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Roundball Stew

Cauley Maybe

by Matt Stroup
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

There have been glimpses that the No. 6 overall pick is ready to make a legitimate dent in box scores right now.

17 points, nine boards, a steal and three blocks against the Lakers (including one complete demolition of a Lou Williams drive right here). 

One night later, on Halloween, he posted eight points, nine boards, three steals and a block against the Clippers.

There have also been glimpses that Willie Cauley-Stein is still very much a maddeningly inconsistent rookie: two points, two boards in eight minutes of the opener against the Clippers, and zero points, four boards and a block in 16 minutes Wednesday night.

Add it all up, and through five games you have 7.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.2 bpg, a decent amount of excitement (43 percent owned in Yahoo leagues) and a sizable dollop of frustration.

So what exactly do we call this? Is it a fast start? Is it a slow start? As mentioned above, it’s actually a little bit of both. But I’m definitely encouraged by what I see, and in my mind it’s not crazy to envision Cauley-Stein turning into DeAndre Jordan Lite (think 2011-12 / 2012-13 Deandre: 8.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.7 bpg) at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, with Cauley-Stein right on the line between an encouraging start and a frustrating one, let’s take a look at 10 other notable starts (five fast, five slow) around the league…

FIVE FAST STARTS

Al-Farouq Aminu, SF/PF, POR

The Numbers: 13.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.8 bpg and 1.5 3s in six games

Level of Excitement: 7.3 (on a 10-point scale… 1 = bored, 10 = throwing furniture in excitement)

Analysis: This registers *just* a 7.3 on the Excitement Scale (a number I arrive at very scientifically) because it’s not like this is the first time we’ve ever seen Aminu (who’s now 25) string together some good games. So I think we do have to maintain a little bit of skepticism here. With that said, after his 11-10-5 line on Wednesday, he has now scored in double figures in five consecutive games for the first time in his career. Kind of a random stat, yes, but one that hints at what could be a new level of consistency. Also notable: Aminu is hitting 42.9 percent of his 3s so far (9-of-21), compared to 29.4 percent for his career. You could certainly label that as a positive sign or as a fluke depending on your outlook, but with his new team going out of its way to give him more of a role than he’s typically had in the past, I’m cautiously optimistic that Aminu can continue his breakout run in the Pacific Northwest.

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Ricky Rubio, PG, MIN

The Numbers: 15.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 9.0 apg and 2.0 spg in four games

Level of Excitement: 6.8

Analysis: Even as recently as the Rotoworld Draft Guide edition of Roundball Stew, I was still all-in on Rubio. Despite all the frustration – 32 missed games per year in his career – I refused to stop believing in his talent… until I refused to draft him in any of my leagues. Apparently, on some subconscious level, I’d had enough.

I’m regretting passing on him at the moment, but it should be noted that Rubio’s stats are certainly boosted by a monster game against the very generous Lakers in the opener (28 points, 14 assists on 10-of-17 shooting), and since that game he’s shooting a much more Rubio-esque 8-of-24 (33 percent). So if we’re being realistic, chances are neither the scoring average (15.3) or the shooting percentage (43.9) is going to hold up at current levels. But you also shouldn’t have drafted Rubio expecting either of those categories to be especially good. Also, I think I’m starting to ramble here. The bottom line is that if you drafted Rubio, you probably can’t get fair value for a player who has been injured as much as he has, so I’d keep him around and enjoy looking like a genius for as long as he can stay healthy – which makes this an exciting but also terrifying time if he’s on your roster. Enjoy!

Giannis Antetokounmpo, SF/PF, MIL

The Numbers: 21.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg, 1.0 3s in four games

Level of Excitement: 8.9

Analysis: It’s a fun (and partially silly) exercise to look at where players are in the overall rankings this early in the season. Just a quick glance at Basketball Monster’s 9-category leaderboard shows some things that aren’t remotely surprising (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook all near the top), and some things that are surprising, but will obviously correct themselves (James Harden and Anthony Davis at Nos. 45 and 51 overall, respectively). At the same time, there is one breakout name toward the top of the rankings (currently No. 21 overall) who looks poised to stay in the top 25 all year. And that man is… Giannis Antetokounmpo. But you knew that, because this is the section about him.

I will say, I do have questions, most notably: Can he keep hitting 1.0 3s per game? Maybe not, but considering that he already has hit four 3s in four games after hitting just seven total last year, there’s reason to be encouraged (not to mention the fact that his outside shot certainly looks pretty comfortable). As for his current lofty shooting (59.3 percent), that’s of course a high mark to sustain, but Antetokounmpo did make 49.1 percent of his shots last year, so something in the 50’s is easy to picture for a player who gets a lot of looks close to the basket. Bottom line: A lot of us expected Antetokounmpo to make a leap of some sort this year, but those who banked on the 20-year-old making not just a decent leap but a monster one look very smart, and I expect that to continue being the case all year. 

Evan Fournier, SG/SF, ORL

The Numbers: 20.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.4 spg and 2.2 3s in five games

Level of Excitement: 5.2

Analysis: Seeing Fournier fly out of the gates this season gave me a distinct, pungent whiff of déjà vu. The reason: Last year, through the first three-plus weeks of the season (13 games), Fournier was averaging 17.6 ppg and 2.2 3s. But from late-November onward (45 games), he posted just 10.4 ppg and 1.3 3s. Granted, there is a new coach in Orlando this year, and with Fournier averaging a stout 39 minutes and 16.8 shots per game so far, the volume is certainly there to potentially keep this up. All I’m saying is that we’ve seen a scalding start followed by a pronounced fade from Fournier before, so I’m approaching this one with cautious opti/skepti-mism/cism, if that makes any sense.

Marvin Williams, SF/PF, CHA

The Numbers: 11.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.0 bpg and 2.2 3s in five games

Level of Excitement: 1.2

Analysis: Look, I won’t fault you if you’ve added Marvin Williams and want to see if he can keep this hot streak going. I’m just very unconvinced that a guy who is now in his 11th year in the league, and has averaged a combined 9.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.7 spg, 0.5 bpg and 0.9 3s the last six years (that’s 420 games, 27 minutes per game) is suddenly going to emerge as a reliable fantasy contributor for a full season. Again, feel free to enjoy it as long as it lasts, and I’ll be happily flabbergasted if I’m proven wrong. But this does not have an Al-Farouq Aminu, long overdue breakout kind of vibe. This has a Marvin Williams is enjoying a brief outside shooting bender vibe (11-of-25, 44.0 percent on 3s so far). Let’s move on.

FIVE SLOW STARTS

Kyle Korver, SG/SF, ATL

The Numbers: 9.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.8 spg, 1.3 3s in four games

Level of Concern: 6.8

Analysis: He has already missed the second game of back-to-backs twice coming off ankle and elbow surgeries, but you probably already know that. What you may not know if you don’t watch every Hawks game is that Korver’s swagger went missing during last year’s playoff run (first eight games: 14.8 ppg; last six games: 6.3 ppg), and it has yet to fully resurface this season. In his four games so far, Korver has hit double figures just one time, and is 5-of-20 on 3s overall.

Obviously, he’s still the same great shooter. But from what I see, Korver just doesn’t get a lot of easy looks with defenses so focused on taking away what he does best. Instead, he’s taking (and at times, forcing) a lot of difficult shots on the move. I expect him to turn it around to some extent, and hopefully the back-to-back restrictions will go away soon, but considering that he’s now 34, and the focus of so much attention from opposing teams, I would guess he lands closer to 2.0 3s per game than last year’s difference-making 2.9.

Danny Green, SG/SF, SAS

The Numbers: 6.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.0 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.0 3s in five games

Level of Concern: 2.4

Analysis: I’d be worried about Green if his reality had changed dramatically in the wake of the Spurs adding more firepower (most notably in the form of LaMarcus Aldridge). But the fact is he’s still averaging the same minutes as last year (28 per game), and getting almost the same number of shots (9.1 last season, 8.2 this season). The real issue is that Green just hasn’t been hitting yet (5-of-25 on 3s so far). On a positive note, he is coming off a season-high 12 points (with three treys) on Wednesday, and I’d absolutely try to buy low while the opportunity is still there.

Klay Thompson, SG/SF, GSW

The Numbers: 13.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.8 spg, 1.0 bpg and 1.0 3s in five games

Level of Concern: 1.1

Analysis: This year’s start certainly has a very different look than last year’s, when Thompson was averaging 29.7 ppg after his first three games, but I wouldn’t be worried here whatsoever. Thompson put up a season-high 18 shots on Wednesday, and after posting just 10.0 ppg in his first two games, he’s at 16.3 ppg in his last three – a number that should continue to rise. Also encouraging: he’s averaging 1.0 bpg after posting 0.8 last year, so with his peripheral numbers right where they should be, all concerns should melt into gravy once the shots start falling.

Marc Gasol, C, MEM

The Numbers: 12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.8 bpg in six games

Level of Concern: 4.2

Analysis: His numbers have been a bit skewed early by some neck trouble that forced him out of one game early, and by some obscenely lopsided blowouts (including a 30-point loss to Cleveland and a 50-point loss to Golden State). It is a little disconcerting that the team’s three losses have been by a combined 99 points, but in the long run Gasol (who went 15-5-3 with two blocks on Thursday) should be fine. As much as I love to overthink things, I officially think we’re in don’t overreact / don’t overanalyze mode here, and I’d be all for floating a buy-low offer for Gasol if you think the opportunity is there.

Joe Johnson, SG/SF, BKN

The Numbers: 8.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.6 3s in five games

Level of Concern: 7.4

Analysis: My level of concern would be higher if I cared more about Johnson as a fantasy player. But at this point in his career – at age 34, with a scoring average that has gone 18.8 -> 16.3 -> 15.8 -> 14.4 the last four seasons – he’s barely staying on my radar as a viable option in the first place. Without question, he’ll get his scoring fixed to some extent (after all, he’s shooting just 28.3 percent so far), but when you look at the rest of his numbers from recent years, where does Johnson really stand out? As recently as a couple seasons ago, he did stand out in 3s (exactly 2.1 per game from 2011-12 to 2013-14), but that number dropped to 1.5 last year. And yes, the assists are at least respectable (3.7 last year, 3.8 this year), but to me that’s somewhat canceled out by what’s essentially a zero on defense (0.7 spg, 0.2 bpg since joining the Nets). In sum, A) apparently I care more about Johnson as a fantasy player than I originally thought, because I’ve written more than I expected to, and B) I’d trade him for anyone with anything resembling some upside once he heats up a little bit. He’s just not a high-impact option anymore.

Other Random Thoughts: Kent Bazemore had a couple big games last weekend (19 and 20 points in back-to-back games), and his notable real-life improvement has made him a worthwhile option in deeper leagues (thanks in large part to 1.5 spg and 1.8 3s so far), but he’s at best the No. 4 option for the Hawks on any given night and is not going to shoot close to 57.9 percent on 3s all season, so I consider him a bit of a reach in standard leagues. … Despite averaging just 23 minutes per game, Kristaps Porzingis has posted 12.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.2 bpg. The 20-year-old can look pretty awkward at times, but there’s no denying there is a ton of upside here. … Emmanuel Mudiay, who was featured in last week’s column, is a completely manic pile of statistics – a spectacular mix of good and bad. The good: 11.6, 4.0 rpg, 5.8 apg and 1.8 3s. The bad: 30.2 percent shooting on almost 13 attempts per game, and a truly vomit-inducing 5.6 turnovers per game. I’m hoping his season-low three turnovers on Thursday (and 4.3 per game since his 11-TO opener) is a sign of more steady days ahead, but for now it’s bench time for Mudiay until I get tempted by a four-game week and throw him into my lineups – and immediately regret doing so.