Welcome back to Risers & Fallers!
This is the final edition of 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.
Editor’s Note: FanDuel is hosting the Rotoworld Beat the Writers Series, where you can play against five Rotoworld football writers for your chance at cash prizes and free entry into their Sunday Million. Put your knowledge to the test!
Dewayne Dedmon, Atlanta Hawks
Dedmon looks like someone who is in good position to provide a positive return on investment given his ADP as a late-round flier in most formats. Atlanta has next to no depth in the frontcourt, and a rebuilding team doesn’t spend $14M on a starting center if he’s there to just take up space. Dedmon showed his fantasy potential in limited minutes during his one-and-done stop in San Antonio, and if in need of a specialist, the big fella makes a lot of sense for someone looking to bulk up in field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks.
Cristiano Felicio, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls finally took the collective advice of the NBA’s Twitterati and embraced the rebuild. Their first move? Re-signing Felicio to a $32 million contract. That’s telling.
Although Robin Lopez has value, it’s hard to imagine Chicago wouldn’t look to move him if the appropriate opportunity surfaced. In that scenario, that would leave Felicio alone as the starting man in the middle, something that would make a lot of sense given the current state of this franchise.
In his sophomore season, the 25-year-old possessed per-36 minute averages of 10.9 points and 10.8 rebounds on an impressive 57.9% shooting. For now, Felicio is a deep-league target with a lot of hidden upside if it all breaks right. Keep him on your “watch list” in standard formats.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Love’s arrow started to point up the moment Kyrie Irving asked out of Cleveland, and the KLOVE stock has only increased in value as the preseason has rolled forward. Despite a loaded roster with a plethora of scoring options, Love should serve as a focal point behind LeBron James with Isaiah Thomas (hip) believed to be sidelined until at least January.
And as the new starting center of a revamped Cavs team, Love could very well flirt with those 25-10 games we got used to seeing so regularly in Minnesota. At that time, Love was considered a borderline first-round pick capable of anchoring championship fantasy teams. Doesn’t that feel like forever ago?
After looking like the odd man out for so long during his Cleveland tenure, Love is now an integral piece in this Cavs construction. This time around, I’ve got zero hesitation in selecting Love following the initial 20-25 picks in your draft. And at that point, instead of feeling resigned like I might have in the past, I’d be feeling empowered because of the potential value. Remember: Love averaged 19 & 11 with 2.4 triples per game last season on a team that included Irving.
Boban Marjanovic, Detroit Pistons
I think it’s important not to oversell Marjanovic. We’ve never seen him in a true featured role, his endurance on the basketball court remains a major question mark and the Pistons have a lot of options with their frontcourt construction. And if Tobias Harris—an underrated fantasy asset—is going to spend most of his minutes at power forward, it only leaves so much time for Boban to do his damage while playing behind Andre Drummond.
Marjanovic makes sense as a late-round flier given his per-minute potential, but those selecting him aggressively with the intention of starting him in two-center leagues may want to reevaluate that stance.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
So long as Turner remains healthy, it’s hard to envision how he doesn’t make his first All-Star appearance this season.
The Pacers are now Turner’s team, and that’s going to make his expected third-year jump that much more exciting. After Turner still turned in impressive season averages of 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 0.9 steal on 51.1% shooting—including a sterling 80.9% from the free throw line—during his sophomore campaign, the new franchise building block still has plenty of room to grow and become an official household name.
Perhaps one of the most underrated parts of Turner’s game is his expanding range, and if he starts hitting the 3-ball with consistency—he made 40 of 115 (34.8%) last season—it will heighten his appeal even more as a potential member of the VIP Triple-One Club. If Turner, as expected, can average somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, a steal and a three while being an asset in the percentage categories, there’s a case to be made for him as an easy top-20 pick. Do you believe?
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Let’s not overcomplicate this one. Even with Jimmy Butler’s arrival into Minnesota, KAT is my No. 1 dog in every nine-cat league.
Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks
New York’s center “depth chart” has a lot of names, but none of them are as appealing as Hernangomez when it comes to our purposes. In 21 starts during his rookie season, Hernangomez averaged 11.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 0.9 steal and 0.6 block (1.7 TO) on 50.8% from the field in just 25.5 minutes per game. Assuming he can fend off the Wolfpack that is Enes Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn and Joakim Noah, Hernangomez looks like a nice late mid-round pick who can be drafted at a discounted ADP due to unfamiliarity amongst fantasy GM’s and uncertainty about his role in whatever it is the Knicks are doing.
Alex Len, Phoenix Suns
Len could not generate any kind of market in restricted free agency, so he bet on himself by signing the qualifying offer and returning to Phoenix for one more season. And until we learned Alan Williams (knee) was going to miss significant time, no one thought much about it.
It’s time to start thinking about the former first-round pick with a lot to prove in the late rounds of your draft. This is exactly the kind of player I absolutely love to target because Len is playing to reverse his reputation and his future paycheck, meaning he’s going to have plenty of incentive to perform on a bad Suns team all season long.
After Earl Watson stated that Len was taking a major step forward, Len has been impressive in the preseason and should have a real path to a starting spot ahead of Tyson Chandler if his strong play continues and the Suns utilize a traditional starting five. And on a tanking Phoenix team that is clearly playing for the future, there is no reason not to play Len—especially without Williams available—in order to evaluate his potential long-term fit for a club that desperately needs to develop reliable frontcourt talent.
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
Nurk Alert season has arrived...and it’s never looked quite so good.
After spending the summer working on his body for the second straight year, Nurkic, who was a phenomenal fit in Portland from the second he arrived on the Blazers, has deemed himself in the best shape of his life. Need more? Nurkic is also in a contract season, playing for what could be a potentially massive payday, and has all of the incentive in the world to show that he’s the player everyone wants to believe he can be.
Injury concerns will likely knock him down the draft board further than he’d otherwise be placed, but grabbing him in the fourth or fifth round of 10-12 team settings as your primary center is an excellent place to start your 2017-18 fantasy hoops campaign. Remember, Nurkic has averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.9 blocks on 50.8% shooting over his first 20 regular season games in a Blazers uniform.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings
For a player who has a solidified role and is still dripping with upside, Cauley-Stein is not currently getting the attention he deserves.
In 13 games as the starting center last season, Trill averaged 13.0 points, 9.8 boards, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks on 53.6% shooting in 29.5 minutes per contest. In other words, WCS is a walking double-double with defensive upside who has current competition for minutes from Georgios Papagiannis, Kosta Koufos and Jack Cooley.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Gobert is going to be more involved in Utah’s life after Gordon Hayward, but it’s his ability to dominate categories (field goal percentage, blocks, rebounds) that makes him a first-round difference-maker. For what it’s worth, I’d rather draft someone like Damian Lillard at the back-end of the first round and then pair him with Hassan Whiteside than reach for Gobert in the same spot.
Al Horford, Boston Celtics
Horford was a fantasy disappointment—in large part due to draft price—during his initial go-around in Boston, but things are setting up for the versatile big man to be a steal at his current ADP this time around.
Horford is going to have to be more involved after Boston sacrificed some of its depth for star power, and if the preseason is any indication of what his role will be, Big Al will again be a Swiss-Army knife capable of contributing—and occasionally stuffing—across the stat sheet. Do not hesitate in the middle rounds.
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers
Thompson was barely worth a roster spot in standard leagues as a starter, and a move to the bench and more time with the second unit isn’t a reason to get excited about untapped potential. In short, TT is not a recommended target.
Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks
After rejecting a $70 million offer to remain in Dallas, Noel once again finds himself back with the Mavericks and playing for his next contract.
Uncertainties about both his floor and ceiling—as well as a bench role—will push Noel’s ADP lower than it should be, but he’s in good position to return solid value as a defensive specialist with the potential to be a whole lot more valuable.
Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat
It’s more than a little weird to see Whiteside falling into the second-half of second rounds in drafts, but that’s a value that’s impossible to overlook given the depth of the center position and how dominant Miami’s franchise center can be on any given night.
Despite the fact that Whiteside can be inconsistent, winning categories is about finding difference-makers. It’s hard to find a bigger one who is not a slam-dunk first-round selection than Whiteside, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hassan flirt with 20 & 15 while averaging between two and three blocks every time he’s out there.
Joakim Noah, New York Knicks
Even in a 30-team league, Noah has no place on your fantasy roster.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
It feels like this season is going to be different for Mr. Vucevic.
After the three-headed center experiment that predictably went nowhere, Orlando has cleared out the five spot in order for Vucevic to assume his rightful position. Let it be heard here first: This is setting up to be Vucevic’s version of the Todd Gurley Redemption Tour.
If Vucevic adds the three-point shot to his game as expected, Big Vooch could be averaging 16/10/1/1/1 with everyone asking themselves the same question: Why didn’t I take him higher?
If you want to wait on selecting your primary center until around pick 50, Vucevic makes a lot of sense as your target over someone like his former teammate Serge Ibaka.
Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs
Gasol has no business being selected as something more than a bench body, and he can easily be had on the cheap at the end of your draft if you’d like to bet on an age-37 renaissance under Gregg Popovich.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Is this the season we stop selling Valanciunas as something more than he is? I hope so.
I have JV comfortably outside my top 100, and I would be uncomfortable if he was my starting center in any format.
Marcin Gortat, Washington Wizards
It feels like Washington is moving away from an identity where the Wizards need a big bruiser inside, and we saw that after the All-Star Break last season when Gortat averaged a very replaceable 8.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and nothing else in just 24 minutes per game. With The Polish Hammer no better than fourth in the pecking order behind John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, I’m looking elsewhere and removing Gortat from my draft rankings entirely.