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Fantasy basketball – Russell Westbrook, the rebuilt Warriors and other opening night takeaways

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Good morning.

Welcome to the morning of a thousand overreactions. (Most will be about Russell Westbrook. We will do our best to avoid.)

The 2021 NBA fantasy off-season lasted about 48-72 hours. (Up from 2020’s 48-72 minutes.) We have plenty of data points, hot takes and preseason observations to lend us a deep-dish perspective.

You’d think by now we’d learn.

Because opening night arrives, and about 90 seconds into pregame No. 1? We are already at Finals-Game 7-levels of un-perspective.

We have an opening night problem.

Throughout the first evening of the NBA season? There is no tomorrow. Everything rides on this slate of games. Nothing less than an analytic/existential referendum. (Even if we’re only rostering five players across two games.)

Fine. I have an opening night problem. But I’ll wager you affiliate with my affliction.

A few years ago, I began throwing myself a Night One lifeline. For each team in action, I write down a single fantasy question. This question focuses yours truly on larger-scale storylines so as not to spin out over every last missed free throw. (Of which there were a lot.)

Here were Tuesday night’s questions:

1. Milwaukee Bucks — Division of backcourt minutes? Jrue Holiday hurt his heel. So hard to tell if either Pat Connaughton or Grayson Allen retain lasting deep league value after Donte DiVincenzo returns. (BTW, don’t forget Jordan Nwora‘s 34-point gem in the final game of 2020-21. Something about Nwora bears watching.)

2. Brooklyn Nets — Who/what replaces Kyrie? TBD. Don’t be fooled by one hot half of Patty Mills.

3. Los Angeles Lakers — Westbrook’s minutes/usage? 35 minutes. Replacement-level touches.

(I watched every game Westbrook played last year. I came away impressed as a basketball fan… but not as a fantasy geek. For fantasy, Westbrook is better off as option 1b on a play-in team (see: my Wizards.) In that spot, dominating possession, he can still be a fantasy overachiever. A few miles away at Staples… not so much. But if the thought of rostering Westbrook as option 3a on a contender doesn’t give you night sweats, and you’re not in a roto league? Start working the phones.)

4. Golden State Warriors — Can they run it back — even halfway?

Wait. What? Is that… wistful? As a rule, I try to avoid wistful phrases. Each one tends to cost me approximately four billable hours of therapeutic over-examination.

What I meant was: “Can the still-injured Warriors recapture some of their old offensive efficiency?” This really means: “until Klay Thompson is back up to full speed, can someone — anyone — consistently make defenses pay for running three guys at Curry every possession? And can that guy be on my fantasy roster when it happens?”

For you young people: once upon a time (2018-19) the Warriors operated the most fantasy- friendly offense in basketball. They led the NBA in offensive efficiency, were top-10 in pace, and curated a predictably short rotation.

The Durant-Curry-Thompson-Green Warriors set an all-time standard when it came to reliable, rock-solid, high-return fantasy production.

Then Thompson got hurt in the Finals. Durant decamped. Curry lost his season just a few games into 2019-20. Thompson got hurt again.

(For a simulation of Peak Warriors efficiency? Watch the high-pace, high-efficiency Bucks. In Milwaukee, the fantasy issue isn’t production. It’s the division of said production. Meaning: their rotation is a couple of players too deep.)

Last season provided a view into what the Warriors became short of one-to-two surefire offensive options beyond a healthy Curry.

Middle-of-the-road.

Golden State’s pace spiked into the top three. Their efficiency sank into the teens. That’s lousy polarity. That’s what happens when you swap Durant-Curry-Thompson-Green for Wiggins- Curry-Oubre Jr.-Green.

This is what happens when gravity compacts. When you don’t have Klay Thompson to tilt the floor. Curry is so good; he can still produce, via the space he can constantly self-generate. But last season, no one else was able to provide gravitational pull away from Curry.

As we were prepping for 2021-22, we knew that Thompson was tabbed for a January return. And a handful of rumored trades plus free agent signings never transpired. It seemed like Steve Kerr would have to stick with the hot-hand approach until after the New Year.

But throughout the preseason, some of us began to wonder if Jordan Poole might be ready. Ready to apply a little force to the Warriors’ spacing. Because Poole’s shooting percentages took a quiet leap forward in 2020-21, and he showed out enough over the Warriors’ May closeout winning streak to cement the inclination.

Not to be Klay Thompson II. But a consistent deep threat with developmental alpha upside… more of a Fred VanVleet V.2.2.

In terms of second options last night? Nemanja Bjelica (15 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) posted the more productive fantasy game. But if you’re like me, and roster Poole? You had the full Jordan Poole experience. A tale of two halves. Four points in the first half, 16 in the second. The line: an early Klay VanVleetish 20 points, four 3s, three assists and a steal.

If you watched the game, you know: it wasn’t Curry that keyed the Warriors’ comeback (a 38-point fourth quarter). It was Poole. Poole, with a caveat: a lot of damage was done over a 3-minute surge with the second team… with Curry on the bench.

So no overreactions. But if you’re mining for upside early this campaign? There’s a metric ton of potential in what promises to be a shifting Warriors lineup.

Poole just had a moment… but expect some streakiness. Both Wiggins and Green are on early- season minute restrictions, so their value should rise. James Wiseman will return before Thompson. And you never know when the Warriors’ system might flip a switch in someone like Bjelica (or Otto Porter Jr., but that may be a stretch.)

Across the NBA, an underrated early fantasy storyline: how will teams coming off rocky, back- o-back-ridden 2020-21 seasons respond to regaining complete health?

The Warriors — like the Lakers — are one of those teams to watch.

Heck. Maybe they can run it back.

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Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis a game-time decision vs. Miami Heat on Sunday after 16-game absence

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MIAMI — Anthony Davis, out for the last five weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee, has been upgraded to questionable for the Los Angeles Lakers‘ game against the Miami Heat on Sunday and is considered a game-time decision, according to the team.

Davis missed the last 16 games since the Minnesota TimberwolvesJaden McDaniels collided with the Lakers All-Star’s knee and L.A. went 7-9 without him.

“Whenever AD is ready, we’re going to love that, that’s for sure,” LeBron James said of Davis on Friday. “I mean he’s one of our biggest guns that we have, and having him on the floor, it just creates so much for us offensively and defensively, able to do so much more. But his health is what’s most important, and once we know that he’s healthy, he knows that he’s healthy, we get him back on the floor, and then we start getting his wind and his rhythm.”

Davis was averaging 23.3 points on 52.1% shooting, 9.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals this season prior to the injury. His jump shot, however, had been off. Davis is shooting just 60-for-185 (32%) on shots outside the paint this season, according to NBA.com.

Davis has used the rehabilitation to work on not only his knee but his shot mechanics as well, sources told ESPN.

Davis had been eyeing the Lakers’ six-game road trip to return, as ESPN reported last week, and his presence could certainly help his team that has absorbed reports about Frank Vogel’s job security and Russell Westbrook‘s role in his absence.

If Davis makes his return against Miami, it could evoke warm memories for the Lakers big man. Davis averaged 25 points and 12.8 rebounds in the 2020 NBA Finals, downing the Heat in six games en route to his first championship.

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Damian Lillard, content to ‘make decisions that suit you for the long haul,’ slowly works his way back to Portland Trail Blazers’ lineup

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During the Tokyo Olympics last summer, when Damian Lillard‘s abdominal injury flared up, Jrue Holiday suggested it was time for surgery.

Lillard finally took his fellow Olympian’s advice and had the procedure Jan. 13. The Portland Trail Blazers‘ star point guard spoke to reporters Saturday for the first time since the injury sidelined him on Jan. 3.

Holiday, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, had similar core surgery during the 2018-19 NBA season when he was with New Orleans. He and Lillard were teammates in Japan last summer on the gold-medal-winning U.S. team.

“He was the first person that pretty much confirmed that I needed to have surgery, because I sat out of practice one day and I was like, ‘I can’t move,’ and I was kind of just holding it. And he just started describing every single symptom,” Lillard said. “And he was like, ‘I had it.'”

Lillard, a six-time All-Star, averaged 24 points and 7.3 assists in 29 games this season for the Blazers. It was clear from the start that the injury — lower abdominal tendinopathy — was bothersome.

“It was just one of those things where I’ve always had control over how I moved and everything, and it had reached a point where my body couldn’t do what my mind wanted it to do and go places that I wanted it to go,” he said. “At some point you’ve got to play chess; you’ve got to make decisions that suit you for the long haul and not just right now.”

While the injury flared up in Tokyo, Lillard said he first felt the abdominal pain in 2015, and it had been gradually getting worse ever since.

The Blazers have struggled without Lillard, the undisputed leader of the team. Playing under first-year coach Chauncey Billups, Portland is 19-26 and in 10th place in the Western Conference.

Anfernee Simons has taken over as Portland’s point guard and has averaged 15.1 points per game. Portland was also playing for an extended period without Lillard’s backcourt teammate CJ McCollum, who had a collapsed right lung before becoming a father for the first time.

McCollum recently returned and had 24 points in Portland’s 109-105 victory at the Boston Celtics on Friday night.

There was no timeline for Lillard’s return, but he’s already been doing yoga. The team previously said he would be reevaluated in six weeks.

“I’m just a week from surgery. We said we’ll reevaluate my situation weeks out, six to eight weeks, and we’ll talk about it then. But I’m not in a rush,” he said. “My No. 1 goal is to win a championship. I’ve got to be in the best form of myself to make that happen and to be a part of that. So I’m not in a rush. We’ll talk about whatever that timeline is when we get to that point.”

The Trail Blazers, as play began on Saturday night, occupied the 10th spot in the Western Conference race. They were two games ahead of the Sacramento Kings.

Lillard was asked if he’d play if the Blazers decided to forgo a playoff push and play for a draft pick.

“I mean, if we’re gonna play for a draft pick, it wouldn’t make sense to me. Because I’m not gonna play for no draft pick. I’m just not capable of that,” he said. “So it’d be best if that was what we were doing, or what was decided, then it wouldn’t make sense for me to play.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Chicago Bulls G Alex Caruso to have surgery for fractured wrist, out 6 to 8 weeks, says team

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Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso will undergo surgery early next week for a fractured right wrist, the team announced Saturday.

Caruso suffered the injury during the Bulls loss to the Bucks Friday night in Milwaukee. Caruso was fouled hard by the Bucks’ Grayson Allen who was assessed a flagrant two foul and ejected from the game.

Caruso will miss six-to-eight weeks, the team announced

Caruso went up for a layup on a fast break with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter, but Allen hooked Caruso’s right arm, turning Caruso in the air and sending him hard to the floor on his right wrist. Caruso said his wrist was “a little banged up” after the game, but X-rays came back negative.

“Dude just grabbed me out of the air,” Caruso said after Friday’s game. “It’s kind of bulls—. I don’t know what else you can do about it. I’m just glad that I didn’t have any major scary injuries right away.”

Caruso said his wrist continued to bother him in the second half, especially while shooting. He finished 1-of-6 from the field for 3 points in the second half, but said he did not think the injury would linger long term.

Caruso added that Allen did not come to check on him following the play.

The foul particularly irked Bulls coach Billy Donovan, who is normally mild-mannered and rarely singles out players. But following Friday’s game, Donovan called Allen’s actions dangerous and cited his history playing college basketball at Duke.

“For Alex to be in the air and for [Allen] to take him down like that, he could’ve ended his career,” Donovan said. “He has a history of this. That to me was really — it was really dangerous. I hope the league takes a hard look at something like that because that could have really, really seriously hurt him.”

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