The regular season starts on Tuesday, which is something of a letdown considering how this past offseason felt like a pot of gumbo filled with huge trades, bitter feelings, the anticipation of seeing one of the more ballyhooed rookie classes in recent memory and an unexpected tag team of Steph Curry and LeBron James taking on the guy in the White House via social media.
With most drafts completed, one question I’ve mulled over is whether we can see into the small sample size of preseason stats to find gold in the form of a waiver wire pickup or the hunch you played with your final draft pick. Granted, we can twist numbers to our liking, but some numbers do stand out.
How Much Do You Buy into Kyle Kuzma?
Congrats if you had Kuzma on your preseason Fantasy team, as the Lakers power forward averaged 17 points in his five games. He did little else (3.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 24 percent 3-point shooting) to merit more than making him a late-round Fantasy curiosity. There’s promise in Kuzma’s game and I wouldn’t be shocked if pops a 20-point outing or two, but he looks a lot like a poor man’s Ryan Anderson at this point.
Jusuf Nurkic’s 30.9 Usage Rate
Granted, it came with him averaging 20.5 minutes per night, yet Nurkic’s usage rate tells us he’s healthy and should return to being the 15-point, 10-rebound performer he was before he was injured in March. Nurkic may not have the upside of former Nuggets teammate Nikola Jokic, yet the 23-year-old was only scratching the surface of his potential before fracturing his right leg. Superstar? No, but Nurkic will establish himself as one of the better big men in a Western Conference brimming with them.
Otto Porter Jr.’s 48.1 Percent Mid-Range Shooting
A hearty debate about Porter becoming a more prolific scorer dominated a conversation with my friends last week, with the majority thinking Porter may not have much more ceiling after averaging 13.4 points per game last season. That’s bull, and his stroke from mid-range is my reasoning. Porter shot 43 percent from 3-point range last season and if he’s finding consistency from 14-18 feet out, that’s a sign he’s capable of much more. I think he can average 16-18 points per game this season, and with John Wall and Bradley Beal the only other reliable scorers for the Wizards, Porter must take that next step for them to stay in the conversation of Eastern Conference contenders.
Ben Simmons Scoring 81 Percent of his Points in the Paint
Considering the work he needs on his outside shot, this is a good thing. Simmons should emerge as a top-end finisher in the paint, although his free throw shooting is unnerving. He did average 6.2 rebounds and 5.4 assists and while I don’t see Simmons as an elite shooter (yet), he will live up to the stat-stuffing wunderkind most of us expect he’ll become in his rookie season.
Most Fantasy-Friendly Matchups of the Week
Rockets at Warriors, Tuesday: Um, expect some scoring here.
Trail Blazers at Suns, Wednesday: Even with C.J. McCollum suspended, the Phoenix backcourt duo of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker makes this worth the sleep you’ll lose watching this late night doozy. Suns PF Marquese Chriss scored 13 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in last Wednesday’s preseason game against Portland and this game could be the first step toward a monster breakout campaign for him.
Lakers at Suns, Friday: Two of last season’s three worst scoring defenses get together for what should be a track meet. Lonzo Ball going against Bledsoe will be an interesting matchup to watch.
Matchups to Exploit
Tobias Harris, vs. Hornets, Wednesday: The Hornets gave up an NBA-record 950 3-pointers last season, and while the Pistons were 28th in the league in 3-point accuracy (33 percent), someone will have open looks, right? My choice is Harris, who shot 34.7 percent last season and should see enough open looks to make him an interesting option.
Kyrie Irving, at 76ers, Friday: Markelle Fultz is going to school. Class begins just after 7:00 PM Eastern.
Clint Capela, vs. Mavericks, Saturday: Capela pulled down 9.7 boards per in three games against Dallas, which ranked last in the Association in rebounds per game. He’s a strong breakout candidate, so make sure he’s in the lineup regardless of format.
Best One-On-One Matchups of the Week
Paul vs. Curry (Rockets at Warriors, Tuesday): Seriously, do we need to ask why? My mother, whose knowledge of sports is about as limited as Timofey Mozgov running against Usain Bolt, knows this is gold, and if she does, then you’d better know.
James vs. Antetokounmpo (Cavaliers at Bucks, Friday): The Greek Freak more than held his own against Cleveland in four games last season, averaging 24 points, 9.3 rebounds and five assists. You can guarantee LBJ will be up for taking on the player who may one day take his mantle as the game’s best all-around performer.
Jeff Teague vs. Westbrook (Timberwolves at Thunder, Sunday): If Minnesota wants to test their validity as a Western Conference power on the rise, this matchup of point guards will be a hell of an examination. Teague averaged 23.5 points, 4.3 boards and six assists in two games against OKC as a member of the Pacers last season. Westbrook was a rebound away from recording triple-doubles in both games against Indiana.
TEAMS PLAYING THREE GAMES
Hawks, Nets, Celtics, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Pistons, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Lakers, Bucks, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Thunder, Magic, 76ers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Kings, Jazz
TEAMS PLAYING TWO GAMES
Hornets, Bulls, Nuggets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Heat, Knicks, Spurs, Wizards