As we head into August and what is truly the only slow month for news in the NBA, me and the rest of the Rotoworld Hoops crew are hard at work on our annual Fantasy Draft Guide. This year I’ll be helping out with player outlooks that includes over 350 individual breakdowns, and I’ll also be writing my “25 Sleepers” column for the second straight season after hitting on guys like Pascal Siakam, Montrezl Harrell, Buddy Hield, Brook Lopez and D’Angelo Russell last year. I also had Jordan Bell in there, but hey, you can’t win them all.
We will be releasing the guide anywhere from early- to mid-September and it’s going to be packed with content, so keep your eyes peeled for more information. As for today, I’m just going to quickly hit the major news items from the past few days and it unfortunately begins with the words “load” and “management.” I can feel my stress levels rising already.
In an interview on the Dan Patrick Show, Rockets GM Daryl Morey revealed that James Harden and Russell Westbrook are going to be load managed during the season. “Yeah, it always is [part of the strategy],” Morey said. We try not to label it…Obviously our goal is just to win the title this year. We’re not looking for any regular season goals. Everyone on our team has won pretty much every reward you can except a championship so yeah, it’ll be a very put together plan by our staff throughout the season to have our guys peak in April.”
Harden finished as the top player in standard 9-category and 8-category leagues last season and has played at least 78 games in four out of the last five seasons. Soon to be 30 years old, Harden has been remarkably durable in recent years with just a couple of hamstring strains to his name, but the mileage is adding up and it’s understandable that the Rockets want to be smart about this -- he has averaged 35+ minutes in seven straight seasons. Plus, fatigue has been an issue for him in the playoffs, and while he has been adamant about not missing games in the past, this should be the year where the Rockets pick a few games on the schedule to sit him down.
There are only a few players in the first round with little to no load management risk and Harden’s not going to pull a Kawhi and sit out 20 games, so this news doesn’t move the needle much for me. As of right now, I have Harden ranked No. 2 behind Anthony Davis with Stephen Curry and Karl-Anthony Towns rounding out the top four.
As for Westbrook, he’s entering his age-31 season and has a whopping five right knee surgeries to his name and that doesn’t even include his PRP injection back in 2017. That’s a big red flag for an aging player who relies on his athleticism, and for the second straight season he’ll be second on his team in usage rate. Westbrook ranked 32nd in per-game value for 9-cat leagues and 15th in 8-cat (non-turnover league) last season, and he single-handedly buried his fantasy owners in FG% (42.8% on 20.2 attempts) and FT% (65.6% on 6.2 attempts). That makes him tough to build around and the threat of games off is yet another negative, so I’d recommend letting someone else in your league grab him in the second round.
C.J. McCollum gets paid
Motivated by Jennifer (link), C.J. McCollum helped the Blazers reach the Western Conference Finals with one of the best statistical seasons of his career. The Blazers moved away from using McCollum as the backup PG when Damian Lillard is off the floor and it led to a small dip in assists, but he still had averages of 21.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 dimes, 0.8 steals and 2.4 triples on his way to a top-60 finish in 9-category leagues.
The Blazers rewarded his efforts with a 3-year, $100M extension, meaning he’s under contract for the next five years valued at $157M. The Blazers expect Anfernee Simons to pick up Evan Turner’s vacated backup PG minutes, so I’d expect a similar role/usage for C.J. in 2019-20.
Dejounte Murray progressing well
It was about this time last year when the Dejounte Murray hype train was really picking up steam until his unfortunate ACL injury. Now roughly 10 months removed from his surgery, we keep hearing positive reports about his recovery with the latest being that “everything is looking good.” Murray was doing 4-on-4 back in June, and the expectation is still that he’ll be ready to roll for training camp.
Murray has a very unique skill set for a point guard, and a lot of his value comes from his defense. In 2017-18, Murray ranked 5th in steal percentage and 5th in defensive rating, racking up 2.0 steals and 0.6 blocks per 36 minutes. He’s an elite rebounder for his position with 5.7 per game in 21.5 minutes, and he’s an improving playmaker and jump-shooter -- we saw flashes of both before his injury. It’s not clear if Murray and Derrick White are going to start alongside each other with DeMar DeRozan moving up a position, but both players are the future of the Spurs and could each eclipse 30 minutes. Murray is an excellent mid-round target, even if there’s some restrictions out of the gate.
Zach Collins suffers ankle injury
Popular breakout candidate Zach Collins suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain back in mid-July during a workout but we’re just finding out about it in the last 48 hours. He’s been in a walking boot and on crutches, but he’ll head to Portland next week for more rehab and is expected to be ready in time for training camp.
Jamie Hudson of NBC Sports Northwest speculated that Collins is the favorite to open the season as the starting PF next to Hassan Whiteside, though you do have to worry about his minutes later in the season when Jusuf Nurkic (leg) comes back around February. Collins played 46% of his minutes at PF last season and 54% at center, so having that versatility will at least help him stay relevant when Nurk is back.
So why is he such a hot commodity in fantasy circles? His 3-point shooting and ability to block shots. Those were both on full display against the Nuggets in the playoffs, though he did come back down to earth against the Warriors. His per-36 averages of 13.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.9 dimes, 0.7 steals, 1.8 blocks and 1.1 triples are fun, but I do worry that the hype train will drive his price up too high for a player that I think will average around 24 minutes. If he's still sitting there in the late rounds of my drafts, I'll definitely try to get a handful of shares.