If memory serves correctly, this is my 20th or possibly my 21st season playing fantasy hoops.
Clearly, based on the previous sentence, memory doesn’t serve correctly. But one indisputable fact is this: More than (or exactly) two decades after I started doing this — around the time when Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and of course Michael Doleac came into the league — it continues to be a blast, and I’m very glad to be watching too much basketball and writing too many words about it yet again.
With that in mind, here are 10 stat lines that have caught my eye — and may or may not be enormously significant — from the first few days of the new season*…
Marcus Smart — 2 games: 12.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.5 spg, 1.0 bpg and 1.5 3s. Here’s the good news: Smart looks outstanding. He truly has been all over the place, and will be even more all over the place in the wake of Gordon Hayward’s injury. Unfortunately, “all over the place” also includes hoisting up a lot of jump shots, and so far Smart is shooting 31.0 percent on 14.5 attempts per game. It is of course a small sample size, but 14.5 is a scary number from Smart. No one needs him shooting that much, especially the FG percentage column on your fantasy team. Nevertheless, at the rate he looks ready to produce elsewhere, it could be a hit worth taking (or tanking, as the case may be with your FG%).
(Note: Smart appears set to miss Friday’s game with ankle issues, but it doesn’t sound like a major issue.)
Jaylen Brown — 2 games: 21.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.0 spg and 2.0 3s. The 2016 No. 3 overall pick was already on my radar as a solid late-round pick, and obviously his stock has gone up a notch with Hayward’s injury. He may not be much of an asset outside of points, 3s, steals and FG percentage, but he should do all of those things rather aggressively.
Lauri Markkanen - 17 points, eight boards, two treys and a block on Thursday. Markkanen started slowly and looked a bit lost early on during his NBA debut, but he eventually cranked things up in a blowout loss. Speaking of which, Markkanen got 33 minutes and was in the game late racking up stats even though the Bulls were getting mauled. This bodes well for his production all season.
Thaddeus Young - 17 points, 11 boards, 3 assists, two steals, two blocks and a trey on Wednesday. Thad was terribly boring (if somewhat effective) last season, with averages of 11.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 spg and 0.6 3s on 52.7 percent from the field. With Paul George gone, there’s a chance for him to do notably more, and it’s something he’s proven he can handle in the past. If you’ll allow a brief trip back to 2013-14, Young’s numbers with the Sixers that season read like this: 17.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.1 spg, 0.5 bpg and 1.1 3s. I’ll be surprised if he hits those levels, but I won’t be shocked if he’s closer to 2013-14 highs than 2016-17 lows this season.
Dillon Brooks - 19 points, five boards, two assists, four steals, two blocks on Wednesday. I ran and grabbed Brooks wherever I could after his stellar debut, and would suggest you do the same if you haven’t already. Obviously we don’t know if he’ll truly be a dynamo, but four-steal, two-block games don’t just jump off the waiver wire every evening. Also, the small forward position in Memphis looks like a mess (read: Chandler Parsons), so Brooks could get a lot of action.
Robert Covington - 29 points, seven boards, a steal, two blocks and seven 3s on Wednesday. Based on where I got Covington in multiple drafts, I think people were wondering how he would fit in with the arrival of Ben Simmons (and Markelle Fultz and J.J. Redick). The answer is that there’s still a ton of room for Covington to fire away, and in addition to the 3s, he’s a very sneaky source of steals and blocks — he averaged 1.9 spg and 1.0 bpg last season.
Buddy Hield - 19 points, five boards, four assists, a steal and three treys on Wednesday. The big big takeaway here is the peripheral stats. If Hield can consistently contribute some boards, assists and a steal here and there, he’s going to be a pretty fun fantasy option and a legit steal of a late-round pick.
Will Barton - 23 points, six boards, two assists, a steal, a block and three 3s on Wednesday. Every year we forget about him until late in drafts (and even then we may still forget), but Will the Thrill just puts up numbers.
Rodney Hood - Six points in 18 minutes on Wednesday. Wait, so you mean to tell me that Rodney Hood’s season started with a really disappointing night? After last season, when he repeatedly set a trap (big stat line), then got dinged almost immediately with an injury?
If I sound annoyed here, I am. It has nothing to do with Hood as a basketball player — I like his game actually — but I had no intention of drafting him this season. And if you did draft him this year, my guess is you didn’t have him on any teams last year. Either way, I hope it works out for you and I’m glad to be far away from this particular area code.
And, #10 on this list…
Lonzo Ball - three points, nine boards, four assists, a steal, a block and a trey on Thursday. I got a text from a friend last night saying something to the effect of I told you Lonzo Ball was terrible, a response to a debate we had months ago (and a debate I had completely forgotten about). So it goes with one of the most polarizing players in the league. As for Ball’s fantasy value, I still would point out that A) Aside from the points, this is a perfectly useful fantasy line, and B) I continue to think he’s going to be a really useful fantasy player. As much as Patrick Beverley apparently got into his head on Thursday, things should get much easier starting with a matchup against the Suns on Friday.
Other Random Thoughts: It was nice to see Brandon Ingram get up 15 shots (even if he only made three of them), and I’m encouraged by his five boards and four assists. The areas I worry about him though are steals, blocks and 3s. He wasn’t getting many of them down the stretch last season (1.1 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.7 3s over his final 21 games), and he got zero 3s/steals/blocks in the opener. … Joe Ingles had a bad preseason, but got right back to vintage Joe Ingles (if there is such a thing) with 11 points, five boards, six assists, two steals and three 3s in his first game of the season. … Robin Lopez could be a big beneficiary of the Bulls’ thinned-out rotation. At times last year he looked like a forgotten man playing with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, but on Thursday he got up 15 shots en route to 18 points.