October 21, 2023, 10:55 am
It’s hard to believe the NBA season is almost upon us! As the hype at the beginning of the season arrives, it’s difficult for us dynasty folks to not get suckered in. I myself struggle to not blindly follow the hype and acquire every player performing well and trade away every underperforming player. So I went ahead and put together some of my opening week tenets on how I evaluate the early season results. For each tenet, I’ve listed some examples showing how I use them to inform my decisions going forward.
Watch the Games & Use the Eye Test
Of course, it’s nearly impossible to watch every game. There’s just not enough time to do that. But what I do advocate is watching teams that had significant changes in the offseason to see what changes they have incorporated. These can be coaching and scheme-related, skill-related, or health-related.
Box scores can tell you if a big got a double-double. But can they tell you how he defended at the rim? Was he physically attacking the glass, or did rebounds just fall to him? A guard recorded six assists. Was he passing players open and finding the space between the defenders, or did he just make simple reads and other players did the work for the assist? A wing stacked four steals. Was the player actively jumping passing lanes or pestering ball handlers in isolation? Or did wayward passes just find him? These are all things the eye test can tell you that box scores (or even some advanced stats) cannot, and usually these are the things that affect playtime as well for rotation players.
Box scores would tell you James Wiseman and Marvin Bagley II can put up points, boards, and the occasional defensive stat down the stretch last season. Watching the games I can tell you both are subpar rim protectors who clog up the offense with poor basketball decisions. Consequently, it appears both are fighting for the backup center spot in Detroit and are not that interesting of dynasty players to me. What other players and teams am I watching closely this year? I’ll have an article on that in the near future!
Identify Role & Usage Changes
Preseason games can give a glimpse of role changes, but regular season games are where the results actually begin mattering. It may be simple, but getting minutes matters! Fun fact – if you don’t get minutes, you can’t put up stats. I know I know, some real hard-hitting stuff here. But along with the minutes, a greater role and usage on a team can inform us of many things.
It can indicate the coaching staff believes the player has the ability to perform in an expanded role. A perfect example of this is Jalen Johnson of the Hawks. Quin Synder has already adjusted how he is using Johnson as more of a play driver, as shown in the clip below.
Unlike most 5-outs, which put the center top of key, Capela/Okongwu were often in the weakside slot last night, letting Atlanta run some pretty cool actions
This is essentially Pistol Keep, but puts Jalen Johnson's playmaking skills in a much more dangerous spot on the floor pic.twitter.com/6fqPubGq7D
— Bowser2Bowser (@bowser2bowser) October 11, 2023
Identifying how coaches are changing their schemes and rotations to suit players can lead us to target fantasy breakouts before they happen.
Coby White looks primed to be in the starting line-up for the Bulls early on, based on preseason performances and rotations. While I am uncertain if White can get enough usage with some of the other players there, the fact that White is given this role this early shows a level of trust that I did not think was there previously. In some of my Bulls’ preseason watches, White has flashed more lead guard skills than previously with an increased level of patience and passing vision. These sorts of observations may lead me to target Coby White in my dynasty leagues if I continue to see an upside that others may not realize just yet. As with White, we need to pay attention to what coaches are telling us, either via the media or via their line-up choices, to help inform us of who could be those breakout dynasty players.
Panic over Rookies
Rookies are rarely positive players in their first season, whether it be for fantasy or on the court.
In redraft, it’s okay to cut bait on them early if it’s clear they are not producing. However, in dynasty, we need to have a longer-term view. Remember why you drafted or acquired the player in the first place – has anything drastically changed that would make you question those initial decisions? Do they look less athletic, less able to deal with NBA athletes? Most likely, these rookies are still developing physically. Do they look flustered, not used to the pace of the NBA? Typically, these players are not used to the speed of the NBA. Is the rookie on my roster not starting? Unless they are a top draft pick or on a tanking team, they are frankly not good enough to be starting yet.
Looking back at last year’s draft class…Jabari Smith Jr. started last season very slowly but did slightly improve as the season progressed. Walker Kessler, Jalen Duren and Mark Williams all saw their roles expand and become decent fantasy contributors by the end of the year (with variable levels). Jalen Williams quickly forced his way into the starting line-up and became a fantasy darling. Shaedon Sharpe showed out during silly season and demonstrated why the Blazers took him 7th. That’s not to mention players who we are expecting to see a larger fantasy game this season like Peyton Watson, Nikola Jovic, and Christian Braun.
So which players would I stress to be patient with this year? Taylor Hendricks comes to mind. I love his fantasy profile with the threes and blocks, but he is only 19 and is in a crowded front-court. Jarace Walker has some early competition at the 4 position. Derek Lively II may not be physically ready yet to play big minutes. Those are the major ones for me, but of course, numerous rookies throughout the draft will face similar issues. The above names are all I rate highly in dynasty but will need some time to flourish.
Overreact to Hot Streaks & Cold Spells
It’s always better when players hit their shots rather than missing them. But it’s important to remember that one month of a season is not a large sample at all. First impressions stick in our minds rather vividly, and we tend to hold onto those impressions for quite a long time.
Remember how hot Bennedict Mathurin started last season? Until the end of November, Mathurin scored 19.2 points per game on 43.4% from the field. He was especially lethal from deep with 40.3% on 5.7 attempts per game and at the line with 81.4% on 6.1 free throw attempts per game. However, the rest of the year Mathurin’s deep ball stunk with only 27.2% from deep on 3.4 attempts per game. The foul drawing stayed consistent (and is VERY encouraging for his scoring numbers), but his overall numbers don’t paint as dominant a shooter as the first few weeks would have you believe.
Zach LaVine was coming off knee issues and started the season slowly, only shooting 40.7% from the field en route to a relatively inefficient 20.9 points per game through the end of November. Managers started panicking and worrying that their once-reliable scoring option was now a drain on their FG%. Want to know how he did the rest of the season? From December onward, LaVine shot an effective 50.6% from the field as his finishing game improved, raising his scoring to 26.0 points per game. That’s more like it!
The early weeks and first impressions can stay ingrained in our minds and stick with us, even if players perform differently later. Unless there is something dramatic to suggest change, we as dynasty managers need to exhibit patience. All players go through slumps and streaks – it happens. Just because a player averages 50% from the field doesn’t mean they shot 50% every game. If you don’t believe me, just look at the free throw lines by Giannis Antetokounmpo or Luka Doncic. There will be some weekly or even monthly variance in players’ performances, but over the long run, they should even out.