• 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

  • Zach LaVine
    SG, Chicago Bulls

    The Bulls will hire Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas as their new VP of Basketball Operations, per Adrian Wojnarowski.

    A deal between parties is being finalized but Karnisovas has been considered the frontrunner since his name emerged as one of the candidates. Karnisovas is replacing John Paxson and will be tasked with hiring a GM and a number of lower level staff to help reshape Chicago's entire basketball hierarchy. It's a much-needed move for a franchise that's looked listless despite having some talented young players.

    Source: ESPN

  • Zach LaVine
    PG, Chicago Bulls

    Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Denver's GM Arturas Karnisovas completed a "second lengthy interview" for the Bulls' top basketball executive position on Wednesday.

    The interview was with owner Jerry Reinsdorf and COO Michael Reinsdorf. Karnisovas is the "clear frontrunner" for the job, and a change in the front office can only be positive for the Bulls franchise and their players' fantasy values. Karnisovas joined the Nuggets as assistant GM in 2013 and was promoted to GM in 2017. During his time in the front office Denver has steadily improved and was headed for a second straight 50-win season. Hopefully he can bring in a coach that can reproduce Denver's offense, as the Bulls currently rank 29th in offensive rating this season.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Trae Young
    PG, Atlanta Hawks

    According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the NBA and ESPN are close to finalizing a televised Horse competition that expects to feature Trae Young, Chris Paul, Zach LaVine and others.

    It is also believed that there will be some participants from the WNBA as well as recent NBA alumni. The NBA has been trying to find any way to get their product back on television and this seems like the easiest way to make that happen in the current environment. The NBA might still be a ways away but NBA fans will be able to watch some of their favorite athletes in a good old fashioned Horse competition.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Lauri Markkanen
    PF, Chicago Bulls

    Report: Nuggets' General Manager Arturas Karnisovas is the early frontrunner for the Bulls' top exec spot.

    The Bulls are finally planning to move on from the Gar Foreman and John Paxson-led front office, though both may stay with the organization. Karnisovas has the draft and development track record that the Bulls are seeking. The search is in the early stages, though the Bulls do plan to have someone hired prior to the resumption of the season.

    Source: nbcsports.com

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Report: NBA players that received advanced payments or regular payments on a six-month cycle instead of a 12-month cycle could return significant amounts to owners as part of a compensation deal.

    Owners may already get back a pro-rated amount of their players' salaries for each game that is not made up this season. And these players that have been paid some of their salary early would need to return the advanced portion, as well. The takeaway here is that both sides would clearly benefit by playing as many regular season games as possible, but the painful talks about how to handle the missing revenue from the inevitable missed games are moving along.

    Source: cnbc.com

  • Cassius Stanley
    SG, College

    Duke freshman shooting guard Cassius Stanley (6-foot-6, 193 pounds) has announced his plans to enter the 2020 NBA draft, after racking up averages of 12.6 PTS, 2.9 REB and 1.1 3-pointers per game, while setting averages of 47.4 percent FG, 36.0 percent from long range and 73.3 percent from the free throw line in his only season with the Blue Devils.

    Stanley had a solid shortened (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) freshman year at Duke and has decided to follow the ever-popular one-and-done route for college players coming out of perennial powerhouse programs. While his numbers don't jump off the stat sheet, he is immensely talented and can put the ball in the bucket. At this point, whenever the 2020 draft happens, Stanley projects as a second-round selection.

    Source: Adam Zagoria on Twitter

  • Both Gach
    SG, College

    Sophomore Both Gach, a 6-foot-3 ,183 pound guard out of Utah, announced his plans on Tuesday to enter the 2020 NBA draft after concluding his second (shortened; due to COVID-19 pandemic) season with the Utes, averaging 10.7 PTS, 3.6 REB and 2.9 AST in 2019-20.

    Unlike Nico Mannion, who also declared for the draft Tuesday, this announcement was less expected. Gach is likely looking to gauge interest from NBA teams and may not hire an agent, at least not initially. He caught some eyes with his play early in the season, but currently does not project as a selection in either round of the upcoming draft. There's a chance we see Gach back with Utah next season.

    Source: Evan Daniels on Twitter

  • Nico Mannion
    PG, College

    Nico Mannion, a highly-touted freshman guard out of Arizona, has entered his name into the 2020 NBA draft pool on Tuesday.

    Mannion has garnered national attention since his high school days, largely due to his impressive video clips on social media and YouTube. He has been projected as a lottery pick in the 2020 draft for some time now, so it's safe to say this isn't surprising in the least. Mannion has incredible skill as a distributor and despite his low shooting percentages in his lone season at Arizona (39.2 percent FG and 32.7 percent from deep), he should not be on the board beyond the lottery picks, whenever the 2020 draft occurs.

    Source: ESPN

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    The NBA "would like to have a champion crowned by Labor Day weekend," per Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Wojnarowski was on "Get Up" on Tuesday morning with host Mike Greenberg when he gave the latest timeline that he is hearing. Woj made it a point of emphasis that this is the ideal timeline that the NBA is hoping to complete this season by, and added that if this comes to fruition there is no question that the start of next season would be delayed. This is the latest timeline that we are hearing about, and we will have to see how realistic this is as time passes.

    Source: ESPN

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    NBA teams will not be allowed to conduct in-person or live video workouts for NBA Draft prospects but will be allowed up to four hours of virtual meetings per prospect.

    Whenever the draft happens, it will be with the least amount of research in quite a while. Teams will be without tournament game tape for college prospects and without the ability to watch live workouts. Combined with a lack of consensus on who the best players are, this could lead to a wild draft with the eventual best players going much later than usual.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter