Fantasy Basketball: Should you buy or sell these early season trends?

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Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets
Talk about a debut. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

By Nick Whalen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

While those in season-long leagues are already in Week 2, the conclusion of Monday night’s slate marked the end of the first full week of the NBA season. We’ve already had some surprises — the Timberwolves are 3-0; the Pacers are 0-3; the Knicks have won a basketball game — and in the world of fantasy basketball, most managers are left wondering whether early season trends are fool’s gold, or here to stay.

Chances are, Karl-Anthony Towns will hang around the top of most fantasy leaderboards. Joel Embiid, too. But can Brandon Ingram maintain his hot start? Will James Harden continue to miss three-pointers at the highest rate in NBA history? Is Kendrick Nunn a better player than Kemba Walker? The answer to all three of those questions is probably “No,” but what’s the first week of the season without some reckless speculation?

With that, let’s take a look at some of the fantasy storylines to monitor heading into Week 2:

The Golden State Warriors got a much-needed win ...

... over the Pelicans on Monday night. The Warriors 0-2 start, itself, wasn’t all that alarming, but it was how they lost to the Clippers and, especially, the Thunder, that sent the league into a minor panic. Oklahoma City led 70-37 at halftime Sunday and extended the lead to 105-68 at the end of the third. Stephen Curry was limited to 23 points on 18 shots, while D’Angelo Russell had only six points in 22 minutes before being ejected in the fourth quarter.

Even after Monday’s win, the Warriors own the league’s worst defense, by far, through the first week of the season. Golden State doesn’t have a clear path to improving its roster in-season, but getting Alec Burks and Kevon Looney back from injuries should help. Longterm, though, Golden State looks like it will be among the fantasy defenses to target this season.

Thought to be a dark horse eighth-seed contender, the Kings ...

... are off to a disastrous 0-4 start. Marvin Bagley got hurt on opening night, Luke Walton’s rotations have been a mess, and the King’s overpriced offseason additions haven’t performed. Fantasy-wise, Fox’s slow start is of the most concern. He’s played well in two of four games — he had 20 points and nine assists Monday night — but Fox took only seven shots on opening night, and he played just 20 minutes in a lopsided loss to Utah on Saturday. Thus far, he’s notched two steals and no blocks in 117 minutes.

If there’s been a bright spot for Sacramento, it’s Richaun Holmes, who broke out for 24 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks in 30 minutes Monday night. Holmes had played only 32 combined minutes in the previous two games without Bagley, so there’s no guarantee the workload will be there every night, but he looked like a significant step up from offseason addition Dewayne Dedmon, who’s been a complete non-factor thus far.

Jimmy Butler will make his Miami Heat debut Tuesday night ...

... against Atlanta after missing the first three games of the season following the birth of his daughter. The Heat have already confirmed that Butler will start right away, which will likely push Kendrick Nunn or Tyler Herro to the bench. Benefiting from the absence of Dion Waiters, who will remain out Tuesday, Herro has played at least 32 minutes in all three games thus far. Nunn, meanwhile, played 40 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Wolves, finishing with 25 points, including five three-pointers. Both Nunn and Herro look like longterm fits in the rotation, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Waiters is ultimately the one who’s squeezed out.

Pascal Siakam has been the engine behind Toronto’s 3-1 start

He’s been a top-15 player in Yahoo leagues on the back of 27.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.3 threes per game. Last season, Siakam’s usage rate settled in at 20.8 percent. Through four games, that number has climbed to 32.0% — higher than Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Speaking of hot starts, Karl-Anthony Towns ...

... was the runaway No. 1 overall player in Week 1, posting averages of 32.0 points, 13.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.0 blocks in three games. He has some room to improve, as well, considering he’s hit just 17-for-27 free throw attempts. Coming into the season, Towns was a career 83.6% free-throw shooter.

The Zion-less Pelicans sit at 0-4 after Monday’s loss ...

... to Golden State, but if the NBA handed out a Most Improved Player award after one week, it would probably go to Brandon Ingram. The 22 year old was limited for much of the summer following a blood clot scare late last season, but he’s showing off an improved offensive package, putting up 27.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists through his first four games. Perhaps most encouraging: Ingram is 14-of-28 from beyond the arc after hitting just 31 threes in 52 games a year ago in Los Angeles. History suggestions Ingram will slow down at some point — he’s currently a top-10 player in Yahoo leagues — but he’s been a nice surprise for managers who bought low in drafts.

Also making an early Most Improved Player case is Fred VanVleet ...

... who’s averaging just under 39 minutes per game in what’s been a tight Raptors rotation. The fourth-year guard looks like the permanent starter next to Kyle Lowry, and he’s responded with 18.0 points, 6.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals through four games. Already a great three-point shooter (2.8 3PM/G, 40.7%), the only hole in VanVleet’s profile is his poor field goal percentage (38.6%), which has been an issue throughout his career.

Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors
Fred VanVleet has been playing some excellent basketball of late. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Through three games, the James Harden-Russell Westbrook experiment ...

... has generated mostly positive results. The opener against Milwaukee was a little clunky, but Westbrook logged his first triple-double over the weekend and nearly had another Monday night against his former team. Meanwhile, Harden is averaging just a shade under 30 points per game, despite shooting a horrific 28.6% from the field (18-of-63) and 6-of-40 — SIX OF FORTY — from beyond the arc. As usual, Harden has been able to bail himself — and fantasy managers — out from the charity stripe, where he’s 46-of-48 and well on his way to leading the league in both makes and attempts for the sixth consecutive season.

The only player ranked ahead of Kyrie Irving in Yahoo leagues ...

... thus far is the aforementioned Karl-Anthony Towns. Irving went for 50 on opening night and is coming off of a 37-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist effort in Sunday’s loss to Memphis. While Brooklyn is off to a shaky 1-2 start, Irving leads the league in usage rate (37.9%), and he’s already made 29 trips to the free throw line.

If you rushed to the waiver wire to grab PJ Washington ...

... you may be disappointed that he’s yet to match last week’s 27-point, seven-three-pointer effort. While that contest continues to look more and more like an outlier, the good news is Washington looks like he’ll be a 30-minutes-per-night player for the foreseeable future — at least until Nic Batum is back from injury. Even when he’s not splashing threes at a Klay Thompson-esque clip, the rookie has already proven he can provide rebounding and decent defensive statistics for a team that should be looking to play as many young guys as possible.

While they didn’t roll it out during the preseason, the Cavaliers are starting ...

... the Collin Sexton/Darius Garland combo in the backcourt. Thus far, the Cavs have looked about as lost as expected, but Sexton has appeared mostly comfortable shifting to an off-ball role. Through three games his numbers are nearly identical to last season’s. Bizarrely, he continues to be a non-factor in terms of defensive statistics, but if his three-point shooting proves sustainable, Sexton could hold onto some relevance in standard leagues.

I cannot in good faith endorse trusting Dwight Howard ...

... but there’s a reason he’s now rostered in more than half of Yahoo leagues. After a disastrous opener against the Clippers when he was fouling everyone in sight, Howard appears to have settled into his new role as a 20-ish-minutes-per-night energy defender. He logged two blocks, two steals and seven boards Saturday against Utah and followed up with an impressive 16-point, 10-rebound, four-block effort Sunday night against Charlotte. For now, Howard has a clear edge over JaVale McGee, who’s played fewer minutes than Howard in all three contests.

Suffice it to say, Trae Young has picked up where he left off ...

... last season. The second-year guard went off for 38 points and six threes in the opener against Detroit and has since followed up with 39- and 25-point efforts. Young has handed out nine assists in all three games, and he’s grabbed 18 total rebounds while hitting 13-of-25 three-point attempts. Those numbers have rocketed him into the top-five in Yahoo leagues, though he falls down the rankings in leagues that account for turnovers (6.0 per game). Unfortunately, Young had to leave Tuesday’s game with an apparent ankle injury. Be sure to monitor the situation closely.

The 0-3 Pacers are among the Week 1 disappointments ...

... but Malcolm Brogdon has looked the part of a player ready to step into a larger role. In 35.0 minutes per game, Brogdon is averaging a double-double, having handed out at least 10 assists in all three contests. He’s maintained his trademark efficiency from three (43.8%) and the line (94.1%), though his field goal percentage (45.8%) took a hit after a 5-of-17 performance against Detroit on Monday.

Keep an eye on Derrick Rose ...

... who’s still available in nearly a quarter of Yahoo leagues. Rose ranks fifth in the league in usage rate early on, and while he’s yet to start a game, he’s been far more effective than Tim Frazier or an already-banged-up Reggie Jackson. Rose went for 18, 27, and 31 points in his first three games before a 10-point (4-16 FG) dud Monday against the Pacers.

The Lakers’ offense hasn’t always been pretty ...

... especially with LeBron James or Anthony Davis on the bench — but help could be arriving soon, as Kyle Kuzma will join the team on its upcoming three-game road swing. Kuzma won’t play Tuesday against Memphis, but he could return doing the trip, which includes stops in Dallas (Friday), San Antonio (Sunday) and Chicago (Tuesday). Once he’s back up to speed, Kuzma is expected to be a fixture in the starting five. Early on, the Lakers rank 24th in the league in three-point attempt rate.

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