• Yes, you read that correctly, the Hoop Ball Eight!

    If you’re new around here let me explain what we’re doing with this. Every year we race through draft season and it’s only when the real fake bullets are flying that you get a real sense of where we were at and who we ended up staking our claim on.

    Site voice is something that’s extremely interesting when you’re trying to amplify a coherent message for the benefit of your readers. In the old days there was a time when I was the sole content producer here and then quickly thereafter we started to grow. And as we grew we each focused on our own areas, mostly as a matter of survival because of the sheer volume of work to do. Bouncing along the guard rails we’ve developed quite a few industry leading voices now, and this article that bears our name is going to start taking on input from core players here. I’m bringing in two of the smartest basketball people in NBA media to expand this list to eight. That would be none other than Mike Passador and Dan Besbris. I’ll let them say what they wanna say about their picks but I’m going to pick my six independent of their choices.

    Without further ado …

    The Hoop Ball Eight – Honorable Mentions

    I always want to have some tough calls from the early rounds in the HB8 and unfortunately this won’t be that year. There are too many needle-moving players from elsewhere in drafts that edged out some of our key targets. That said, we actually have quite a few players we like in the back end of the early rounds, and Tyrese Haliburton was actually the last cut from my six. In the end, competitive leagues haven’t been sleeping at the wheel. While I believe in the player and I actually think the Kings might be too well positioned for improvement for Luke Walton screw it up, this is the Kings coached by Luke Walton.

    Terry Rozier got faded everywhere and all things equal I believe he pushes other people out of his plans and not vice versa. Collin Sexton is money in the bank and this is with everybody knowing what he’s going to do. Weird. But there’s not enough profit margin there to make it into the elite ranks of the HB8.

    I found that in the second and third rounds the key plays were Paul George and Michael Porter, respectively. Adding to the flavor this year was the fact that there were a ton of early first round targets that I loved. James Harden and Kevin Durant came at a discount because of the confusion surrounding Kyrie Irving’s status. The reality is this… No matter what happens from here Kyrie is third on the squad at best and maybe even further down the ladder after these antics. I think we will see Joel Embiid’s best season. At least that’s how he is positioned heading into it. Steph is still in his prime and this is a very crucial season for that dynasty. He has help this year but nowhere near enough help to think he won’t be maxed out. That’s a great recipe for top fantasy player of the year. Hell, if you went for Nikola Jokic in the top slot you had a very safe pick.

    Looking down the board we had some honorable mentions for deep leaguers that have a legit top-100 upside, and the one that might have even more is Nicolas Claxton. He’s going to have to fend off aging veterans and weird agendas that come with putting together a team like this, but Brooklyn will keep coming back to the fact that they need him on the floor and that he deserves to be on the floor. If he takes a step forward at the foul line he has another multiplier behind him, so he might be the most exciting of this bunch.

    Keldon Johnson, who is somewhat capped by stat set, has a special upside brewing in the chance he takes a major step forward that can’t be accounted for. He is a very good bet to finish in the top-100 to 120 range and then it’s all gravy after that. Terance Mann went undrafted in all sorts of competitive formats that went close to 200 players deep and he is exactly what a team like the Clippers needs for a season like this. Getting sent to the bench just made him easy pickings for us. Matisse Thybulle continues to be available everywhere and any Ben Simmons absence becomes a force multiplier for Thybulle, who just needs to take relative steps forward to be a steal at his price. Kenyon Martin will be a nice source of value for deep leaguers and then Max Strus Will end up being rostered in 12-team formats, but you already knew that because you read our free agency articles this summer. Devin Vassell almost cracked the top 100 of the B150 and he has room for more if somehow he goes for breakout.

    The Hoop Ball Eight

    Mikal Bridges

    The way I’ve been explaining Mikal Bridges for the past year or two is that he’s going to have a Kawhi Leonard-like career. It’s hard to say that he will reach the peak that Kawhi did because Kawhi was the best player in the NBA for one or two years.

    But pretty soon we’re gonna be talking about the handful of things or maybe one or two things that Bridges is not capable of. He has the shot, he has the foundation for playmaking and dribbling, he has Defensive Player of the Year potential (years behind whenever he deserves it, of course).

    A lot of folks looked at Phoenix and correctly saw a lot of clutter. Chris Paul will need to miss games this year so he is ready to give his best after showing he cannot be counted on in the Finals. There will be a passing of the baton to not just Devon Booker but also Deandre Ayton and Bridges. Within that, Bridges’ leaps in talent will make it nearly impossible for him to not enjoy significant statistical improvements, whether that’s through insane efficiency or an opening of the floodgates. I pushed him up all the way to No. 12 in 9-cat leagues and because he was going in the middle rounds, I didn’t look at him as one of those early round wins that I was referencing in the open. Bridges was an affordable shot at first round value in 9-cat and top-25 value in eight cat leagues — and you just don’t see that very often.

    T.J. McConnell

    It’s not like we didn’t warn you. We’ve been winning on T.J. McConnell for at least three seasons now and he was a huge star in last year’s B150. I wrote about him during free agency, too. Unfortunately things got a little too obvious towards the end of draft season, but still, finishing just outside of the top-50 in the B150 fantasy managers are getting three to five rounds of value in both intermediate and expert leagues — getting a true needle mover with absolutely no risk. McConnell is legitimately hard to cover and one of the best steals artists in the league. There is practically no reason to take him off the floor unless you have an abundance of high-end talent and now he’s getting paid to step into that kind of role. This here was an easy, easy call.

    Patrick Williams

    Back up the truck, folks. We got everything we could’ve ever wanted here. All sorts of incoming players to muddy the waters, a preseason injury of minor consequence to chill things out and the fact that the Bulls absolutely need to have Patrick Williams on the court at pretty much all times in order for everything to work. And because Williams is both talented and improving, he’s going to see an increase in role with absolutely no pressure to do anymore then he’s going to do just by simply being better than he was last year. He’s going to get mostly premium looks and all of the inertia is going to be asking him to do more rather than less, even if other players are taking up their respective usage.

    De’Anthony Melton

    Is this a little bit nostalgic? Do we wanna miss out on De’Anthony Melton, finally, after all this time? After all the tweets about his net rating and the obvious fact that he makes the team better went on the floor?

    There might have been more deserving candidates but this got really easy once Grayson Allen got traded and then even easier knowing that Dillon Brooks is going to be out a bit. The Grizzlies seemingly know, finally, what they have in Melton and now he’s going to get all sorts of time to prove it. It’s going to be hard to take him off the floor after that and we all know what he can do when he gets the minutes. He was more expensive than he needed to be but we’re finally going to see him break out and we just couldn’t miss that.

    Chris Boucher

    So this is kind of like a reverse Melton. It’s not like we didn’t have Chris Boucher ranked highly last year but we just didn’t break our necks to get him and it was probably my biggest regret from last season, knowing that we had been waiting for that moment for a couple of years. There were moments last year where are you legitimately wondered what the ceiling was for Boucher. It wasn’t like he was showing crazy guard skills but there were times when he felt a little bit unstoppable, at minimum like a major problem for the other team. On his bad days he’s still changing the dynamic of the game.

    Toronto got more competent this year and they will get a boost from being back home and they need Boucher to be good for 24 minutes per game at the very least. We already know that he can tear up fantasy leagues in that amount of time. The injury helped keep everybody off of him as a hype guy and he started going in the back half of the middle rounds in competitive leagues. I have him at a top 20-40 finish in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively.

    Daniel Gafford

    Fantasy managers everywhere got spooked by Thomas Bryant and Montrezl Harrell. While Byrant was a success for us in fantasy leagues a few years back, he has been consistently overrated (by no small margin) since then. He’s peg-legged and slow on defense and there just isn’t enough offense or intangibles to overcome that fact.

    Gafford is the only player on the team who can vertically defend and when you factor in his relative advantages not just on defense, but in his ability to threaten the rim — it’s going to be hard to take him off the floor. He’s going to get at minimum 24 minutes per game and that could be a bonanza right there. The team signaled that very late in draft season with his extension. I have him knocking on the door of the top-50 and you were getting him in the later rounds. That’s a lot of stability and safety in a play for that kind of upside so he gets the nod here.

    Mike Passador

    Jerami Grant

    Grant gives me shades of Terry Rozier of the last few years. A player got a big bag, moved into a large role on a new team and despite some solid flashes of improvement, ended up lower in the rankings than expected in his first season with the new squad. Last year, the market cooled on Rozier because of added talent around him and expected declines in usage. Lo and behold, a career season came down the line. A lot of the same forces are working in Detroit, where Grant has shown he can be a No. 1 option but will now no longer need to be every night. While that sounds like lower usage, sometimes less is more, especially when it’s the result of a more balanced, capable supporting cast.

    The additions of Cade Cunningham and Kelly Olynyk give the Pistons more talent and versatility, and Grant will be able to focus more on refining his own game than having to put the whole team on his back every night. Don’t forget that the other young Pistons have another year of experience under their belts as well. It’s also worth mention that Grant’s No. 81 per-game finish in 9-cat is heavily affected by a lackluster second half of the season when the team wasn’t really trying, and his No. 91 finish in totals is impacted by a wave of tank-related absences. That bad finish — with Grant basically MIA for the fantasy playoffs — seems to have soured more people than it should have. Detroit might not be good but with Cunningham in town they’re not going to shut it all the way down again. Grant was a top-50 guy before the trade deadline and is being passed up for way too many players that simply aren’t as good, don’t offer the same upside or have the same stable floor.

    Dan Besbris

    Larry Nance Jr.

    Let’s Nance! Put on your red shoes and Nance the blues. Yes, Larry has injury issues (he has missed 68 games the last 3 seasons), but his ADP of 128.2 (Yahoo!) means he’s basically a sure thing. Nance was traded to the Blazers this offseason and my immediate reaction was fear that he would get buried behind Jusuf Nurkic and jumbled up with Cody Zeller at center. But upon closer inspection, the Blazers have a perfectly carved-out role for Nance handling backup work at center and power forward (and in a pinch, even small forward) – precisely the same role he was holding with Cleveland before folks started getting hurt. Last season, Nance was #79 in 9-cat leagues on a per-game basis, and given he is often among league-leaders in deflections and can pass, his role with Portland is fairly secure. I would also argue the Blazer rebounding around Nance is less proficient than what the Cavs were able to trot out most nights, so the only real fear is that his shots per game could drop lower. Who cares? Nance is going in the 11th round and could post 6th or 7th round value per-game. At that point we simply hold on tight and hope he can drop 67 (or more) games into the bucket and he smokes his draft position with ease.

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