By Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
With the NBA season almost upon us, it’s prediction time. No, I don’t mean predicting the Sixers are going to make the playoffs or the Hornets are going to be bad. That’s too easy. It’s time for 10 bold fantasy predictions. Let’s go out on a limb together, shall we?
1. Joel Embiid plays fewer than 60 games
On the surface, this doesn’t seem all that bold since Embiid has played 63 and 64 games, respectively, the last two seasons. However, Embiid stated during the preseason that he wants to play more games this season and has his sights set on the Sixers earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
While that’s a nice sentiment, it’s not practical. The Sixers do have championship aspirations, but they need Embiid to be at full strength during the playoffs to achieve that goal. They’ve added significant depth up front with Al Horford and Kyle O’Quinn, so they can afford to limit Embiid’s minutes and give him plenty of “load management” days.
2. Ben Simmons makes at least five three-pointers
The fantasy appeal with Simmons is his ability to stuff the stat sheet with points, rebounds, and assists. However, it’s no secret that he has limited shooting range. He attempted only six three-pointers all of last season and didn’t make any of them. In fact, he still hasn’t made a three-pointer during his NBA career.
There has been plenty of talk about him working on that shot during the offseason and he even made one — you read that correctly — to the delight of his teammates and the crowd, during the preseason. While it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which he contributes anything meaningful in that category, look for him to at least attempt a few more this season and finally break the ice.
— Yahoo Sport Australia (@YahooSportAu) October 18, 2019
3. Draymond Green finishes inside the top-five in assists
Green provided muted production last season, averaging 7.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. However, when Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson went down in the playoffs, Green stepped up in a big way. Across the Warriors’ final eight playoff games, he averaged 14.1 points, 11.5 rebounds and 9.9 assists per contest.
Now, he also averaged 41 minutes a night during that stretch, a number he obviously won’t reach during the regular season. Still, with Durant gone and Thompson not expected back until after the All-Star break, Green is going to take on a much more significant role this season. Only four players averaged at least eight assists per game last season, which is a threshold that Green should at least be able to approach considering he had averaged at least seven assists per game in three straight seasons leading up to the 2018-19 campaign.
4. Bradley Beal finishes inside the top-five in usage rate
Beal finished last season with a 28.4 percent usage rate that was the 22nd-highest in the league. The player who finished with the fifth-highest mark was Giannis Antetokounmpo at 32.4%, so the jump into the top-five would be significant. However, with John Wall (Achilles) likely to miss the entire season, there isn’t much competition around Beal for shot attempts. In fact, he is going to have to put the team on his back to just keep them in games. If he slips past the first round in fantasy drafts, he’s a gift to start off the second.
5. Ricky Rubio averages more assists than Russell Westbrook
Westbrook has averaged at least 10.4 assists for four straight seasons while Rubio has averaged 5.3 and 6.1 dimes, respectively, over the last two campaigns. However, a change in scenery should have significant ramifications for both players. Westbrook will go from being the primary ball-handler on the Thunder to having to take a back seat to James Harden with the Rockets. Meanwhile, Rubio left the Jazz and will now be a part of the rebuilding Suns.
It’s important to remember that before Rubio joined the Jazz, he had averaged at least 8.6 assists per game for four straight seasons with the Timberwolves. Not only did the Jazz not play at a very fast pace, but Rubio also averaged fewer than 30 minutes a night during both of his seasons in Utah. He should play more for the Suns, and at a much faster pace, so look for him to lap Westbrook in the assist department this season.
6. Terry Rozier finishes inside the top-25 in usage rate
If you think the cupboard is bare for the Wizards, take a look at the players that the Hornets will be trotting out this season. They’ve already been deprived of talent in recent years and are only more so now that Kemba Walker has joined the Celtics. Ironically, replacing him at point guard will be former Celtic, Terry Rozier.
Rozier mostly came off the bench for the Celtics, and when he did start, he had a lot of talent around him to help shoulder the offensive load. Still, we saw a glimpse of what he might be capable of during the 2017-18 season in which he recorded a 23.4% usage rate across 16 starts. He also started 19 playoff games that year, posting a 20.7% usage rate. While his shooting percentage will likely leave a lot to be desired, it won’t be because of a lack of opportunities.
7. Bam Adebayo finishes as a top-10 center
Adebayo has mostly been relegated to a role off the bench during his first two seasons in the league. He did find his way into the starting lineup 28 times last season and played extremely well, averaging 11.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.1 blocks in 28 minutes a night. Not only are those averages impressive, but he also shot 57.6% from the field and 73.5% from the charity stripe for the season, overall.
Since Hassan Whiteside is now a member of the Trailblazers, Adebayo is locked in as the starting center for the Heat. With the likelihood that he plays at least 30 minutes a game, he’s in line for a juicy fantasy campaign, especially when you factor in his contributions with assists and percentages.
8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be a top-40 overall player
After the duo of Westbrook and Paul George failed to lead them to the promised land, the Thunder blew up their roster during the offseason, trading away both stars. One of the players at the center of their rebuild is Gilgeous-Alexander. He will not only step into the starting five, but he figures to be one of the primary scorers on the team.
With the team’s lack of depth, there will be no shortage of playing time for Gilgeous-Alexander. That’s extremely encouraging since he averaged 15.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.9 three-pointers across 21 games in which he logged at least 30 minutes last season. His usage rate already should be considerably higher than his 18.3% mark from last season, and if the Thunder ultimately do trade Chris Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander will have even more responsibility placed on his shoulders.
9. Domantas Sabonis loses starting job by the end of December
In a league that has moved to smaller lineups, the Pacers’ plan is to go big this year with Sabonis starting at power forward and Myles Turner starting at center. Indiana also signed Sabonis to an extension amid trade rumors. He has provided very fantasy-friendly production when he starts, but that’s normally because Turner has been unable to play. With the two on the court at the same time, his numbers could look very different.
The problem likely won’t be how the team performs on offense. It will be how Sabonis and Turner co-exist on defense. Turner is an excellent shot-blocker, so don’t expect to see him running around the perimeter. That will leave Sabonis to defend power forwards, many of which are quicker and play out behind the three-point line. With T.J. Warren also on the roster, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Sabonis eventually return to his role as one of the primary members of the Pacers’ second unit. When Victor Oladipo (knee) returns, the team could push Jeremy Lamb to small forward and Warren to power forward.
10. Tyler Herro Averages 15 points per game
Herro was selected 13th overall in the 2019 Draft and played very well in the summer league, averaging 19.8 points per contest. He’s provided similarly potent production in the preseason, especially from behind the arc. While the Heat did make a big splash by bringing in Jimmy Butler, their roster isn’t all that impressive, especially in terms of scoring options.
Even though Herro is expected to start the season as a member of the second unit, he should still see significant playing time. With the oft-injured Dion Waiters being his main obstacle, don’t be surprised to see Herro eventually elevate to become the starting shooting guard. Still available in the late rounds of most drafts, he has a chance to be one of the better fantasy bargains.