The NBA regular season is just one day away, with teams facing a deadline of 5 p.m. Eastern to finalize their rosters. While there are some final decisions that still need to be made, the more pressing issue from a fantasy standpoint is figuring out the statuses of some key players who had to deal with injuries during the preseason.
On that list is Clippers guard Paul George, who is not expected to be ready to play until November at the earliest. In addition to George, we'll also take a look at Warriors center Kevon Looney, Pacers power forward Derrick Favors, and Rockets guards Russell Westbrook and Austin Rivers.
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It had already been determined that George would not be available for the start fo the season, as he’s still recovering from offseason surgeries on both of his shoulders. How much time will he ultimately miss? That question remains unanswered, as Doc Rivers said on Sunday that it isn’t clear when the All-Star wing will be cleared for full-contact work.
George is still a player worth drafting early, due to his ability to impact games on both ends of the floor. But how early should he be taken? With a return date yet to be determined, drafting George at this point may also mean that players need to grab either Moe Harkless or rookie Terance Mann as well.
While Mann didn’t shoot the ball as well as one would have liked in the preseason, making 41.7% of his shots from the field and 20.0% of his three-point attempts, the rookie out of Florida State managed to find other ways in which he could impact a game while on the court. Mann posted averages of 6.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.3 blocks in 24.2 minutes per game. Rivers has other experienced perimeter options that he can call on while George continues to rehab, but Mann’s ability as a defender may be what gets him onto the court sooner rather than later.
Harkless, who was acquired from Portland as part of a four-team trade in the summer, averaged 7.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.4 steals and 0.4 blocks per game during the preseason. More important than those numbers is the fact that he was healthy, as the eighth-year forward out of St. John's struggled with knee issues for much of last season. And with that being the case he was still just outside of the top-100 in nine-category leagues and just outside of the top-150 in eight-cat.
And when it comes to the Clippers and injuries, Kawhi Leonard has to be mentioned given how his workload was managed last season with the Raptors and during this preseason. The approach worked with great effect last season, and even with George sidelined Leonard is likely to get the occasional night off.
When looking at Harkless and Mann the former has the edge in experience, and that could impact Rivers’ thinking when it comes to dividing up the minutes. But Mann should not be overlooked as a legitimate option for the Clippers as they look to navigate the early portion of the season without George.
Kevon Looney will probably start Thursday night
Looney was able to scrimmage during Sunday’s practice, and afterwards Steve Kerr said that the fifth-year center would “probably” start at center when Golden State begins its season Thursday night against the Clippers. It goes without saying that this is good news for the reigning Western Conference champions, not only because of what Looney brings to the table but also the status of Golden State’s depth in the front court.
Last season the 6-foot-9, 220-pound center posted averages of 6.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.7 blocks in 18.5 minutes per game, with a field goal percentage of 62.5% and a free throw percentage of 61.9%. Looney isn’t going to be of much service at the charity stripe (last year’s percentage was the best of his career), but the field goal percentage, rebounds, steals and blocks are areas in which he can be of value in most leagues. Looney finished the season just inside of the top-200 in nine-category leagues, and just outside of that mark in eight-category leagues.
But due to the Warriors’ depth — or lack of it — in the post, Looney stands to be better than that in 2019-20. DeMarcus Cousins (who will likely miss the entire season with a torn ACL) signed with the Lakers in free agency, Jonas Jerebko is now playing in Europe, Andrew Bogut has returned to his native Australia to play in the NBL, and Damian Jones was traded (along with a second-round pick) to Atlanta in exchange for Omari Spellman.
And then there’s the injury bug. In addition to Looney, Willie Cauley-Stein (foot strain) did not play at all during the preseason, and rookie Alen Smailagic missed time with a sprained ankle. Those injuries left the Warriors with Draymond Green, Spellman (who was slowed by a back injury before being cleared to return), offseason signing Marquese Chriss and rookie Eric Paschall (who’s more face-up four than burly interior presence) as healthy front court options.
Chriss, who was a raw talent coming out of Washington and was done no favors when he landed in Phoenix as opposed to a more stable franchise, played well enough during the preseason to earn a contract and force the hard-capped Warriors to waive Alfonzo McKinnie. And he appeared destined to start the Warriors’ opener until Kerr’s proclamation on Sunday that Looney would probably start against the Clippers. Looney clearly has fantasy value, but what about Chriss? Due to the Warriors’ lack of numbers he could qualify as a player worth considering on the waiver wire, especially if he can produce as he did during the preseason.
Playing an average of 22.4 minutes per game in five appearances, Chriss accounted for 9.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 58.6% from the field and 85.7% from the foul line. The preseason and regular season are entirely different deals, and given how his career has gone to this point it’s understandable if some refuse to “jump into the deep end” and pick up Chriss. But given Golden State’s lack of interior depth, and how tricky hamstring injuries can be, it may not be a bad idea to grab Chriss off the waiver wire if he’s still unclaimed.
Simmons, Favors, Westbrook and Rivers all expected to be ready for their respective openers
Multiple teams were on the receiving ends of good fortune injury-wise, as Ben Simmons has been cleared to resume practicing after missing time due to a back issue. With that being the case Philadelphia should have its starting quarterback available for the team’s opener, as he was able to participate fully Sunday’s practice. Simmons’ shooting ability has been a topic of conversation for quite some time now, but turnovers were also a factor when it comes to his fantasy value.
He was a top-75 player in nine-cat and a top-50 player in eight-cat last season, with the turnovers (3.5 per game) bringing down his fantasy ranking. During the preseason, Simmons averaged 3.7 turnovers per game while shooting 61.5% from the field and 54.5% from the foul line.
Also expected to play in his team’s opener is Pelicans power forward Derrick Favors. The veteran has been dealing with some soreness during the preseason, but is expected to be ready for Tuesday’s matchup with the Raptors. A top-75 player in nine-cat leagues last season while with the Jazz, Favors is of even greater importance to New Orleans with Zion Williamson (knee) out of the lineup. In addition to what he brings to the table as a scorer and rebounder, Favors can also produce when it comes to the rebounding and defensive stats.
Favors averaged 7.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 0.7 steals per game in 2018-19, and during the preseason he tallied 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks and 0.5 steals in 14.8 minutes per game.
In addition to Favors being good to go, J.J. Redick will remain in the starting lineup per Alvin Gentry, The veteran shooting guard, who gives the Pelicans valuable spacing due to his ability to make perimeter shots, replaced the injured Williamson in the starting lineup for New Orleans’ preseason finale against the Knicks. Redick was a top-100 player in nine-cat with the 76ers last season, and with the Pelicans needing a player who can consistently make perimeter shots he’ll certainly have value in all leagues.
Lastly, Rockets guards Russell Westbrook (dislocated fingers, right hand) and Austin Rivers (shoulder) are expected to be available for Thursday’s opener against Golden State. Westbrook dealt with multiple dislocation on his right (shooting) hand during the preseason, averaging 16.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 5.3 turnovers per game in four appearances. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, making just 26.9% of his three-point attempts and shooting 41.5% from the field overall, but the turnover count is of even greater concern heading into the season. Last season he averaged 4.4 per game, and while his lower shooting percentages received most of the attention those miscues also had a negative impact on Westbrook’s fantasy value.
As for Rivers, he still appeared in six preseason games despite the shoulder issue. But his percentages weren’t the best, as the ninth-year guard shot 31.0% from the field and 18.2% from beyond the arc. After joining the Rockets last season he shot 32.1% from three with an average of 1.5 made three-pointers per game. And with there likely being times within games in which Mike D’Antoni looks to stagger the minutes of Harden and Westbrook to ensure that at least one of those two is on the court, Rivers will need to get back to shooting the basketball as he did for much of his time with the Clippers (37.8% from three with 2.2 made triples per game in 2017-18) in order to be valuable from a fantasy standpoint. He finished last season ranked outside of the top-300 in nine-category leagues.