Even in a slow week, there was still enough news to scrape up for a quick column. In addition to this breakdown of the week's top stories, keep your eyes peeled for a podcast on Monday evening in which myself and Mike Gallagher take a first look at the NBA schedule which releases this afternoon. For NBA news and fantasy advice, you can find me on Twitter here!
Jonathan Isaac looks like a beast
If any of you caught the Team USA Blue vs. White scrimmage then I’m sure you saw how good Jonathan Isaac looked. He’s up from 209 pounds last season to 234, as a few months of living in the gym has paid off for the forward. He scored 11 points with five rebounds, two dimes and four steals, and the weight gain didn’t seem to have an impact on his explosion. Isaac would agree, saying that his quickness and conditioning felt "the same, if not better" with Team USA.
“Just being able to have a little more size on me down in the paint is going to help a lot,” Isaac said to Josh Robbins of The Athletic. “I’m going to continue to finish out the summer working hard.”
Isaac finished inside the top-90 for total value in standard leagues last season, but didn’t live up the lofty expectations myself and my colleagues had hoped for. He averaged 9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.3 blocks, 0.8 steals and 1.1 triples, hitting 42.9% from the field and 81.5% from the line. He did finish strong though, posting top-75 value in the final two months.
A lot of players break out in their third year, and if Isaac can get his steal rate back up he’ll have all the tools to crack the top-50 — his steal rate dipped from 3% as a rookie to 1.4% last season, so expect some positive regression. And if you’re worried about Al-Farouq Aminu, don’t be. Isaac is one of the few building blocks on the roster and will find a way to get 30+ minutes as someone who can play positions 3-5.
DeMar DeRozan extension coming?
Perhaps one of the most surprising tidbits of the week is Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News reporting that the Spurs have not ruled out offering DeRozan a max contract extension prior to the season. He’s owed $27.7M in 2019-20 with a player option for $27.7M the following season and is coming off his sixth straight campaign with a scoring average of 20+. I’m still not buying this report though, as DeRozan just turned 30 and would be leaving his prime by the time the extension kicked in. Plus, the Spurs should seriously consider reshaping their roster given their team’s current ceiling.
DeRozan’s biggest strength aside from his scoring is his playmaking, as he set a career-high with 6.2 dimes per game operating as the Spurs’ primary ball-handler. The problem with that is that the Spurs are getting starting PG Dejounte Murray back from his ACL injury, and Team USA standout Derrick White is also in need of 30+ minutes. That’s a hard trio to see coexisting when you consider the lack of floor spacing, as DeRozan hit just seven triples last season on 15.6%. Yikes.
I don’t doubt Mike Finger’s source here, but it seems like a planted leak from the San Antonio front office to make it seem like they are still committed to DeRozan. In my opinion, he’s an obvious trade candidate as the Spurs transition to optimize the offense around Murray and White, their two building blocks of the future. A prediction… DeRozan is shipped back to Toronto at some point in 2019-20 to join forces with Kyle Lowry once again.
Mitchell Robinson tweaks knee
A notable absence from the Team USA scrimmage was Mitchell Robinson as he was sidelined with a minor sore knee. An MRI cleared him of any “serious damage,” but you never like to see a big man of his caliber dealing with a knee issue before the games even start.
We’re still over a month away from training camp, but if this lingers into camp I think I’ll have to bump him out of the second round of my ranks. Plus, the Knicks will be at or near the bottom of the standings, and that’s when teams are usually more cautious with injuries.
On the flip side, if Robinson has a clean bill of health heading into the preseason I’ll regain my confidence in taking him near the turn of Round 2. In the final two months of the season, Robinson was 15th(!) in standard leagues with 9.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 3.0 blocks in 25 minutes. Even with the Knicks adding every free agent power forward imaginable, Robinson should get at least 25 minutes per night whenever he’s not in foul trouble. However, David Fizdale calling the shots does make me a bit nervous…
Paul George’s status for opening night in question
While answering some questions in his mailbag column, Jovan Buha of The Athletic shed some light on the Paul George situation. PG-13 is coming off surgeries to both shoulders, and while a target date hasn’t been announced, Buha speculates that he may not be ready for opening night. In fact, he said he spoke to others around the league who indicated that George is leaning towards a "mid-to-late November" Clippers debut.
The uncertainty there takes him out of the first round equation for me personally, as it’s never ideal to begin the fantasy season playing catchup. On top of the uncertain return date, Buha notes that load management could come into play for PG-13 once he’s cleared to return.
George was the 3rd best fantasy player on a per-game basis last season in an MVP-caliber campaign, but when you factor in his new partnership with Kawhi Leonard on top of the injury/rest concerns it makes him one of the toughest players to rank.
What is Kawhi Leonard’s load management plan?
Jovan Buha also took the time to respond my question about Kawhi. The Finals MVP and NBA champion missed 22 games last season with most of them being DNP-rest. It’s worth noting that Kawhi didn’t enter the 2018-19 season healthy which contributed to so many DNPs, and though he insists on playing more games this season, Buha speculates that Kawhi will miss at least 10 games for rest.
Leonard is dealing with a chronic right quad issue that requires rest from time to time, and he admitted that he wouldn’t have made it all the way through the season without it. I think the 10 games of rest is a fair prediction, and that’s the main reason I’ll be ranking Kawhi as a mid-second round draft pick despite the fact that he was the 7th best per-game guy last year. Needless to say, I don’t anticipate having many shares.
Luka Doncic appears to be in great shape
There’s been a lot of videos/pictures circulating of Luka Doncic and there’s a night and day difference from last season. Coach Rick Carlisle and Mavs owner Mark Cuban have been adamant about Luka getting in better shape so it’s nice to see the young fella stepping up.
He’s going to be one of the most polarizing players to rank this offseason, as his gaudy stat totals are held in check by his percentages and turnovers — he hit 42.6% from the field and 71.6% from the line with 3.4 turnovers per game. That kept him barely inside the top-100 for 9-cat.
There was a sharp decline in both his FT% and 3P% as the season progressed, and that’s a sign of obvious fatigue. Now that he’s in top shape with a full offseason under the belt, I’d expect improvements across the board from one of the most exciting young talents in the NBA. I have no issue with taking him in the early rounds, but only if you’re prepared to punt 1-2 categories. For example, if you were punting FT% and TOs last season, Luka jumps from rank No. 100 to No. 32.