Now officially less than two weeks until the NBA season begins, it’s officially reach season. Popular sleeper targets are turning into groupthink must-haves, while everyone in your league is salivating over Karl Anthony-Towns turning potential into production earlier than expected. This week we focus on opportunity as we examine Who’s Trending in the right direction.
1. Julius Randle, F Los Angeles Lakers
Shooting a horrendous 57.1% from the foul line through five preseason games and ripe with inexperience, Julius Randle is going to scare some owners away. That’s good news for you since you won’t be one of them.
Although I expect Randle to get to the line more often than the 2.8 he’s averaging through five preseason games, it’s unlikely to be a significant increase. And because you can easily balance what looks to be his one deficiency with a volume free throw shooter, those consumed with Randle’s freebies should find a new hobby.
Looking like a combination of Zach Randolph and Lamar Odom as Kobe Bryant said, the Lakers have encouraged Randle to get more involved in the offense. Asking him to push the ball and initiate things on the opposite end when he grabs a rebound, Los Angeles is quickly removing many of the limitations that so many believed the young bull would have. Looking increasingly more comfortable shooting his jumper and finding new ways to score other than bullying his way to the basket, arguably the most exciting part of Randle’s development has been his ability to pass the basketball. Contributing across the box score now with the potential to stuff the staff sheet before later, Randle is going to be a big part of anything the Lakers do this season, outperforming his ADP in the process.
2. Jerian Grant, G New York Knicks
“That’s funny. Me and Arron [Afflalo] was talking about that on the bench, about how he’s playing and controlling the game and the pace of the game. He plays at his own pace. There were some spurts out there I was like, ‘Damn, I wish I was out there with Jerian.’ But I mean, it’s gonna happen. He’s doing a great job of earning his [regular-season] minutes right now, and hopefully he’ll be out there.”
That’s what Carmelo Anthony said earlier this week, as captured by Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal, when asked if he wanted to play with the rookie. When you get that kind of praise coming from the franchise player, it doesn’t matter at what juncture it comes. I still have no idea how Phil Jackson possibly turned Tim Hardaway, Jr. into Grant—who comes from a basketball family with father Harvey and uncle Horace, two guys who know a little bit about hoops—but it’s going to be good news for New York’s future. With Derek Fisher already talking about potentially joining the starting lineup, you know he’s going to have a role from day one. And while it is likely that the investment will take time to flower, Grant has a good chance to bloom brightly and beautifully for patient fantasy owners while growing in Jackson’s Zen Garden.
3. Meyers Leonard, PF Portland Trail Blazers
In both the “did you know” and “most underrated statistic of the season” categories from the 2014-15 campaign, Meyers Leonard joined the 50-40-90 club in just his third NBA season. Shooting 51 percent from the field, 42 percent from distance and 93.8 percent from the free throw line, Leonard suddenly became a brand new player, one few if any could have seen coming. Previously miscast as a center during his professional tenure, Leonard thrived as a stretch four, a role he will enjoy again this year.
Slated to start alongside Mason Plumlee in a dramatically revamped Portland frontline, Leonard is very clearly sitting just below Damian Lillard on Portland’s totem pole. And with the ability to contribute from deep, rebound the basketball and help you win your percentages, Leonard is a nice upside selection after the first 100 or so picks come off the board.
4. David Lee, F/C Boston Celtics
It’s rare when someone who won an NBA title enters a contract year with something to prove, but that’s exactly the case now that David Lee is entering his first (and only?) season with the Boston Celtics. As a veteran on a team filled with youngsters still learning the game, Brad Stevens has made no secret that he plans to lean on Lee to do a variety of things, including serve as a point forward at times when the big man is on the floor.
While some will concern themselves with Boston’s crowded frontcourt rotation, these things always have a way of sorting themselves out. More importantly, Lee wasn’t brought in to sit behind unproven talent and he will not be the odd man out. Although his production was marginalized by the emergence of Draymond Green last season, it wasn’t because of a lack of skill. Prior to Lee taking a backseat on a ridiculously deep and talented Golden State Warriors team, the big fella enjoyed two consecutive seasons averaging at least 18 points and nine rebounds while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. It’s not like the Celtics have a go-to scorer in the starting lineup. There’s no reason Lee can’t flirt with a nightly double-double.
5. Joseph Young, G Indiana Pacers
Perhaps it’s reading a bit too much into his impressive preseason play, but I found it telling this week when the normally cryptic Frank Vogel was very forthright about his backup point guard position. Naming second-round rookie Joseph Young as George Hill’s backup in front of a veteran like Rodney Stuckey or Toney Douglas, the coaches seem to know what our eyes have been telling us through the first stretch of action.
Monta Ellis usually plays through everything, and while Hill was previously very durable, he struggled through an injury-plagued 2014-15 that saw him play just 43 games. If the Pacers are committed to managing Hill’s minutes— not to mention a smaller, faster brand of basketball—Young’s appeal would continue to grow. More of a deep-league recommendation than standard-sized asset, Young is a name to stash away and monitor carefully as the reinvented Pacers take the floor. Once he gets hot, he’s not going to sizzle on the waiver wire for long.