Ethan Norof

Risers and Fallers

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Risers and Fallers: Forwards

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Welcome back to Risers & Fallers!

This is a three-pronged preseason series that is true to its name.

I’ll identify a rundown of names at each position and break them down into two categories: Risers and Fallers.

The risers group will be composed of names to target in drafts as well as those players that will require a premium investment in order to ensure ownership. The fallers group will include those who could either be drafted at a discount for a potential draft-day deal and those “name-value only” players that savvy fantasy GM’s should allow another team to acquire.

We’re addressing a wide audience with a range of different league sizes, so keep deep-league recommendations in mind and evaluate appropriately if you’re in a traditional (12-team) setting or shallow format.

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Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks

Prince, who should have substantial room to grow on a rebuilding Hawks team, has to be considered one of my favorite late-round fliers. In 10 starts during his rookie go-around, Prince averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.5 block and 1.1 3-pointers (1.8 TO) on 41.1% shooting. Although he’ll need to improve his efficiency, his roto-friendly game looks made for fantasy teams. There’s intriguing upside here.

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks

Take a look at the Hawks’ frontcourt and tell me one good reason Collins shouldn’t grab a substantial role right out of the gate. Atlanta’s coaching staff absolutely loves their rookie, and he’s given them every reason to entrust him with more responsibility sooner rather than later.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

It’s easy to drink the preseason Kool-Aid when it comes to rookie hype—especially in this class—but the buzz around Tatum is very much legitimate. He’s got an NBA-ready body, a style of gameplay that will serve him well at this level and a drive that’s unbreakable. Intrinsic motivation is a rare characteristic, and Tatum’s desire to be great will serve him well in his pursuit of excellence. As the season progresses, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gordon Hayward spending more time at shooting guard so the Celtics can get Tatum onto the floor.

Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons

Last year, Johnson flopped in his chance to impress and grab a larger role and regressed from a solid but unspectacular rookie showing. As a result, he wound up in the dog house in what was virtually a lost sophomore campaign: 4.4 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and not much else on an embarrassing 35.3% shooting.

So why would he wind up here?

Stan Van Gundy expressed a desire to “get more” out of Johnson. For his part, the third-year former first-round pick believes 2017-18 is his “time to shine.” Van Gundy then identified Johnson as a key part of the Pistons’ revamped defense and then said he plans to play Stan the Man more at small forward. Finally, SVG expressed his pleasure with Johnson’s maturity and play as Detroit started preparing for its year.

Noticing a theme? I am. This is a player with a ton to prove, who has his coach’s support and is integral to what his team wants to do. In fantasy hoops, like in life, all we can ask for is opportunity.

Thaddeus Young, Indiana Pacers

We haven’t heard much on the Young front as he’s become somewhat of an afterthought in Indiana, but someone is going to have to help Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo be a reliable, stabilizing presence on both ends of the floor as this young Pacers team learns how to play together. Thad could easily be trade bait as the season progresses given the Pacers’ youthful depth at power forward with Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Leaf waiting behind him, but any good fantasy GM should be willing to invest at a discount in order to sell at a potential premium.

Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

It’s the Blake Show in Los Angeles once again. Welcome back to the spectacle.

Chris Paul’s departure means Griffin is going to again become the focal point—something Doc Rivers has already made no secret about—and that’s going to be great news for those willing to roll the dice on BG’s health with the hope that he can remain on the floor. Griffin has more than 170 million reasons to prove that he’s capable of being the No. 1 option on a team contending for something real, and selecting him at any point after the top 20-25 players come off the board is as easy as a Griffin slam dunk.

Danilo Gallinari, Los Angeles Clippers

Gallo is going to be relied upon to fill a substantial role in Los Angeles, and he’s got a better than good chance to flirt with 20-point-per-game average in his new home. The major concern with The Rooster is his health, and that chatter is not going away after playing fewer than 65 games in three straight seasons.

Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

Ingram is going to have his growing pains, but this is not a breakout to miss.

I’ve been ultra-aggressive in targeting Ingram with a top 50-60 pick in those drafts I’ve had to date, and I’m not looking to see if the shot goes in after letting it fly.

After working on his strength, his confidence, his shot and earning the endorsement of everyone in the organization—most notably Magic Johnson time and time again—we’re poised to see the results.

Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

Those attempting to ignite the power forward “battle” between Randle and Nance should probably put down the torches. It’s not really all that close. At all.

Randle, who spent the summer reshaping his body in a big way, has looked like someone with a massive chip on his shoulder (in a contract season) as the Lakers decide if their uncertain future includes him.

If Randle—it’s a big if—can develop a reliable mid-range game and expand his comfort zone toward the 3-point line, it will open up the entire floor for him and make him a far more explosive weapon.

Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have a plethora of frontcourt options, but Kuzma has worked himself past the conversation and into the rotation with everything he’s done to date.

As one of those guys who just seems to know where to be, when to be there and what to do when he’s there, Kuzma has both surprised and impressed with his versatile scoring ability. He’s got impressive chemistry with Lonzo Ball, can impact the game in a variety of ways and plays team-first basketball. It’s probably going to take some time for Kuzma to carve out a fantasy-worthy role, but it’s an investment worth making.

James Johnson, Miami Heat

The Heat shockingly gave Kelly Olynyk $50M, but Miami gave Johnson $60M after he had the best season of his career in their colors. Even with the club’s newfound depth, it would be stunning if JJ didn’t earn substantial minutes as the starting power forward.

For context, Johnson averaged 18.2 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.8 block and 1.6 3-pointers on 50.7% shooting over five games a starter during 2016-17. The impact is real...and it has the potential to be spectacular.

Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks

With no Jabari Parker until at least 2018, a lack of consistent scoring on the roster outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo and on a team that needs him to do a little bit of everything, things are setting up very well for Middleton to be an easy top-40 selection.

Remember, Middleton missed most of last year after tearing his hamstring before the campaign and still became a difference-maker down the stretch for teams competing for the crown. With a versatile game that should produce box-score-stuffing efforts on a consistent basis, Middleton looks primed to have a big season.

Cheick Diallo, New Orleans Pelicans

Diallo has shown some flashes, but he’s not even guaranteed to be in the rotation to begin the season and won’t have the shot to be a factor until if/when Anthony Davis and/or DeMarcus Cousins go down. For now, he’s simply a name to keep in mind, but make no mistake: There are things to like here.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

Post-hype Porzingis is about to remind everyone why the NBA was so quick to fall in love.

With Carmelo Anthony out of the picture, Phil Jackson no longer pulling puppet strings and a front office in place that is clearly trying to build around Porzingis, there is no time to shine like the current for KP6. Riding the Unicorn is going to come at a costly price—at minimum a top-25 pick—but he’s in excellent position to provide a positive return on investment with his stat-stuffing game and improving efficiency.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

It came later than we expected, but Gordon started to show signs of putting it together last season when he got a real chance after the All-Star Break with averages of 16.4 points, 6.2 boards, 1.0 steal, 0.7 block and 0.9 3PM on 50.3% shooting, including a sterling 83.8% from the free throw line. I expect him to pick right back up from where he left off now that the Magic are committed to growing for the future, and Gordon might have one of the biggest third-year jumps of any player from his class. Look out.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

Simmons might surprise a few people with his inclination to score, and there’s no question that there is a lot more optimism around his potential than there was during his first campaign. It feels like Simmons’ ADP is going to rise as we creep closer to the season with additional positive performances and more sparkling reviews, so the price is only going to keep rising.  

Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns

I like T.J. Warren in Phoenix, but if I had to pick one member of the young core it would have to be Chriss. With his ability to contribute across the box score, Earl Watson praising him at every opportunity and Chriss embracing his growing role, Marquese is an enticing, high-upside pick in the middle rounds. Even a possible reach could look like a definite bargain by the time the All-Star Break arrives.

Moe Harkless, Portland Trail Blazers

Harkless doesn’t get a ton of love, but he’s worth a late-round flier with a real role in front of him and coming off averages of 10.0 points, 4.4 boards, 1.1 steals, 0.9 block and 0.9 3-pointers on 50.3%. Slow-Moe will need to improve his work from the stripe (career 59.6% shooter) in order to move into another tier, but he’s also never averaged more than two free throw attempts per contest in any of his five seasons.

Joe Ingles, Utah Jazz

When Utah re-signed Ingles to a 4-year, $52 million deal, the Jazz were operating as if he could either start or continue to back up Gordon Hayward.

Now that he’s been thrust into a starting role, Ingles has an entirely new appeal. He will continue to work on consistency, versatility, and endurance in order to deliver over the course of an 82-game season, and he makes for a fine pick after the top 100ish come off the board on draft day.

Kelly Oubre, Washington Wizards

Oubre is going to have his chance with Markieff Morris (hernia) sidelined, but he’s going to have to show why he’s the best option. For now, Oubre is a deep-league flier with the potential to become more.

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Follow Ethan Norof on Twitter @Ethan_Norof for more fantasy basketball analysis, advice and all things Los Angeles Lakers.
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