November 5, 2023, 5:07 pm
The saying goes that the third time is the charm. If that’s true then we’re in for a great week of basketball and hopefully my best edition of The Week Ahead yet this season. Week Three of the NBA season is here and the cement is starting to dry with regards to who the winners and losers of the year may be. Here’s hoping that’s not you in any fantasy leagues. Even if it is you or your favorite pro team, there is still time to turn things around! Just ask the Clippers.
If the James Harden trade isn’t headline news in the basketball world then I don’t know what is. It only makes sense that he gets the first mention of the week and so too do his new Clippers teammates. What a lineup they’re putting together! That’s 27 All-NBA Team selections split between four players: Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook. There’s only two championship rings among that group and they both belong to Leonard, but does that matter to Harden? After all, he famously declared “I am a system” during his Clippers intro presser. Sounds like he wants all the touches he can handle.
From a fantasy perspective, I can’t tell you how things will shake out between that group of four alphas but it seems certain that Harden will have the ball in his hands at least as much as he did with the Sixers — if not more — and that means value! Nobody will tell Leonard no in this organization, so there’s no cause to worry about him losing those well-earned touches and production. George may be more expendable by trade than ever before but with the way he’s playing in the early season, there’s no cause to doubt him now. We know he can play off-ball and knock down shots from anywhere on the floor while locking up on defense. By elimination, readers must know by now who I expect to sacrifice. Westbrook may cede too many touches to retain true standard league value without factoring in punts, and it’s hard to imagine there being much streaming value from non-star Clippers if everyone is healthy. Best bet for the impact of the Harden trade is that everyone else sacrifices for the headline players to keep their preferred shot diet. Sorry Bones Hyland stans.
You’ve probably heard of the NBA Cup and In-Season Tournament by now. Games kicked off on Friday and it seemed like everybody was too preoccupied by the flashy floors or the tournament format to actually talk about the games. That’s all well and good but let’s not pass over some of the real news from that night. Desmond Bane did his very best to give the Grizzlies their first win of the season after nearly posting a 30-point triple-double with a whopping seven stocks. Unfortunately, even a Herculean effort doesn’t seem to be enough to lift this franchise right now. Speaking of Hercules, how about Chet Holmgren? In his first pro head-to-head with Steph Curry, the rookie went nearly shot-for-shot with the former MVP who he went viral playing against all those years ago. He was a true 9-cat wonder on Friday after posting average or better value in every category, but most notable were Holmgren’s 24 points on 7-of-9 shooting with two treys and two stocks. Speaking of notable, Damian Lillard broke out of a bit of a slump after torching the Bulls for 30 points and had some viral clips after the game where he more-or-less confirmed that he didn’t even know what he was playing for. At least the effort was there and that’s what counts. As he said: on to Vegas!
After the last week of games, we’re looking at a fantasy top-10 of some usual suspects and some surprises. Believe it or not, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic and Curry were the best of the best. Okay, you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. They were first round picks in redraft leagues for a reason, but what about some of these other guys? You could have waited a few rounds to select the likes of Dejounte Murray and Paul George. Add another round or so for Holmgren and Deandre Ayton. It’s a tall order to keep pace with players like Bane or Joel Embiid but they’re doing it. Some surprisingly solid two-way play from mid-round target Michael Porter Jr. rounds out this list of players that are seriously overdelivering value and putting up first round numbers lately. Congratulations to their managers! This could be a sell high moment if you’re rostering one of those surprise players.
There will be surprises throughout the NBA season but things rarely happen in a vacuum in the NBA. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of circumstance. Was a player injured? Is coach trying something new with the rotation? Are the aging vets on a long road trip going to be ready for that back-to-back? It’s important to factor these and many other questions into our analysis when projecting outcomes. It wouldn’t be reasonable for me to tell you that Dorian Finney-Smith is a fringe top-75 producer without first adding some disclaimers like Nic Claxton’s enduring injury or Jacque Vaughn’s newfound penchant for playing him as a small-ball center. As it stands, that is the case and typically-unimpressive players on tears like DFS or Gary Payton II have got to be rostered. On the flip side, there’s surprises in the form of breakout players like Shaedon Sharpe, who is leading the league in minutes while leading the Blazers to a split record that most wouldn’t have projected for them at this point. As a player with an ADP outside the top-100, it’s fair to say that most didn’t see so much coming so soon from Sharpe. However, young players who prove capable of handling increased playing time and adding extra production should retain the benefit of the doubt and space on anyone’s roster. Sharpe is putting up early-to-mid round value right now and that’s something to celebrate, as are the results of other young studs like Herb Jones, Jabari Smith Jr. and Jalen Johnson.
Last week, we looked at four options for Quick Adds among a range of other honorable mentions. That list featured Cole Anthony, Dereck Lively, Gordon Hayward and Isaac Okoro. Results were mixed but in general I am happy with 3-of-4 here. Frankly, I added Okoro in a lot of spots and he hasn’t stuck on many of those rosters since. That optimism I expressed last week is still there but I’m not holding on to a defense-first player for long if they’re not producing. Lively was the next-worst of the bunch but I’m still seeing more than initially expected out of him at this early stage of his career. Nearly eight boards with a block and steal per game is actually pretty good by any standard, even if the overall rankings have him outside the top-150 over the past week. It was smooth sailing for anyone who got their hands on Anthony or Hayward though. The former wasn’t particularly productive on offense but still offered enough value in points, treys, assists and steals to give you everything you could ask for from a guard streamer with out-of-position rebounds production to boot. The latter, Hayward, was an unqualified success for any that still had the chance to add him. I didn’t equivocate on my position last week and was firm that he was a must-add everywhere, but it still feels like I undersold him after posting top-50 results for another week. Ever the pessimist, I do think this may prove to be a sell-high moment for Hayward, but how many other players are providing universal 9-cat value this season? It’s a tough call.
It’s not so tough to tell you that I’m fading the Cavs, Blazers and Raptors in their respective upcoming two-game weeks. There’s no redeeming qualities to their schedules in Week Three and it’s time to abandon ship on any players from those teams near the bottom of your fantasy rosters. Things are relatively smooth elsewhere in the league. Nobody plays on Tuesday because of Election Day, so don’t let your calendar fool you this week: teams playing on Monday and Wednesday are effectively on a back-to-back. That’s about two thirds of the league, so it would be best to target those among that group that are most helpful in the later part of the week when the schedule is much lighter and there’s more weak days to exploit. We’ll touch on that a bit more later, but it suffices to say that a six-day week has concentrated a lot of streaming value in two days: Thursday and Saturday. Get in on the gold rush for those players as early as possible.
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