October 18, 2021, 2:25 pm
Welcome back everybody!
The NBA tips off for another go around this week (tomorrow, to be specific), which means that fantasy managers can get ready for another marathon season. Every championship starts somewhere, and for us that happens in a shade over 24 hours. Sure, draft day is great — the best part of any fantasy games, in this writer’s opinion — but until the real games are going down we’re just sitting and waiting.
And those games should be great. Not just to two-stack on opening night, but all year long. At this time of year, every team has reasons for optimism, even if not every team has a real chance of winning. The Pistons have Cade Cunningham. The Lakers have had a long layoff to get healthy, and are showing up with a new superstar. The Cavs have a dynamic young frontcourt locked in and Darius Garland looks ready to roll. The Suns are battle-tested and ready to prove they’re no fluke. The Toronto Raptors are actually the Toronto Raptors again. The Heat have assembled the grittiest roster that ever gritted. The Wolves will finally have all their top guys on the court together. The resurgent Knicks finally have a real PG in the form of hometown hero Kemba Walker. The new-look Bulls are ready to assert themselves. And on and on and on.
No matter how the fantasy season goes for you and your teams, just remember that it’s supposed to be fun. Basketball is back, and that’s the biggest and best storyline of all.
Two Games: Hawks, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Clippers, Heat, Wolves, Blazers, Jazz, Wizards
Three Games: Nets, Celtics, Hornets, Bulls, Cavs, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Bucks, Pelicans, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Sixers, Suns, Kings, Spurs, Raptors
Back-to-Backs: Cavs (Friday/Saturday vs. Hornets, vs. Hawks), Pacers (Friday/Saturday @ Wizards, vs. Heat), Raptors (Friday/Saturday @ Celtics, vs. Mavs), Bulls (Friday/Saturday vs. Pelicans, @ Pistons), Pelicans (Friday/Saturday @ Bulls, @ Wolves), Suns (Friday/Saturday @ Lakers, @ Blazers), Grizzlies (Saturday/Sunday @ Lakers, @ Clippers)
Best Schedule: Bulls (@ Pistons, vs. Pelicans, vs. Pistons)
The Bulls have made some major moves in the last six months and now boast a star-studded starting lineup and some solid depth in the second unit. That sort of endeavor usually takes some time to come together, so three forgiving matchups should be a nice opportunity for Chicago to put their collective best foot forward. The Pistons may or may not have No. 1 pick Cunningham available while the Pels will be without Zion Williamson. Expect the Bulls’ gifted offensive players to eat up while also using some easier matchups to work on the chemistry and sort out the pecking order.
Worst Schedule: Heat (vs. Bucks, @ Pacers)
Miami is another team that’s done a lot of work to remold the roster, and it’s hard to argue that they aren’t playoff-ready. Getting there shouldn’t be an issue but the first week will be a stiff test for the Heat. Firstly, they play fewer games than most of the other teams in the league. Second, they open up against the defending champs and then travel to face an underrated Pacers squad that’s got plenty of talent and finally has a coach to match. There are no pushovers this week — not that the Heat would want it any other way. You’re not going to be shying away from Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry or even Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, but don’t be surprised if Miami doesn’t light it up out of the gates.
The Wizards nearly took this spot with games against Indiana and in Toronto on opening night, when the Raptors are going to look like they’ve been shot out of a cannon in front of actual fans for the first time in two years.
Game of the Week: Suns @ Lakers – Friday, October 22, 10:00 PM EST
There’s great temptation to go with the two games on opening night, but seeing the Nets and Warriors enter at less than full strength takes some shine off. Instead let’s go with a first-round rematch from last year’s playoffs, when the upstart Suns were able to knock off the defending champs as they battled some major injuries of their own. Phoenix is out looking to show that they are legit and not a product of good luck in taking out injured squads on their way to a Finals appearance, while the Lakers should have a pretty big chip on their shoulder after a massive offseason overhaul. Never discount what a few months off can do for LeBron James — and Anthony Davis should be back too. They struggled in the preseason and will need a big adjustment period as they figure out the fit with Russell Westbrook, but there’s a lot to like about this matchup in the early going.
We’re going to use this space to identify a couple top-level pickups throughout the season, though the incomparable Adam King will be handling our weekly waiver column, Working the Wire. He’ll have you covered on in-depth pickup options every Sunday.
Patrick Williams, F, Chicago Bulls
Williams’ status for opening night was in doubt after a mid-September ankle sprain but he returned for the preseason finale and looks ready to go. He’ll be a key defensive player for the new-look Bulls and will get plenty of good looks by playing off Chicago’s gifted offensive players. Williams won’t be asked to explore the depths of his offensive skill set but can knock down open threes and cut to the cup, so the points he does get will come efficiently, on top of the rebounds, steals, blocks and threes that the sophomore will be picking up in the run of play.
Jordan Poole, G, Golden State Warriors
Poole was picked in most leagues after an outstanding preseason, but on the off chance he’s free in one of your leagues you should fix that immediately. He has run with the opportunity to fill in for Klay Thompson and should have at least two months of productivity. Poole’s a nice option for points and triples, with upside that you might not be able to find easily throughout the year.
Precious Achiuwa, F/C, Toronto Raptors
Achiuwa is another player who excelled in the preseason and may have earned himself a starting spot over incumbent Khem Birch. Birch missed most of the exhibition schedule with COVID-19, and despite his solid play last season, might have been leapfrogged by the youngster. Achiuwa is a shade undersized but is a competent ball-handler and can really run the floor. He’s the sort of versatile athlete that fits with the Raptors’ identity and he should have the latitude to play through the growing pains, with enough playmaking chops to offer some appeal as a potential multi-cat contributor.
Our Live Injury Report will be the destination for all of the league’s injuries, but we’re going to highlight the most prominent ones here so you can set your lineups as accurately as possible.
Zion Williamson is out indefinitely — at least two weeks — as he recovers from offseason foot surgery. We advocate for drafts to be held as close to opening night as possible to avoid last-minute injuries, but this is not that. The Pelicans have seemingly known for a bit that Zion wouldn’t be ready for opening night but apparently chose not to talk about it? Williamson is increasingly tough to take in the middle rounds for anyone who still has a draft coming, and those of you who already took him early are just hoping for the best.
Nerlens Noel (left knee soreness) is doubtful for Wednesday after missing the whole preseason. And to think, everyone was worried about Mitchell Robinson’s availability.
Bradley Beal (left knee soreness) was able to return to practice on Sunday and at this point we’d be surprised if he sat out on Wednesday.
Malcolm Brogdon (left shoulder sprain) says he’s playing on Wednesday, and hopefully he’s close to full strength.
Bobby Portis (left hamstring strain) will not play on Tuesday and could be out indefinitely with how little the Bucks are saying about his recovery.
Tobias Harris (right knee soreness) is expected to be ready for opening night but did miss a good chunk of the preseason.
The Hornets have a trio of players who were unable to participate in the back half of the preseason schedule: Terry Rozier (right ankle), Kelly Oubre (right ankle) and Gordon Hayward (health and safety protocols). Hayward will be ready to go while there hasn’t been much of an update on the other two, though neither seems too serious.
Jaylen Brown and Al Horford tested positive for COVID-19, though Brown has a chance of playing on Wednesday while Horford seems likely to miss at least the first game of the year.