Well, after 18 months of some really strange basketball, it seems like we’re finally back to something that’s at least approaching normal. The 2021-22 NBA season will begin in October (not December) and it will be played all across North America (not in a bubble in Florida). Heck, even the Raptors are back in Toronto. Again, mostly normal conditions. Hooray!
Let’s go position-by-position and break down everything you’ll need to know to set a few lineups for Tuesday’s two-game opening night slate.
Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors, $8,600 - While I do expect Westbrook’s overall fantasy output to suffer in Los Angeles, I also think there’s a decent chance the former All-Star goes a little overlooked on Tuesday. Stephen Curry ($9,400) and James Harden ($9,300) should attract most of the ownership at this position, and Westbrook’s inconsistency in the preseason likely hasn’t endeared him to many prospective owners. Still, though his surrounding cast has definitely changed, we’re talking about an asset that exceeded 50.0 DKFP 56 times in 2020-21. Westbrook as a variance play is a scary thought.
Jordan Poole, Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers, $4,800 - It’s weird to project chalk based on preseason performance, but Poole really has been the talk on NBA Twitter for the past couple of weeks. The former first-round pick averaged an impressive 21.8 points per contest in Golden State’s five tune-up games, including 28 points in 24 minutes of action against these same Lakers back on Oct. 8. Preseason certainly doesn’t count for much, but Poole’s locked himself into this rotation and should see a large role until Klay Thompson (Achilles) is able to return.
James Harden, Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks, $9,300 - This is a stacked slate, with four of the most star-laden rosters in the NBA taking the court on Tuesday. Still, Harden might possess the highest-ceiling of them all. The All-Star has a huge opportunity to thrive with Kyrie Irving (personal) unavailable for the foreseeable future. In fact, in the 616 minutes Harden logged without Irving on the court last season, the guard posted a 34.1% usage rate which helped him average an eye-popping 1.70 DKFP per minute. That sort of volume and efficiency combination is extremely rare.
Malik Monk, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors, $4,500 - With so many new faces, it’s sort of unclear what exactly the Lakers’ rotation will look like on Tuesday. However, considering Wayne Ellington (hamstring), Trevor Ariza (ankle) and Talen Horton-Tucker (thumb) are sidelined, it would stand to reason that Monk will get some serious run. The former lottery pick really broke out last season in Charlotte, knocking down 40.1% of his three-pointers and averaging 27.3 points per 100 possessions. Monk should be a high-usage bench piece.
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Kevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks, $9,900 - His numbers without Irving on the floor last season weren’t quite as impressive as Harden’s, but that’s a pretty high bar with which to judge. In 812 offensive possessions, Durant registered 1.60 DKFP per minute and a 33.3% usage rate. The man tore his Achilles then came back and posted a career-high 60.8% effective field goal rate in 2020-21. That’s insane. Durant is always viable if you can afford him.
Pat Connaughton, Milwaukee Bucks vs. Brooklyn Nets, $4,700 - Alright, let’s try to zig while everyone else zags on a small slate. It seems like it’s going to be Grayson Allen ($3,800) who ends up drawing the start in place of Donte DiVincenzo (foot) on opening night. If that’s actually what ends up happening, you can be sure that the cheaper Allen will be much more popular than Connaughton. Still, I’d have to assume that the two assets end up playing similar roles with similar minute volume. Give me the guy on fewer rosters.
Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors, $8,800 - I’m just not sure who the Warriors have on their roster that can match up with Davis. Obviously, Draymond Green ($6,800) is a pretty good option in a vacuum; however, Steve Kerr admitted on Sunday that Green will likely begin the season on a bit of a minutes restriction. With James Wiseman (knee) sidelined, that doesn’t leave Golden State with a lot of size — an issue the Warriors encountered a lot in 2020-21, when they finished with the second-worst rebounding rate in the West (48.0%). Davis should be able to own the glass and the paint.
Nemanja Bjelica, Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers, $3,400 - If preseason rotations were any indication, Bjelica is going to be one of the first players off the bench for the Warriors this evening, especially with Green’s aforementioned minutes limit. I’d guess that he ends up logging somewhere between 15-20 minutes. That’s a decent amount of volume for an asset this inexpensive. Reports out of Warriors camp also mentioned an expanded playmaking role for the former Euroleague MVP, which is at least a little enticing.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks vs. Brooklyn Nets, $10,000 - You really don’t need me to explain to you why Antetokounmpo is viable. The two-time MVP was as dominant as ever last season, carrying a 33.6% usage rate and averaging 1.64 DKFP per minute of play. If I can only squeeze one asset priced above $9K into my lineups this evening, it’s Harden. However, you’re never at fault for spending on Giannis’ elite mix of ceiling and floor.
Blake Griffin, Brooklyn Nets at Milwaukee Bucks, $5,400 - Griffin showed last season that he’s still got a little spring in his step, averaging 1.01 DKFP per minute across his 26 regular season games with the Nets. The veteran also posted 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per 36, assisted greatly by a .610 true shooting percentage. Griffin’s stock might not be as strongly affected by Irving’s absence as Harden’s or Durant’s, but he gets a tiny bump, too.
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