JaVale McGee Coming Out Party
The man with a moustache tattooed on his hand was signed by the Nuggets for four years and $44 million, which signals to the rest of the league that Denver believes they can harness his talent. From a fantasy perspective, the Nuggets have two guys in Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov that George Karl can use to keep JaVale McGee in check. We saw Karl do just that down the stretch last season when the big man averaged just 20 mpg coming off the bench. In the playoffs Karl loosened the leash a bit against the Lakers and McGee responded with up-and-down performances including games of 16 &15 and 21 & 14.
On the season McGee posted seventh and eighth-round value in 9- and 8-cat leagues, respectively, while playing 25 mpg in a year that could easily be classified as a disappointment. Regardless, he is going to be a hot name on draft day for his upside, and depending on his ADP owners will want to weigh their options carefully, but at this early stage I’m giving myself the green light in the fourth-to-fifth rounds of drafts. If I sense that the shackles are coming off, I might go higher. Between the influences of Karl and Co., having another year under his belt, and seeing JaVale dominate at times during the playoffs – the upside is tremendous.
Pop’s Secret Weapon
Kawhi Leonard averaged 25 points, six boards, and three dimes in two Summer League games before the Spurs decided to pull the plug on his action. I jumped the gun on Leonard last season and maybe the same reasons he didn’t work last year will make me hesitant on pulling the trigger this season. Coach Pop’s antics notwithstanding, though, it’s clear that Leonard’s upside in fantasy leagues is real and it could be spectacular.
At 7.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks, 0.6 threes, 49.3 percent field goals, and 0.7 turnovers per game in just 24 minutes last season, he could legitimately become an early round value with a full boat of minutes. Of course, unless the reports are solid out of San Antonio, owners are going to have to draft Leonard with a good helping of Gregg Popovich uncertainty. Where I draft Leonard will be greatly influenced by his ADP, as I’d prefer to use my last round selection if the fantasy world isn’t feeling him on draft day. But in a competitive league he may end up becoming this year’s Paul George, and moving up to the early part of the late rounds is probably going to be the price one has to pay for Leonard’s upside.
Attack of the Overseas Big Men
Raptors fans will finally get to see Jonas Valanciunas now that he has signed a two-year deal with two team options attached. In the meantime, the 20-year old has been refining his game overseas and getting good marks in the process. Perhaps the best reports are those that talk about his effort on both ends of the floor, and the fact that he doesn’t back down to older, stronger competition. This is important because the main reasons guys don’t get on the court when they’re young are defense and hustle.
Offensively, Valanciunas has a deft touch around the rim and is developing a nice mid-range game. From a fantasy perspective, he shot 66.8 percent from the field and 78.1 percent from the line in 33 Lithuanian League games, while also posting 11.5 points, 7.3 boards and 1.8 blocks per contest – all in just 21 minutes per game.
Scouts are predominantly positive about Valanciunas’ ability to step up at the NBA level, and he would have likely been the consensus No. 2 pick in this year’s draft. The question for his fantasy value will be how quickly the Raptors allow him to play heavy minutes. In a frontcourt that boasts injury-risk Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson, and surging third-year PF Ed Davis, it’s going to be easy for the Raps to bring him along slowly. Foul trouble is also an issue here for Big V.
Because Bargnani plays like a stretch four, it makes sense that the Raptors start Valanciunas for limited minutes in a four big rotation with each guy. Dwane Casey could also decide to bring him off the bench, and I wouldn’t quibble with that, but either way look for Valanciunas to be brought along slowly early on.
So unless we hear differently before draft day, Valanciunas is going to be a stash guy or very-low end producer for the beginning of the year. However, with Bargnani and Johnson both being injury risks this season, he could be pressed into heavy minutes at any time and it would be a slight upset if he isn’t playing 30+ minutes by the All Star break. Drafting him as a No. 2 center makes a lot of sense and by his block totals and shooting percentages he could be serviceable in a pinch early on, but make sure it’s worthwhile to commit the roster spot for at least a third of the season.
Further down last season’s draft board, Donatas Motiejunas has looked good offensively during Summer League. Depending on how the Rockets’ pursuit of Dwight Howard turns out (probably not all that good), he is well-positioned to take advantage of Houston’s lack of talent down low. The main red flag for owners to watch out for with Motie is his lack of commitment to rebounding and defense, as we saw how Kevin McHale dealt with those types of issues in Samuel Dalembert and others on the team. If McHale comes out singing his praises, then owners should be ready to jump on Motie’s mix of big man stats and outside shooting. As of today, he’s a late-round guy until the picture clears up.
Nicolas Batum’s desire to get out of Portland was not quite fascinating, but interesting in that the Portland media really struggled to wrap their heads around it. The result was a slowly snowballing trainwreck starring Batum, his reportedly overmatched agent, and a grudge match between Minnesota’s GM David Kahn, who got his start sportswriting in Portland. The Wolves put so much poison in their offer sheet to Batum that the NBA rescinded some of its terms according to Blazers GM Neil Olshey, but nonetheless the Blazers matched and Batum is on the path to mending fences there. And after matching the four-year, $46.5 million offer, the Blazers are going to finally unleash him.
Batum posted fourth-to-fifth round value in just 30 minutes per game last season, and he will have a legitimate shot at cracking second or third round value this season. I doubt the fantasy public has caught up to either reality – what Batum did last season or what he’s about to do this season – so watch the ADP charts to see how cheaply he can be picked up.
It Feels Good to be Wanted
There are two camps in the NBA world. There are those that think O.J. Mayo is a future All Star befitting of $10 million per year, and then there’s everybody else. I’m in the latter category, though I liked the strides I saw from Mayo on defense last season. There were talks about him nabbing that type of money, but when push came to shove he had to take a prove-it deal with the Mavs for one-year and $4 million, with a player option on the next season.
This is actually a good deal for both sides, as Mayo will step into the starting shooting guard job and land in a place where he is actually wanted, versus a Memphis squad where he found himself at odds with coaches, teammates, and his playing time. Posting late round value on the strength of 1.5 threes per game, he’ll have ample opportunity to improve on his 27 mpg, 12.6 points, 3.2 boards, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks, and his biggest problem – 40.8 percent field goal shooting.
Mayo should see an incremental rise in most of those categories and a nice boost in scoring as the Mavs will rely on him more than he was relied upon in Memphis, but the field goal shooting may never improve enough to make Mayo a top-half of the draft guy. The good news is that he shot 45.8 percent as a rookie, so you’re telling me there’s a chance. A late mid-round valuation is where I’m starting at this early juncture.
Call Me When Basketball Writers (and the Kings) Wake Up
The Kings have had a pretty good offseason and their owners finally loosened the wallet (a bit), most likely to prove to other owners that they’re capable of owning an NBA franchise. One example of this spending was bringing in Aaron Brooks, who has spent the last two seasons in basketball purgatory. It’s the type of depth signing they just haven’t made in recent years.
Can Brooks regain his form from 2009-10 when he dropped 34 points on the Lakers in a playoff game and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award? Who knows. He fell apart in Houston and couldn’t beat out Zabian Dowdell in Phoenix for No. 2 duties behind Steve Nash. In fact, Phoenix thought so little of Brooks that they chose not to pursue keeping him despite having gaping holes at PG prior to the Goran Dragic signing. The rest of the league agreed with the Suns’ assessment, as Brooks’ only landing spot was in Sacramento, where GM Geoff Petrie had been pursuing Brooks for years to no avail.
Since the signing, the reporting on Brooks’ arrival has been nothing short of atrocious. Numerous voices nationally and locally in Sacramento have gone so far as to anoint him the starter over incumbent starter Isaiah Thomas, who I ranked as a top-15 PG by the end of last season. Thomas showed the ability to defend, score, pass, run the team, and make big plays nightly against top-tier PGs despite being put in the corner by Keith Smart for much of every game. As for Brooks, he has shown nothing in the past two years except for petulance, poor shooting, and lackluster play. One would think that it would be obvious that Isaiah Thomas should play big minutes this season, but I am but one of just a few voices near the team or nationally echoing that logic.
For what it’s worth, the team has been quiet about the issue and Petrie hasn’t sounded like a guy who is ready to hand Brooks anything.
Thomas was going to have issues entering this fantasy season regardless of whether Brooks was signed or not, because Smart and Co. showed last year that they were willing to lose games and waste developmental time by sitting Thomas on the bench. In baffling fashion, they either couldn’t figure out that Thomas was ready to take the reins as the team’s primary ball-handler – or they were not willing to hand him the reins for fear that Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton wouldn’t be able to defer to the youngster.
There also continues to be pressure from management to prove that Jimmer Fredette can play point guard, because there is no way the defenseless scorer can play heavy minutes at shooting guard in the NBA. Of course, it took all of five minutes watching Jimmer in Summer League to see that he still can’t dribble, penetrate, or defend well enough to be on the floor in an NBA game for longer than 10 minutes, and those minutes need to be at shooting guard.
Adding this up, along with Smart’s history with both Thomas and Stephen Curry in Golden State (Acie Law anyone?), IT is going to be a tricky guy to draft this season. While he could still overcome all of these issues as the cream usually rises to the top, owners have to draft Thomas as a high-risk, high-upside play in the event he puts both Brooks and Jimmer in their place.