Here in "Notable Numbers," we attempt to unearth a plethora of interesting stats and fantasy-relevant facts each week. Today, I'll discuss some humdrum veterans that slid on draft day but have been productive over the first week of the season.
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Each year, in the days, months and weeks that lead up to fantasy basketball drafts, I harp on the value of making "boring" picks.
In every draft, for every fantasy sport, there are buzzworthy guys that you have to reach for if you want to grab. And when those intriguing players fly off the board (typically far earlier than they should), the room often lets out an audible moan, and the GM gets cursed for sniping a dude that everyone else had queued up.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those dull, uninteresting players that are relatively high in the default rankings but slide down the board, until someone bites the bullet and nabs the player. Usually, they'll justify their decision by saying, "I guess I have to take this dude." Well, I never apologize for taking older, less enticing players, as I've often found you can build championship-caliber teams with those guys as your foundation.
This season, some of the vets that I've been high on have produced some very favorable early returns:
Kevin Love - Cleveland Cavs:
Despite proven all-star talent and the ability to be a top-25 overall player in nine-category fantasy formats, Love fell outside the top 50 in nearly every draft I took part in. (Remember, back when he was "The Man" in Minnesota, Love became one of only five players in NBA history to average at least 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game over a full season. The other four are Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.) Yes, the injury risk is undeniable, but I happily scooped Love up in the fifth and sixth rounds when possible.
Love looks healthy and has been a beast early on. He is currently averaging 15.7 points and 15.7 rebounds, to go along with 4.7 assists, 2.0 trifectas and 1.0 steals. As long as he stays on the court, Love will significantly outperform his average draft position.
Cody Zeller - Charlotte Hornets
I was higher on Zeller than almost everyone on earth (I had him inside the top-100 in my early rankings) as I noted that someone would have to shoot and score for the Hornets after Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb left via free agency. Still, even I wouldn't have dared to predict that he would have come storming out of the gates the way he has this season. Through his first three games, Zeller is averaging a whopping 16.0 points, 13.0 rebounds, 1.0 and 1.0 steal, while shooting 55.9 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the stripe.
As if all that wasn't enough, it looks like Cody has added the 3-ball to his arsenal. Over the first six years of his career (361 games), he had attempted a total of 38 triples, making ten. Yet, he's attempted multiple treys in each game he's played in 2019-20. On Monday night, he was 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and is 4-of-7 on the season.
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Tristan Thompson - Cleveland Cavs
Like his frontcourt partner K Love in Cleveland, Thompson has been a force in the paint for the Cavs. Through three games, TT has recorded three impressive double-doubles and is averaging a robust 19.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in a career-high 33.7 minutes, while shooting 60 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the free-throw line.
Thompson has never averaged more than 11.7 points per game throughout a full season and has never shot better than 69.3 percent from the stripe, so he numbers will eventually regress to the mean. However, he averaged 13.2 rebounds per-36 minutes last season (same as he's at now) and is career 52% shooter from the field. As long as he continues to see 30+ minutes of court time each evening, he should continue to a reliable fantasy contributor with a lovely, sturdy floor.
P.J. Tucker - Houston Rockets
Tucker was one of my favorite late-round sleepers this year. Folks will be hesitant to believe it, but he finished the 2018-19 campaign ranked 88th overall (yes, that means ahead of Luka Doncic). The secret to Tucker's fantasy success was his unique all-around contributions. Specifically, last season, PJ became the first player in NBA history to average more than 1.5 made 3-pointers and 1.5 steals, but fewer than 1.0 turnovers per game.
Through the Rockets first three games this season, Tucker is averaging a career-highs in points (16.7), minutes (36.7), rebounds (7.0) made treys (4.0) and blocks (0.7), while shooting 64.3 percent from the field, including 66.7 percent from downtown, and he's perfect from the FT stripe. Again, these percentages are obviously unsustainable, so he'll come back down to earth. However, logging a ton of minutes in Mike D'Antoni's fantasy-friendly offense is a wonderful recipe for success and counting stats.
Last Second Shots:
* Anthony Davis made history Tuesday night, exploding for 40 points, 20 boards and two blocks, while knocking down 26-of-27 free throws in just 32 minutes. Per Basketball-reference, only twice in NBA history has a player scored at least 40 points, made at least 25 free throws and grabbed at least 20 rebounds in a single game: Wilt Chamberlain (when he famously scored 100 points vs. the Knicks on March 2nd, 1962) and Anthony Davis, last night. In addition, Davis' 31 minutes played are the fewest ever by a player in a 40-point, 20-rebound effort.
* Just when we thought Kawhi Leonard couldn't get any better, The Klaw adds another dimension to his game. Leonard has dished out at least six assists in each of his last three games for the Clippers, which is the longest such streak of his career. On the season, he's averaging 7.5 dimes a night. Oh, and he's also averaging a career-high 27.0 points and 1.3 blocks per game, to go along with 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
* RJ Barrett has exceeded even the most optimistic of expectations over his first week as a Knick. In Monday's victory over the Bulls, Barrett tallied 19 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists. According to Basketball-reference, the only other teenager in NBA history with 19+/15+/5+ in a single game is LeBron James. RJ is also the first player this century to score 80-plus points and grab 30-plus rebounds over his first four NBA games. From 1985 to 1999, only four rookies racked up at least 80 points and 30 rebounds in their four games: Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Dikembe Mutombo and, Shaquille O'Neal.