After months of waiting and preparing for fantasy drafts, we finally got a taste of real basketball on Tuesday night – and the three games on tap did their part to make it a great night. The Cavs’ explosive backcourt proved their worth, Anderson Varejao put his name next to Wilt Chamberlain with a monster effort, the Heat and Celtics battled in an uptempo grudge match, and the sky is falling in Los Angeles after the Princeton offense was offensive in its first go-round.
Rather than getting into it without actually getting into it, let’s jump right in and kick this season off right.
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Anderson Varejao became the first player with at least nine points, 23 rebounds, and 9 assists in a season opener since Wilt Chamberlain did it in 1967 (he also had two blocks). Doctor A was the first to say the words ‘sell high,’ and it’s the correct play but I’m not backing off my somewhat bullish stance on Varejao to begin the year. Varejao has improved tremendously from year-to-year and gets mislabeled as an energy guy only, as he can also score and as we saw last night, he can pass too. To Doc’s point, this type of historic evening is bound to return the savvy owner an extra round or two of value in comparison to my top-65ish preseason ranking, which was appreciably higher than most sites’ evaluations. If you’re not getting that type of value, don’t do the deal.
Kyrie Irving was electric in his debut, scoring 29 points on 11-of-20 shooting with three triples, but if you were relying on him in a head-to-head league his three assists and zero steals were a slight buzzkill. This guy is a championship-level star in the making, and while the gaudy assist totals might not be there in relation to some of his peers he’s going to dominate fantasy leagues. The bigger fantasy story last night was Dion Waiters, though, as he put a pretty big down payment on earning fans and fantasy owners’ respect with a 17-point outing that included two 3-pointers, two boards, and three steals. He hit 6-of-14 shots and made a few highlight plays, and I’m pleased to say I own him everywhere after ranking him No. 89 in 8-cat formats. He was going dangerously late in some drafts and you’ll want to make sure he’s owned in all formats – he’s going to get heavy run and be better than most folks think.
Tristan Thompson took a nice first step last night with 12 points, 10 boards, five assists, and a steal, but hit just 2-of-4 free throws and shooting percentages have held him down in the past. My bet is that he improves his 43.9% field goal percentage by a good amount and continues to struggle with his freebies. He needs to keep his foot on the gas pedal, as rookie Tyler Zeller (five points, two boards, one steal, one block, 15 minutes) is serviceable and will see more time as the year goes, regardless. That said, this was an impressive debut for a guy I had questions about. Alonzo Gee (2-of-9 FGs) and C.J. Miles (1-of-5 FGs) both struggled shooting and had three turnovers apiece, with Gee seeing 34 minutes and Miles getting just 18. Both will be better going forward, but if they slip and Daniel Gibson (3-of-5 FGs, 10 points, 16 minutes) plays well it could create a timeshare situation. It’s too early to worry about that, but that’s the downside to consider.
The Cavs more or less controlled the game against the Wizards and eventually won, with no Wizard making a big impact in the box score. Bradley Beal (eight points, three boards, three assists, one steal, two triples) started off going toe-to-toe with Waiters, but couldn’t keep up as he hit just 2-of-8 shots and played just 22 minutes. Jordan Crawford put up a typical line of 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting with three rebounds, five assists, one steal, and one block, and temporary starter at point guard A.J. Price was just as bad shooting with a 2-of-13 mark for seven points, six assists, and two treys. Price deserves to be owned in 12-team leagues right now as a short-term play until John Wall returns in a month or so.
Nene (foot) alternated between ‘out’ and ‘game-time decision’ for last night's contest, and he was on my do not draft list heading into the year. Trevor Booker drew the start as Nene was eventually ruled out, but managed just four points on 2-of-9 shooting to go with four turnovers and four fouls in just 17 minutes. He added a steal and block and will be better on most nights, and he’ll need to make some headway quickly to avoid a timeshare with Jan Vesely and Earl Barron. Emeka Okafor can’t be found on any of my squads, but he started the year off nice with 10 points, seven boards, and four blocks in 25 minutes. Okafor is an injury risk but he’s worth owning right now while he’s healthy. Kevin Seraphin (calf) is still not ready to play, but I still have him stashed in a few spots. I love his second-half of the year outlook and he should be able to contribute as the year goes on, too.
Sleeping with the Enemy
Ray Allen went to give everybody’s new favorite word, ‘dap,’ to former teammate Kevin Garnett before last night’s grudge match and was barely acknowledged. On top of that the Heat were given their championship rings, David Stern called the hurricane ‘Katrina,’ LeBron James left after playing 29 minutes with more cramps, and Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade were back at it throwing each other around. The game itself was played at a frenetic pace with both teams trending toward small lineups, leaving us with some fun fantasy box scores.
Rondo scored 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting with seven rebounds and 13 assists, Paul Pierce had 23 points on 6-of-15 shooting with five boards, five assists, and two steals, and made up for the poor shooting with two triples and a 9-of-9 mark from the charity stripe. Wade had 29 points on a 10-of-22 mark with a full line while managing to complain at the refs on nearly every trip up and down the floor, and LeBron was able to rack up 26 points, 10 boards, three assists, two steals, and two threes before the cramps took him out of the game. It’s an interesting subplot to know that the American Airlines arena was once again called out for being ‘hot,’ and what if anything that has to do with LeBron’s actual cramping. Of course, LeBron's mileage and potential for rest gave Kevin Durant a slight edge in making the latter my top overall pick, and this game will go a long way toward creating the perception that it was the right call but in reality it’s a fairly meaningless event after just one night.
The more important takeaway is how much ball movement the Miami offense had, and that will bode well for everybody there. Chris Bosh went for 19 and 10 with three blocks, and Allen showed he wasn’t dead with 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting (including two threes and a 7-of-8 mark from the foul line). I didn’t go crazy projecting a typical year for Allen with a 107/79 rank in 8- and 9-cat leagues, respectively, but I didn’t write him off like many folks did here and elsewhere. He’s going to get wide open looks all season long and the Heat will rely on him to take pressure off their big guns.
Mario Chalmers went nuts for nine points, 11 assists, and three steals in 36 minutes, so hopefully some of our blurbs that indicated a position battle with Norris Cole (six minutes) didn’t dissuade owners in deep leagues from picking him up. The book on Chalmers entering the year was that his shooting guard masquerading as a point guard role was better served by Allen than Chalmers, and along with competition from Cole he would struggle to hold late-round value. If the Heat operate like they did last year then I think that outlook will hold true, and this line is certainly fluky, but the kicker here will be whether or not the Heat continue to run and move the ball like they did tonight. If that happens it will be the tide that raises all boats, and Chalmers will do damage in fantasy leagues.
For Boston, Brandon Bass shook off knee issues and the threat of Jared Sullinger starting last night’s game, responding with 15 points and 11 boards. I mentioned it somewhere, but the positive Sullinger news reeked of a motivational ploy, and as the rookie logged just eight minutes it looks like for at least one night that might be the case. I think we’ll see Sullinger get heavier run in spurts, which will correspond with nights that guys like Kevin Garnett and Bass need some rest. Jeff Green, who will be ahead of Sullinger on the food chain and play a consistent 25-plus minutes all year, struggled to the tune of three points and three rebounds with a 0-for-4 mark from the field in 23 minutes. It’s not time to panic just yet, but owners shouldn’t hang on at the expense of a hot free agent like Gerald Green or Jae Crowder. Leandro Barbosa surprised with 16 points and three treys on 6-of-8 shooting overall in just 16 minutes, and the continuance of such efforts will only serve to annoy owners of Jason Terry (eight points, 2-of-7 FGs, 25 minutes) and Courtney Lee (11 points, 5-of-6 FGs, 24 minutes, five fouls).
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