Good day and welcome to the ninth season of America's favorite my fantasy basketball column, Roundball Stew. We're one year short of officially being able to channel Jeremy Piven's character from Grosse Pointe Blank, but nine years still feels like a big unruly mess of time nonetheless.
And now that we are a full three-plus days into the season, most of us are busy making hastily-informed assessments of how incredibly brilliant and/or stupid we are for all the draft picks we made. In the midst of all that, I want to take a second to talk about one assumption we made — or at least I made — before the season that may have been very unwise.
It pertains to one Anthony Marshon Unibrow Davis.
We’re now two days past his Wednesday night explosion, and I’m still somewhat floored by the stat line: 50 points, 16 boards, five assists, seven steals, four blocks (and 16-of-17 from the free throw line). Just absurd.
Which leads me to my point about Davis. Exactly what’s so exciting if you drafted him — and makes me now want to break the leg off the chair I’m sitting on and club myself over the head with it — is this simple fact we easily forget:
Anthony Davis is still just 23 years old.
It’s true, Davis has justifiably earned the adjective “brittle” by missing at least 14 games every year, including more than a quarter of the season (21 games) last year. And if you drafted him first overall ahead of Stephen Curry — as I did in the 30-Deep league last season — it’s understandable if you hadn’t quite recovered.
However, it wasn’t that long ago (2011-12, to be exact) that a 23-year-old Curry played in just 26 games due to ankle trouble, and looked like a big-time injury risk heading into drafts. (Since then, Curry has averaged 79 games played the last four years.)
Granted, Curry and Davis are completely different human beings, but the bigger picture point is this: Entering the fifth year of the Brow Era, it’s far too soon to say he definitively can’t last a season (or the majority of a season). Maybe he will prove to be — in terms of durability — Marcus Camby, who topped 70 games just four times in 17 years in the league. But with two sets of numbers serving as a striking reminder — 23 (his age), and 50-16-5-7-4 (his opening line)— I strike myself again over the head with the chair leg for not being more willing to gamble on him in the first half of the first round. And for now, I raise a glass to those who were willing to take a chance that this year’s Davis narrative might break the pattern.
Ultimately, it’s probably most likely that Davis misses an annoying number of games again. But there’s also a chance — and not an insanely remote one — that he’s the undisputed No. 1 pick in drafts next year.
A couple other things that have caught my attention during the first few days of the season:
Joel Embiid is an unstoppable supernova that has already engulfed all of Jahlil Okafor’s future production. Okay, whoa. Whoa. Let’s just slow down here. First of all, as for Embiid: Yes, he looks legit. Buttery jumper, 3-point range, ferocious shot-blocking potential, surprisingly crisp moves. It's all real. My only concerns are the same as yours: the potential for injury, and possibility of Embiid sitting out some back-to-back games. Because clearly, he's capable of producing even with a minutes restriction (see 20 points, seven boards and two blocks in just 22 minutes vs. OKC on Wednesday night).
With that said, I would like to stop way short of saying that the news is bleak for Okafor. It’s true that he and Embiid aren’t playing together yet. But that’s largely due to minutes restrictions for both players. In the long run, the Sixers still have a lot invested in Okafor (last year's No. 3 overall pick), and once he’s clear for something in the range of 25-30 minutes — still very possible even with Embiid healthy — I believe he'll be a useful, and possibly even dynamic, fantasy starter. Remember: Last year as a rookie, Okafor averaged 17.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 1.2 bpg in just 30 minutes per game.
A question: Are you having trouble remaining rational about Myles Turner? If so, I’m with you. I was high on Turner heading into the season (and seriously dislike myself for letting Mike Gallagher get him in the 30-Deep draft).
But even if you were expecting big things from Turner, it’s hard to know how to process his monstrous line from Wednesday night: 30 points, 16 boards, two steals, four blocks and a trey. After all, Turner is just 20 years old, coming off a season that saw him average 10.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 1.4 bpg in 23 minutes per game. To me, a realistic expectation coming into this year was something like 16 points, eight boards and two blocks.
Keeping that in mind, I think it’s important not to get carried away — is what someone would say if they were old and boring. Let’s get excited. Turner is a force, and suddenly LaMarcus Aldridge Spurs numbers (18.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, No. 26 overall in 9-category leagues) look well within reach. Furthermore, Turner’s 3-point range looks pretty convincing to me (I heard him say on NBA TV that for one stretch this summer he was shooting upwards of 500 3s per day). If he can add somewhere between 0.6 and 0.8 3s, let's say, it just adds more weight to his rapidly ascending value as a scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker.
Bottom line: We should be careful not to overreact to his one big game from Wednesday, but it’s certainly possible that Turner — who went 59th in the 30-Deep draft — will end up being the most dramatic draft bargain of the year.
Other Random Thoughts: If you have Pau Gasol (first two games: 4.5 ppg in just 20 minutes per game), I think you need to take the age-old approach of doing absolutely nothing with him for the next five games or so and hope that things sort themselves out. It certainly has been an alarming start for Pau in San Antonio, but you’re selling pretty much as low as you possibly can if you deal him now. … Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s jump shot remains alarmingly hard to look at, but he posted one of the more quietly impressive lines of Wednesday night (23 points, 14 boards with a steal and a block). To me, the biggest question with MKG isn’t his ability to get points or rebounds, but what can he do in terms of defensive stats? Ever since a promising rookie year in that department (0.7 spg, 0.9 bpg), MKG has averaged 0.6 spg and 0.6 bpg in 124 total games.
Random Thoughts, Part Two: Put Jaylen Brown on your watch list, especially in deeper leagues. The No. 3 overall pick has looked impressive in limited run, and certainly has a chance to force his way into more playing time. … Meanwhile, with Phoenix looking like a potentially horrendous basketball team, I’m keeping a close eye on Marquese Chriss, who got 22 minutes and had seven points, four boards and a block on Wednesday night. The 19-year-old has very serious athleticism, appears to play with an angry streak and can hit 3s. … Related: If my phone auto-corrects Chriss to Chris's one more time, I’m going to smash it with a cinder block.