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Fantasy Basketball impressions after the first week of NBA action

Yahoo Sports Fantasy Staff
·10 min read
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By Nick Whalen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

With nearly one full week of the 2020-21 NBA season in the books, it’s time to take a look around the league and re-evaluate some preseason conjectures.

Of course, it’s important to remember that the season is, in fact, 72 games long, so it’s possible, if not very likely, that much of what we’ve seen over the last six days could change rather dramatically as the year wears on.

Chances are, Nikola Jokic won’t average 14 assists per game, Myles Turner won’t block six shots per game and Stephen Curry won’t shoot 25 percent from three. But a small sample is all we have to work with, so let’s dive in and run through some of the key fantasy storylines through the first week of the season:

The Nets took a weird loss to the Hornets on Sunday

They sat both of their stars in Monday’s loss to Memphis. But despite sitting at 2-2 it feels like Brooklyn is off to one of the league’s best starts. For one, Kevin Durant looks every bit like the two-time Finals MVP we last saw with the Warriors in 2019. And through three games, Kyrie Irving has maybe looked even better. With averages of 29.3 points, 6.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.7 made threes, Irving ranks ahead of Durant in total fantasy points in the early going. Durant is coming off of the more severe injury, but given his recent track record, Irving remains the bigger risk for fantasy managers.

Speaking of injuries, it took Kevin Love all of nine minutes to land on the injury report

The Cavs announced Tuesday morning that he’ll miss at least the next three-to-four weeks with a calf injury. Even for those who got the perpetually banged-up Love at a discount on draft night, this is a major disappointment. A four-week absence would knock Love out for more than a quarter of the season. If Larry Nance Jr. is still available in your league, grab him before it’s too late.

  • Sticking with the Cavaliers: The improvement from the Collin Sexton-Darius Garland backcourt is one of the biggest storylines of the first week. Both players rank in the top-45 in fantasy points per game, and they’ve combined for five 20-point scoring efforts through the Cavs’ first three games. After putting up a 22-6-6 line on opening night, Garland broke out with 21 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, two steals, and a block against Detroit on Saturday. Garland had just six 20-point games and one 10-assist game all of his rookie season. Meanwhile, Sexton is averaging 27.0 points on 59.3 percent shooting, while adding 1.3 steals per game. His assists and rebounding numbers are still pedestrian, but Sexton looks like a much more confident player on both ends.

Maybe everything was lining up too well for Brandon Clarke to have an early season breakout?

With Jaren Jackson Jr. sidelined, Clarke seemed like the obvious candidate to absorb most of Jackson’s workload, but that simply hasn’t been the case through three games. Granted, Clarke was limited by a groin injury during the preseason, but he hasn’t popped up on the injury report. Clarke is averaging just 25.0 minutes per game in the early going and has just one steal and one block in 75 total minutes. He did post 16 points and seven boards Monday against Brooklyn, but he hit only three of seven free-throw attempts.

  • Elsewhere in Memphis, Kyle Anderson has come out of nowhere to average 33.7 fantasy points in three games — more than Michael Porter, Devin Booker, De’Aaron Fox, and Deandre Ayton. Anderson hit four three-pointers in Monday night’s 28-point, seven-rebound, three-assist performance. He never made more than two in any game last season. With Ja Morant set to miss time with an ankle injury, Anderson’s ball-handling ability makes him even more valuable.

The league leader in fantasy points per game through one week?

Nikola Jokic.

After a sluggish start to the 2019-20 season, Jokic has come out on fire, posting just shy of 64.0 fantasy points per game behind 24.0 points, 14.0 assists, 12.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. Of course, those numbers will eventually come back down to earth but Jokic has already set the tone for what should be another monster fantasy campaign. He finished Monday’s win over shorthanded Houston with 19 points, 12 boards, and a career-high 18 assists.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, shoots over Houston Rockets forward Christian Wood
Nikola Jokic has been on the rampage to start the season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

On the other end, Anthony Davis is off to a slower-than-expected start

Due in part to a calf injury that kept him out of Sunday’s game, Davis hasn’t quite looked like himself. He had a big game on Christmas Day — 28 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals — but he’s been just OK in his other two appearances. In 99 minutes, Davis is yet to block a single shot. He earned just four total free throw attempts in games against the Clippers (2-2 FT) and Trail Blazers (1-2 FT).

On the injury front ...

Karl-Anthony Towns will likely miss at least a couple of weeks with a dislocated wrist. The Timberwolves are calling him “week-to-week” for now. Morant’s ankle injury and Love’s calf injury are the other two major blows thus far. Jimmy Butler could also miss some time with an ankle injury that forced him out of Miami’s Christmas Day win over New Orleans.

Tyrese Haliburton has been an immediate contributor for the 2-1 Kings

The rookie is averaging nearly 28 minutes per game through his first three NBA appearances. The lottery pick had 15 points, six assists, one rebound and three made three-pointers Monday night against Phoenix.

Controversial opinion: Kelly Oubre and Andrew Wiggins have not been good

It’s been a rough start for the Warriors, who eked out a win over Chicago on Sunday to move to 1-2 following lopsided losses to the Nets and Bucks. Oubre has just 17 points in three games and is yet to convert any of his 17 three-point attempts. Wiggins has been slightly better, but he’s averaging 14.7 points on just 32.7 percent shooting. Golden State should get Draymond Green back later this week, but it’s hard to imagine the Warriors’ spacing issues being solved anytime soon. Stephen Curry is coming off of his best game thus far — 36 points, six assists, five threes — but he, too, is in a shooting slump, by his standards (9-35 3PT).

  • If there’s a bright spot for Golden State, it’s that James Wiseman looks like the real deal. On Christmas Day against the Bucks, Wiseman had 18 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and three three-pointers in 25 minutes. Wiseman’s outside shot, in particular, is much further along than expected at this stage.

Last season, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s free throw percentage plummeted ...

... nearly 10 percentage points all the way down to 63.3 percent. It was the reason he fell out of the top-10 in per-game value in eight-category leagues. We’re only three games in, but it’s clear the reigning two-time MVP has not solved that issue. After going 6-of-8 at the line on opening night — one of those misses was especially costly — Antetokounmpo has followed up with 7-of-15 and 8-of-13 showings. That puts him just north of 58 percent on 12.0 attempts per game. Antetokounmpo also hasn’t looked any more comfortable from three. He’s 1-of-8 over his last two games, and some of his misses aren’t even close.

  • The other player whose free throw percentage should be monitored is Zion Williamson. After hitting better than two-thirds of his free throws in limited preseason action, Williamson is just 15-of-26 at the line to begin the year. Like Antetokounmpo, Williamson gets to the line a ton, so that sub-60-percent figure is especially damaging in category leagues. On the plus side, whatever minutes restriction Williamson was on last season has completely evaporated, as he’s played 30, 38, and 38 minutes through three games. Williamson is 3-for-3 on double-doubles so far, but he has only four assists and two blocks in 106 minutes.

The Rockets should get John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Eric Gordon back ...

... from their seven-day quarantines in time for Thursday’s game against Sacramento. That will take some of the burden off of James Harden, who’s been fantastic through two games (39.0 PPG, 12.5 APG, 5.5 3PM).

  • One other quick Rockets note: The early returns on Christian Wood have been positive: 27.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.0 steal, 2.0 threes through two games. Those numbers are slightly elevated after Wood played 44 minutes against Portland on Saturday.

Domantas Sabonis is off to an excellent start

With three double-doubles and one triple-double in three games! He’s been a liability at the free-throw line (15-26 FT), but Sabonis has re-added the three-point shot to his game, which he’d all but abandoned after his rookie year in Oklahoma City. Sabonis is 4-of-9 from three after attempting just 84 total threes over his previous 136 games.

The Spurs may have found their latest draft-night gem in Keldon Johnson

A late-first-rounder in 2019, Johnson had some impressive games in the bubble, and he’s carried it over into 2020-21. In three starts (30.3 MPG), Johnson is averaging 14.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.0 block, making him one of the hottest waiver-wire targets after one week.

Taking losses to Pelicans and Spurs, Toronto is off to a surprising 0-2 start

Aron Baynes has taken over the starting center spot, but his backup, Chris Boucher, is the hotter fantasy commodity. Boucher had 12 points, five boards, and two blocks in the opener and followed up with 22 points, 10 rebounds, seven blocks, and three three-pointers Saturday night. If Boucher can consistently play closer to 25 minutes per game, he could be among the season’s biggest breakouts.

The Wizards put up a fight against Philadelphia on their opening night ...

... but after two straight losses to Orlando, they enter Tuesday’s game against Chicago sitting at 0-3. The good news is Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal have found a way to coexist — statistically, at least — with both players ranking inside the top-five in fantasy points per game. Westbrook has two triple-doubles in two appearances, while Beal is averaging 33.0 points per game with just under 10 free throw attempts per contest. Despite going 0-of-7 from three on Sunday (Westbrook rested), Beal still finished with 29 points, seven assists, and five boards.

Michael Porter Jr. is off to a fine but not spectacular start

After scoring 24 points in the opener against Sacramento, Porter had just 24 points over the Nuggets’ last two games combined. He’s added some value on the defensive end, however, including two steals and three blocks against the Kings. One encouraging sign: Nikola Jokic has already implored Mike Malone to find more touches for Porter.

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