• Welcome loyal Hoop Ball readers! This is The Week Ahead, where I will be dissecting the upcoming week in the NBA and helping you get one step closer to being prepared for the fantasy season.  The NBA season is only a few weeks away so who’s ready for some trades, drama, tweeting, posterizers, and some genuinely good basketball (except for the Warriors)? Although not many prominent players have changed locations this offseason, DeMarcus Cousins did join the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard and DeMar Derozan swapped places in San Antonio and Toronto.  Of course, no one can forget that LeBron James joined the Lakers and left his beloved home town of Cleveland as well.

    By now, you are likely preparing your fantasy league to draft and hopefully you decide to use the Hoop Ball Draft Guide.  The NBA season is lengthy, so even if you are a step ahead of the competition for the draft, you must try to remain ahead one week at a time. This column will help you take that “one week at a time” mindset and bring it to fruition with helpful tips and information that can help you dress a dominant fantasy team each week.

    PRE-SEASON WATCH LIST

    This is a list of players that I believe are slated to make a big leap this year.  Some players on this list might already be established talents that I think are making improvements in their game heading into next season.

    D’Angelo Russell –  I think Russell will have an entire season like the first ten games he had last season.  He was phenomenal early in the season for the Nets prior to getting hurt.  If he is able to return to that form, he has a real shot at becoming an All Star in the Eastern Conference.

    Dejounte Murray – Without Tony Parker taking minutes away, Murray will only have Patty Mills to fend off for minutes at the point guard position.  I believe he will have a great season and will play very well alongside new backcourt partner DeMar Derozan.

    Markelle Fultz – With a new jump shot that looks as smooth as it did in college, there is nothing standing in his way of becoming the player that the 76ers drafted at No. 1 overall in the 2018 NBA Draft.

    Jamal Murray – He has shown that his scoring ability is his best tool and that tool improved from his first season to his second season. I expect similar improvement from his second season to his third season and we might be looking at a 20+ points per game scorer next season.

    Kevin Love – Unlike the rest of the guys on this list, Love is on the older side.  Without LeBron in Cleveland, Love should become the man and take a huge step forward in the stat sheet next season.

    TRADE WATCH

    As you all probably know, Jimmy Butler is on heavy trade watch right now as he demanded a trade off of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The 29-year-old averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.0 steals last year to help the T-Wolves reach the playoffs. He had decided that the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, and Los Angeles Clippers were his top three destinations for trade where he would sign an extension. Butler believes that one of these three locations will be easy for him to recruit another max contract free agent such as Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving to next season. There have been countless rumors about Butler and Leonard teaming up in Los Angeles on the Lakers or Clippers, but there have also been plenty that have Butler and Irving teaming up on the Knicks. Therefore, there is no real truth behind these rumors and it is possible that wherever he lands is not one of these three desired locations.

    The latest rumors have a couple of teams that Butler did not include in the three team list trying the hardest to land him. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was seen meeting with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor at the NBA Board of Governors meeting last week. General Manager of the Miami Heat Pat Riley has been the most aggressive in pursuit of Butler. Butler and his agent Bernie Lee have since said that he was most interested in joining the Heat even though they were not one of the three mentioned teams. Wojnarowski reported that the Suns or Kings could potentially play a role in the trade as a third-team partner. The Sixers tried to make a push for Butler, but the asking price was reportedly 2018 Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons so they are no longer in the running. The last team that has been noted for making a run at Jimmy Butler is the Houston Rockets, but there has been no real traction on a deal thus far.

    This trade demand brought up a whole whirlwind of emotions from his current teammates and started a lot of drama.  Andrew Wiggins’ brother said “Hallelujah!” upon Jimmy Butler requesting a trade. Taj Gibson is upset that Butler was willing to quit on them so fast and same the demand hit him “like a right hook.” Also, Karl-Anthony Towns just received a lucrative extension from the T-Wolves of five years and $190 million.  Towns and Butler never got along, so when Towns signed the extension it was basically a guarantee that Butler was on his way out of Minnesota.

    Prediction: Jimmy Butler and Iman Shumpert to the Miami Heat, Gorgui Dieng and Rodney McGruder to the Sacramento Kings, Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, and 2020 First Round Pick and 2022 Pick Swap (Best) to the Minnesota Timberwolves

    *Prediction is just a guess*

    Injury Report

    Lauri Markannen (high-grade lateral elbow sprain) will miss six to eight weeks for the Chicago Bulls. Markannen was a member of the 2017-2018 All-Rookie First Team, so this is a big blow for the Bulls to start the season.

    Gordon Hayward (dislocated ankle and fractured tibia) said he’s “basically 100 percent” and told reporters on Tuesday that he dunked off his left foot in practice. He played in the Celtics’ first preseason game and scored 10 points in 22 minutes.

    Wilson Chandler (strained hamstring) left Friday’s preseason opener for the 76ers during the first half and did not return.  He has battled hamstring injuries throughout much of his career. There will be more updates on the injury going forward.

    Kyrie Irving (left knee) said he feels great and is ready for the season to start.  Irving was sidelined for much of last season due to the knee injuries. He scored nine points in 22 minutes during the Celtics’ first preseason game.

    Denzel Valentine (sprained ankle) will be re-evaluated in one to two weeks. He suffered the injury in practice on Tuesday and had surgery on the same ankle in 2017. He averaged 10.2 points last season for the Bulls.

    Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL) is making a slow recovery and has no timetable for return.  He said that there is no real protocol for a 7’3” guy with a torn ACL so it is very hard to speed this process up. “It’s already been 7-plus months so obviously I’m getting itchy and want to be back on the court as soon as possible, but it won’t happen until I am 110 percent and I’m medically cleared,” Porzingis said.

    DeMarcus Cousins (torn Achillies) will do non-contact work for the Warriors.  Some believe that the Warriors will save Cousins for the playoffs, but General Manager Bob Myers said that he will play when he is ready. When Cousins is back, Golden State will have five 2018 All-Stars in their starting lineup.

    Russell Westbrook (knee surgery) will miss four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.  He will likely be ready for the first game of the season, but they will hold him out until he is 100 percent to ensure he is healthy for the long haul.

    Devin Booker (hand surgery) is set to be out until late October, which would indicate that he misses the first few games of the season.  His timetable from September 11th was six weeks and he is on track with that timetable thus far, so he should be ready by the end of October.

    Dwight Howard (back soreness) will miss the Wizards’ first preseason game.  Howard is losing time that he could get to know the offense and gain chemistry with his new teammates.  Unless there is a setback, he should be ready for the season opener.

    James Johnson (hernia) might miss the start of the season as he is not 100 percent recovered from his hernia surgery.  Johnson said on Friday. “I’m getting better every day. I’m getting stronger every day and I can’t wait to come back healthy.” The Heat will proceed with caution and allow Johnson as much time as it takes to be ready to return to the court.

    Isaiah Thomas (hip) has not fully recovered from his surgery in March.  His hip has become a major concern since the end of his days with the Celtics and he has not been nearly the same player he was with them.“If I could do it all over again, I wish I would have sat out a little longer for sure,” Thomas said.  He might have put his career in jeopardy by returning before he was fully recovered, but we will see which Isaiah Thomas is on the court when he returns for Denver.

Fantasy News

  • Hassan Whiteside - C - Miami Heat

    Hassan Whiteside is listed as out ahead of Monday's game.

    Whiteside missed a pair of games this past weekend to stay home for the birth of his child, and the Heat won't rush him back from such a momentous occasion. Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk will once again have plenty of minutes headed their way and both are worth deploying in all formats whenever Whiteside is out.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • Josh Richardson - F - Miami Heat

    Josh Richardson is questionable to play on Monday because of a shoulder injury.

    Richardson watched Saturday's game form the sidelines and both Dwyane Wade and Justise Winslow took full advantage with big fantasy lines. They're the two beneficiaries if Richardson sits again, but Wayne Ellington's return will cramp everyone's style a little bit.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • Goran Dragic - G - Miami Heat

    Goran Dragic is not on the injury report after missing Saturday's game for rest purposes.

    Dragic sat the second half of a back-to-back but will be out there on Monday. He only played 21 minutes on Friday night, however, so it's possible that he's still playing under some sort of minutes cap. You're safe to play Dragic this week if you'd like.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • Tyler Johnson - G - Miami Heat

    Tyler Johnson is questionable to play on Monday after suffering a left hip contusion in Saturday's game.

    Johnson's injury really left the Heat in a bind as they were stuck with eight active players. Derrick Jones Jr. stepped up but Dwyane Wade and Justise Winslow produced the biggest lines in their extended work. Goran Dragic will be available tomorrow, which will also help things substantially. Johnson had a chance to put a nice run together with The Dragon out but got hurt himself — twice.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • Wayne Ellington - G - Miami Heat

    Wayne Ellington (personal) is probable for Monday's game.

    Ellington appears set to return after missing the last two games to attend his grandmother's funeral. The Heat need all the help they can get with Tyler Johnson hurt again so we'd expect Ellington to get his usual minutes. He's a 3-point specialist and will limit the shot at production for Dwyane Wade, Derrick Jones Jr. and Justise Winslow — basically anyone else on the team.

    Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter

  • DeMarcus Cousins - C - Golden State Warriors

    DeMarcus Cousins is expected to practice with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G-League on Monday.

    Cousins continues to work his way back into shape after suffering an Achilles tear last season. He's aiming to return around Christmas and all reports about his progress have been positive so far. Him working in an actual team setting is another big step in the process, even if it is in the G-League. He's worth scooping up if you think you can make it through the next month without production from one of your roster spots.

    Source: Marc J. Spears on Twitter

  • Frank Ntilikina - G - New York Knicks

    Frank Ntilikina scored 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting with four 3-pointers as the Knicks lost to the Hornets on Sunday.

    He outplayed starter Emmanuel Mudiay, who scored six points with three rebounds and four assists on 3-of-9 shooting. The Knicks’ point guard situation is a mess and minutes change frequently, so neither of them are worth owning in fantasy.

  • Noah Vonleh - F - New York Knicks

    Noah Vonleh did not play well against the Hornets on Sunday with only three points on 1-of-5 shooting, but he did contribute 10 rebounds and a career-high nine assists.

    Vonleh has seen consistent minutes as the starting power forward for the Knicks and his value currently sits right outside the top-100. He is a must-own in deep leagues and will provide solid late-middle round value this season. However, head coach David Fizdale's rotations can change at any moment, which means Vonleh's minutes can change so keep an eye on the Knicks' rotation from game-to-game.

  • Kyle Lowry - G - Toronto Raptors

    Kyle Lowry fell to a new low with his 0-for-5 shooting night on Sunday against the Bucks.

    This is the first time in Lowry's career that he's been held under 10 points for five straight games. To call this a slump would be unfair. Luckily as a point guard, Lowry does more than just score and has been returning top-120 value over his last four games despite shooting under 15 percent during that stretch. Lowry finished tonight's game with zero points, five boards, seven assists and a block in 34 minutes.

    Source: Chris Black on Twitter

  • Trevor Ariza - F - Phoenix Suns

    The Lakers are one of the teams making a run at Trevor Ariza, they're currently in discussions to swing a three-team deal.

    Ariza might struggle as a fantasy asset in Los Angeles given how many swingmen they have. If you own Ariza you're hoping that he finds his way back to the Rockets. The Suns are hoping to get a young guard and a draft pick in any deal for Ariza and the Lakers seem to be searching for a suitor willing to take on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter