The second edition of the weekly Rookie/Sophomore Report is dropping on Wednesday, and that will be the case moving forward. And the NBA regular season is finally underway, with Tuesday’s doubleheader giving way to an 11-game bonanza Wednesday night. And with that will come more talking points regarding rookie and second-year players. This week’s column will begin with a second-year guard in Philadelphia who will take on expanded role this season.
Is Maxey ready for the bright lights?
Given how Philadelphia utilized Tyrese Maxey in Summer League play, it was clear that the second-year guard out of Kentucky was going to have a bigger role. How much more would be on his plate was unknown at the time, as the 76ers were still in the process of attempting to move the disgruntled Ben Simmons. No trade occurred, but with Simmons holding out of training camp and then being tossed from practice earlier this week, it’s clear that Maxey will figure more prominently in the 76ers rotation. And it could very well be as a starter, since Simmons’ absence for at least the regular season opener (suspension) leaves a void at the point guard position.
As a rookie Maxey played in 61 regular season games, averaging 8.0 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 0.5 3-pointers and 0.7 turnovers in 15.3 minutes per. Producing solid percentages from the field (46.2%) and the foul line (87.1%), Maxey did a lot of his damage from inside of the arc. As a rookie he attempted just 1.7 3-pointers per game, making 30.1% of those attempts. But as we saw in Las Vegas, Maxey is certainly willing to put up those shots, which may help the 76ers improve their overall spacing on the offensive end if he prove to be a credible threat.
Maxey was used at both guard spots last season, with Cleaning the Glass’ tracking data showing that 65% of his minutes were played at the point. With Simmons and Shake Milton (right ankle) both sidelined for Wednesday’s game against the Pelicans, that figure stands to increase in the short-term. The question: how much should fantasy managers expect from Maxey this season? The answer depends upon what happens with Simmons.
If Simmons returns and is, somehow, fully engaged, then Maxey’s ceiling will likely suffer. But if Philadelphia is pushed to do something along the lines of what Houston has done with John Wall (note: Wall has not been a problem at all, to be clear), and hold Simmons out until they find a trade partner? Then Maxey moves from being a good streaming option, to a player who should be rostered. Not expecting a top-100 season from Maxey, but he’s in a good spot as far as fantasy is concerned.
Is Charlotte’s Ball worthy of top-25 consideration?
One of the interesting things to track in fantasy drafts was where reigning Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball would be selected. When healthy the point guard was just what the doctor ordered for Charlotte, helping the team earn a spot in the play-in rounds at the end of the regular season. Now fully recovered from a wrist injury that he rushed back from in order to contribute late last season, Ball hasn’t lasted very long on most draft boards. He heads into this season with a Yahoo ADP of 25.8 per Hashtag Basketball, with that number being slightly higher on other sites.
Is that a fair ranking for Ball? I believe it is, especially when looking at the Hornets roster. Devonte’ Graham is now in New Orleans, and the Hornets’ first-round pick (James Bouknight) is more of a scorer than a distributor at this point in his career. Ish Smith is a solid backup, and he won’t challenge Ball for playing time at the point. That, along with Charlotte adding multiple finishers and welcoming back Gordon Hayward, makes Ball worthy of being selected in the top-25 of most leagues. Will the production back that up?
Ball improving as a shooter, as he was 43.7% from the field and 75.8% from the foul line as a rookie, while keeping the turnovers in check (2.8 per game, which isn’t bad), will provide the answer to that question. Even if he finishes just outside of the top-25, selecting Ball at that point is not a gamble at all.
Pistons’ Cunningham remains sidelined
Detroit will not be able to use its projected starting backcourt Wednesday night, as Cade Cunningham was ruled out due to a sprained ankle that sidelined him for the entire preseason. On Tuesday, GM Troy Weaver said that he hopes to get Cunningham back onto the court after the Pistons return from their upcoming three-game road trip.
“He’s pretty much day-to-day. But, we need to ramp him up and get some conditioning going,” Weaver said on the “Stoney and Jansen” radio show. “Get him acclimated to going full speed on five-on-five. Hopefully, we will get him back sooner than later, but I would anticipate hopefully seeing him when we get back off the road.”
Following Wednesday’s opener against the Bulls, the Pistons will play road games against Chicago (October 23), Atlanta (October 25) and Philadelphia (October 28) before returning home to face Orlando on the 30th. That game is the first of a back-to-back, with the Pistons visiting the Nets on Halloween. While the timeline provided by Weaver certainly isn’t concrete, it appears possible that we’ll see Cunningham before the calendar flips to November.
Who fills the void left by Cunningham remains to be seen, and that situation is further complicated by the fact that Killian Hayes recently missed time due to being in the league’s concussion protocol. The good news is that Hayes was not listed on Wednesday morning’s injury report, which means that he’s good to go for the opener. Due to injuries Hayes was never able to get into a groove last season, finishing his rookie year well outside of the top-300 in 9-cat formats. One would hope that he’ll be better this season, but a lot will depend upon the strides that Hayes can make as a shooter.
He shot just 35.5% from the field as a rookie, and did not offer enough in other statistical categories to merit being rostered in most leagues. And he didn’t shoot the ball well in Summer League action, either, making just 31.8% of his attempts from the field and 18.2% from three. Hayes will get fantasy managers assists and steals, but it’s best to take a “wait and see” approach due to the points/percentages.
As for who starts alongside the second-year point guard, Hamidou Diallo, Frank Jackson and Josh Jackson all appeared to have a shot at having their name called. Josh made 25 starts (65 games played) last season, more than Frank (six) and Diallo (four post-trade from OKC) combined, but it was ultimately Frank who received the nod Wednesday night.
Can Celtics’ Pritchard develop into a deep-league option?
Payton Pritchard had a solid rookie season, averaging 7.7 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.5 3-pointers and 0.8 turnovers in 19.2 minutes per game, while shooting 44.0% from the field and 88.9% from the foul line. But that wasn’t enough to make the point guard out of Oregon a consistent deep league player, as he finished the season ranked outside of the top-200 in 9-cat. Is Pritchard capable of doing more in his sophomore campaign? At first glance the chances don’t appear to be great, thanks in large part to the changes that the Celtics made during the offseason.
Kemba Walker, who was traded to Oklahoma City before ultimately signing with the Knicks, is gone, and Brad Stevens is now leading the front office after serving as head coach. Ime Udoka was brought in to fill the void left by Stevens, and the Celtics added both Dennis Schroder and Josh Richardson during the offseason. Marcus Smart, who will start at the point, stands to see his usage (18.4 last season) increase, and stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both capable of serving as playmakers. As far as Pritchard’s potential fantasy value, that isn’t great. It’s early, however, and things can obviously change throughout the course of the season.
The good news for Pritchard heading into Monday is that, after suffering a broken nose during the preseason, he will be available for Wednesday’s game against the Knicks.
“Bones” sews up a rotation spot in Denver
With Jamal Murray (torn ACL) expected to miss a significant portion of the regular season, Denver will rely on the same platoon at the point that it used to close last season. Facundo Campazzo and Monte Morris played plenty in 2020-21, but how much those two play this season could depend on the progress made by first-round pick Nah’Shon Hyland. A rookie out of VCU who goes by “Bones,” Hyland is an energetic scoring guard who played very well during the preseason.
Playing just under 28 minutes per game, Hyland averaged 15.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 2.6 3-pointers and 2.2 turnovers per, while shooting 45.9% from the field and 77.8% from the foul line. At minimum Hyland will be a part of the Nuggets’ second unit, which may be a better fit for him given his game and Denver not lacking for scoring options in its starting five.
“I think it’s undeniable. I think Bones Hyland has been outstanding in the preseason,” Malone said earlier this month. “I think PJ Dozier has been outstanding in the preseason. Those guys are in a really good spot.”
Denver has Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and Will Barton in its starting lineup, three offensively-inclined players who will take up the majority of the available touches. Add in Aaron Gordon, and there really isn’t a need for Hyland in the starting five. But as a quick-trigger scoring guard who can provide energy off the bench? He’s worth taking a flier on, especially in deep leagues.
Bucks’ Nwora off to a good start
Milwaukee raised its championship banner Tuesday, and among the solid performers in the Bucks’ opening night win over the Nets was second-year wing Jordan Nwora. After averaging just over nine minutes per game as a rookie, he played 27 Tuesday, recording a line of 15 points (6-of-13 FGs), six rebounds, one assist, one steal, one blocked shot, three 3-pointers and one turnover. And the lone rejection was a game-changer, as Nwora’s defense of a Kevin Durant layup attempt led to a Grayson Allen three on the other end. It’s long been known that Nwora can score, but if he’s going to carve out consistent rotation minutes for himself, being a factor in other facets will be key.
“Everybody knows I can score; I’ve just got to do the little things to help the team win,” Nwora said after the win. “Doing that in a regular season game feels different, being at home, with our crowd. There were definitely moments where I was like, ‘I belong out here, for sure.’”
Rostered in just 3% of Yahoo leagues, Nwora was well off the radar in fantasy and with good reason. Much of Milwaukee’s rotation from last year’s title run is back, outside of P.J. Tucker. The injuries suffered by Donte DiVincenzo and Bobby Portis have opened up a few minutes, with Nwora being one of the beneficiaries. While he would be worth tracking for the time being as a possible streaming option, especially if Milwaukee takes a cautious approach with Jrue Holiday, now isn’t the time to go “all-in” on Nwora.
Holiday injured his heel during Tuesday’s game, but afterwards coach Mike Budenholzer said that the scans came back “clean.” Milwaukee has games scheduled for Thursday (at Miami), Saturday (at San Antonio) and Monday (at Indiana).