August 25, 2020, 4:42 pm
Fantasy basketball is all but over for another season but nobody tells us what to do. In the debut edition of ‘Nights at the Roundtable’, I am joined by Hoop-Ball’s elite to give our thoughts on a handful of players sure to evoke discussion come draft season. Of course, this is about as early as it gets when beginning to dive into our predictions. Although, if there is fantasy chatter to be had, who’s to say whether it’s too early or not? On that note, let’s delve into the minds of some of the craziest fantasy gurus around.
Jusuf Nurkic – Portland Trail Blazers
Aaron Bruski – It’s a little too early for tight ranges on this sort of thing but he’s going to be a pretty hot commodity in drafts I’d think. There’s injury risk here and his legs probably go the following season, but next year he’s going to be a top-50 pick and from there it’s all about how much upside one wants to assign to him. He has my interest in that range and that’s all I can say right now.
Dan Besbris – I’m genuinely concerned he might be the most overdrafted player for the 2021 NBA fantasy season. Nurk has looked amazing in the bubble but seemed to be playing with a special kind of adrenaline. Nurkic was the #37 9-cat player before he injured his leg in 2019, and I’m inclined to think that’s the direction his numbers will trend again next season. How does he climb higher than that? More scoring and a few threes without hurting his FG%. The 20/20 stuff we’re seeing in these short bursts just isn’t sustainable for a season. I’m looking at Nurk as a top-35 value in 9-cat.
Mike Passador – The return of Nurkic completely transformed the Blazers, taking them from a lottery team to the feisty squad that finished third in the West in 2018-19. It’s striking how impactful he is, and how his ability to make reads and pass out of the roll lifts Portland to a potentially elite level, to say nothing of his savvy team defense and rim protection. Unfortunately, we also saw in the playoffs that Nurkic doing all of those things means he needs to play a ton, and he was notably gassed at the end of games. The Blazers should not have to battle nearly as hard next year, and they will be able to take the long-term in mind. Nurkic’s playing time should come down from the 31.6 mpg he got in the bubble, and his free throw percentage was way above normal in that small sample. His block rate was a bit elevated too. I’m fine with Nurk in round four or five, but selfishly I’d prefer him to be my second center on a big-based team than the top guy. There will be a lot of people buying high next year.
Erik Ong – I’m sold. Nurkic’s performances in the seeding games post-hiatus and his production in the playoffs put him atop of NBA second tier of elite big men. I’m going to try to snag him somewhere just outside the top-30, if possible, expecting he’ll be able to flirt with top-25 value on a nightly basis. This, of course, comes with the caveat that the Blazers move on from Hassan Whiteside in some way or another. Nurkic has shown in the past that he’s not good at sharing the paint with another frontcourt-dominant big man, so he’ll need to be the team’s focal point moving forward if he’s going to hit the value range I’m going to be bullish about.
Steve Vidovich – Nurkić defied logic when he returned to the court in the Orlando bubble and looked even better than he did prior to his leg injury. Hassan Whiteside will be off the books and if the Blazers do re-sign him, it will be for a much lower figure than he earned in 2019-20 ($27.1M). With little (if any) competition behind him, Nurkić is looking at a season where he sees roughly 30 mpg and should be taken early in drafts.
Strengths: Job Security, RBS, BLKS Weaknesses: 3PM
Prediction: 2nd/3rd round per game value
Josh Millman – I found this somewhat interesting: Hassan Whiteside in 61 Pre-Bubble regular-season games: 3.6 Cash-Counters per game. Jusuf Nurkic in 8 Bubble resumption games: 3.7 Cash-Counters per game. I realize I shouldn’t look too much into an 8-game sample just as much as I shouldn’t look into his beating at the hands of Anthony Davis. And I fully realize Nurk won’t shoot in the high 80s from the stripe over a full season. Then again, I also realize that the Beast was 36th in total value even after his season ended prematurely on just 27 mpg. All I know is that if I’m looking at the center-eligible gauntlet of Vucevic, Ayton, Collins, Gobert, and Drummond in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, you’re going to have a hard time convincing me he doesn’t belong in that group.
Adam King – During his time in Orlando, Nurk has looked incredible for the Blazers. There was no ramp-up as we had expected and he was able to pick up right where he left off prior to the injury. However, for as good as he has been, he is still barely a second-round player in 9-category formats. Throw in those players who weren’t even in Orlando, such as Curry, Durant, Towns, Irving and Young to name just a few, and Nurk moves down to be a third-round guy at best. I would have him as a late-third / early-fourth kind of option, although I doubt he is falling that far at this point.
Michael Porter Jr. – Denver Nuggets
Aaron Bruski – Folks will pay the upside tax here and that’s always the question with these situations — is the juice worth the squeeze. He certainly has the talent to justify the question and he’s probably good enough to stay on the floor despite his defensive shortcomings. He could easily improve on that side and be less of a pedestrian on that side for fantasy purposes. Assuming he gets named a starter early in draft season he also probably gets top-50 buzz and I’ll be interested, but where he stacks up after all the analysis is still an open question for me.
Dan Besbris – Okay, maybe HE will be the most overdrafted player next year. At least we have a track record with Nurkic to keep that floor ultra-high. I like Porter Jr., and with Paul Millsap likely gone from Denver (and Will Barton and Gary Harris on the trade block), there’s a way to open up a pretty consistent ~25mpg for MPJ next season. He’s a clear top-75 in that playing time given his delicious stat set. But a lack of defensive awareness is probably going to keep him from hitting that 30-minute mark, where we’d need him to be to get a look at the top-50 marks folks will be hoping for. I’m eyeballing MPJ as a high-upside play, but one you’d likely have to draft before 50 to actually roster. More than likely, I’m headed more toward the 60-70 range myself, and I’ll never see him get that far.
Mike Passador – Porter obviously has tremendous offensive skills and the Nuggets have both Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant headed for free agency, but there should be some skepticism that they’re going to clear the deck for MPJ to run wild. The playoffs showed that Porter is a complete and total waste of space on the defensive end, which is going to be a priority for the Nuggets given the way they performed against Utah. There’s definitely room for him to improve enough where he isn’t a liability, but Porter might have a tighter cap on his ceiling than people might realize if he can’t rise to merely below-average on one end of the floor. I think somewhere around round eight is the tip of my comfort level, which probably means he won’t be on any of my teams.
Erik Ong – Sadly, MPJ is going to get overdrafted this coming season thanks to the freakishly gaudy performance he put up in the seeding games in Orlando. That said, most people will have forgotten that the Nuggets were without Will Barton and Gary Harris for the duration of those eight games and Jamal Murray for a small portion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on the side of the fence that believes he’s going to be one of the league’s top scorers at some point in his career. I just don’t think that he’s ready to make the jump that the rest of the bandwagon expects him to make. I’d take him somewhere in the top-80 to 90 range, which is probably out of his ADP range considering all the hype he’s managed to amass.
Steve Vidovich – Porter Jr. has shown the ability to score and rebound the ball well for his position but there are some concerns with him heading into next season. The first concern is that he has a name that will likely carry some clout among the casual fantasy player which will drive up his ADP. I don’t believe I will have MPJ fall to me in most drafts due to this alone. In addition, his role is uncertain with starting wing players, Will Barton and Gary Harris, under contract for a combined $33M next season.
Strengths: PTS, 3PM, RBS, FG% Weaknesses: Job Security, ASTS, BLKS, STLS, Inexperience
Prediction: 8th/9th round per game value
Josh Millman – Forget the scoring and rebounding outbursts, it’s the averaging of nearly two stocks per game in the bubble that’s easily been the biggest surprise although I probably shouldn’t be because he averaged 2.7 stocks during his mini-breakout when the Nuggets were banged up in January. And that was a stretch when he averaged just under 23 mpg. I can’t imagine Paul Millsap returning and the four should be all his once Millsap and the Nuggets make that official. I’m fully prepared to have to invest a top-50 pick in MPJ and fairly certain the offseason hype machine may make that estimated pick range very conservative.
Adam King – MPJ has certainly made the most of his opportunities with the Nuggets down on troops. His time in the bubble began with a flurry, putting up top-10 numbers over the first handful of games. Since that point, he has slowed on both ends of the floor and over the last two weeks, he has fallen outside the top-100. Given these are both very small sample-sizes and the talent levels of the opposing teams have varied quite dramatically, how much do we read into these numbers? The talent is obviously there for Porter and the starting job is there to be taken. The Nuggets are arguably the deepest team in the NBA and so a couple of player moves could certainly be on the cards. Should he emerge as the starting power forward, I would be comfortable grabbing him in the 60’s but I don’t expect him to be available at that point.
Zion Williamson – New Orleans Pelicans
Aaron Bruski – Zion was such a bust last season and not because of the injury, but because of a brutal stat set and no real interest in playing the defensive side of the floor. He had no tenacity and no instinct to use all those gifts in a meaningful way on that side of the floor, which sucks because you want to see somebody blessed that way get after it and wreak some havoc. The name value is so high here that I’m not sure he’ll come at any discount and at the same time, we’ll want to watch and see if he can get in shape during the break. If he does and commits to that end of the floor, then there is potential for a post-hype season, obviously.
Dan Besbris – He might actually be a bit underdrafted after disappointing before and during the bubble. He still has transcendent ability, but will he stay healthy? I’d consider Zion around pick 50. I’m guessing he doesn’t make it that far, but everyone knows how cautious I prefer to play the first 3-4 rounds. Zion does not qualify as a cautious play, even though he falls a bit.
Mike Passador – This is a cop-out but I’m already chalking Zion as a player who won’t be on many, if any, of my teams. I know where I’m comfortable and it’s going to be way behind the market. He was a late-round guy last year despite 27.5 mpg (including the bubble games), and that’s with him scoring 22.5 points on .583 from the floor. The lack of other stats — which Zion could absolutely fix as soon as next season — just has me too skittish. 0.7 steals, 0.4 blocks and 0.3 triples per game is borderline inexcusable, and the overall package crosses that line when you factor in his ugly free-throw shooting. Perhaps a clean bill of health lets Zion enter the season in rhythm, and he’s able to round out his game without playing through minute restrictions. I just won’t be paying the price it’ll take to find that out.
Erik Ong – Gee, Zion’s a tough one. I’ll admit that I’m on the wagon of guys enamored by his freakish athleticism for a guy his size (and weight) and the tantalizing upside that he carries. That said, both his injury history and his weight are issues that hinder me from being completely bullish on him in his sophomore year in the league – which mind you, should have a caveat, considering how few his games played were (19) pre-hiatus. To be fair, I don’t think we’ve seen enough NBA tape on him and his games played are not portraying the right picture of what his high-end stat set could look like thanks to the lower than average sample size of games played. When it comes to Zion, I’m taking a cautious yet optimistic approach with him preferring to draft him outside the top-30, closer to the top-50, if he somehow falls that far, which might not be likely considering the hype. If I miss out on him in 2020-21, I won’t be too sore, because his less than ideal free throw shooting percentage will remain a thorn in his side.
Steve Vidovich – This is a tricky situation here between injuries and name recognition (hype). Williamson’s name recognition is even greater than that of MPJ so that needs to be taken into account when going over your “way too early” draft board. The phenom is also coming off a season in which we saw him play in just 24 out of a possible 72 games. We can expect the Pelicans to take the bubble wrap off in his sophomore season but I do believe that Zion will be far higher on other people’s draft boards than where I have him.
Strengths: Job Security, FG%, PTS, RBS Weaknesses: FT%, TOS, Inexperience
Prediction: 4th/5th round per game value (3rd round if punting FT%)
Josh Millman – Going to go out on a limb and say that Zion will be drafted much higher than his barely over top-200 ranking on the year would suggest. But even if I were to dismiss the severe drop off in defense due to a combination of no real preseason, knee injury, poor conditioning with the restart, and Alvin Gentry, it’s equally worrying that he attempted 10 less 3s in the pros than he made at Duke. My guess is that he gets picked around the same area he did last year which was late-2nd to mid-3rd round which makes sense but I tend to avoid punting as a rule of thumb so he’s probably not going to end up on my teams.
Adam King – Zion presents as perhaps the most polarizing player in the league. Injury aside, this season has to be viewed as a disappointment and so there is absolutely a bounce-back on the cards. The defensive prowess he demonstrated in college was non-existent during his rookie season. Not only were the numbers severely lacking, but his positional play on that end of the floor also left a lot to be desired. The offensive weapons are evident and given his unique power and speed, there is certainly a world in which he becomes one of the elite scorers in the league. With all that being said, I still believe he gets overdrafted in many leagues come next season. With the deficiencies in his game, I would be aiming to grab him in the third or fourth round, a spot he is unlikely to fall to in just about every league.
Kyrie Irving – Brooklyn Nets
Aaron Bruski – I didn’t draft Irving anywhere knowing this was a perfect season for him to punt in advance of the real thing this upcoming season. He has functioned well in a take turns offense in the past so playing with Durant, who just left a place where touches came at a premium, seems to be a manageable situation. Caris LeVert’s presence complicates things but beyond that Irving probably won’t be hindered by teammates. He’s probably a top-20 pick and I probably don’t end up with him unless Irving fatigue sets in and he starts falling into the low 20s.
Dan Besbris – I’m all-in on Kyrie. He’ll play 68 out of 82 games and hit late first-round value in both totals and per-game. Next year is the “GO” year for Brooklyn, which means Kyrie is going to play through dings and bruises to develop chemistry with Kevin Durant. We know what Kyrie can do when he’s on the floor, and this year was always a bit of a red-shirt risk. I bet we see him fall into the second round, and I would pretty much draft him at any slot beyond 13.
Mike Passador – Irving has rebounded from big injuries before and still had the best season of his career in his final Boston campaign when everyone just seemed like they wanted to go home and not talk to one another. That’s two of the big concerns about his immediate future, and the third is the return of Kevin Durant. If only Irving had a history of producing next to an elite forward that commands the ball… I get the hesitation surrounding Uncle Drew but I’m good with round two or three.
Erik Ong – I’m one of the guys who’s never been sold on Irving. I’m not drafting him in any of my fantasy leagues in 2020-21. People will be valuing him on his per-game stats, but I personally consider his lack of durability a big red flag and wouldn’t touch him inside of the top-20, which of course, is tantamount to passing up on him altogether. Don’t get me wrong here, I do like his stat averages on paper, but almost similar to Kawhi Leonard, the annual games played (or lack thereof) is an issue as far as I’m concerned.
Steve Vidovich – Irving will return to the court after an injury-riddled season and will be accompanied by new teammate, Kevin Durant. The Nets will do all they can to make their superstars happy as they are both under contract through at least the 2021-22 campaign. My thinking is that Kyrie will be rejuvenated playing with his buddy and will have an excellent season. There is a bit of risk associated with him based on his track record over the last two years but I still believe that Kyrie is a first-round talent. However, given the risk profile and the fact that he will share the court with Kevin Durant, I would opt to take him in the second round.
Strengths: Job Security, PTS, 3PM, ASTS, FT% Weaknesses: TOS, BLKS
Prediction: 2nd round/2nd round per game value
Josh Millman – In the last six seasons, Kyrie Irving has fallen outside of the 9-cat top-17 on a per-game basis just once. “But..but..the injury history,” you say, as everyone else you’re contemplating around Irving plays only 60-70 games. I’m taking solace that it was his shoulder, not his troublesome knees, that gave him issues this past year and if other players are scared off by that, then I won’t hesitate to grab him in the 2nd round. He will continue to be one of the elite high-volume shooters in the league and my blatant Nets homerism can not wait until the Kyrie and KD pairing is unleashed.
Adam King – Irving is a prime candidate for a bounce-back season after injuries destroyed his first season with the Nets. The fact they will have both Irving and Kevin Durant on the floor should ensure both are motivated to play. In only 20 games this season, Irving finished as the sixth-ranked player in standard leagues on a per-game basis. While that position is unlikely to be matched with a full-strength Nets squad, he could absolutely flirt with first-round value once again. Given the injury history, Irving may be passed over in a number of leagues and while I would not target him in the first round, anywhere after 15 would be a bargain.