December 5, 2020, 7:46 pm
Welcome back, HoopBallers, to our International Spotlight weekly feature as we are getting closer to the start of a season that is going to be totally unpredictable at best given the uncertain circumstances that the pandemic has created all over the world. Training camps are underway, the preseason is about a week away and fantasy draft season in also inevitably in full swing, so it’s that time of the year where we touch on a few items that need your attention while deep-diving into the current ADP of some international guys and the approach you should take with them.
The first part of the article is adjusted to H2H leagues while the player projections can be also applied when drafting in Roto leagues; and to be honest with you, with so many details up in the air it’s not really a bad idea to switch into a Roto league this year… Anyway, here’s everything you need to keep in mind when drafting this year.
The Scheduling Issue
The NBA schedule has been a point of interest for fantasy managers in recent years since it accidentally created some calculated competitive advantages for the fantasy playoffs. Yes, Karl Anthony-Towns was a consensus top-5 pick in recent years but the fact that his fantasy schedule translated to only two games in the first week of the playoffs or to a 3-2-4 format for the entire duration of them forced some managers to think twice about their first-round pick. Enter 2020 and go ahead and scratch that part from your fantasy draft preparation list.
The schedule will be different in quite a few ways, as, there will be only 72 games, down from the typical 82, teams are expected to play in what can be described as “baseball-style” series against opponents, with two consecutive games in the same city against the same team, and most importantly, rather than releasing the entire schedule all at once, the NBA is going to release it in halves. The first half was released this past Friday, and the second part will be released after approximately 30 games have been played, in order for the NBA to possess some flexibility and to adjust to possible postponements due to COVID-19 issues.
The NBA is estimating that each team will play approximately 14 back-to-backs over the course of the 72-game season, which would be a fairly significant increase from last season when the Celtics, for example, had been scheduled to play 12 games of their 82 games on zero days rest. That’s right, just like you thought, load management ain’t going away anytime soon…
The Formatting Issue
Which brings us to the formatting issue of your fantasy basketball leagues. The NBA circulated a 134-page guide to health and safety protocols last week, but there are still many outstanding concerns to be addressed and, as expected, out of 546 NBA players recently screened for coronavirus, 48 of them tested positive. Any time a player tests positive he must sit out for 10 days from when first testing positive and he will have to go through a series of steps before being able to play again. Basically, managers can expect that if a player tests positive, he will be unable to play for at least two weeks, and if he actually shows symptoms, that time frame could easily grow longer.
Sure, I absolutely trust the NBA to handle such a sensitive matter way better than the way NFL has done so far but the fact that games will be played outside a closed bubble and with so many parameters outside of the realm of control, what do you do if you are a commissioner of a fantasy league?
Recent discussions in the fantasy community revealed to me that there are pretty much only a couple options, other than the fact that Yahoo and Fantrax will allow for the injury designation to include players tested for COVID-19. Option A would be to reduce the number of active players, say from 10 to 7, and option B would be to increase the number of roster spots, say from 13 to 17. Both options will give managers more options on a nightly basis, especially since league settings and the last-minute uncertainty of many games might reduce the possibility of replacing players. Plan for the best but please prepare for the worst since it’s almost certain that players will be missing games and games might even be postponed as NBA rosters are very limited compared to the massive number of players on NFL teams. Plus, games are scheduled on a daily and not on a weekly basis.
What Happens With Rookies?
Both domestic and international rookies did not have the chance to play in summer leagues and they will be arriving to training camps with little exposure to the style of NBA basketball so expectations should be lowered. Contrary to previous years, I really can’t see many NBA teams rushing to play their rookies once the season starts and I’m highly skeptical of their ability to become relevant in standard leagues except for a couple select prospects. On the other hand, the possibility of the pandemic decimating NBA rosters at some point during the season is also in play and teams could be forced to call up their rookies and force them into games even if they aren’t really ready for the physicality and the speed of NBA basketball.
I am therefore actively staying away from drafting any rookies this year and I encourage you to do the same unless we are talking about deep leagues. Anthony Edwards (current Yahoo ADP: 95), LaMelo Ball (current Yahoo ADP: 96) and Obi Toppin (current Yahoo ADP: 100) are all currently going within the top-100, which is really not the best way to build a winning fantasy team. We all have that guy(s) in our leagues that just loves to draft rookies way ahead their ADP every year, so let them have a feast this year!
And here are some deep-league options that I really like, based on the track record of the teams that drafted them and their NBA-readiness.
Second round pick Jordan Nwora and undrafted PF Mamadi Diakite were a couple really solid additions by the Bucks as they can instantly help Milwaukee on both sides of the floor. Nwora is coming out of four years at Louisville and made a case for himself as the NCAA’s National Player of the Year after becoming the ACC’s Most Improved Player in 2019. He is a versatile scorer from inside and out and a big wing who crashes the boards. Diakite, already 23, is an athletic big man with an impressive wingspan, an explosive leaper and a rim protector who has great defensive instincts around the basket. He is an energy and hustle guy who I believe could find a role for a Bucks squad that lacked energy last year.
Nico Mannion is a quick, smart, electrifying point guard and one of my favorite prospects in this year’s class, who has shown great decision making and the ability to knock down the 3-point shot and manage pick-and-roll situations. His size is the main issue as I believe he will have a hard time playing against NBA talent but he works angles, he has a very nice floater and it’s absolutely certain that he will only get better under the guidance of Steph Curry and Steve Kerr.
Make no mistake about it, this year is close to the perfect best-case scenario for NBA teams who simply want to tank as expectations are pretty low, due to the pandemic uncertainty. The Pistons, Knicks and Thunder have not been shy about it and you should be following their rosters as closely as possible since it’s certain that there will be plenty of opportunities on the fantasy front. All three teams are likely to be looking for more trades and potential buyouts in the near future in their quest to accumulate more assets and players who are not on the fantasy radar right now will absolutely emerge throughout the season.
Here’s what Dwane Casey had to say about rookie guard Killian Hayes: “I think he can play big minutes. Some of the goal this year is to force feed the young players while competing.” Svi Mykhailiuk and Dzanan Musa, along with Vincent Poirier, Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski, should all be on your watch lists.
Actually, Al Horford and rookie Theo Maledon, who were acquired on draft night trades, will not be able to report to the Thunder’s training camp until December 8th at the earliest as Oklahoma City’s starting lineup will be one of the toughest to predict.
It’s not out of the question that injuries or trades affect the tanking future of other franchises as well (Rockets maybe?) so just make sure to leave at least one roster spot open on your roster for guys that could become dark horses in the upcoming season.
ADP Opportunity Window
Aron Baynes, C, Toronto Raptors
Last year’s per game rank: 189
Yahoo ORank: 299
Current Yahoo ADP: N/A
The departure of both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka left a big hole in the middle for the Raptors but Masai Ujiri was clearly prepared for this scenario and he was able to fill in the void with one of the best available centers on the open market. Baynes delivered 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.7 triples on .490 shooting from the field and .738 shooting from the line as a starter in Phoenix last year and he is someone I’m targeting in the mid to late rounds as it’s likely that he surpasses his ADP by a lot for as long as he’s healthy.
Alex Len, C, Toronto Raptors
Last year’s per game rank: 213
Yahoo ORank: 210
Current Yahoo ADP: N/A
Len is also another interesting possibility as his game is fantasy-friendly and Baynes, even though one of the toughest guys in the NBA, has been hampered by plenty of injuries during his NBA career. Len posted 8.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.4 3-pointers on .546 shooting in nine starts with the Hawks last year and his limitations put a ceiling to his value but he landed in a situation where he might have a chance to play more.
Chris Boucher, PF, Toronto Raptors
Last year’s per game rank: 214
Yahoo ORank: 287
Current Yahoo ADP: 120
Out of all the bigs in Toronto, Boucher is riding the hype train the most, as evidenced by his current ADP at 120. He is likely to get a chance at more minutes and I have written about his intriguing stat-set that attracts plenty of attention in fantasy basketball but I’m less confident on his ability to surpass the 15 minutes per night mark he gave to the Raptors last year. He remains a specialist at this point and it’s unlikely that Nick Nurse trusts him on the defensive side of the ball.
Top Breakout Candidates
Davis Bertans, F, Washington Wizards
Last year’s per game rank: 60
Yahoo ORank: 89
Current ADP: 110
I have been very high on Bertans since last year once he got traded to the Wizards and Scott Brooks unleashed his offensive game, giving him the green light to shoot 8.7 (!) triples per game. He responded by averaging career highs in points (15.4), rebounds (4.5), triples (3.7), steals (0.7) and blocks (0.6), while the arrival of Russell Westbrook will only help as teams will have a hard time staying with Bradley Beal and Bertans while Russ attacks the rim. I believe Bertans will scratch top-50 value this year and I can’t wait to watch the Wizards terrorize their opponents with a dynamic offense.
Dennis Schroder, G, Los Angeles Lakers
Last year’s per game rank: 115
Yahoo ORank: 96
Current Yahoo ADP: 129
Schroder’s game always had some major flaws limiting his fantasy value but I’m very excited to see him playing next to AD and LeBron and he could very well emerge as another breakout candidate, especially if he’s able to secure the starting job. Regardless, 30 minutes per game are in play and as long as his percentages don’t suffer, he is scratching the surface of top-100 value. His current ADP is reasonable but if you want to make a leap of faith don’t hesitate to draft him earlier.
Juan Hernangomez, F, Minnesota Wolves
Last year’s per game rank: Top-125 in 11 starts with the Wolves
Yahoo ORank: 338
Current Yahoo ADP: N/A
The Wolves decided to bring back both Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez, especially after what they saw from them last year. I’m unsure whether Juancho is the long term answer next to KAT, but he did average 12.4 points, 7.6 boards, 1.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.1 threes in 11 starts last year, and I don’t see much competition for him at the power forward position. Hernangomez has been a percentage killer and is not known for producing defensive stats but someone has to play defense in Minnesota and he is gonna get a lot of open shots so I believe he is also poised for a breakout year.
Kristaps Porzingis, F/C, Dallas Mavs
Last year’s per game rank: 15
Yahoo ORank: 42
Current Yahoo ADP: 37
The Mavs added James Jonson and re-signed Willie Cauley-Stein during the offseason while they are getting back Dwight Powell from an Achilles injury to add to Maxi Kleber and Boban Marjanovic. KP is expected to be back at some point in January but the Mavs will be extremely cautious with him, making him another option that I’m staying away from in fantasy drafts this year. His current ADP is at 37, which is totally ridiculous and again, I am only looking to draft him as a stash option at the very end of my bench and definitely not in the first few rounds in my redraft leagues.
Goran Dragic, G, Miami Heat
Last year’s per game rank: 173
Yahoo ORank: 120
Current Yahoo ADP: 129
Dragic had a sensational bubble in Orlando before his body betrayed him but this should have been expected as he has a long history injury and the Heat asked him to play major minutes during the playoffs. The good news is that Dragic is healthy and that the Heat will likely continue to bring him off the bench for the upcoming regular season in order to have him ready for the playoffs. You should expect plenty of rest days and his production should go down so I’m not seeing a reason to draft him even in the later rounds.
Danilo Gallinari, F, Atlanta Hawks
Last year’s per game rank: 64
Yahoo ORank: 71
Current Yahoo ADP: 52
The Hawks decided to make a splash this offseason and Gallo was one of their top targets, successfully landing him on a 3-year sign-and-trade deal with the Thunder. The presence of John Collins created some questions regarding the basketball situation as it was unlikely for Atlanta to start Gallinari, Collins and Clint Capela all together. Travis Schlenk quickly cleared the air up saying that Gallo will be coming off the bench, something that clearly puts the brakes on any consideration for him in the middle rounds of drafts. He is still getting drafted in the top-50, which is mind boggling given the injury history as well, and even though he is expected to get 25-30 minutes I will be lowering my expectations.
Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Last year’s per game rank: 79
Yahoo ORank: 61
Current Yahoo ADP: 85
It’s too early to tell what the Wolves decide to do with their starting lineup this year but Gersson Rosas thought the team needed more ball handlers and he didn’t hesitate to bring back Ricky Rubio, even though the team is heavily invested in D’Angelo Russell. I can definitely see Ryan Saunders going with two-guard lineups for stretches during games but the defensive liabilities this causes might limit this opportunity and managers should consider Rubio only a specialist coming off the bench. The Spaniard is getting drafted in the middle rounds, which I think is too risky. I would advise you to go with a more certain option at that point in the draft until we get more clarity about this situation.
Daniel Theis, PF/C, Boston Celtics
Last year’s per game rank: 79
Yahoo ORank: 116
Current Yahoo ADP: 134
Theis had a career year and was equally impressive during the bubble and the playoffs in Orlando but I’ve been cautioning managers about the fact that he was never the long-term answer for the Celtics at the center position. Boston went out and signed Tristan Thompson while Robert Williams will continue to push for minutes, likely making a timeshare in the middle. The German big is slipping in drafts this year and it’s unlikely that he returns to the top-80 value he posted last year.
Cedi Osman, F, Cleveland Cavs
Last year’s per game rank: 200
Yahoo ORank: 188
Current Yahoo ADP: N/A
Time has been running out for Cedi for quite some time now and the draft selection of Isaac Okoro means that the Turkish forward will be losing his minutes and his starting role soon. The Cavs find themselves in a pretty weird situation as they want to compete but they lack the necessary talent to do so and I can’t see a path to Cedi improving his position in Cleveland unless injuries and/or trades make him the only available option.
Nemanja Bjelica, F, Sacramento Kings
Last year’s per game rank: 72
Yahoo ORank: 261
Current Yahoo ADP: 131
Bjelica capitalized on the injuries of Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley last year, returning top-75 value in a career year, even though his defensive struggles were more than obvious and the team lacked defensive intensity. The regime change in Sacramento and the return of Holmes and Bagley means that it’s highly unlikely we see Bjelica maintain the same role while it’s not out of question that he also gets traded, with new GM Monte McNair clearly showing that he wants to put his stamp on this roster.
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Stats are courtesy of NBA.com, Yahoo.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of December 5th.