We’re less than a week into the NBA season but already there are plenty of things around the league that are worthy of a closer look, at least as far as fantasy basketball managers are concerned.
Here are five things to watch over the weekend.
Can Lillard or Beal be like Harden?
Prior to last season, the NBA changed the rules to make it harder for perimeter scorers to draw the easy fouls that helped so many produce monster statlines on a daily basis. In the league-wide decline in volume ISO-scoring, three players in particular stood out as the poster children for the effect: James Harden, Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal. While all three dealt with injury at some point, even when healthy their scoring volume and efficiency dropped precipitously.
Fast forward to this season, and through two games James Harden looks like himself again. He’s not just putting up Rockets-onian scoring lines, but he’s also drawing Hardenesque fouls on the perimeter. In Game 1, he drew at least three shooting fouls on 3-point attempts, and converted one into a four-point play.
But that’s not what happened with Lillard and Beal in their season debuts. Lillard went 5-for-18 from the field for 20 points, while Beal was a more efficient 9-for-17 but still “only” managed to score 23 points. Lillard has games against the Suns and Lakers this weekend, while Beal faces the Bulls and Cavaliers. I’ll be watching to see if either shows signs of partying like it’s 2020-21 again anytime soon.
Chris Paul of old, or old Chris Paul?
Chris Paul was flowing along on a late career renaissance, leading the Suns into contention and even the best record in the NBA last season…until his 37th birthday. Then, it was like the clock struck midnight on Cinderella and Paul’s basketball chariot turned back into a pumpkin. Starting May 6, 2022, Paul averaged 9.4 PPG, 5.8 APG and 3.4 RPG in five playoff games, then turned in 6 points (1-of-6 FG), 9 assists and 3 rebounds in his 2022-23 season debut against Dallas.
The Suns ended last season by getting run off their home court by the Mavericks, and history was repeating itself in the season opener before Coach Monty Williams sat Paul in the fourth quarter… at which point the Suns stormed back and won the game.
So, the question is, is this all that’s left for Paul? Did his production fall off a cliff on his birthday, never to return? Or did he just have a poor game 1, and he’ll return to normal moving forward? He’s got games against the Trail Blazers and Clippers this weekend to start to answer that question.
Will KAT re-find his roar?
Karl-Anthony Towns has been a perennial top-10 fantasy basketball performer, when healthy, for several years now. But while the monster offseason trade that brought Rudy Gobert to town might make the Timberwolves into contenders out West, did it cost KAT his fantasy hoops pedigree?
With Gobert on the squad, dominating the middle, Towns was always going to have to move more to the perimeter. There was a train of thought that he could do that relatively painlessly, since he’d played all of last season next to an interior-based power forward in Jarred Vanderbilt. Plus, Towns is one of the best at distance shooting.
In the season opener, however, Towns didn’t have a great game at all. He scored only 12 points, on 2-for-10 shooting from the field. In addition, seven of his field goal attempts and both of his made shots came from behind the arc. He also dished seven assists and grabbed six rebounds in 36 minutes.
While the assists were great, this stat line would have been more appropriate for Lonzo Ball than Towns. So, I’ll be watching his games this weekend against the Jazz and Thunder for glimpses of the old KAT… or more evidence that the new KAT might be here to stay.
Is the Pelicans fun ride really real?
After the Pelicans traded for CJ McCollum last season, they went on a run to finish off the campaign. McCollum seemed to pair perfectly with budding star Brandon Ingram, each scoring well over 20 PPG to carry them over most of their opponents.
After the finally lost in a scrappy series against the Suns, there was this “what if?” buzz around the league… what if you could take this same team and add Zion Williamson’s offense to the equation without getting diminishing returns? Like if the Pelicans were a real-life fantasy hoops squad… wouldn’t that be amazing?
Well, for at least one night, that seems to be exactly what happened. Zion returned and did standard Zion things with 25 points on 11-22 from the field, adding 9 boards, 4 steals and 3 assists. But, there’s no way you can throw a pebble that big into the ocean without the ripples drowning those around him, right? Wrong. Again, at least for one night. Ingram still produced 28 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 3-pointers and McCollum still went for 21 points, 6 assists, 4 boards, 3 3-pointers and 3 steals. And the kicker, is, all three only played around 30-31 minutes.
The game was such a blowout victory that they were able to sit out the fourth quarter, but they still got their numbers! And it’s not like they completely monopolized the ball — they had two other teammates score 16 and 15 points, each, as well.
So, could this be a thing? Well, I’ll be checking how the Pelicans look this weekend against the Hornets and Jazz to find out.
Is Paolo really LeBron Abdul-Jabbar?
Orlando rookie Paolo Banchero, the No. 1 overall pick this past June, had a monster opening night. In fact, it was the type of NBA debut that we’ve only seen a couple of times in history. With 27 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists, Banchero joined LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only other No. 1 picks since 1969 to have at least 25 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in their first NBA game.
I mean… that’s a pretty exclusive list! It’s literally the No. 1 and 2 scorers in NBA history. They’re likely to switch places on that list this season, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s focus on the rookie.
So, after Game 1, Banchero is on pace to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, right? Well… let’s slow it down a bit and see how he does in Games 2 and 3. This weekend, Banchero goes to Atlanta to face the Hawks, then returns home for a stiff test against Jayson Tatum and the Eastern Conference champion Celtics. I’ll have my popcorn ready to see if after this weekend we’re still evoking the names of basketball royalty when discussing the current Rookie of the Year favorite.