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With the start of the NBA regular season just over a week away, the Daily Dose column is making its return. Many of you are either planning for your fantasy drafts, or you’ve already gone through that process. And there’s been no lack of news to this point in the preseason, with NBA front offices, coaches and fantasy managers alike finding themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to take a player’s vaccination status into consideration. That’s where Monday’s edition of the Dose will begin, as there was a ruling in New York that had a noteworthy impact on the Nets.
Nets’ Irving now allowed to practice in Brooklyn
With New York City putting into place a vaccine mandate for indoor public spaces, and Kyrie Irving having made it public that he had no plans for taking the COVID-19 vaccine, there were questions as to how much time he would have to miss. In addition to the NBA’s strict policies for unvaccinated players, Irving also runs the risk of having to sit out all 41 Nets home games and the team’s two road games against the Knicks. Per city rules, employees who work in indoor public spaces have to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Over the weekend it was reported that the city has deemed the Nets’ practice facility to be a private building, which means that Irving can practice with his teammates. That’s certainly a welcome change for the Nets, but playing in games remains off the table for Irving. During his media availability Sunday, coach Steve Nash said that the team is planning as if Irving will not be available for home games this season.
“Right now we assume he’s not going to be available for home games,” Nash said on Sunday, according to the New York Post. “Anything can change. Who’s to say, the city’s ordinance could change? Anything could change.
“Right now we’re just trying to remain flexible, open-minded and figure it out as we go, because information is coming in by the half-day here, whether it’s Paul’s [Millsap health and safety protocol] situation, Kyrie’s situation or the laws. We found out Friday he could come in the building, so things are shifting. No one’s been through this before, and we’re just trying to figure it out as we go.”
So, how should fantasy managers approach Irving? First and foremost, make sure your draft queues are set up so that he isn’t auto-picked. Operating under the assumption that he will miss, at minimum, 43 games, I wouldn’t select him in any competitive fantasy league, because 39 games played would be the “best case scenario” based upon Nash’s words on Sunday. Of course Irving could have a change of heart at some point, but one can’t assume this. Also of note Sunday was the fact that Nash said the Nets could bring Irving off the bench on occasion, in order to account for how missed game time could impact his conditioning. This is an unprecedented situation, so the Nets are essentially taking things day-to-day.
Beyond Irving, the biggest name to keep an eye on is James Harden. He’s ranked no lower than seventh in 9-cat formats in any of the last six seasons, and with Irving projected to miss more than half the team’s schedule, Harden could make a run at the top spot. Nikola Jokic would be my top pick, but grabbing “The Beard” instead would not be an unreasonable move. Kevin Durant is also capable of taking on more playmaking responsibilities, and he’s also another year removed from the Achilles tendon rupture that sidelined him for the entire 2019-20 season. Durant should once again be a top-10 player in both 8- and 9-cat formats.
Spurs 101, Magic 100
Magic coach Jamahl Mosley made a change to his starting lineup that raised eyebrows, with Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba playing alongside each other. And both played well in the one-point defeat, combining for 30 points (12-of-18 FGs, 3-of-7 FTs), 17 rebounds, three assists, one steal, seven blocks and three 3-pointers. Bamba was the more impactful of the two defensively, as he supplemented his 16 points and ten rebounds with one steal and five blocked shots. He also connected on 2-of-4 3-point attempts, with Carter posting a solid line of 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one 3-pointer. The lone negative between the two was Carter turning the ball over four times, but the partnership appeared to work.
This was the third different starting power forward/center tandem that Mosley has used in the preseason. Carter started alongside rookie Franz Wagner in the opener against Boston, while it was Bamba and Moritz Wagner who received the starting nod against New Orleans. With Jonathan Isaac (ACL) still without a timeline for return, and Chuma Okeke currently sidelined due to a hip injury, Mosley may have to get a bit creative with his frontcourt rotation once the regular season begins. Orlando has one last preseason game on its schedule, Wednesday against Boston, so that may be used as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts. Of the two young bigs Bamba has the higher fantasy upside, because of his being the more active defender. But Carter would be worthy of a late-round look himself, especially if he’s the starter come Opening Night (and Bamba is brought off the bench).
Nothing out of the ordinary for San Antonio in this one, as Gregg Popovich fielded what will likely be his starting five when the regular season begins. Dejounte Murray (18/5/1 with two 3-pointers) shot 8-of-12 from the field and 2-of-4 from beyond the arc Sunday, and he’s made better than 54% of his field goal attempts this preseason. The 3-point shot is still a work in progress, as Murray is just 3-of-11 in three games played, but he’s never been the most prolific perimeter shooter. The departure of DeMar DeRozan could result in another jump in the assists category for Murray, who averaged a career-high 5.4 per game last season. He’s got a preseason Yahoo ADP of 56, and it would not be a surprise if Murray was a top-50 player come season’s end.
Bulls 102, Cavaliers 101
Due to Darius Garland (illness) and Collin Sexton (sprained right shoulder) having been ruled out, Cleveland had two voids to fill in its starting lineup. Ricky Rubio and Lauri Markkanen were “promoted,” with the latter playing especially well against his former team. Shooting 8-of-14 from the field, Markkanen finished with a team-high 18 points, to go along with four rebounds, three assists, two steals, three blocks and two 3-pointers in 26 minutes.
He appears likely to come off the bench once Cleveland’s rotation is whole, and this could actually help Markkanen with regard to his fantasy value. Having to split touches with Garland and Sexton as part of that starting lineup would be a tough ask for Markkanen. Leading the second unit, even if it means fewer minutes, would make it possible for him to make a run at fantasy relevance. Also worth tracking Sunday was how Markkanen being moved into the starting lineup would impact Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, who are projected to start at the power forward and center positions, respectively.
Mobley had his best showing of the preseason, tallying 15 points (7-of-13 FGs), ten rebounds, four assists, two steals, three blocks and one 3-pointer in 32 minutes. The rookie is averaging 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game (four games), and has also grabbed eight rebounds or more in three of those appearances. Mobley may not be considered with the same regard as Jalen Green, Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs when discussing potentially impactful fantasy rookies, but he won’t be far off, especially as a starter. He currently has a Yahoo ADP of 90, which isn’t terribly high given Mobley’s place within the rotation.
For Chicago, Billy Donovan continued the process of ramping up the minutes for his key players. Lonzo Ball (34 minutes), DeMar DeRozan (31), Zach LaVine (30) and Nikola Vucevic (30) all played at least 30 minutes, with Alex Caruso playing 26 minutes off the bench. DeRozan scored 23 to go along with four rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers (!), but the play of reserves Alize Johnson and Derrick Jones Jr. shouldn’t be ignored.
Johnson (14/11/1/1) made the most of his 18 minutes, serving as the Bulls’ backup center out of necessity. He doesn’t offer much in the way of rim protection, but Johnson’s motor helps make up for that. Jones (10/4/1 in 16 minutes) is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2020-21 season in Portland. Johnson and Jones aren’t players worthy of draft consideration, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to watch them during the Bulls’ early regular season games.
Also, it was LaVine whose minutes were staggered with the second unit during Sunday’s game. In Chicago’s prior preseason outing, a win over the Pelicans Friday night, it was DeRozan who filled that role. Donovan’s still doing some tinkering with his rotation, so that’s something worth tracking for the Bulls’ preseason finale Friday night vs. Memphis. LaVine currently has a Yahoo ADP of 19, while DeRozan is at 59. Those positions feel about right for both, especially with the latter’s playmaking opportunities (4.9 assists per game with the Spurs last season) set to be impacted by the presence of Ball.
Ball was a beast defensively, racking up three steals and four blocks to go along with ten points, five rebounds, three assists and two 3-pointers. A top-50 player in 9-cat last season, the combination of a change of scenery and being paired up with more established offensive talents could propel Ball towards the top-25. He has a Yahoo ADP of 51, which feels about right given the career production. But Ball could prove to be a fantasy steal, especially if his ADP remains that high.
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Bucks 130, Grizzlies 110
The reigning champions showed off what is likely to be their starting lineup on Opening Night, as Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo were all available to play. That quartet joined Brook Lopez, with none of the five playing more than 22 minutes in Sunday’s rout. Antetokounmpo (8/9/6/1), Middleton (14/3/2/0/1 with two 3-pointers) and Holiday (11/4/4 with one 3-pointer) all played 17 minutes, looking reasonably sharp against an overmatched opponent. Allen (13/4/0/0/1 with three 3-pointers) had a good night in his 22 minutes, but Pat Connaughton (12/3/3 with three 3-pointers) did as well.
With Donte DiVincenzo still working his way back from ankle surgery, either Allen or Connaughton will be the fifth starter. Both have the look of points and 3-pointers options at this stage, and there will be a lot of those players available in the late rounds of most fantasy leagues. That being said, Allen may be the one more likely to be a relevant fantasy player, especially after averaging 2.1 3-pointers per game for the Grizzlies last season.
Oklahoma City boasts one of the league’s youngest rosters, and rookies Josh Giddey and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl were in the starting lineup Sunday night. Giddey didn’t shoot well, going 3-of-9 from the field, but he did record a line of nine points, six rebounds and six assists without committing a turnover. The first-round pick from Australia scored 18 points in his preseason debut on October 4, and shot the ball well (8-of-12 FGs) in doing so. The assist number is what grabbed my attention, as Giddey was tied for the team-high with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Thunder now have two guards capable of initiating the offense, which will likely free up SGA to hunt for his own shot even more than he did last season.
Robinson-Earl (6/1/3 with two 3-pointers) shot just 2-of-11 from the field, while another Thunder rookie (Tre Mann) chipped in with nine points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one 3-pointer in 22 minutes off the bench. Giddey is the only Thunder rookie worthy of being drafted in fantasy, and his current Yahoo ADP (151) is a bit low given the amount of playing time that he’s likely to receive. Two of last season’s rookies, Aleksej Pokusevski (two points, one rebounds) and Theo Maledon (6/1/2 with two 3-pointers) had relatively quiet nights in 19 and 16 minutes, respectively, off the bench.
Lastly there’s Luguentz Dort, who shot the ball quite well from the field overall (7-of-11) and from three (4-of-6). Dort finished with 19 points, a noteworthy total even with the third-year guard not offering much production in other areas (one rebound, one assist and one steal). In two preseason games he’s shot 11-of-20 from the field and 7-of-12 from three, which is a pretty big deal given Dort’s struggles during his first two seasons in the league. If Dort can continue to make strides as a scorer, while also providing solid production in non-points categories, he would be a solid fantasy option. He has a Yahoo ADP of 181 currently, which is a fair number given Dort’s struggles with his efficiency as a scorer.
Suns 123, Lakers 94
JaVale the facilitator? That appears to be a possibility in Phoenix, as JaVale McGee served in that role at various points during Sunday’s blowout of the Lakers. And it’s a role that McGee hasn’t been afforded the opportunity to fill much during his NBA career.
“It’s always been a part of my game,” McGee said after the win. “It never got utilized to tell you the truth. No coach besides I would say (J.B.) Bickerstaff in Cleveland put the ball in my hands and said OK, be a playmaker.”
He played 16 minutes off the bench Sunday, recording a line of 12 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one steal and three blocked shots. With Dario Saric (ACL) set to miss the upcoming season, McGee is set to serve as the backup center behind Deandre Ayton (11/9/1 with one 3-pointer). After nearly cracking the top-50 in 9-cat during his first season with the Lakers, the big man has seen his fantasy standing drop considerably. Getting back to that level, especially when backing up a young talent like Ayton, will be very difficult. But the occasional opportunity to make plays with the ball in his hands will give McGee a shot at fantasy relevance in deep leagues.
Landry Shamet started for the absence Devin Booker (health and safety protocols), putting up 13 points, three rebounds, one steal and three 3-pointers in 24 minutes of action. He’ll primarily be a points and 3-pointers player, because Shamet has never been one to offer much production in other categories. It would have to be a very deep league in order for Shamet to be worthy of selecting in a draft. However, depending upon injuries that occur throughout the season, Shamet could be a decent waiver wire pickup at some point.
Chris Paul (15/3/5/1 with one 3-pointer) was solid in his 23 minutes on the court, but he did commit four turnovers. That isn’t a concern however, as Paul hasn’t averaged three turnovers per game since the 2008-09 season. The veteran point guard should be off the board within the first 25 picks in most leagues, even with his being 36 years old.
The Lakers played without numerous rotation players, most notably LeBron James. His health isn’t a concern; the Lakers are simply taking a conservative approach when it comes to the minutes of some of their stars. Anthony Davis (19/3/6/3/1 with one 3-pointer) and Carmelo Anthony (17/4/0/0/1 with five 3-pointers) looked sharp offensively, but the same can’t be said for many of the others who played, most notably Russell Westbrook.
Shooting 3-of-12 from the field, Westbrook finished with eight points, two rebounds, five assists, one steal and two 3-pointers…while also committing nine turnovers. That statistical category is why Westbrook is a far more valuable fantasy player in 8-cat than in 9-cat. Grabbing him within the top-75 picks in 9-cat leagues feels a bit high due to the turnovers, but it can be justified in an 8-cat that doesn’t count turnovers.