The Case for KD
It’s only been two preseason games and a handful of heavily edited workout hype-clips, but in this extremely limited sample size it’s really starting to look like Kevin Durant is back. The way he fearlessly attacked the rack, defended the post, and pulled up for easy transition 3s in his limited preseason run – it’s tough to say that he’s not back. Yes, the history with Achilles tears is atrocious, with Dominique Wilkins being the only player to ever truly return to form post-Achilles injury, but KD and Nique share something in common – they are the only players who did not tear their Achilles in their “plant foot.” For newbies, the plant foot is the leg you explode off of when you jump, and Achilles injuries famously (or infamously) tend to rob a player of their athleticism. However, while Durant is/has been athletic, he doesn’t rely on his athleticism. Instead, he plays more of a smooth/finesse game with occasional explosive bursts, and those bursts were certainly present during the preseason. At this point, it feels more like a question of can he stay healthy and avoid an injury to his other appendage ala Klay Thompson, rather than can he return to the player he once was?
Now, would I feel comfortable taking Durant in the top-5 of a draft? Absolutely not. Sure, he’s looked great and yes, I’m rooting for him, but it’s not unfair to say that the odds are against him. That said, I do like his price in salary leagues ($51.3) and I would be willing to roll the dice on him towards the backend of the first-round in 16-team leagues and up. In such a deep league, you do need to swing for the fences a bit, because the odds are already stacked against you if you’re picking after the top-12 come off the board.
Can Zion bring the D stats?
It’s starting to feel like the answer to this question is no, which is strange, given how elite Williamson was with the defensive stats in his one-and-done season at Duke: 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks per contest. However, we just haven’t really seen it at the NBA-level. Through 24 games in his rookie season, he averaged just 0.7 steals and 0.4 blocks per game – and in his two preseason appearances, he contributed just 0.5 steals and 0.5 blocks a night. Now, to be fair, Andrew Bogut (0.8), Al Horford (0.9), DeMarcus Cousins (0.8) and Deandre Ayton (0.9) all struggled as shot blockers in their introductory seasons, but all these guys eventually established themselves as respectable rim defenders, can Williamson take the same path?
It looks like he’s going to be a double-double machine this season, which should help him flirt with top-50 status, but getting those defensive stats up will be key to him emerging as an early-round producer.
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Is it #ShakeSZN or GTJ Nation?
Two of my favorite guys to take a flier on this year are Shake Milton and Gary Trent Jr., as I think both guys are primed for a breakout year while operating in a sixth man role with their respective clubs. The new coach (Doc Rivers) and GM (Daryl Morey) are all-in on Shake, as they’ve been hyping him up ever since they touched down in Philly – and his name was regularly brought up during training camp as one of the guys who was really standing out. He looked quite comfortable controlling the second unit in his two preseason outings, posting averages of 17.0 points, 4.0 assists, and 2.5 triples per game on 54.5% shooting in just 22.3 minutes a night. He’s going to have a Lemon Pepper Lou-like role in Rivers’ system, so I think he’ll be a fun guy to own. Plus, if Ben Simmons catches another injury, he could shine as the starting PG in Philly.
As for Gary Trent Jr., he put the league on notice during his lights-out Bubble run, flirting with top 40 value behind averages of 15.8 points, 3.9 triples, 1.8 steals and just 0.8 turnovers per game on 50.6% shooting from the field and 83.3% from the stripe. Now, that explosive run did occur with Rodney Hood (Achilles) watching from the sidelines, and the Trail Blazers added Derrick Jones Jr. this summer, but I don’t think either of those guys are going to seriously impact GTJ. He’s one of Portland’s best player, so it’s tough to imagine Terry Stotts not rewarding him with at least minutes in the high-20s, and Hood will be brought along slowly from the Achilles injury. Trent Jr. looked great in his four preseason games, posting averages of 14.8 points, 2.5 triples, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steal per game in 29.9 minutes a night, so I think he’s ready for a Year-3 explosion and I have him in almost every league.