We’re going to get numb to it soon, but the relatively heavy night of NBA action was a dream come true after a summer of waiting. It’s no wonder the traffic and interest in the NBA game is spiking, as we get an NFL Sunday’s worth of action every night. Let’s jump right into it.
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GM Sam Presti walks on water among NBA writer circles, and he did a good job drafting James Harden and Russell Westbrook, while the jury is still out on Jeff Green. He deserves no credit for drafting Kevin Durant. From there his track record is spotty at best.
His trade for Kendrick Perkins looked great at the time, but it did some damage in the locker room according to reports because the players were very close with Green. It’s no coincidence that Perkins played heavy minutes two playoffs ago when he was injured and amazingly brutal on the floor, and again this past year when a healthier Perkins was still being beaten by centers of all sizes on a nightly basis.
Whether or not it was Scott Brooks’ full decision to play lineups that were putting the Thunder at a 10-20 point disadvantage every night throughout the playoffs, the fact is that Presti has authorized Brooks to coach that way. One can’t have Derek Fisher on the floor for meaningful minutes while guys like Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, and Serge Ibaka ride the pine without the okay from above. And now the most recent Perkins-related disaster has hit in the form of Harden’s trade to Houston, as the team refused to amnesty Perkins over paying Harden to stay.
So Harden showed up for his debut against the Pistons and dropped 37 points on 14-of-25 shooting with six rebounds, 12 assists, four steals, one block, four threes and he might have swept the floor when he was done, too. Playing for a coach that isn’t holding minutes over his head with no end in sight, Harden has every chance to beast on any night. I admittedly should have raised him higher than No. 17 on my board, but I failed to calculate how much Jeremy Lin would help Harden (and vice-versa). Lin looked like a quarterback trying to find Harden down the field and is the willing passer that Russell Westbrook couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be. I still think Harden could struggle with his efficiency as he is utilized more, but the bump Harden gets playing for a coach that isn’t wearing blinders might be the trump card in all of this.
I get asked all the time why I’m so harsh on Brooks and/or the Thunder. I’ve had other writers try to call me out as if I have something personal against these guys, which is a bit over-sensitive in an industry of analysis, but to me this is the only story that mattered last season if you care about which team wins it all. The Thunder should have beaten the Heat, and with Harden and Ibaka theoretically in tow they should have won no less than 3-of-5 NBA titles counting last year and the four years thereafter. But they didn’t win last year, and they sure as hell won’t change their ways with the press corps slow to point out all of these flaws, if they point them out at all. It’s as if the writers are hesitant to admit their mistakes, backing their Coach of the Year votes and riding the Presti train all the way until it crashes through the Thunder’s missed window of opportunity.
Stubborn and enabled, Presti and the Thunder have to win an NBA title to make this mistake go away.
Fourth Dimensional Rocket Ships Going Up
The rest of the Rockets had nice debuts on Wednesday, in particular Jeremy Lin, who scored 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting with four rebounds, eight assists, four steals, and just four turnovers while looking fairly healthy. As noted before, Lin is going to benefit from the added attention and playmaking that Harden brings to the table, and the pressure for him to perform goes down exponentially. Omer Asik is cruising along, putting up 12 and nine with a steal and two blocks, so owners got what they bargained for (including a 2-of-6 mark from the foul line). Chandler Parsons flashed the fantasy game that teased owners last season with 11 points on 3-of-9 shooting, seven rebounds, six assists, and a triple in 42 minutes, while Carlos Delfino was also productive in his 24 minutes. Delfino hit five threes for 15 points, seven rebounds, and a steal. Both should be owned in most 12-team formats.
Vying for the title of most discussed fantasy player on Twitter last night, Al-Farouq Aminu flashed the upside that has mostly disappointed owners in the past, scoring 17 points with seven rebounds, three assists, two steals, and three blocks in 37 minutes. Doc loves the guy as a pickup, and I’m not quite as bullish but I’m right there with him, as Aminu is going to get minutes on a bad team so long as he’s simply ‘okay.’ Boasting a versatile fantasy game, if this is a watershed moment in his career he could be sneaky good, as he posted solid late round value over the final 17 games of last year while playing fairly poorly at times. To give you an idea of where he stands with me, I wouldn’t drop Gerald Green for him but I’d definitely drop Jae Crowder to take a shot at Aminu’s upside.
Jrue Holiday got his extension at the last minute and wasted no time showing his worth with 14 points, six rebounds, 11 assists and two steals in 41 minutes. He hit just 5-of-16 shots but that will get straightened out, and owners can sit back and enjoy the ride. The story of the night was Spencer Hawes, though, who had the crowd chanting his name after he posted 16 points, 12 rebounds, two steals, five blocks, and two 3-pointers in 31 minutes. This is why you drafted the injury-risk in the later rounds, and if you want to call this a sell-high moment I’m fine with that, as Andrew Bynum ‘should’ eventually return and cut into his value.
Gerald Green was pimped here yesterday and looked poised to have his coming out party, but instead had six turnovers and just six points on 2-of-7 shooting, though both makes were threes. He played a team-high 37 minutes and that’s the only number owners should be concerned with right now. Float a ‘buy low’ offer to his owner and hope for the best. Paul George was who we thought he is on the other hand, scoring 14 points on 7-of-15 shooting with 15 rebounds, five assists, and a block. Outside of an extremely favorable trade offer, he is a ‘hold’ for the foreseeable future. George Hill looked bothered by his hip injury as he scored eight points on 3-of-9 shooting with seven assists, and owners are correct to wonder if he’ll be seeing some time off down the road. Keep a close eye on D.J. Augustin (15 minutes) and be ready to move if news worsens on Hill. David West scored 25 points but had just two boards, and those numbers will move toward an equilibrium, and Roy Hibbert looked good going for 14 and nine with five blocks.
Lowry Livin’ Large
Kyle Lowry is putting his groin injury in the rear-view mirror quickly, as he exploded for 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting with two threes, seven boards, eight assists, five steals, and a perfect 7-of-7 mark from the stripe. His mild injury risk is the only concern here, and one that owners shouldn’t dwell on too much. Jose Calderon is both auditioning for a mid-season trade and filling the gap the Raptors have at shooting guard. Last night he scored 15 points with three assists and three 3-pointers in 25 minutes, and if guys like Landry Fields (0-for-6 FGs), DeMar DeRozan (4-of-15 FGs), and Terrence Ross (six minutes) can’t step up then he could post sustainable late round value. If you’ve been holding Ross do so only if you’re willing to wait a very long time for him to pop, and owners can do better than Landry Fields right now. Jonas Valanciunas hit just 6-of-15 shots and didn’t make it to the foul line, but his 12 and 10 with a block are a nice floor for a bad night.
The Kings need a point guard, but where might they ever find one?
They actually have one, his name is Isaiah Thomas, but Thomas is finding out why Stephen Curry eventually caused Keith Smart to get fired. Smart likes to do weird things with his lineups like play Acie Law, and he’s simply not ready to turn the team over to Thomas. Aaron Brooks has played well in his backup role, though he was 1-of-7 from the field when Smart turned the team over to him last night, but this isn’t really a question of Thomas vs. Brooks if you’re a Kings fan. It’s a question of what to do with a team that had just 14 assists last night, and whether a shoot-first point guard like Brooks, who also has defensive issues, should be stealing minutes from the only guy on the roster capable of running a team. But if you’re a fantasy owner, it IS a question of Isaiah vs. Brooks, especially when Smart is telling Thomas to dribble up the court, hand the ball off, and stand in the corner – crushing his margin of error in the process. Thomas is going to be better than last night’s 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting with two threes and one assist in 25 minutes, but things are going to be choppy until the coach stops micromanaging the team’s theoretic pacemaker.
Fantasy owners probably ignored Kawhi Leonard’s struggles shooting the ball during the preseason when they drafted him, but the hype clearly let up a bit for a guy whose role playing for Gregg Popovich was certainly in doubt. That won’t be an issue anymore after he scored 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting with three treys, seven rebounds, and five steals in 34 minutes. Yes, Manu Ginobili (back) was out, but moments like these will do wonders for alleviating the risk of Pop messing with his minutes.
What’s the frequency, Kenneth?
Kenneth Faried played just 17 minutes last night, scoring six points with seven boards and not much else, which predictably sent folks spending a mid-round draft pick on the guy into a tizzy. Just don’t do anything crazy like drop the guy in most formats, and keep in mind that George Karl can be a bit of a pill at times. He said after the game that Faried isn’t the team’s “best option” for catchup mode, which of course is a nod to his limited offense. Just like spooning leads to forking, sometimes defense leads to offense, Mr. Karl. Regardless, with a low-minute baseline compared to most fantasy starters, this isn’t as drastic as it would be for a guy that logs 30-35 minutes on most nights. The same thing goes for JaVale McGee, who played just 18 minutes with four points, seven rebounds, and three blocks. Their trajectories will both point slowly up as the year goes on.