A question that gets asked every year in fantasy basketball is a simple one: who should be the top overall pick? Obviously with there being different kinds of leagues, there isn’t always just one clear-cut option. But heading into the 2019-20 season, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns may in fact be that player. A top-five player in nine-category leagues and just outside of the top-five in eight-category leagues a season ago, the stars began to align for Towns during the press conference in which Gersson Rosas was announced as the Timberwolves’ new president of basketball operations.
Rosas made it clear that he would be building the team around Towns, removing any confusion that could have stemmed from the fact that there are two max-contract (or close to it) players on the roster with Andrew Wiggins being the other. Lakers power forward Anthony Davis is also worthy of consideration, but he’ll be playing with more proven commodities. Lastly, Towns is really good at basketball. And he showed off the full skill set in Tuesday’s 119-111 win over the Pacers in the team’s penultimate preseason game.
He played 26 minutes, shooting 13-of-20 from the field and 3-of-4 from the foul line, finishing with 33 points, ten rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots, two turnovers and four 3-pointers. The 26 minutes are the most that Towns has played in a game during this preseason, with the fifth-year center averaging 19.7 minutes per (he averaged at least 23.0 mpg in each of his first four preseasons). Towns’ averages this preseason: 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.0 steals, 1.8 turnovers and 2.5 three-pointers per game. And he’s done with with shooting splits of 55.3% from the field, 40.0% from three (on 6.3 attempts per game) and 88.9% from the foul line.
In 2018-19 Towns posted averages of 24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, 0.9 steals and 1.8 three-pointers per game, earning a trip to the All-Star Game for the second straight year. The fact that he could be even better this season is good news for the Timberwolves, as the franchise looks to build a playoff team with its young center leading the way.
Also of note for Minnesota in Tuesday’s win was the play of Robert Covington, who posted a stat line of ten points (4-of-10 FGs), 19 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, one steal, two 3-pointers and two turnovers in 28 minutes. There were times Tuesday in which Covington was used at the four, and he’ll see time at that spot during the regular season as well. But for it work he’ll need to produce on the boards at a higher level than he has for most of his career.
Last season Covington grabbed 5.5 rebounds per game, which is equal to his career average. During the preseason he’s up to 8.0 per night, and if that production carries over into the regular season Covington becomes an even more valuable player in most leagues. While he hasn’t shot the ball well, averaging 5.8 points per game on 37.5% shooting from the field and 33.3% shooting from three, in addition to the rebounding Covington’s contributed 2.0 assists, 1.5 blocks and 0.8 steals per.
Starters Jake Layman and Andrew Wiggins chipped in with ten and 11 points respectively, with the former also accounting for three rebounds, three assists and two 3-pointers. As for Wiggins, he shot just 4-of-16 from the field while also tallying three rebounds and one assist. With the veteran wing not offering a great deal outside of scoring (when he’s making shots), could there be a time when Minnesota gives rookie Jarrett Culver time with the starters?
Culver played 20 minutes Tuesday night, scoring 15 points (7-of-14 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs) with four rebounds, three assists and one steal. Coach Ryan Saunders hasn’t had Culver and Wiggins on the court together all that often during the preseason, an average of 3.3 mpg in the three games that both have played in.
Maybe playing primarily against reserves has been a factor in Culver producing better numbers (13.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.2 3PM vs. 9.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.0 3PM for Wiggins), but he’s chipped in more in non-scoring areas. And when you have a focal point like Towns that the franchise clearly wants to play through, could the rookie out of Texas Tech be the better fit? Wiggins is going to be the starter when the regular season begins, and unless there are injuries it’s likely that this will remain the case all season long. But if Wiggins’ struggles shooting the ball, especially when he isn’t providing much else, continue more could ask if Culver is the better fit alongside Towns.
Jordan Bell, who missed time due to a left calf issue, made his preseason debut and accounted for four points and five rebounds in seven minutes of action, and point guards Jeff Teague and Shabazz Napier dished out seven assists each.
On the Pacers side center Goga Bitadze made his preseason debut and it was a solid one, as the rookie shot 6-of-9 from the field and scored 14 points with four rebounds, two assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in 24 minutes. If there was an issue for Bitadze it was the turnover count, as he finished with a game-high six on the night, but he’ll clearly be a key figure in the team’s second unit. Doug McDermott also scored 14 points, shooting 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, with guards Edmond Sumner (11 points, four assists, two rebounds, one steal, one block and one three-pointer) and T.J. McConnell (ten points, eight assists, three rebounds, two steals and one block) also scoring in double figures.
Domantas Sabonis was the only starter to score in double figures for the Pacers, as he tallied 11 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and one three-pointer in 17 minutes. T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb, whose scoring ability will be key as Victor Oladipo continues to work his way back from injury, shot a combined 2-of-11 from the field for six points (Lamb scored four). Warren played just nine minutes Tuesday night, opening up minutes for the likes of McDermott, Justin Holiday (seven points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks and one three-pointer), Alize Johnson (five points, eight rebounds, one assist, one steal and one three-pointer) and TJ Leaf (six points, six rebounds, one assist and one steal).
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76ers 106, Pistons 86
With Ben Simmons held out due to a back injury, Josh Richardson was moved into the starting point guard role and rookie Matisse Thybulle joined the starting lineup. Thybulle scored seven points, shooting 2-of-5 from the field and 2-of-2 from the foul line, and he also accounted for six rebounds, four steals, two blocks, one assist and one three-pointer in 25 minutes played. He’s been an absolute handful on the defensive end of the floor during the preseason, averaging 3.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per game thanks to his combination of length, athleticism and defensive instincts.
While there’s still room to grow when it comes to the shooting, as Thybulle is making just 30.8% of his three-pointers, the defensive ability is what will have him in the rotation when the regular season begins. As for Richardson, he finished with 11 points (4-of-12 FGs, 2-of-3 FTs), six assists, five rebounds, one steal, one three-pointer and two turnovers in 26 minutes. Among the starters Joel Embiid was the most productive, as he posted a line of 24 points, eight rebounds and one blocked shot in 22 minutes.
Tobias Harris and Furkan Korkmaz added ten points apiece, with the latter tallying four rebounds, one assist, one steal and two three-pointers in his first start of the preseason. Among the reserves Kyle O’Quinn (11 rebounds, five assists and two blocks) and Norvel Pelle (13 points, four rebounds and five blocks) stood out, with the latter destined to spend most of his time with the 76ers’ G-League affiliate in Delaware since he's on a two-way contract. One person who may be happy about that: Pistons power forward Christian Wood, who was rejected at the rim by Pelle on multiple occasions during the fourth quarter.
Rejected dunk attempts aside Wood had a good night off the bench, putting up 19 points (7-of-14 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs), ten rebounds, two assists, one steal and one blocked shot in 24 minutes. The well-traveled forward remained with the second unit despite the Pistons being without Blake Griffin (hamstring) and Andre Drummond (rest), but he made yet another statement in his quest for a guaranteed roster spot. The Pistons were also without Markieff Morris, who was out due to bronchitis.
Tony Snell and Luke Kennard were the only starters to score in double figures, with Snell finishing with 17 points (two rebounds, one steal, one blocks and two 3-pointers) and Kennard 11 (three rebounds, three assists and two 3-pointers). Thon Maker grabbed ten rebounds and dished out five assists, but he had a brutal night shooting the ball as he missed all eight of his field goal attempts. Maker made both of his free throw attempts on the night. Lastly guards Reggie Jackson and Bruce Brown also struggled shooting the ball, as they combined to score ten points on 4-of-17 shooting.
Brown, who grabbed six rebounds, has value within the Pistons rotation because of his ability as a defender. But he doesn’t bring much to the table offensively, and until that changes he really isn’t a viable fantasy option in most leagues. As for Jackson, he may merit a late-round selection in deeper leagues but when his shots aren’t falling he hasn’t brought much else to the table. Last season his average of 4.2 assists per game was lowest number that Jackson has put up since the 2013-14 season, his third in Oklahoma City.
Celtics 118, Cavaliers 95
Boston, which blew out Cleveland Sunday afternoon at home, met a little more resistance in the rematch Tuesday night. But the fact that Boston left its top seven players home had a lot to do with the fact that the Cavaliers were able to hang around (comparatively speaking). Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis all stayed in Boston for rest reasons, and Jayson Tatum was ruled out due to illness. That opened up minutes — and opportunities — for the Celtics’ younger players and a few took advantage.
Carsen Edwards shot 9-of-15 from beyond the arc, scoring 30 points (10-of-16 FGs, 1-of-2 FTs) with three rebounds and a blocked shot in 21 minutes of action. The rookie guard left the game during the first quarter after taking an inadvertent shot to the face, but he was able to return before the period ended. The third quarter is when Edwards took over, as he drained eight three-pointers in less than six minutes of game action. Fellow rookie Tremont Waters (who’s on a two-way deal) also had a good night, as he also shot 10-of-16 from the field and finished with 24 points, seven assists, two rebounds, two steals and three 3-pointers in 29 minutes off the bench.
Brad Wanamaker, who started alongside Edwards in the backcourt, chipped in with 11 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals. With Boston having the ability to use players who don’t fit the traditional point guard mold to initiate offense, that may impact the number of minutes that are available to a player like Edwards once the regular season begins. That being said, his ability to score from just about anywhere on the court makes it likely that Brad Stevens will find room for him somewhere in the rotation. Enough to make the rookie a late-round fantasy option? That’s the question that needs answering with the regular season just six days away.
Also worth noting on the perimeter for Boston is the play of Javonte Green, who had another good night in his quest to earn a roster spot. Green played 30 minutes scoring 16 points (6-of-10 FGs, 4-of-6 FTs) with nine rebounds and one assist. He’s played an average of 14.1 minutes per game during the preseason, accounting for 9.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per outing. Whether or not it’s enough to get Green onto the 15-man roster remains to be seen, but to his credit he’s made the decision a tough one for the Celtics.
The lone negative for Boston: the head injury suffered by Robert Williams during the first quarter. The Time Lord took a shot to the head, and while the aforementioned Edwards was able to return after his injury Williams was not. Following the game the Celtics announced that the young center was experiencing concussion-like symptoms, and he’ll be re-evaluated Tuesday in Boston.
For the Cavaliers, Darius Garland and Kevin Love both played after sitting out Sunday’s loss in Boston. Love started and played 11 minutes, scoring eight points on 4-of-7 shooting while grabbing five rebounds. As for Garland, the rookie point guard was one of the first two reserves off the bench along with Larry Nance Jr. Garland played 25 minutes on the night, scoring 16 points (6-of-13 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs) with four assists and two 3-pointers. Collin Sexton led the Cavaliers offensively, scoring 20 points (7-of-14 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs) with two rebounds, two assists and one three-pointer.
Along with Garland, Jordan Clarkson (15 points, two rebounds, one assist and four 3-pointers) and Kevin Porter Jr. (eight points, three rebounds, one assist) were Cleveland’s best reserves. With four players (John Henson, Ante Zizic, Tristan Thompson and Dylan Windler) sidelined due to injury a fifth Cavalier joined the list, as Matthew Dellavedova sprained his right thumb during the second quarter. The veteran guard did not return, playing just nine minutes.
Cleveland also made some roster moves following the game, with Daniel Hamilton, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, J.P. Macura and Sindarius Thornwell all being waived. Hamilton and Macura were both on Exhibit 10 contracts, so if they aren’t claimed by another team there’s a good chance that they’ll be with the Cavs’ G-League affiliate in Canton. Jarell Martin and Marques Bolden have been spared for now, but according to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer neither has locked up a roster spot. Martin tallied nine points, seven rebounds, three steals, one assist, one block and two 3-pointers in 27 minutes, while Bolden accounted for two points and three rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.