Just when the environment seemed normal – BAM! – The Houston Rockets traded James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets in a four-way trade that led to the landing of Caris LeVert in Indiana, Jarrett Allen in Cleveland, Victor Oladipo in Houston, and major changes to the fantasy landscape.
How does Harden fit in with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the Nets? Can LeVert continue his upward trend with the Pacers? What is the role of Allen with the Horsemen and Oladipos with the Rockets?
Here’s a list of everything and the most impressive news and scores for the 30 teams:
The Atlanta Hawks: When Atlanta returns to the court against Utah on Friday, they are expected to use rookie Onyeka Okongwa for the first time. Okongwu, No. 6 in the 2020 NBA Draft, is available in almost every ESPN league and could stand out in defensive stats early in his NBA career. In an academic season at USC, he averaged 2.7 blocks and 1.2 flights and posted a 61.6 FG rate in that time. It’s worth watching how he deals with Clint Capela and John Collins.
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Boston Celtics: It’s still unclear when playmaker Kemba Walker will be able to make his season debut, but the Celtics announced on Friday that Walker has been allowed to practice, has been free of pain in his left knee for more than a month and is expected to make his season debut on Friday. That’s good to hear, and it also has a direct impact on players like Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, who will see fewer shot attempts after Walker – who averaged 15.9 FGA per game last season – returns to the rotation. Tatum (21.3) and Brown (19.1) currently rank second and ninth respectively in FGA per game.
Brooklyn Nets: Things just got interesting in Brooklyn, with the intervention of James Harden giving the Nets one of the greatest Big Three of all time, playing alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. There are so many problems to solve. Will Irving return in the coming weeks, and can he count on his turn tonight? Will the three play multiple games together, or will the Nets get into the habit of regularly resting one of their big threes in rotation? And if all three play together, how many of them will lose ground because they have to share the ball? Last season, Harden finished third in the championship by points (36.5) and Irving eighth (33.3). It’s reasonable to expect fewer minutes, fewer hits and fewer points for all three, as they could use a rotation system where there are always at least two stars on the field at the same time. One more question… For Golden State, Durant was arguably the main man, while Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson played more important roles. The Harden and Irving issue would be very different, given Curry and Thompson’s different playing mentality and leadership qualities compared to Harden and Irving.
Charlotte Hornets: LaMelo Ball has yet to play an NBA game, but already the 3rd overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft is impressive in many ways. Not only does it hit for 1.6 GPA and 7.0 RPG on defense, but it also hits 6.0 GPA and hits 1.6 3PG while being limited to 2.0 TPG. Eventually, you have to assume that his minutes of use will increase and that the ball will have a place in the starting rotation. If this happens, we can talk about a recruit in the top 35 of the fantasy rankings.
The Chicago Bulls: Zach LaVine has gone from a man known for his diving to a man known for his goals…. and who can still take down anyone in the league. Lavine’s 27.7 FGA PPG is the fourth best in the league, nestled between Stephen Curry and Tatum, but his 19.8 FGA per game makes him the only top-six player on the scoring list to take fewer than 20 shots per game.
Knights of Cleveland: Newcomer Jarrett Allen gives the Cavs another young and athletic player, but his role could be interesting on a roster that already includes Andre Drummond. It’s unlikely that Allen and Drummond will start next to each other or play on the field at the same time, but perhaps the Cavs could opt for a backcourt with two small goaltenders in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland and two 7-foot goaltenders in Drummond and Allen. That would be something. It’s also important to remember that Cleveland already has a great and proven backup guy in the person of JaVale McGee, whose role becomes less important with Allen. Allen, at 22, is a doubling machine who has excelled against Joel Embiid and Rudy Gobert after becoming a starter in Brooklyn in recent weeks.
Dallas Mavericks: Dwight Powell withdrew Wednesday regarding health and safety protocols, joining Maxie Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith on that list. With the Mavs having so few players on the field, Willie Cauley-Stein will likely have to play long minutes against the Hornets. It could also be a great opportunity for him as Charlotte is slim in the middle of the stage, alongside Bismack Biyombo.
Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic rose to the top of my Rotary rankings this week, thanks in part to James Harden’s surprise victory, but Jokic deserves it too. Not only is his 15.6 FGA a career high, but his 57.6 FG% is a marked improvement over last season (52.6%), and his 41.2 3FG% makes him more dangerous from downtown compared to the last two seasons (30.7% in 2018-19 and 31.4% in 2019-20). What a start for Jokic!
Detroit Pistons: Derrick Rose is questionable on Wednesday because of a sore knee, but whether or not he should play is too difficult for Delon Wright. Wright, not Rose, has been the starting quarterback since rookie Killian Hayes tore his Achilles tendon. The Utah veteran has averaged 31.6 MPH over the last three games.
Golden State Warriors: Andrew Wiggins is starting to play better. Draymond Green too. But on Tuesday, the real story is Kelly Oubre Jr. who hit two riders with her first two hits against Indiana and seems to have gained confidence. Oubre, whose scoring prowess was well documented in the first month of the season, finished the game 3-7, 3 points apart. Could this be the beginning of an upward trend for a 32.2 or 3-point shooter in the middle of his career?
The Houston missiles: When the dust settled from the warehouse on Wednesday, the Rockets found themselves on a wheelbarrow filled with first-round draft picks and veteran shooter Victor Oladipo. Its fantasy value isn’t expected to change much in the new environment, but that can’t be easy progress for an Indiana product that has settled into a key role on an effective Pacers team that looks to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. With Oladipo, John Wall, Christian Wood and veterans like DeMarcus Cousins, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon, the Rockets should be able to get some tough wins in the Western Conference, even if it means saying goodbye to their superstar who had to leave town. Either way, they will have better chemistry.
Indiana Pacers: Domantas Sabonis (34.8 MPH) and Malcolm Brogdon (30.9 MPH) placed 13th and 64th respectively in minutes played last season. Sabonis (37.7) and Brogdon (37.1) are second and third this year, which only adds to their fantasy appeal. This super efficient duo is excellent in all formats, be it stitch, roto or DFS – and both are (again) underrated in fantasy projects. On Wednesday, the Pacers traded Oladipo to several teams in a deal for Caris LeVert. In LeVert, they found another playmaker with a high basketball IQ and a penchant for scoring and passing. Because of LeVert’s ability to play a small offensive role, the Pacers could opt for a larger formation with Aaron Holiday in place of Justin Holiday. It will be followed in the following games.
The Los Angeles Clippers: It’s not viable if Paul George keeps making as many triplets as he does now (51.2%), but it’s nice as long as he has a warm hand. George is second in the league behind only CJ McCollum (4.9), but George’s 3PA (8.2) is well behind McCollum’s 11.0. George, who shot at 38.4% range, set a new career record last season by shooting at 41.2% range. This brand seems to be in danger this season, given George’s tumultuous start.
Los Angeles Lakers: What is the quality of LeBron James? This suggests that in the future… At 36, he’s in his 18th year. During the NBA season, the average was 24.2 PPGs, 8.3 RPGs and 7.5 APGs. That sounds tempting and would be a good deal for anyone, not to mention someone like James who ranks 8th in NBA history in terms of regular season career minutes (48,938) and 1st in terms of playoff career minutes (10,111).
Memphis Grizzlies: It may have been predictable, but Kyle Anderson came back down to earth in terms of the score. After scoring 18 or more points in four of his first six games of the season, the versatile veteran hasn’t scored more than 10 points in the Grizzlies’ last four games. That doesn’t bode well for the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. and there’s a good chance Anderson will settle at 11-12 PPG when the time comes.
Miami Heat: Jimmy Butler missed Tuesday’s game against Philadelphia due to health and safety concerns, but the improvement in his play in the previous two games is very encouraging considering the difficulties he faced early in the season. Butler recorded 26 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks against Boston on Wednesday and then went on to record 26 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 block and 2 steals against Washington on Saturday. At this point, Butler looks more like a third round pick for next season than a second round pick.
Milwaukee Bucks: Chris Middleton never forces anything on the field, which is one of the reasons he’s so good, but fantasy managers around the world probably want him to force something more than 3 points in every game. The highly effective Swan ranks 11th in the league with a 3FG% of 49.2, but he only reaches 5.7 3PA, which places him 53rd. Imagine him taking eight or nine a game!
Minnesota Timberwolves: Malik Beasley’s production will deteriorate once Karl-Anthony Towns starts playing in every game, but for now he’s a hot hand worth having in your lineup in any format. Beasley helped Minnesota to a 24-point, three 3-pointer win over the Spurs on Sunday after scoring 29 points on 7 of 11 shots from the 3-point line in the previous game (also against the Spurs). It’s still available in 25.9% of ESPN leagues and is a solid streaming option as one of the team’s top scorers until KAT returns to top form.
New Orleans pelicans: Some players in the league have clearly made great efforts to improve their game this season, and Brandon Ingram is perhaps the best example of that. Yet Ingram, who is only 23 years old, has become a well-prepared player who not only scores – his 24.0 PPG is a career record – but also bounces (7.1 RPG), hits 3 balls (2.2 3PG) and deals balls. The latter part is a significant development, as Ingram’s APG of 5.8 eclipses last season’s record of 4.2 APG. Ingram is one of the top 25 fantasy players at this stage of his career.
The New York Knicks: Since the season opened on the 23rd, the calf has sidelined Obi Topping. December is not in the line of fire, but the rookie chosen in the lottery will likely play against the Nets on Wednesday. Toppin, who was one of college basketball’s top players last season, is expected to return to the Knicks rotation immediately and is available in 67.7 percent of ESPN leagues.
Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder will be without Al Horford for Wednesday’s game against the Lakers as the veteran center is at rest for the second game in a series of consecutive games. In his absence, players like Mike Muscala and Isaiah Roby will see a few more minutes for a young and athletic Thunder team that will go an incredible 5-5.
Orlando Magic: Last week I explained the sudden focus on rookie Cole Anthony after Markelle Fultz’s late-season knee injury, but it may be a while before Anthony becomes a major fantasy factor. Since Fultz’s injury, Anthony has averaged 11.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 2.3 PPG and 1.0 PPG in all three games while striking out 34.2% (12 of 35) from the field. For now, it’s a streaming option at best unless there’s a sudden click for a first-year pro.
Philadelphia 76: The 76ers clearly found something in Tyrese Maxey, who slid into the 21st spot in last year’s NBA draft and already has a 39-point game on his NBA resume. Although this performance against the Nuggets took place in a game where most of the 76 were out of action due to COVID-19 protocols, it still showed what a promising combo guard can do in the future. Maxey is an energetic striker, and his 33 attempts in this breakaway show a fearlessness rarely seen in 20-year-old recruits drafted at the end of the first round.
The Suns of Phoenix: Deandre Ayton will still have high expectations for him in Phoenix after being selected ahead of Luca Doncic and Trae Young on draft day, but from a whimsical standpoint Ayton has been very solid in his first two seasons in the NBA. Arizona, however, has taken a step back this season, outscoring PPG 18.2 to 12.5, and FT’s percentage is up from 75.3 to 64.0. These are the two areas that have made him such a strong fantasy option at center, so it’s concerning and worth keeping an eye on.
Portland Trail Blazers: In his first ten games of the season, Enes Kanter averaged just 19.1 MPH as a replacement for Jusuf Nurkic, and it’s not often that a player who spends so little time on the field is a useful fantasy option. Galloping can be an exception. The P/E ratio of 27.73 is currently the fourth highest in the league and is a credit to its effectiveness. Kanter has a 68.5 percent FG rating, which combined with his 11.3 PPG and 9.3 RPG makes him worthy of playing in the deeper 12-team leagues.
Kings of Sacramento: It’s easy to ignore Richaun Holmes on Sacramento’s front line, which also includes big names like Marvin Bagley III and Hassan Whiteside, but Holmes is by far the most productive big man on the team. Neither Bagley nor Whiteside could keep pace with Holmes, who scored 13.2 PPG, FG% (67.5), assists (1.7 APG), flies (1.1 SPG) and blocks (1.5 BPG) and set a career-high with 7.7 RPG. Holmes remains available in 19.1% of ESPN leagues, but is expected to be included in all leagues.
The tracks of San Antonio: It was easy to jump on Keldon Johnson’s bandwagon when the second-year pro impressed in the first few weeks of the season; Johnson’s balanced play should make him a fantasy figure for years to come. However, we have to take into account the inconsistency that can come from having such a young player. As an example: Johnson has scored 9, 5 and 3 points in three of his last five games. The good news is that the average during this period was also 35.2 MPH.
The Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry turns 15 during his NBA season and turns 35 in March. This is usually the time when veteran players begin to shorten their minutes to save them during a long and exhausting NBA season. But that’s not the case for Lowry, as his 36.4 MPH ranks 6th in the entire NBA on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see how Lowry holds up, especially given the robust and attacking style of play he has been known for throughout his long career.
Utah Jazz: Joe Ingles saw his 384 consecutive games – the longest active streak in the NBA – end Friday when a sore Achilles tendon ruled him out of the lineup against Milwaukee. He came home Sunday but missed Tuesday’s game against the Cavaliers. Ingles isn’t the defensive force he once was on the run, but his 3.2 APG and 1.8 3PG from the forward position make him valuable in rotational leagues. Keep an eye on his sick Achilles tendon.
Washington Wizards: The Wizards received devastating news this weekend when it was announced that Thomas Bryant was out of action for the season due to a partial ACL tear in his left knee. This season, Bryant averaged 14.3 points per game with 64.8 percent shooting and 6.1 rebounds in 27.1 minutes. In the first game without Bryant, Robin Lopez started and played 26 minutes while Moritz Wagner came off the bench for 22 minutes. Keep an eye on these two big men.