During the climactic final fight scene of the 1988 film Bloodsport, our hero, Frank Dux, has been blinded.
As he sits there on the mat, inexplicably not being kicked in the face by his opponent, he must dig deep and make a decision: What will he do?
Like any wise warrior, Frank has the presence of mind to remember his training.
Flashing back to that time he conveniently did martial arts with a blindfold on, Frank stays in the moment, and throws up his hand at the last moment to block Chong Li’s attempted sucker punch.
From here on out, it’s straight-up over. Frank has all the momentum. He pummels Chong Li into submission, and Forest Whitaker is absolutely thrilled.
Cut to: real life. It’s Friday of Week 1 of the NBA season, and you — like Frank Dux — have been stunned.
First, take a moment to be angry. Let out a Jean-Claude Van Damme-style primal yell if it helps.
Now, just like our hero Frank, it’s time to fight. Here are eight big-picture takeaways from the first few days of the new NBA campaign:
Andre Drummond has the mic. As of Friday, there are two teams in the league that have played as many as two games: the Clippers and the Pistons. Everyone else has played exactly one. As a result, Drummond leads all players in points (53), rebounds (35) and steals (seven). He’s also tied for the league lead in blocks, with five. Overall, he’s averaging 26.5 ppg, 17.5 ppg, 3.5 spg and 2.5 bpg. And here’s the most notable thing as far as fantasy is concerned: He’s shooting 81.3 percent (13-of-16) from the line.
What should we do with that information? Given the disproportionate noise Drummond has generated thanks to his schedule, I think there’s an opportunity to try to capitalize in a trade. Don’t get me wrong, I love Drummond in fantasy, and there’s no pressing need to trade him. But if you’re an aggressive/opportunistic fantasy manager, will his numbers ever look better than this? Will he ever look this much like a top-five fantasy stud? Even more importantly, will his free throw shooting continue to be something less than a liability? On that last count, I think the answer is no. As solid as Drummond has been from the line so far this year, we have to remember that he shot 11-of-24 from the stripe in four preseason games — after hitting 59.0 percent last year.
All things considered, I’m fully on board with treating Drummond as a top-15 fantasy asset and keeping him on your roster all year. At the same time, I think you have a prime moment to try to deal him — especially if you had buyer’s remorse about taking on his free throw percentage in these early days of the new season.
Trae Young has at least one, if not several of, the infinity stones. I held the No. 7 pick in my cutthroat hometown league this year. I knew that the guy picking 10th (a Hawks fan, like me) was going to take Trae Young if he fell that far. When Damian Lillard was there at No. 7, I also knew I had to take him. As much as I wanted to draft Trae, pulling him off the board seventh would be a reach…
…or maybe not. If you haven’t yet seen the highlights from Young’s 38-7-9 explosion against the Pistons, take a look. This was dominant. Remember: Over his final 40 games last season, Young averaged 22.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 8.9 apg, 0.9 spg and 2.4 3s on 43.8 percent shooting, and he just opened the season with a 38-point outburst — more than he scored in any game except for one his rookie year. Coming into the season, I thought top-20 was a reasonable expectation for Young’s production. Now I think top 12 is easily within reach. And while I certainly won’t regret drafting Lillard, I might regret passing on Trae.
I’m worried about Delon Wright. When it comes to fantasy, I like to think that I do not scare easy. However, here is a situation where I’m already concerned. Dallas signed Wright to a significant contract this offseason (three years, $27 million) to presumably take over as the team’s point guard. The only problem: The team’s point guard is actually Luka Doncic. In the Mavericks’ opener on Wednesday, Wright spent far too many of his 21 minutes standing around off the ball while Luka went to work. The net result: five points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one trey in just 21 minutes. Even more alarming: Wright shot only twice as Dallas won easily. I typically try not to overreact, but this is alarming, especially coming off a quiet preseason. Wright still has the skill set to put up solid all-around numbers, but he has to have the role to match. In the opener, there was very little indication that it’s going to be there.
The Thrill is back. Will Barton opened last season with 19 points, five rebounds and two assists. Will Barton opened this season with 19 points, five rebounds and two assists. A lot of frustrating things happened between then and now, but here’s the reality: Barton is back. After an injury-marred 2018-19, Will the Thrill looks ready to return to his form from 2017-18, when he posted 15.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.9 3s for borderline top-50 overall value. Also in Denver, I would inquire ASAP about the availability of one Gary Harris, who had a rough shooting night in the opener (3-of-11), but played 35 minutes, and should get back to being a dynamic fantasy contributor now that he’s healthy as well.
Know your roster situation. This big-picture thought may be obvious, but I’ve had more than one fellow league member say to me already that they hate their team, or are super frustrated with their picks before all their best players have even taken the court. If you have Jimmy Butler and/or Mitchell Robinson on your squad, you can’t judge your team’s potential yet. These are early-round picks who are set to carry a lot of the freight for you. Wait until they’ve played a handful of times. If things are going badly at that point, then you panic.
Go try to buy low on Mike Conley, Jonathan Isaac and T.J. Warren. As I mentioned with Drummond earlier, everything is amplified in the early days of the season. So while it might sound silly, some people actually are worried after Conley’s 1-for-16 opener, Isaac’s three-point effort against the Cavs and Warren’s hollow 10 points in 34 minutes on Wednesday. The fact is, those fantasy managers actually know they’re being hasty, but that knowledge still isn’t enough to stop us and them from making ill-advised trades. If you try to trade for Conley and/or Isaac right now, even if the other guy knows exactly what you’re doing, you still have a chance to get them at a discount.
Among my regrets: not drafting more Dejounte Murrays. I landed the Spurs’ point guard in the Yahoo Friends and Family Draft, but that’s it. And I’m already regretting missing out after his explosive 18-8-6 opener (with three steals and one triple) in just 24 minutes. I’m getting a distinct “Happy learned how to putt” vibe from Murray’s 3-point shooting. He’s 4-of-6 on 3s so far this year (including the preseason), and if he’s going to knock down close to one trey per game, he’s a fantasy PG with potentially no glaring weaknesses. Which is what Delon Wright was supposed to be. And now I’m getting angry. Moving on.
In closing, here’s a snapshot of your current top 15 in 9-category leagues (via BasketballMonster.com):
1. Karl-Anthony Towns — 36.0 ppg, 14.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 3.0 spg, 3.0 bpg, 7.0 3s
2. Kyrie Irving — 50.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 7.0 apg, 0.0 spg, 0.1 bpg, 7.0 3s
3. Danny Green?!?! — 28.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.0 spg, 1.0 bpg, 7.0 3s
4. Andre Drummond — 26.5 ppg, 17.5 rpg, 3.5 spg, 2.5 bpg
5. Fred VanVleet — 34.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 7.0 apg, 2.0 spg, 5.0 3s
6. Devonte’ Graham — 23.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 8.0 apg, 6.0 3s
7. Myles Turner — 25.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 spg, 3.0 bpg, 4.0 3s
8. Deandre Ayton — 18.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.0 spg, 4.0 bpg, 1.0 suspensions
9. Trae Young — 38.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 9.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 6.0 3s
10. Donovan Mitchell — 32.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 3s
11. Julius Randle — 25.0 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.0 3s
12. Lauri Markkanen — 35.0 ppg, 17.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 3s
13. Elfrid Payton — 11.0 ppg, 8.0 apg, 5.0 spg, 1.0 3s
14. Pascal Siakam — 34.0 ppg, 18.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.0 bpg, 2.0 3s
15. Giannis Antetokounmpo — 30.0 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 11.0 apg, 1.0 spg, 1.0 bpg, 2.0 3s
…and some thoughts: Just a reminder how early it is — KAT and Giannis are the only two of the consensus top five who are currently in the top 15. … Devonte’ Graham (16 percent rostered in Yahoo leagues) and Elfrid Payton (30 percent) may still be out there in your league. Graham looks slated for a decent-sized role off Charlotte’s bench, while Payton reportedly may have taken over the Knicks’ starting PG job with his strong opener. Check to make sure both guys aren’t still out there in your league. … Deandre Ayton’s 25-game suspension is obviously crushing, but this passage from Adrian Wojnarowski’s story makes me think there’s a decent chance it gets reduced: “The NBPA has the ability to expedite two cases a year with the league, and sources say it's likely the union will use one of them on Ayton to try to get him back on the court as soon possible.” My thinking: If you only have two challenge flags, you save them for plays you think you can overturn. Now I’m thinking about football, and the Falcons, and I’m angry again. … Fred VanVleet is going to be at or near the top of players I regret not drafting aggressively. Ditto Julius Randle, who is slated for just a massive role as a do-everything guy for the Knicks. … We can certainly look at some of these players sitting in the top 15 with skepticism, and we should be skeptical since this will totally look different on Saturday morning. One player I’m starting to think is going to stay in this range all year is Pascal Siakam, who looks prepared to absolutely destroy box scores in a post-Kawhi landscape. We all wanted to draft Siakam in the 25 range. I think we’re going to learn that we were all too low.