• Look up and down the Pelicans roster and you will notice a few themes, and one of them is something that David Griffin has talked about frequently: athleticism. Monstar Zion Williamson fortuitously fell in Griffin’s lap as the lottery gods once again showed their favor, but the canvas of all Griffin’s moves shows that the athleticism that permeates this roster is absolutely intentional.  Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Jaxson Hayes, Derrick Favors, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram are all at least “very good” athletes for their respective positions, and these are, for now, the core of this team.

    Shooting will be mentioned ad nauseam in preparation for this year, and for good reason, because there isn’t a whole lot of it on the Pelicans roster.  But there is something in spades, and that is the athleticism/versatility mix that could jell into a nightmarish defense.  And that starts with the perimeter.

    Jrue Holiday is no longer under the radar, as people seem to have caught on that he can flat-out play after he dominated Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in their 2017-18 playoff series.  Jrue is a monster defender on the perimeter, and what makes him particularly special is how seamlessly he can shift between guarding any perimeter position, with little exception.  He has been embarrassing bigger guys who try to post him up for years, sans pretty much Kevin Durant, who feasted on the height difference in the Pelicans’ second-round exit versus Golden State.  Now added to the equation is Lonzo Ball, who is a ball-hawk with similar versatility, albeit with less core strength than Karate Jrue.  Add in Derrick Favors to contest shots at the rim, and you have the bones for a pretty great defense.

    I don’t know what kind of NBA defender Zion Williamson is in his rookie year.  History tells us that most players don’t become solid team defenders for years, and that may hold true for him.  However, Zion is one of the best athletes to come out of the draft in years, and I expect he will at least register as a chaotic defender in game No. 1, even if he is an undisciplined one.  The discipline will likely take more time, but Zion is on a team with an elite perimeter defense and an elite rim protector that can help cover for that.

    I am of the opinion that Lonzo starts games, so let’s go with that theory for now.  No matter the 5th guy, a Lonzo-Jrue-Zion-Favors lineup is already one of the most athletic lineups in the league, with plus rebounders to boot: Lonzo rebounds like a forward, Zion rebounds like a center, and Derrick Favors rebounds like a center.  So this lineup cannot only move about the perimeter, but it can finish possessions with multiple people.

    Here is what is uncertain, and what is really key to unlocking the potential of the starting unit’s defense: continuity and experience.  Despite the physical tools present in this lineup, this is a team that will be starting four new players, and defensive coach Darren Erman is out of the picture.  Rumors seem to point to guru Jeff Bzdelik stepping into Erman’s role, but whoever it is, it will likely include a shift to the defensive principles, and none of these guys have played together as pros, aside from Lonzo/Ingram if both are starting.

    This is the burning question for the year: can you take a bunch of guys who haven’t played together and construct a great defense with them, particularly when several of them are very young?  And can the team’s bench unit continue that defensive excellence?  These are questions that will have a sizable say in whether the newly-constructed Pelicans reach the playoffs this year.

Fantasy News

  • Damian Lillard
    PG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard put forth a valiant effort with 29 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and two threes in Friday's 113-136 loss to the Lakers.

    Even as the Blazers continue to scuffle, Lillard is locked in as an elite fantasy talent. It's looking increasingly unlikely that the Blazers make the postseason this year but, A: Never count out Lillard and B: He doesn't seem like the kind to accept a shutdown. We're a long way off from that point, thankfully, and you can continue to enjoy first-round value in the meantime.

  • Hassan Whiteside
    C, Portland Trail Blazers

    Hassan Whiteside had another productive game with 17 points (8-for-12 shooting), 13 rebounds, three steals and a block in 32 minutes on Friday night.

    Whiteside is rolling along in fantasy land even as his on-court lapses continue to harm the Blazers. We wouldn't expect him to finish at his current top-35 standing so there's a bit of a sell-high window, though the numbers he's bringing back in blocks and rebounds might change the calculus since you probably won't be able to replace them in a trade.

  • Kent Bazemore
    SG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Kent Bazemore logged 25 minutes in Friday's loss to the Lakers, notching 10 points, two rebounds and a 3-pointer.

    Bazemore is staring at a much heavier workload with Rodney Hood now out for the season and Portland completely devoid of other viable wing options. He's been a top-100 guy in starter's minutes in the past, so he's a pickup in all competitive leagues.

  • Anthony Davis
    PF-C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Anthony Davis and LeBron James both torched the Blazers in Friday's road win.

    Davis put up 39 points (12-for-21 FG, 13-of-15 FT), nine rebounds, two steals, three blocks and a pair of 3-pointers while James had 31 points (11-of-23 FG, 5-for-7 FT), seven rebounds, eight assists, a block and four threes. They're alright at this.

  • Alex Caruso
    SG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Alex Caruso played 24 minutes on Friday night, posting eight points, three assists, a steal and a three.

    Caruso got some extra run with Rajon Rondo departing early because of hamstring tightness, and given the likelihood that he misses some time you can consider Caruso a potential pickup in deep leagues.

  • JaVale McGee
    C, Los Angeles Lakers

    JaVale McGee finished Friday's win with 13 points (6-of-7 shooting) and two blocks in 15 minutes.

    McGee isn't nearly as fun to rock with as he was last season but he's still blocking shots and boosting your field goal percentage enough to return late-round value in 12-teamers. Dwight Howard is doing the same thing with more boards and slightly fewer blocks, as he had five points, 10 rebounds and two steals tonight. Neither is a must-own in 12-team leagues.

  • Danny Green
    SG, Los Angeles Lakers

    Danny Green had a lackluster showing, to be polite about it, on Friday with a 3-pointer, five rebounds, a steal and a block in 21 minutes.

    Green is just a late-round guy and doesn't have a ton of upside given that he's only getting 25.5 mpg on the year. He's worth holding onto in general, but a drop won't hurt you that much. The same goes for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had five points, five assists, a steal and a 3-pointer in 27 minutes.

  • Kevin Love
    PF, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Cavs are prepared to listen to trade talks involving Kevin Love.

    The Cavs simply have no use for Love, who can be a series-shifting player as a second or third option on a good team. Cleveland is predictably seeking young players and future draft picks, but it remains to be seen if they'll get much considering Love is still owed $90 million over the next three seasons. That's not inconsequential, and most teams in position to get pushed over the top by adding Love to the mix also don't have the ability to add such a big financial commitment to their books easily. While Love would be bumped down the pecking order on a better team, he might also end up playing more games. We won't go too much deeper than that until Love starts getting connected to specific suitors.

    Source: ESPN

  • DeMar DeRozan
    SG, San Antonio Spurs

    DeMar DeRozan's 3-point binge continued in Friday's 105-104 OT win over the Kings, as he hit three more triples on his way to 15 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

    DeRozan has now hit five threes in his last four games after hitting zero in over a full year. That obviously won't keep up but DeRozan is back in the top-50 area after scuffling early in the year. He's about as reliable as they come.

  • Jakob Poeltl
    C, San Antonio Spurs

    Jakob Poeltl returned to the bench on Friday with LaMarcus Aldridge back but still delivered three blocks in 18 minutes.

    Poeltl also tallied 13 points on a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and a less-perfect 3-of-5 from the line. He's now climbed up to top-170 value on the year and should be on any rosters where fantasy GMs are short on blocks. In the past two weeks he's been a top-60 player.