The preseason is here and it might be more valuable than ever. An absurd amount of guys missed Las Vegas Summer League in July, so this week will be the first time we get a look at several top-notch rookies. We may have an idea what kind of talent these guys have in Vegas and in the preseason, but it’s always interesting to see how teams will utilize rookies in sets and to see how many positions they can fill out in a rotation.
There has been almost endless amount of news to check out around the NBA, so you should definitely run through our Player News page for all the updates. A lot of it can be noise, but there are a lot of players creating buzz based on reports, their play in scrimmages and quotes from the team. Here’s a quick rundown of some developments over the weekend that’ll have some actionable info as we head into fantasy draft season.
Before we hop in, if you're really into the preseason or are obsessed with fantasy like I am, follow me on Twitter @MikeSGallagher for all the relevant news and analysis.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was reportedly a monster in scrimmage and continues to generate buzz. He went off for a game-high 21 points in a scrimmage on Sunday, roasting basically anyone in front of him. Coach Billy Donovan said that he will use SGA next to both Dennis Schroder and Chris Paul, so the minutes will absolutely be there for the second-year guard. Additionally, SGA’s upside as a primary-ish guy is terrific, and he showed what he could do in the postseason against a great Warriors team. After the break last season and with Lou Williams on the bench, SGA’s per-36 stats were 18.3 points, 4.2 boards, 5.2 dimes, 2.3 steals, 0.6 blocks and 1.5 treys on a 50/51/79 shooting line over that 434-minute sample -- it was a 24/3/5 line in 100 playoff minutes without Lou Will. Also after the break, SGA's shot distribution at the rim saw a massive 7.6% boost compared to pre-break, he also shot the ball better at the rim, and he saw a huge 13.2 percent boost in percentage of points via fast break. Give me all the SGA in drafts and I’d take him in the fifth every single time -- I have him as a top-35 pick in nine-cat leagues and will probably take him in the third in my leagues with sharp players, for what it’s worth.
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Brandon Clarke is going to play the 3-5 in the Grizzlies new “five out” offense. The reigning Summer League MVP got the start on Sunday because of no Jonas Valanciunas (foot), scoring six points with five rebounds and one assist in just 15 minutes. He didn’t get cleared until Sunday afternoon because of an ankle tweak, so he may have been on a limit. Still, Clarke was ahead of the curve as a screener and his sheer athleticism is going to yield plenty of fantasy goodness. Kyle Anderson says he’s not all the way back from injury and JV does miss games at times, so Clarke may find more minutes as Slow Mo ramps up. Having so many paths to fantasy relevance makes him a great late-round flier.
Robert Williams got the start on Sunday had put up several highlight plays, posting a stat line of two points, two boards, one dime and two blocks in just 10 minutes. The Celtics have talked about how they want to get their centers inside the paint and get away from the floor-spacing style of Al Horford. On paper, it makes sense to start the Time Lord because the first unit really doesn’t need anymore scoring punch with so many other weapons out there. Last season he had a ludicrous 5.1 blocks per 36 minutes, and the team has been raving about how he communicates as the back line of defense. Hopefully, he doesn’t totally go nuts in the preseason and we can just grab him in the 130-plus neighborhood. If he smashes, he might have to come off the board near 100.
Just to add a couple other quick Celtics notes, Jayson Tatum has impressed with his change in shot selection, scoring 20 points in 23 minutes on Sunday. In that one, 12 of his 14 shots from the field were either threes of shots in the paint. You love to see it. Gordon Hayward has also created a ton of buzz at Celtics camp, so he may be someone to target in the mid rounds. Semi Ojeleye was also the backup four, so it may take some time before we’re looking to Grant Williams, who has also been a standout guy in camp. He's such a polished rookie.
A lot of the fantasy community is quick to write off Collin Sexton for his lack of non-scoring stats. I was part of that crew, but I’m coming around on taking him now. Perhaps nobody improved his shot selection after the break like Sexton did, and he said in an interview that he focused on that in the 2019 portion of the season. When looking at pre-break numbers vs. post-break stats, Sexton saw a 4.8% boost on his shot distribution at the rim, his FG% at the rim jumped up 9.3%, his drives went up 3.5 more per game, and his mid-range distribution was cut a whopping 17.5 percent. Beyond impressive stuff right there. Sexton and new coach John Beilein said they are really focusing on Sexton being more of a passer. Sexton said he watched a lot of tape of himself to spot mistakes on passes, and the coaching staff has really coached up the passing skill. Beilein also said he was most impressed with how he’s coached up. The point is here that after Sexton was successful in his work to rework his scoring, maybe we should believe him on passing, especially with Darius Garland (foot) not at 100% and the new coaching staff willing to play so many guards at once. He makes a lot of sense in a points league and he’s an option later in drafts to see if the coaching staff can turn him into more of a traditional point guard. Also, it might be tough to draft Garland because the staff is going to be extra careful with his injuries. We'll finally see how he looks tonight.
There’s just so much to dive in on here, so let’s just quick hit it.
Landry Shamet hasn’t found his shot yet in the preseason, but the way the Clippers are using him is encouraging. There’s some talk of him getting point guard minutes, and he figures to play even more as we wait for Paul George (shoulders) to get back. Terance Mann has also looked great as the backup point, and he got a start on Sunday, too. He’s been creating a lot of buzz, so keep him in mind in deep leagues. Moe Harkless looks like he’ll have value until PG is back, too.
The Pacers offense looks like it might be pretty good, so feel free to target any of the five starters.
Jonathan Isaac’s size still stood out on Saturday, and the Magic are going to play him at the five. Don’t worry about Al-Farouq Aminu and just lock Isaac in there as a mid-round pick. Mo Bamba also showed up, so it’s nice to see him get healthy. Maybe he can find some value in like 18-20 minutes.
Derrick White came off the bench despite talk of him getting minutes next to Dejounte Murray in practice. The Spurs have a strong schedule down the stretch this season, so don’t be bashful about targeting them. Dejounte could be a stud this year.
At the risk of sounding like a donkey, is it weird that I feel like I forgot how good Anthony Davis is? He’s going to put up some gigantic stat lines this year. We’ll see what happens with the other guards besides Danny Green, so there could be some value in Avery Bradley or Alex Caruso. Love Green in nine-cat leagues, by the way.
The talk of Miles Bridges and Dwayne Bacon running more of the offense doesn’t look like just talk. I’m pretty aggressive on targeting both guys, especially Miles. PJ Washington is likely going to start in the G League, but maybe that’ll change if he continues to play like he did on Sunday.
I’m not worried about the usage for Russell Westbrook and James Harden too much. This century, there have been eight instances when two teammates both his 30-plus usage rate in the same season. Just take James Harden at two (behind Karl-Anthony Towns).There has been a noticeable increase in their pace compared to last preseason too, and of course Westbrook's offenses are always near the top for time per possession.
Caris LeVert looks like he’s going to a superstar this season, and I’m totally buying Taurean Prince after a stellar Nets debut. Nicolas Claxton also looks like he’s going to be one of the biggest non-lottery steals.
Buddy Hield has a neon green light and he should go to the line more. He’s one of the safest fourth-round picks you can make. I’m a little worried how De’Aaron Fox fits with Marvin Bagley. Once Bagley hit the 30-minute mark in his return from injury in January, Fox saw a 7% dip in his FG% when he was next to Bags compared to when he wasn’t. I still like him, but I’d much rather have someone like Donovan Mitchell.