lens to the small sample of preseason competition. I believe preseason production can inform and influence fantasy basketball value, it just requires sifting through some of the noise.
With an eye on preseason outcomes that could translate into the regular season, let’s discuss some key fantasy-centric takeaways from the 2021 preseason.
The 3-point wave is still cresting
In 2014-15, just one NBA team — the Houston Rockets — averaged at least 30 3-point attempts per game. The following season the Golden State Warriors joined them in this spacing-centric club. By 2018-19, 19 teams were lofting at least 30 per game from deep.
How about this preseason? All 30 NBA teams are averaging at least 30 attempts per game from deep. Cleveland’s 30.3 3-point attempts per game this preseason ranks last and yet that 2014-15 Houston team established a new NBA record by averaging 32.7.
From a fantasy perspective, the demand on having high-volume shooters rostered will only increase. The floor for 3-point production is rising each season in this pace-and-space era, but thankfully there will also be more shooting specialists to consider than ever before.
Speaking of the space race, the Golden Warriors just might have unearthed another shooting savant. With 23.3 PPG through four appearances, Jordan Poole is second only to Boston’s Jaylen Brown in scoring in the preseason and only Brown and Sacramento’s Buddy Hield have lofted more 3-pointers than the 10 per game Poole has launched.
Poole is also sixth in usage rate in the preseason, even as he shared the court often with Stephen Curry, who ranks second in this metric that measures what percentage of team possessions an individual consumes.
What about Klay Thompson, you might be thinking? ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported on “The Jump” back in August that the Warriors are tentatively targeting the team’s Christmas day contest against the Phoenix Suns as a potential return date. It’s unclear just how Thompson’s timeline will play out, but it wouldn’t be shocking if the debut was actually in 2022.
With this in mind, there is a real opportunity for Poole to thrive in a critical starting role until Thompson is back. Given his efficient scoring pattern and the team’s lack of rotational and guard depth, it’s entirely conceivable for Poole to maintain sizable statistical impact once the ailing Splash Brother is back in business.
Poole averaged 21.7 PPG and 3.6 APG in seven starts for the team last season, suggesting this recent scoring surge isn’t an outlier. You can land Poole late in drafts, as his average draft position is currently 49th among shooting guards and 136th overall.
Last season saw Chris Boucher emerge as a fantasy gem thanks to becoming just the third NBA player to ever average at least 1.9 blocks and 1.5 3PG.
Next up in the breakout department could be OG Anunoby, who appears to have added a new level of shot creation to his game over the summer. If Anunoby were simply hot from the field this preseason — he’s making an unsustainable 54.2% of his 3-pointers — it could be dangerous to put much stock in the fact he ranks 10th in preseason scoring and leads the Raptors in usage rate.
While Anunoby has been particularly hot from the floor across four preseason appearances, it’s the type of shots he taking and making that pique my interest. Anunoby is creating his own shots via pull-up jumpers and sinking them at an above-average rate. He attempted fewer than two pull-up shots per game last season, while he’s averaged five this preseason.
For years, the Raptors relied on Kyle Lowry to create shots for others, with Anunoby often available as a catch-and-shoot valve, but the fact that the wing’s usage rate and pull-up volume are spiking tells me there could be a meaningful shift in offensive performance this season.
Sticking with Toronto, rookie Scottie Barnes is already being tasked with replacing some of the distribution duties left in Lowry’s wake. The Raptors’ top pick in 2021 is 13th in assists per game this preseason (5.6 APG) while averaging 2.4 combined steals and blocks. As I posited in a breakdown of the top fantasy rookies this season, Barnes’ atypically strong passing skills and loud defensive metrics could surface immediately.
While reigning Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball is rightfully an emergent star in the league, it might just be older bro Lonzo Ball who delivers the most fantasy value in the family this season. While the younger Ball is going off the board 21st overall in ESPN drafts, Lonzo goes 46th and is already thriving on this new-look Chicago roster.
Through three games with the Bulls this month, Ball sits third in the preseason in steals per game and seventh in blocks. Last season, Ball joined Jrue Holiday, Ben Simmons, Draymond Green as the only players to post an assist percentage of at least 25% to go with a steal rate of at least 2.3% (which is an estimate of the percentage of opponent possessions that end with a steal by the player while he was on the floor) and block rate of 1.7%.
Ball’s startling leap in shooting success since leaving the Lakers appears entirely real given the shot volume in New Orleans, buoyed by the fact he’s made over half of his 3-pointers this preseason. I’m not sure the Bulls are going to be quite as dominant as a team as they’ve shown in the preseason, but I’m confident Ball enjoys a career season on both sides of the floor.
Bamba’s block party
While Mo Bamba might never become the player the Orlando Magic had hoped when they selected him in the lottery several years ago, he’s flashed some fun statistical prowess this preseason. The former Texas standout leads the league with 3.75 blocks per game this preseason and is even enjoying success as a floor spacer by hitting 45% of his 3-point attempts through four appearances.
With Jonathan Isaac without a defined timeline for return from injury and the team’s real need for rim protection whenever Wendell Carter Jr. or Isaac aren’t on the floor, Bamba could become a viable swat specialist this season. It’s not just box score chasing with Bamba’s recent block binge, as his activity and awareness in rim protection look markedly better on film.
Found in the final round of drafts and likely already floating in free agency in leagues that have drafted, Bamba could make his case as fantasy basketball’s next Chris Boucher — a player who can provide real fantasy impact even amid limited minutes thanks to such a unique 3-and-D profile.
Fantasy basketball 30 – LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards are the real deal
Who is trending up? Which rotations are changing? What’s the latest with the notable injuries around the NBA?
Here’s a look around the league at the most fantasy relevant news and notes for all 30 teams:
Atlanta Hawks: Lou Williams is questionable for Thursday’s game against the Mavericks with left hip soreness. If he is inactive then Kevin Huerter would benefit with additional minutes. He’s an excellent source of 3-point shooting in deeper leagues. Huerter played admirably for the super-deep Hawks last season, but his numbers dropped slightly in minutes, 3-pointers, rebounds, assists, and blocks, although he managed over 1.2 steals a game. Huerter signed a four-year, $65 million rookie contract extension.
Boston Celtics: With an epic performance in Wednesday’s season-opener, Jaylen Brown alleviated any concerns league managers may have had of him his coming off a COVID-19 quarantine. He had 46 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and a block. It was the most points ever scored by a Celtics player in a season-opener. However, Jayson Tatum was uncharacteristically terrible from the field (7-30 FG), but did accumulate 11 rebounds, four assists and a block. It was a good season debut for Robert Williams III, who should be a major contributor. Williams accumulated 16 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, three steals and three assists against the Knicks. For your hoops team, he’ll score, rebound and block.
Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Durant is only 80 points away from reaching 24,000 in his career. He is set to become the 26th player in NBA history to score that many points in his career. Durant was terrific per-game last season, but he only provided seventh round fantasy value because he missed more than half of the Nets’ 72 games. Only his health can slow him down.
Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets rallied past the Pacers 123-122 behind LaMelo Ball. He hit 11 of 23 shots, 7 of 9 3-pointers and 2 of 2 free throws for 31 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals and just two turnovers. Ball’s sophomore debut lived up to all the hype. ESPN Stats and Info says he is the third-youngest player with 30 points in a season=opener in NBA history. John Drew and Lamar Odom are the only two who were younger.
LaMelo finishes with 31 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in a 123-122 win vs. the Pacers.
Chicago Bulls: The new-look Bulls prevailed over the Pistons behind Zach LaVine, who had 34 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a steal, a block and a 3-pointer. Given all the offseason additions, anyone concerned about his fantasy value can rest easy after this performance. The Bulls offense will be led by LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan‘s 17 field goal attempts looked promising and the versatile Lonzo Ball could be a top-50 player.
Cleveland Cavaliers: With 25 points, four rebounds, an assist, three steals and three blocks, Jarrett Allen dominated the Grizzlies. There’s a good chance the rangy big man is going to wipe out Mason Plumlee and the Hornets on Friday, too. Markkanen appears to be a huge part of the Cavaliers’ game plan and is only rostered in 54.6% of ESPN leagues. In 38 minutes, Evan Mobley had 17 points, nine rebounds, six assists, a steal, a block, and a 3-pointer. With a very high ceiling, he is rostered in only 35.7% of ESPN leagues. (Not for long)
Dallas Mavericks: Many fantasy managers will be curious to see what type of role new head coach Jason Kidd will have for Kristaps Porzingis, who mentioned that he wants to be more than a 3-point shooter. While Porzingis’ injury history is well known, he averaged 20.1 PPG, 2.3 3PG, 8.9 RPG and 1.3 BPG last season.
Denver Nuggets: As usual, Nikola Jokic dominates with 27 points (13-22 FGs), 13 rebounds, two assists and two steals. As per Basketball Reference, Jokic collected 25 points and 10 rebounds for the second straight season opener. Aaron Gordon scored 12 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a block against the Suns and should continue to be actively involved. He is rostered in only 37.5% of ESPN leagues, as fantasy managers clearly weren’t impressed by his performance last season after the trade to the Nuggets.
Detroit Pistons: Jerami Grant‘s shot selection left much to be desired in the opener against the Bulls, but he still found a way to fill up the box score. These days, that’s what he does. He had 24 points (8-20 FG, 5-5 FT), six rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block and three 3s. Thanks to the Pistons offseason additions, he has more driving opportunities, too. Though Isaiah Stewart didn’t start off his sophomore season with a bang, you shouldn’t panic. Stewart played 68 games in his rookie season, including 14 starts, and had five double-doubles in April alone. He rebounds, blocks shots and reportedly has improved his 3-point shot. As for second-year point guard Killian Hayes, I recommend taking a wait-and-see approach. His role could change when Cade Cunningham returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him in the opener.
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry said that he played “like trash” after his first triple-double in five seasons because he only made just five of 21 shots. He has a career field goal percentage of 47.6%. However, he’s knocking on the door in NBA history in another area. Curry needs six assists to hit 5,000 in his career and would be the 69th player to hit that milestone.
Houston Rockets: On Wednesday night against Minnesota, it was clear this is a young Rockets team. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. both struggled. Christian Wood will remain the Rockets’ focal point offensively. With nine rebounds, three assists and a block, he scored 16 points against the Timberwolves. Eric Gordon hit 3 of 4 3-pointers in 23 minutes, so he’s a worthy prospect for deep formats if you’re in need of help in that category. He is rostered in just 2% of ESPN leagues.
Indiana Pacers: Against the Hornets, rookie first-rounder Chris Duarte started in place of the injured Caris LeVert. The 24-year-old made 9 of 15 shots, six 3-pointers and 3 of 3 free throws for 27 points, five rebounds, an assist and a steal in a tough loss to the Hornets. According to Basketball Reference, he is the first Pacers rookie to start an opener since Jamaal Tinsley in 2001. Duarte is only rostered in 2.2% of ESPN leagues. You should fix this.
LA Clippers: It is surprising to see Terance Mann on only 15.5% of ESPN league rosters. He’s in a great situation to exceed the 7.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG and 1.6 APG from last season with Kawhi Leonard expected to miss most of the season due to offseason knee surgery. Mann and the Clippers begin their season against the Warriors tonight.
Los Angeles Lakers: “I don’t play the game thinking about injuries,” said LeBron James earlier this week. “And I also feel worse when I play low minutes.” This news should put fantasy managers at ease about James having nights off. It would be a surprise to see him play 82 games, but James could play in more than originally anticipated. He played 37 minutes in the season opener.
Memphis Grizzlies: As a sleeper heading into this season, Desmond Bane has demonstrated his potential. In 30 minutes against the Cavaliers, Bane matched his career-high of 22 points, adding three rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two 3-pointers. Currently rostered in only 1.7% of ESPN leagues, he can contribute in multiple statistical categories.
Miami Heat: Tyler Herro had a strong preseason, putting up 22.4 PPG. That was the highest points per game average in a single preseason by a Heat player since LeBron in 2011. Herro could thrive this season as the Heat’s sixth man.
Milwaukee Bucks: A recent MRI on Holiday’s heel came back clean, but the Bucks will keep him out Thursday to be safe. Despite originally being listed as probable, he also has a thigh contusion. Grayson Allen, Jordan Nwora, George Hill and Pat Connaughton are all on the streaming radar for the three-game slate on Thursday.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns had a great performance, but Anthony Edwards appears to be on the verge of a breakout season with 29 points (10-21 FG), six rebounds, three assists and a steal in the opener against the Rockets. You should consider Jaden McDaniels for a steady flow of defensive stats, too. With just four points on 2-of-3 shooting, he had four rebounds, three steals, four blocks, and one turnover in 26 minutes. Just 1.5% of ESPN leagues roster McDaniels.
Anthony Edwards flies through the lane and throws it down with authority.
New Orleans Pelicans: Josh Hart suffered a right knee injury against the 76ers. This is not good considering his injury history, and Hart’s absence removes one of the top rebounding guards in the league from the Pelicans’ rotation. Trey Murphy III started the second half is rostered in 1.9% of ESPN leagues. He’s very polished for a rookie because he played three years in college (Rice then Virginia) and participated in the Summer League. In the season opener, Murphy had six points and two assists.
New York Knicks: The Knicks outlasted the Celtics in double-overtime thanks to Julius Randle. He tallied 35 points (12-27 FG), nine rebounds, eight assists and three blocks. I don’t consider Randle’s seven turnovers to be a trend. On his way to 32 points (13-25 FG), six rebounds, three assists, four steals and a block in 44 minutes, Evan Fournier made a statement at Madison Square Garden. In fact, Fournier set the franchise record for points scored in a debut. Always overlooked and underappreciated in fantasy, Fournier’s only rostered in 65% of ESPN leagues.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Josh Giddey is a fun player to watch. The rookie lottery pick finished with four points, 10 rebounds and two assists in his debut. Those 10 boards set a new record for a Thunder player in their NBA debut. Don’t let his underwhelming performance influence you. Giddey is rostered in 20.3% of ESPN leagues and a great stash with the Thunder expected to see a ton of garbage time this season.
Orlando Magic: Mo Bamba is shaping up to be a great value in terms of where he was drafted. As a starter alongside Wendell Carter Jr., he finished with 18 points (6-8 FGs), four rebounds, four assists, one steal, four blocks and three 3-pointers against the Spurs.
Philadelphia 76ers: Playing behind Joel Embiid this season, Andre Drummond is still fantasy relevant. He had six points, 17 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks against the Pelicans. Yet, he is rostered in only 48.9% of ESPN leagues. Off the bench, Furkhan Korkmaz scored 22 points and added five assists and had a steal. There is a possibility he will overtake Danny Green as the starter and he is rostered in only 0.5% of ESPN leagues.
Phoenix Suns: Chris Paul was a nice draft value and started the season strong with 15 points and 10 assists. He is only seven points away from 20,000 in his career. Paul would be the 47th player in NBA history to reach this mark. He also needs 50 assists to move into fourth on the all-time NBA assists list.
Portland Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic‘s usage and minutes were strong against the Kings. He played 29 minutes and went toe to toe with Richaun Holmes. Nurkic stockpiled 20 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and a block. When Nurkic is healthy he’s one of the most productive big men in fantasy and can contribute to multiple categories. He’s off to a very good start.
Sacramento Kings: If Tyrese Haliburton‘s overall ADP (61) in ESPN leagues is taken into consideration, he has a lot of upside. The optimism may have turned into pessimism after he finished with two points, two rebounds, four assists and a steal in 29 minutes against the Trail Blazers. Better days are ahead for the point guard, but this dreadful performance does create a buy-low opportunity for fantasy managers.
San Antonio Spurs: Off the bench, Devin Vassell had a great game against the Magic. In 25 minutes, he had 19 points (8-12 FG), five assists, two rebounds, two steals and three 3-pointers. Vassell’s sophomore debut was great. He created some midrange looks, was active defensively and was quick in making decisions. Only 2.9% of ESPN leagues roster Vassell.
Devin Vassell hits buzzer-beater vs. Orlando Magic
Toronto Raptors: The performance of Fred VanVleet may have left fantasy managers sick to their stomach. He had 12 points (5-20 FG), three rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block against the Wizards. VanVleet will be alright, so don’t make any rash decisions about him. Chris Boucher, who was once expected to miss several weeks due to a finger injury, played 18 minutes and chipped in off the bench with seven points, four rebounds and two blocks.
Utah Jazz: Against the Thunder, Rudy Gobert had 16 points and 21 rebounds. On the other hand, Bojan Bogdanovic led the team with 22 points. Against the Thunder, Rudy Gobert had 16 points and 21 rebounds. On the other hand, Bojan Bogdanovic led the team with 22 points. He averaged a career high 16.4 PPG and 3.3 3PG last season. These are two areas managers can depend on him to provide. For the Jazz, six players scored 10 or more points.
Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal hit 7 of 19 shots, a 3-pointer and eight free throws in route to 23 points, three rebounds, four assists and four steals against the Raptors. His knee injury wasn’t a hindrance. As for Montrezl Harrell, he played more minutes than starter Daniel Gafford (22), finishing with 22 points, nine rebounds and a block. Thomas Bryant‘s return will complicate the timeshare even further, but he is still reportedly two months away from his ACL surgery recovery. Meanwhile Kyle Kuzma (rostered in 70.4% of ESPN leagues) tied his career high with 15 rebounds and played 35 minutes.
Ben Simmons skips individual workout at Philadelphia 76ers’ facility, sources say
It is unclear whether Simmons, who was suspended by the 76ers for Wednesday’s season-opening, 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans for conduct detrimental to the team, will play Friday against the Brooklyn Nets (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Sources told ESPN that Simmons arrived at and left the team’s practice facility Thursday without participating in the planned workout.
The 76ers did not practice Thursday, and Simmons has yet to fully engage in a team practice since reporting last week. He was thrown out of practice Tuesday after he declined several times to sub in for a drill, sources told Wojnarowski.
Amid his trade request, Simmons held out of the first two weeks of training camp. The 76ers have fined Simmons more than $1.4 million for his absence from four preseason games ($360,000 each) and levied numerous fines for missed practices, on-court workouts and meetings, sources told Wojnarowski. He lost roughly $227,000 from Wednesday’s suspension.
Jason Kelce on Ben Simmons saga
Speaking on the relationship between Philadelphia fans and its professional athletes Thursday, Kelce turned the conversation toward Simmons, saying his issues boil down to a lack of accountability.
“I tell guys, you write your own narrative. I don’t want to crush any other players, but what’s going on with the 76ers, Ben Simmons, stuff like that, all of that is because of a lack of accountability, a lack of owning up to mistakes and a lack of correcting things,” Kelce said. “If all that got corrected, if you’re fixing free throws, if you’re getting better as a player, none of this is happening. So everybody can bitch and complain about how tough this city is to play in. Just play better, man. This city will love you.”
Simmons was thrown out of practice Tuesday by coach Doc Rivers after he declined several times to sub in for a drill, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The 76ers suspended Simmons for Wednesday’s season-opening, 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans for conduct detrimental for the team.
Wednesday marked the four-month anniversary of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, when Simmons passed up an open dunk that would have tied the game with less than four minutes left. The Sixers would lose to the Atlanta Hawks and see their season come to an end.
A short time later, Simmons asked for a trade, and he then held out the first two weeks of training camp in an attempt to force the 76ers to make a deal. He reported to the 76ers last week, and after going through several days of reentry protocols, Simmons practiced with the team Sunday and Monday before being tossed from Tuesday’s practice.
The 76ers have fined Simmons more than $1.4 million for his absence from four preseason games ($360,000 each) and levied numerous fines for missed practices, on-court workouts and meetings, sources told Wojnarowski.
Kelce said he has nothing personal against Simmons but called the situation “a travesty anyway you put it.”
“These guys were all brought in here, a lot of talent, and it hasn’t worked out for them for whatever reason,” Kelce said. “But it’s a pretty good example of how not to handle the Philly media at the very least.”
Kelce, 33, is one of the most beloved modern sports figures in Philadelphia. An 11-year veteran, he endeared himself to the fan base by helping deliver the first Super Bowl championship in the city’s history — a feat he capped at the title parade by giving an impassioned speech while wearing a Mummers costume on top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
He noted that being a good player helps, but the key to being accepted in Philadelphia is largely about being accountable and invested.
“There’s a lot of people that say it’s a hard place to play. I think it’s pretty f—ing easy, to be honest with you,” Kelce said. “You just go out there and play hard. You want to be loved in this city as a baseball player? Run to first base. They’re going to f—ing love you. That’s what it comes down to. If you come up here and make a bunch of excuses, you come up here and try to lie to them and act like they don’t know what they’re talking about — which sometimes they don’t — when you act that way or you aren’t accountable, you’re making mistakes or you’re not getting better, they’re going to crush you.
“Everybody’s going to get crushed at some point, everybody is going to go through a downturn and be struggling, and at all times this city is going to keep you accountable for doing your job and performing. But if you stick to it and you fight through it and you get better, they’ll respect the hell out of you. Even if you’re struggling and you’re fighting and you’re trying, they’re still going to respect you. That’s what I think most guys miss. I really don’t think this is a hard place to play at all. I think a hard place to play is … I think it would be miserable to play in a place like Jacksonville, where nobody cares.”
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.
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