Congrats, everybody! We made it through the offseason and the preseason, and the 2017-18 campaign has finally arrived.
The goal of this column will be to unearth a weekly batch of interesting NBA stats and facts that are also fantasy relevant. I hope you guys enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoy piecing it together.
With only two regular-season games in the books, today we’ll focus on some notable numbers posted during preseason action.
First off, it’s important to note that the Lakers played six preseason games, more than most other teams, including the Rockets and Blazers. Nonetheless, it is difficult to deny that Kuzma has looked extremely impressive each time he’s donned a Lakers jersey, dating back to summer league. Kuzma led all players in total scoring in Las Vegas as well, when he averaged 21.9 points (on 51.4 percent shooting), 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per contest. It’s often foolish to read too much into summer league production, so the fantasy community waited for the preseason to see if the hype was justified.
Over Los Angeles’ six preseason contests, Kuzma averaged 17.3 points (while again shooting 51.4 percent from the floor), 4.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 treys. Those averages include a disappointing finale, in which he scored just eight points and missed seven of his eight field goal attempts. Unfortunately for Kuzma, the Lakers have solid depth at power forward. Heading into training camp, it was assumed that Julius Randle and Larry Nance would battle each other for the starting PF gig. Kuz wasn’t even in the conversation. However, that was before Kuzma proved he belonged. Coach Luke Walton said last week that there was a “10 percent” chance Kuzma would start on opening night. The fact Kuz is even being considered speaks to how much he has impressed the Lakers coaching staff. Still, it’s important to keep our expectations in check. Assuming Kuzma third on the depth chart at power forward to start the season, it’s unknown how many minutes he’ll play initially. Nonetheless, his upside is certainly significant enough to warrant a roster spot as a potential lottery ticket, particularly in keeper leagues.
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* Holiday Time in the Windy City
The top four preseason scorers were listed in the previous post. But here’s a trivia question: Who finished fifth overall? The answer: Justin Holiday.
Holiday’s preseason performance was certainly eye-opening, as he averaged a team-high 18.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 3.6 triples in 27.7 minutes. He shot 45.6 percent from the floor, a scorching 52.9 percent from downtown and 100 percent from the free-throw line.
And, unlike the aforementioned Kuzma, Holiday does not have to deal with heavy competition for minutes. In fact, just the opposite is true. The Bulls, due to a roster bereft of top-tier talent, are the odds-on favorite to finish with the league’s worst record this season. They will be desperate for offense (especially now with Nikola Mirotic sidelined indefinitely) and defensive contributions, and Holiday can hold his own on both ends of the floor. He is expected to start at shooting guard until Zach LaVine (knee) returns from injury. Holiday will likely log heavy minutes as one of the primary focal points of Chicago’s offense over the first couple months of the season. As a result, his fantasy value should spike, and he should be rostered in all leagues.
* Len Looking to Bounce Back
Another surprising name found among the league’s leaders during preseason competition was Alex Len, who led the NBA in blocked shots. However, it wasn’t just rejections that Len supplied. He contributed across the board, averaging 14.6 points (on 65.8 percent shooting) 7.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals to go along with those 2.6 blocks.
Len is coming off a relatively disappointing season. He averaged just 8.0 points and 6.6 boards, despite starting 36 games in 2016-17. As an unrestricted free agent this past summer, Len was unable to land a long-term offer and ended up signing a one-year, $4.2 million qualifying offer with the Suns. Len will be an unrestricted free agent next July and is motivated to increase his value before cashing in. He will have a terrific opportunity to do just that, as Alan Williams is expected to miss at least the first five months of the season after tearing his meniscus. Thus, Len’s main competition for playing time will be 35-year old Tyson Chandler. The Suns sat Chandler the final 25 games of the season last year to give more playing time to their young core, specifically Len. Unfortunately, it appears Len is currently dealing with a minor foot injury and is listed as questionable for Phoenix’s season opener. Assuming he is healthy enough to suit up, expect Phoenix to play Len extended minutes going forward, especially if he can carry his fine play from the preseason into meaningful games.
* Fultz’s Free Throw Woes
The Sixers had high expectations for Markelle Fultz after trading up to the No. 1 spot to select him in the 2017 draft. However, his performance in the preseason wasn’t overly encouraging. In the two games he appeared in, he was just 7-of-24 from the floor (29.2 percent), including 0-of-3 from downtown and 2-of-5 from the free-throw line. Granted, it’s a small sample size, but there is cause for concern based primarily on his awkward shooting form (video here). Fultz has been dealing with a sore right shoulder, and most assume that is the root of the problem, despite Fultz insisting it was not impacting his form or his production. Coach Brett Brown has announced that Fultz, who is also dealing with right knee soreness, will begin the season coming off the bench. Hopefully, Markelle will smooth out his stroke and regain his confidence as he gets healthier. In the meantime, it may be best to practice patience and before inserting him into the starting lineup on your fantasy squad.
* Trust The Process
One Sixer who did impress this preseason was Joel Embiid. One of the most entertaining players in the NBA, both on and off the floor, Embiid is simply must-see TV when healthy and able to put his full array of talents on display. In limited action, Embiid knocked down 40-footers and nailed step-backs off one leg in Dirk-esque fashion.
Here are his per-36 minute averages: 33.2 points, 17.2 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.5 blocks. Embiid also led the team in made free throws (22) despite playing a total of just 29 minutes.
Embiid's minutes will be capped early in the season and there is also is an undeniable tension that comes with owning Embiid due to the constant threat of injury; but, whenever he’s out there, it’s incredibly fun to watch him play.
* Record Setters
In preparation for tonight, one last bundle of stats courtesy of NBA PR. Here are the top individual performances in regular season openers since 1980:
54 - Michael Jordan (1989)
26 - Dwight Howard (2013)
19 - John Stockton (1989)
Most Assists Without A Turnover:
13 - Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (1995)
Most Free Throws Made:
22 - Kevin Durant (2013)
10 - Clyde Drexler (1996)
Most Blocked Shots:
9 - Anthony Davis (2014)