• 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

  • Hamidou Diallo - G - Oklahoma City Thunder

    Hamidou Diallo puts his stamp on the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest by beating Dennis Smith Jr., John Collins, and Miles Bridges.

    Diallo arguably delivered one of the greatest performances in Slam Dunk Contest history by jumping over the seven-footer Shaquille O'Neal and throwing down a vicious elbow dunk. He left the crowd mesmerized and gave them a moment to remember in an otherwise lopsided contest. As incredible he might be tonight, fantasy owners shouldn't really give him a look unless they're in deep leagues.

  • Joe Harris - G/F - Brooklyn Nets

    Joe Harris was scorching hot during the entirety of Saturday's 3-point shootout as he bested Stephen Curry with 26 made three-point shots in the final round.

    Harris put an end to Curry's storybook ending of winning the 3-point contest in his hometown of Charlotte by besting him and Buddy Hield. It's no surprise that Harris was a dark-horse candidate entering the contest since he's been hot all season long from behind the arc, making 47 percent of his shots. In the past week, Harris has been rewarding his owners with top-20 value with averages of 22.7 points with 4.7 threes per game on 67.6% shooting. If you could sell high on him, now would be the perfect time.

  • Jayson Tatum - F - Boston Celtics

    Jayson Tatum clinched the Taco Bell All-Star Skills Challenge by draining a half-court shot to beat Trae Young in the finals of the competition.

    Tatum sealed the deal in this one and is responsible for one of the most exciting finishes in Skills Challenge history. For the past month, Tatum has been posting Top-40 value with 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 blocks and shooting 46 percent from the field. He's currently cruising as an early-middle round guy and should be even better once the Celtics find their footing.

  • Jayson Tatum - F - Boston Celtics

    Jayson Tatum clinched the All-Star Skills Challenge by draining a half-court a half-court shot to beat Trae Young in the finals of the competition.

    Tatum sealed the deal on this one and is responsible for one of the most exciting finishes in Skills Challenge history. For the past month, Tatum has been posting Top-40 value with 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 blocks and shooting 46 percent from the field. He's currently cruising as a early-middle round guy and should be even better once the Celtics find their footing.

  • Hasheem Thabeet - C - Oklahoma City Thunder

    Hasheem Thabeet worked out for the Rockets, Raptors and Pistons while the teams were in Charlotte for All-Star weekend.

    Thabeet was the second overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Grizzlies and was quickly one of the biggest busts in NBA history. He was the highest overall pick to be sent to the then D-League until Anthony Bennett secured the top spot. Thabeet is somehow still only 31 years old, and 7'2" centers can certainly provide value in today's NBA, but it's unlikely Thabeet finds his way back into the league. He's currently playing in the Japanese B-League.

    Source: Keith Pompey on Twitter

  • Dirk Nowitzki - F - Dallas Mavericks

    Dirk Nowitzki said he has not made any final decision on if this is his last season.

    "I haven't said this will be it," Nowitzki said, "I'm going to wait and see the last couple of weeks, how my body feels and if I continue to see improvement and I'm still having fun, we'll see." While Dirk has been treating this season as a retirement tour, there's still a chance we see him playing next season.

    Source: Brad Townsend on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - New Orleans Pelicans

    Anthony Davis (left shoulder contusion) said he is unsure if he will play in the All-Star game on Sunday.

    Davis said the plan is to play, but we will have to wait and see if he's feeling okay. He's certainly not worried about saving himself for the second-half of the season.

    Source: Tim Bontemps on Twitter

  • Kyrie Irving - G - Boston Celtics

    Kyrie Irving (right knee strain) says he is healthy and plans to play in Sunday's All-Star game.

    Irving missed the Celtics' last two games but fantasy owners shouldn't expect him to miss any more with the current injury. Terry Rozier was a hot pickup when Irving initially went down but now goes back to being a handcuff. Irving has put up top-10 per-game value this year with no holes in his fantasy game but he has already missed 11 games. He has missed at least 10 games in seven of his eight NBA seasons so this is something fantasy owners should already be used to.

    Source: Gary Washburn on Twitter

  • Anthony Davis - F/C - New Orleans Pelicans

    Anthony Davis said that the Celtics are on his list of preferred destinations.

    Moreover, Davis added "they were never not on my list," though he also confirmed that the initial reports of his list including the Knicks, Lakers, Clippers and Bucks were true. Initially it had been said that the Celtics are not a preferred landing spot, and Davis' dad would rather his son play elsewhere. It sounds like everything is on the table now that his push to end up on the Lakers has failed, as Davis also said "all 29 teams" (sorry New Orleans) are on his list. Get ready for more updates on AD's thoughts as the season rolls on.

    Source: Tim Bontemps on Twitter

  • Nikola Jokic - C - Denver Nuggets

    The Nuggets have agreed to extensions with president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and GM Arturas Karnisovas.

    The Nuggets haven't reached the playoffs in the last five seasons but will surely end that streak this year. Their abundance of talent and depth currently has them in second place in the Western Conference although Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Will Barton and Isaiah Thomas have all been injured for much of the season. Their draft choices and player development over the years has been a big catalyst for this as one could look at Nikola Jokic and the breakout seasons of Jamal Murray, Torrey Craig, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley, all of them having been with Denver since their first day in the NBA.

    Source: Denver Post