October 29, 2023, 5:21 pm
Hello and welcome to the latest edition of The Week Ahead! The regular season is well underway and we’ve now had a chance to get at least a few looks at each team in the league. There are some familiar names at the top of the standings but in terms of individuals and fantasy value, we’ve been treated to our fair share of surprises. Where do we start?
Let’s take a moment to tip our caps to Jalen Duren, who has been nearly unrivaled as a fantasy producer while helping the Pistons to more wins than losses to start the year. With an ADP just inside the top-100, he certainly ranks as the best value pick at this point in the season. Can Duren continue at this pace? Well, he’s only 19 and still developing. You tell me if that’s a good or a bad thing considering where he’s at now. Duren is as imposing as they come and there’s only a handful of players in the league with the tools to match him physically, so why can’t he continue dunking everything, gobbling up boards and protecting the rim? Congratulations to those managers that drafted Duren. You’re the envy of your respective leagues right now. Good for the Pistons too! They need some momentum behind Cade Cunningham and new coach Monty Williams.
Don’t look now but the Grizzlies are really struggling with two of their starters out for the foreseeable future. It’s no secret why Ja Morant is gone for the next 22 games but the Steven Adams news was a shocker. Though reserves like Derrick Rose, Xavier Tillman Sr. and Ziaire Williams have stepped up in a big way, the team has lost three straight games. Stars Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. have been predictably solid but they lack the game-changing offensive talent of their suspended point guard and the team has produced a bottom-five offensive rating while they live or die with scoring by committee. It’s hard to predict who — aside from Bane — will have the hot hand for the Grizzlies on any given night but Marcus Smart and Williams seem most likely to answer the call right now. They really need Jackson to build on last year’s career-high scoring average and so far he’s not answering the call on that end.
Early MVP rankings have got to include Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyrese Haliburton near the top. They’re all keeping pace with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and his reigning champion Nuggets as the best players on the winningest teams in the league. There isn’t a single loss among them as I write this and each player has validated their first round ADP. If Joel Embiid didn’t surprise his managers by tanking their free throw percentage, he might look a little better in the rankings and the Sixers might not have dropped a close season opener with the Bucks. How about Lillard’s clutch play down the stretch though?
This year’s rookie class is loaded with defensive studs but none greater than Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren. Between the pair, there’s no shortage of two-way potential and an abundance of early career momentum thanks to their torrid starts. The Thompson twins, Amen and Ausar, seem primed to keep pace thanks to their impressive athleticism, while Dereck Lively II is already showing signs of becoming a traditional post anchor. Some combination of that five with top-three picks Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson are sure to rank as the best rookies of this class by the end of the year, but Henderson and Amen Thompson’s efficiency numbers make them hard to sell as fantasy assets just yet. The others are already rewarding managers that took a chance on them. I dare not put a cap on the ceilings of Holmgren and Wembanyama in particular. The sky must be their limit because anything less is within reach of their massive wingspans.
Last week, we focused on five targets as Quick Adds with an aim to get high upside prospects early. That group consisted of Amen Thompson, Coby White, Jeremy Sochan, Jonathan Kuminga and Paul Reed. I’m perfectly happy to declare victory with Sochan, who may actually prove to be a hold as the season progresses. The sophomore was recently given the point guard tag and has responded with solid across-the-board value. He’s being penalized in the overall rankings due to poor field goal percentage and turnovers but I’m betting on that to level out as Sochan adjusts to his new position. White got off to a solid start and earned the benefit of the doubt for another week of streaming but absolutely stunk with 28 minutes of almost literally nothing in his last game. If we split the difference between the good and the bad, White is still a standard league option for a field goal percentage punt. Kuminga has at least met the benchmark of receiving consistent rotation minutes and scoring in double digits. In order to stay on rosters, he’ll need to round out that line with at least one of the following: treys, stocks or better-than-average boards. Reed and Thompson were unequivocal strikeouts and can be dropped for better short-term options in shallow leagues. I’d probably hold on a little longer in deep formats though.
That’s enough about the past. We’re here to prepare for the future. The upcoming week will finally have some separation in terms of games played. We’ve got a handful of two-game teams and a larger group with four games, so managers with key players from the Rockets, Clippers, Sixers and Kings have got to be careful that they don’t get burned by failing to supplement their squad. Most days this week qualify as weak schedule days, so there’s tons of opportunity to squeeze some extra value out of the waiver wire. There’s more on that later.
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Two Games: Rockets, Clippers, Sixers, Kings
Three Games: Hawks, Celtics, Lakers, Heat, Bucks, Wolves, Knicks, Thunder, Spurs, Wizards
Four Games: Nets, Hornets, Bulls, Cavs, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Pacers, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Magic, Suns, Blazers, Raptors, Jazz
Tuesday-Wednesday: Cavs, Clippers, Knicks
Wednesday-Thursday: Pistons, Pelicans, Raptors, Jazz
Friday-Saturday: Nets, Bulls, Nuggets, Pacers
Saturday-Sunday: Hornets, Suns
Sunday-Monday (Week Three): Mavs, Pistons, Warriors, Spurs
On a week that kicks off with 11 games, it’s easy to set your lineups and fill gaps with a wide assortment of potential waiver wire adds. Before picking a direction: are there any gaps in your lineup on Monday or Wednesday? Probably not, but if so, there’s enormous value in rostering players from the Pistons, Magic, Pelicans, Raptors and Jazz for three games in four days by Thursday. Otherwise, just the Magic stand out among teams with a Monday start. It’s more likely that teams see their first opportunity to make a value-added move on Tuesday. That Magic player will hold long-term streaming value until the weekend and they will be matched by the Suns from Tuesday onwards. There’s also enough value in the Spurs’ Tuesday-Thursday slate to warrant a stream from their squad, while Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-backs from the Cavs, Clippers and Knicks should also be helpful.
The problem is that Wednesday features a whopping 13 games and those streamers on back-to-backs might not actually fit in your starting lineup. For managers looking to fill a vacancy on Wednesday, there are a handful of teams on a 3-in-4 stretch of games. That list includes the Nets, Bulls, Nuggets, Pacers, Pelicans and Jazz. Otherwise, the best targets to stretch into the weekend are from the Suns, who are the best schedule options for Thursday moves. There are no Thursday-Friday back-to-backs, but managers that miss out on the Suns can squeeze two games out of the next three days with the Pelicans, Magic, Sixers and Jazz if needed.
By the weekend, there will have been no shortage of opportunities to burn through weekly moves and managers shouldn’t hesitate to do so. There are two Friday-Saturday back-to-backs to exploit if you’re a team with two moves to spare, so the Nets, Bulls, Nuggets and Pacers get the edge for Friday moves that still leave space for a final play on Sunday. However, there are 10 other teams with two games before the week ends, so managers with a single move left can still get some solid value. Among those 10, I’d prioritize the ones active on Monday of Week Three to keep stretching out the value of my moves. With that in mind, the best closeout moves for the weekend will include players from the Nets, Bulls, Mavs, Nuggets, Warriors and Pacers.
Best Schedule: Phoenix Suns (vs. Spurs, vs. Spurs, @ Sixers, @ Pistons)
Per usual, a four-game team that is exclusively active on weak days gets the nod here. The Suns offer value on the two quietest days of the week — Tuesday and Thursday — before heading into a weekend back-to-back that should help managers close out strong. There’s only a day between every game, meaning that Suns players are never inactive for long and any streamers can be held for the entire week. You don’t need me to tell you that whoever is healthy from the Big Three will be critical to their fantasy team’s success this week. Right now, that might only be Kevin Durant. He’s more than equal to the task, but Bradley Beal and Devin Booker are going to be dangerous the moment they’re back on the court. Until one or both is back, I’m looking to both Eric Gordon and Josh Okogie for plus value as replacements. Jordan Goodwin is also making a strong case for himself but is not as entrenched in the rotation as his peers.
For the second week in a row, I’ll also be targeting Drew Eubanks as a reliable producer of big man stats and a capable substitute for Jusuf Nurkic, who has notably struggled with an assortment of lower body ailments in recent seasons. The veteran is a valuable starter but it makes sense that the Suns would try to preserve him for the long haul; a decision made easier by the presence of a steady rotation player like Eubanks. There are some solid role players to consider streaming in Week Two and managers in a variety of league depths should be able to find some value with the Suns.
Worst Schedule: Sacramento Kings (@ Warriors, @ Rockets)
You get nothing out of the Kings until Wednesday and nothing again until Saturday. Sure, that’s fine for De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Keegan Murray, but what about the others? Harrison Barnes will probably barely hang on to standard league value with only two games and it’s all downhill from there. We haven’t seen the best versions of Chris Duarte, Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk or Sasha Vezenkov yet and there’s no reason to take a chance on them this week when their games are so few and far between. The Rockets are playing the same schedule but at least I can sell you on upside with their rotation full of potential breakout prospects.
Game of the Week: Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers on November 1st, 2023
Wednesday is a busy day in the league but it’s always noteworthy when the Clippers and Lakers battle for dominance at the Crypto.com Arena. Per usual, both franchises are loaded with stars and individual storylines to follow. There’s going to be no shortage of alphas on the floor with five former All-NBA First Team members split between the two teams. Fun fact: 4-of-5 members of the 2016-2017 All-NBA First Team are likely to appear in this game. Paul George was a measly third-teamer at that point in his career but he was always one of LeBron James’ toughest matchups. They’ll get another chance to battle it out on Wednesday. Of course, it’s possible that an all-time great defender like Kawhi Leonard might take that matchup. Otherwise, he’ll be making life real difficult for Austin Reaves.
Swing factors in this matchup will certainly be the most polarizing stars of each team: Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook. The latter will be aiming for revenge against his former team, while the former is in a constant battle with naysayers that expect nothing less than perpetual excellence from the Unibrow. To be fair, that is a standard that he set for himself. Their seasons are polar opposites so far, with Westbrook wanting for more success than he’s had, while Davis will be pressed to maintain the momentum of his 30 points, 12 rebounds and six defensive stats in a win over the Suns.
Both teams will be hoping for more from their role players than they’ve gotten so far. The Lakers haven’t been able to count on much from Christian Wood, Gabe Vincent and Taurean Prince, while the Clippers’ depth may actually be giving Ty Lue too many options. Potential impact players like Bones Hyland, Norman Powell and Robert Covington may not be assured of enough playing time to provide standard league value while splitting time with the likes of Mason Plumlee, Nic Batum and eventually Terance Mann. It would be very convenient for the Clippers and fantasy managers if one or two of that group would clearly assert themselves below the stars in the team’s pecking order.
Cole Anthony, PG/SG, Orlando Magic
The Magic are and seemingly always have been loaded with guards. Their most recent iteration of a backcourt backlog incorporates Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and Anthony. It’s fair to say that the organization probably prioritizes them in the order listed as well. So why am I bullish on Anthony? Well, Anthony eats when you fill up his plate. Among his point guard peers, the second generation guard is the most likely to produce counting stats value with playing time and he is getting more than enough of that right now. Anthony’s impact is typically more notable on the box score, given his higher career points and boards production over the others and near-loss on assists to Fultz. I’ll gladly proclaim that Fultz has been the winningest player in that group but when I’m looking for fantasy production, it’s a different story. First and foremost: Fultz is available nowhere and Anthony is seemingly available everywhere, even if they’re typically quite close in fantasy value. In two games so far, Anthony has produced 38 points and four treys on 14-of-27 shooting with only one turnover. Take advantage of that efficient scoring where possible because it can really make an impact over the course of a four-game week.
Dereck Lively II, C, Dallas Mavericks
This is the risky pick of the week. Those of you that are more risk-averse may prefer Tim Hardaway Jr. as your Mavs Streamer of the Week. There’s good value there over four games. However, in the rookie Lively, you have the potential to add an elite producer of blocks and boards. Frankly, that’s more valuable than what THJ is bringing to the table. The problem is that Lively was certainly one of the rawest one-and-done prospects of his class and remains a fairly limited player despite being arguably the best center with the Mavs. There are three veteran centers competing with him for minutes and status on the team but Lively is by far the tallest and most athletic of the group. His verticality is exactly the sort of thing that players like Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving can take advantage of when they draw extra attention. Rest assured that Lively will catch a few lobs at the rim every game. In fact, his entire shot diet should consist of dunks and putbacks. After double-doubling in his debut, the seven-footer with a 7’8” wingspan proved that he has the ability to collect boards with the best of them. That same height, reach and athleticism makes Lively a rim protecting prospect almost on par with his draft mate, Victor Wembanyama. Given his limited strength and developing basketball IQ, it’s possible that Lively hits the dreaded rookie wall sooner than others, but how many of his peers were in the starting lineup this week? It’s worthwhile to bet on any big that could be an x-factor for your team in blocks, boards and field goal percentage. Just don’t ask for anything more than that.
Gordon Hayward, SF, Charlotte Hornets
It’s incredible that a player with Hayward’s resume and playing time is only owned in about half of all leagues right now. Listen, nobody’s saying he’s an ironman or that he’s going to return to All-Star form, but the man is in the starting lineup and playing 30-plus minutes per game! In two games this season, Hayward is putting up average or better numbers in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and free throws. The 6’7” wing has traditionally been much better in treys and field goal percentage, so it’s not unreasonable to expect some improvement there either. That’s the sort of player that can’t be on a waiver wire. Don’t overcomplicate things. It’s four games from a reliable veteran starter.
Isaac Okoro, SF/PF, Cleveland Cavaliers
Is Max Strus still available in your most competitive leagues? Probably not. However, there’s still a solid chance that people are sleeping on Okoro even though he’s a former lottery pick that might best be described as “Diet Anunoby.” That was a common comparison for the physically imposing 6’5” wing when he entered the league and their early career results have been fairly similar. It’s a lofty comparison now, given the Raptors forward’s status as one of the true 3-and-D elites, but we’re seeing some promising signs that Okoro is ready to level up his game once again. In three games, the Auburn product has doubled his points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks output from last season while also showing a major improvement in field goal percentage. There’s too much of a disparity in sample size to say that this trend will stick but Okoro is putting up top-75 value right now and needs to be rostered until that changes. Cleveland plays three weak schedule games in Week Two and that’s more than enough reason to stream Okoro but that’s not all I like. Anyone who has read my work before probably knows that I place high priority on players that can produce one trey, one steal and one block per game. Okoro is meeting that lofty standard right now and yet he’s still available in about two thirds of all leagues. It doesn’t make sense!
Honorable Mention: Aaron Nesmith (SF/PF, Pacers), Alec Burks (PG/SG/SF, Pistons), Alex Caruso (PG/SG, Bulls), Brandon Miller (SF, Hornets), Cam Thomas (SG/SF, Nets), Coby White (PG/SG, Bulls), Drew Eubanks (PF/C, Suns), Dorian Finney-Smith (SF/PF, Nets), Eric Gordon (SG/SF, Suns),Herb Jones (SF/PF, Pelicans), Isaiah Stewart (PF/C, Pistons), Jalen Suggs (PG/SG, Magic), Jeremy Sochan (PG/PF, Spurs), Kelly Olynyk (PF/C, Jazz), Kevon Looney (PF/C, Warriors), Keyonte George (SG, Jazz), Max Strus (SG/SF, Cavs), Moses Moody (SG/SF, Warriors), Norman Powell (SG/SF, Clippers), Peyton Watson (SG/SF, Nuggets), Precious Achiuwa (PF/C, Raptors), Quentin Grimes (SG/SF, Knicks), Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG/SF, Mavs), Xavier Tillman (PF/C, Grizzlies), Ziaire Williams (SF, Grizzlies)