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Ice Trae & Hotlanta
Unfortunately, Trae Young’s miraculous postseason run came to an end this past Saturday with a 4-of-17 shooting performance in a 118-107 loss to the newly crowned Eastern Conference Champs, the Milwaukee Bucks. Young clearly wasn’t himself in the elimination game, going 0-of-6 from downtown as he labored through a painful bone bruise in his right foot, so I’ll give him a pass for the off-night and some major credit for even getting out there in the first place.
There’s no denying that Ice Trae truly established himself as one of the league’s brightest rising stars through his mesmerizing playoff run, silencing crowds with daggers from the logo or eliciting oohs and aahs from the arena attendees with his fabulous handles and dazzling playmaking skills. To describe what he does on the court as pure wizardry, to me, would not be hyperbole. Young raised all of his averages in his first time under the bright lights of the playoffs, registering 28.8 points, 9.5 assists, 2.8 triples, 1.3 steals and 4.0 turnovers per game on 41.8% shooting from the field and 86.6% from the stripe, so he’ll be a popular first-round target on draft day. This past season, Young’s ADP was 10, but I’d be shocked to see him fall outside of the top-5 next year. The scary thing is, he’s still only 22 years old, so he’s just scratching the surface on his true potential.
Cam Reddish, who had only appeared in 26 games during the regular season due to Achilles issues and missed the first two rounds of the playoffs for that reason, randomly came through with a team-high 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go with three rebounds, three assists, six triples, one steal and one turnover across 29 minutes in his final game of the year. He looked great in the high-pressure game, but it remains to be seen if Reddish can be statistically successful when the Hawks are at full strength. He’ll again be competing with the likes of Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter for both touches and minutes next season, but maybe he could excel in a sixth man role with the second unit, as that would grant him more control of the offense and allow him to spend more time operating with the rock. Because of the Game 6 performance, Reddish will again be on the radar as a potential late-round target in next year’s drafts, but due to the crowded situation on the Hawks’ wings, I wouldn’t recommend reaching for him.
As for Bogdanovic, I’m nervous about him too. Sure, he had a sensational second-half run, but a major caveat, he didn’t truly explode until De’Andre Hunter hit the sidelines and was allowed to enter the first unit as a primary offensive option. Will he be able to sustain that success next year when the team is at full strength? I have my doubts.
As for Hunter, who unfortunately had his season cut short when he was required to undergo knee surgery, I still have faith in him. The current reporting indicates that he’ll be fully recovered from the knee procedure by the start of next year’s training camp, so I’d expect him to continue his upward descent next season if he’s able to stay healthy. It is a fairly limited sample size, but in the 18 games that he was healthy (he made it through 23 in total but was a shell of himself for those final five games), he flirted with top-50 value in 9-cat leagues behind averages of 17.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.7 triples, 0.9 steals, 0.5 swats and just 1.4 turnovers per contest on 50.9% shooting from the field and 87.7% from the stripe. At times, he looked like Atlanta’s second-best player, demonstrating why he was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. I’d expect the health issues to drop his draft stock, meaning that he could be one of the better value picks next year once you approach the 75-range.
Lastly, John Collins, who is set to enter restricted free agency this summer, has been saying that he would like to remain in Atlanta and the Hawks would be happy to keep him. That may involve taking somewhat of a pay cut, but Atlanta will also have his Bird Rights, meaning they’ll be able to exceed the salary cap to retain him and because he’s a restricted free agent they’ll be able to match any offer he receives on the open market. Collins would be better suited from a fantasy standpoint on a team where he could be more of a factor in the offense, but he should still be able to put up top-50 numbers if he sticks with the Hawks.
Who cares if Ben Simmons can’t shoot?
If Trae Young was one of the folks who elevated his draft stock during the playoffs, then Ben Simmons is a guy whose draft stock was absolutely obliterated with a lackluster postseason performance. Not only did Twitter go hog-wild mocking him for passing up open layups and bricking freebies, but he also received that criticism from his coach and MVP-candidate teammate. However, I don’t care about any of that noise, because he’s been a great fantasy player since making his NBA debut in 2017, and we don’t play fantasy basketball during the postseason.
He’s indeed an awkward fit next to Joel Embiid, which could queue an offseason move from GM Daryl Morey to jettison him elsewhere, but I think that would only be a good thing for him as moving away from the ball-dominant Embiid would theoretically give him more time to operate with the rock. That said, even if he stays in Philly, I wouldn’t hesitate to grab him in the 60-70 range on draft day if I were punting FTs. Despite a drop-off in points, assist, and usage this past season, he was still a top-30 performer in fantasy hoops (if punting FT) behind averages of 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 swats and 3.0 turnovers per contest on 55.7% shooting from the field and 61.3% at the stripe on 4.9 attempts a night. Those assist numbers fell just outside the top-10, his steals numbers were inside the top-10, and it’s always nice when you can get a block here and there from your point guard.
In other words, Simmons's contributions to the statistically rare categories make him a particularly appealing asset in fantasy hoops, and while he will tank your team’s FT%, he’ll also give you a nice boost in FG%. So, let the slander continue, let Twitter tank his draft stock because I’m all-in on Ben Simmons as a superb fantasy player.
The Curious Case of Kawhi Leonard
I’ll admit, this has been one of the stranger postseasons I’ve seen in terms of superstars either getting eliminated early, or going down due to injury, and one of the star players who fell into the latter category was Kawhi “The Klay” Leonard. An interesting part of this equation is that the soft-spoken, two-time Finals MVP could be headed for free agency this summer, with word that he’ll be declining his player option worth roughly $36 million for the 2021-22 season, and it’s unclear how Leonard feels about remaining in Los Angeles (or really about how he feels about anything TBH).
Leonard keeps his inner-circle extremely close, so we never really know what’s going on with this guy, but Terrence Ross made an interesting (albeit entirely speculative) point during a recent stream – bringing up the fact that Kawhi doesn’t even live in Los Angeles. Most players, as Ross would say, go to L.A. to live in L.A., but Leonard chooses to live with his family in San Diego and make the two-hour (let’s be realistic, four hours with traffic) commute to Los Angeles. So, does it matter if his home base is in L.A.? The basketball season isn’t particularly long, and during the season the players spend plenty of time away from home and in hotel rooms across the country, so it’s worth speculating about how much of a draw L.A. is to a guy who doesn’t really seem to care to spend too much time there when he’s not at work. It’s also not uncommon for him to get booed on his own home floor when playing for the Clippers – does that matter to him?
I don’t know – no one knows – but Kawhi won’t make his feelings known until we have pen to paper, and it wouldn’t shock me to see him leave for greener pastures this summer. He again watched his so-called “championship-contending” team get bounced before reaching the Finals, and while it’s fair to acknowledge that Leonard not being there played a significant role in the Clippers not advancing, it’s possible that his squad’s inability to even reach the final stage of the tournament may be rubbing him the wrong way. Again, this is all pure speculation, but if Leonard were to leave, that would create a massive opening for Terance Mann; a guy who stepped up in a big way when Leonard went down.
In eight postseason games following Leonard’s departure from the rotation due to the knee injury, Mann put in averages of 12.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.6 triples, 1.0 steal and just 0.3 turnovers per contest on 55.7% shooting, which was highlighted by a brilliant Game 6, series-clinching performance in which he went off for 39 points (15-of-21 FG, 2-of-2 FT) and seven triples as he sent the Jazz packing. He was somewhat inconsistent, but a performance like that in a high-pressure environment that culminated in a win is nothing to shrug at. If Leonard leaves, Mann could be ready to explode.