• The first week of the season always has a bunch of fantasy managers overreacting to small samples. While that might not be the best for long-term success, it’s understandable that we cling tightly to early returns. Everyone’s been cooped up without basketball for so long that that eagerness and enthusiasm gets the best of them, and honestly, sifting through the box scores and making quick decisions is just plain old fun.

    This week we’re going to take a look at some surprising names inside the top-25 for 9-cat. Again, our sample is only three games at most, so you could also term this an early look at sell-high players, but we’re not that cynical (yet). If you’re off to a terrific start, there’s a decent chance that someone here has played a part in it.

    Sitting at No. 2 in the rankings after a pair of games is CJ McCollum, thanks in large part to 31.0 points per game on .558 shooting with two steals and two blocks a night as well. Hopefully we get a repeat of last season, when McCollum was a top-10 guy for multiple weeks before an injury slowed him down — a repeat without the injury part. There’s a safe middle-round floor here but McCollum has shown a truly elite ceiling, and with the Blazers under tons of pressure to succeed perhaps we see that more often.

    Miles Bridges ate up when Gordon Hayward got hurt last season but he’s spent the first three games showing everyone that that was no fluke, turning in top-5 value to start the year. He’s been good enough to knock PJ Washington out of the starting lineup (and possibly out of fantasy relevance, too). His athleticism is off the charts and the Hornets are playing a fun brand of team ball that really leverages Bridges’ strengths. He won’t be this good all year and we’re betting that Washington will have something to say before it’s all said and done, but it’s been an incredible start.

    Shoutout to Al Horford, back in Boston, off the COVID list and into No. 14. A lot of that is because of 3.5 blocks per game, with a ton of those generated against a Raptors team that has trouble finishing at the rim, but fantasy GMs will take it. After he was disappeared by the Thunder last year it’s great to see that Horford hasn’t lost any steps.

    Last but certainly not least is rookie Evan Mobley, who is living up to his NBA draft slot so far. He’s got the perfect skills for a modern forward/center and has managed to thrive despite playing next to a player who can’t really do much beyond the paint. Mobley sits 22nd in the rankings as of now with elite defensive contributions in 1.3 steals and 2.3 blocks per contest. On top of that he’s got 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds on strong percentages, showing that his offensive game is going to be a bigger part of the equation than expected.

    Other surprise names in the top-50 include Will Barton, Ricky Rubio, Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams and Desmond Bane. While nobody here is this good, these early performances will lead to wins that count just the same in fantasy, and also serve as a reminder of what the ceilings are with each individual player. Fingers crossed we get more of the same next week. Unless you’re facing any of those guys, then let’s hope reality sets in. You can’t please everyone.

    Schedule Breakdown

    Two Games: Suns

    Three Games: Celtics, Bulls, Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Wolves, Knicks, Thunder, Sixers, Kings, Spurs

    Four Games: Everyone else.

    Just kidding – Hawks, Nets, Hornets, Cavs, Mavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Pacers, Lakers, Heat, Bucks, Pelicans, Magic, Blazers, Raptors, Jazz, Wizards.

    Back-to-Backs: Nuggets (Monday/Tuesday vs. Cavs, @ Jazz), Lakers (Tuesday/Wednesday @ Spurs, @ Thunder), Thunder (Tuesday/Wednesday vs. Warriors, vs. Lakers), Hawks (Wednesday/Thursday @ Pelicans, @ Wizards), Grizzlies (Wednesday/Thursday @ Blazers, @ Warriors), Wizards (Wednesday/Thursday @ Celtics, vs. Hawks), Mavs (Thursday/Friday vs. Spurs, @ Nuggets), Cavs (Friday/Saturday @ Lakers, @ Suns), Nuggets (Friday/Saturday vs. Mavs, @ Wolves), Pacers (Friday/Saturday @ Nets, vs. Raptors), Heat (Friday/Saturday vs. Hornets, @ Grizzlies), Pelicans (Friday/Saturday vs. Kings, vs. Knicks), Magic (Friday/Saturday @ Raptors, @ Pistons), Raptors (Friday/Saturday vs. Raptors, @ Pacers), Pistons (Saturday/Sunday vs. Magic, @ Nets), Bucks (Saturday/Sunday vs. Spurs, vs. Jazz), Jazz (Saturday/Sunday @ Bulls, @ Bucks)

    Best Schedule: Hawks (vs. Pistons, @ Pelicans, @ Wizards, @ Sixers)

    Three road games doesn’t often make for the best schedule but the Hawks are flying out of the gates. They draw a home date with the Cade-less Pistons to kick things off and then get some generous defensive matchups before a big playoff rematch with the Sixers. While that should be a stiff test, Atlanta’s going to bring tons of swagger into that one to show the world that last season was no fluke. Three tasty matchups and one that’ll bring out the best in a team is a fine looking schedule to us.

    Worst Schedule: Suns (vs. Kings, vs. Cavs)

    It’s hard to hate on the actual matchups but having only two games is going to put you in this spot almost automatically. Among the other teams, the Thunder have two games against the Warriors (one home, one away) and another with the Lakers. Between the tough matchups, likelihood of big losses and the overall unsettled nature of the rotation, there’s not a ton to get excited about.

    Game of the Week: Utah Jazz @ Milwaukee Bucks – Sunday, October 31, 7:00 pm EST

    The reigning champs host the team that finished last season with the best record in the regular season before backcourt injuries sabotaged their playoff odds. The only caveat here is that the Bucks are dealing with injuries to two starters, but if they’re healthy this is shaping up to be a fantastic matchup and perhaps even a Finals preview if both teams are dealt good fortune throughout the campaign.

    Quick Adds

    If you want a deeper dive on the pickups of the week, you’ll want to hit up Adam King and Working the Wire, which drops every Sunday. Here we’re just going to highlight some easy calls to get you set for the week.

    Eric Bledsoe, G, LA Clippers

    Bledsoe looks like the previous version of himself who was a top-60 lock a few years ago. Things have changed since then — mostly a few years passing — but Bledsoe has a starting spot and plenty of minutes heading his way. We wouldn’t expect him to be as dynamic a scorer as he was last week, but if he’s getting at least a steal per game he’s going to be worth a roster spot in all fantasy leagues.

    De’Anthony Melton, G, Memphis Grizzlies

    Melton turning minutes into excellent fantasy numbers is no surprise, but it’s still nice to see. The Grizzlies are finally letting him loose and Melton responded with top-40 production in the first week of the year. He was likely drafted in all competitive leagues but it never hurts to check, and if your leaguemates are asleep at the wheel then he may still be free for the taking.

    Will Barton, G/F, Denver Nuggets

    Injuries have seemed to always find a way to keep Barton down, at least in recent seasons, and this year didn’t look to be any different as he missed most of the preseason with an ankle issue. He was able to return for the last pair of exhibition games, however, and looks as healthy as he’s even been. Will The Thrill averaged 16.0 – 6.5 – 5.5 in Denver’s first two games and is secure as the team’s starting SG. The Nuggets are probably treading water (in a true title-hopeful sense) until Jamal Murray gets healthy but in the meantime they need someone to score from the perimeter. Barton’s that guy.

    Injury Report

    Terry Rozier returned from a left ankle sprain last week, only to suffer a right ankle sprain. He’s day-to-day, hopefully.

    The Bucks are feeling the pain with Brook Lopez (back) missing three games minimum already, while Jrue Holiday (right ankle sprain) pulled a Rozier — out, in and injured again.

    Joel Embiid played through some right knee soreness while Andre Drummond is dealing with a right ankle sprain.

    Kyle Lowry played through a left ankle sprain in the opener before sitting out Miami’s second contest. He’s currently questionable for Monday.

    Jaylen Brown sat out Sunday with left knee tendinopathy but might be back for Monday.

    Norman Powell looked to dodge a serious injury after leaving Saturday’s game early, but he’s been diagnosed with left knee tendinopathy.

    Cade Cunningham (right ankle sprain) may be able to make his debut at the end of the week, though the Pistons aren’t going to give you any heads up on that one.

    Nerlens Noel (left knee) is supposedly on the right track, but he has yet to rise above “doubtful.”

    Bradley Beal (right hip contusion) is day-to-day but trending towards a Monday return after sitting out the home opener.

    Darius Garland (left ankle sprain) missed Cleveland’s back-to-back last week but has a chance to return for their four-game week.

    Check out our live injury report for the most up-to-date injury coverage of the entire league, not just the big names.

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