The NBA Finals ended six days ago. The Draft is in three days. When you cover the NBA, there isn't really a lot of down time. The offseason is four months long, but between the draft, free agency and training camp, you don't have much time to catch your breath.
With the draft and free agency looming, the landscape of the league could look drastically different by the time the 2015-16 season is upon us. With that in mind, I thought it might make some sense to try to capture a snapshot of what the Fantasy world looks like before everything changes. Things could and should change dramatically between now and October, and it will be interesting to look back at just how much our perspective has changed in that time.
With that in mind, here is my Way Too Early 2015-16 Season Preview. I will touch on breakout and bust candidates, what the first round could look like, and some of the biggest storylines I am looking forward to this far out.
First round, first look
1. Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans
2. Stephen Curry, G, Warriors
3. Kevin Durant, F, Thunder
4. Chris Paul, G, Clippers
5. James Harden, G, Rockets
6. LeBron James, F, Cavaliers
7. Russell Westbrook, G, Thunder
8. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kings
9. John Wall, G, Wizards
10. Kawhi Leonard, F, Spurs
11. LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Trail Blazers
12. Kyrie Irving, G, Cavaliers
Davis is No. 1 with a bullet. He averaged 25.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 5.1 combined blocks and steals over the final 20 games of the season, while turning the ball over just 1.5 times per game and shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 74.8 percent from the free-throw line. And he's only 22. And he might add a 3-point shot. There's no other answer here.
Things get significantly murkier from that point on. Curry's combination of all-time great 3-point shooting and high assists gets him the No. 2 spot, while Paul's assists and low turnovers get him the edge over Harden. Durant could go anywhere from No. 2 through 8 without much complaint from me; that's how high the upside is, and how high the risk is.
With Davis losing center eligibility, Cousins is the only one to make the first round, and he isn't totally safe. He is the center version of Westbrook, as he just bludgeons you with volume, averaging 24.8 points, 13.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.6 combined steals and blocks per game after George Karl took over as coach. Of course, he also turned the ball over 4.2 times per game, a total that can certainly hurt you in leagues that penalize for that.
1. Anthony Davis, F, Pelicans
2. James Harden, G, Rockets
3. Stephen Curry, G, Warriors
4. Kevin Durant, F, Thunder
5. LeBron James, F, Cavaliers
6. Russell Westbrook, G, Thunder
7. DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kings
8. Blake Griffin, F, Clippers
9. Chris Paul, G, Clippers
10. John Wall, G, Wizards
11. LaMarcus Aldridge, F, Trail Blazers
12. Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers
Davis is a less-obvious No. 1 overall pick candidate in H2H formats, as he finished just seventh in Fantasy scoring per game last season at 41.9. Of course, that was No. 2 among forwards, which has all of a sudden become arguably the shallowest position in Fantasy. He also improved his Fantasy scoring to 46.1 per game from March 1 on, as the Pelicans opted to run even more of their offense through him. He averaged 3.5 assists per game in the final 20 games of the season, and should improve on that further on a team that should run even more of what should be a fast-paced offense under Alvin Gentry through Davis. This is more of a risk than in other formats, but his upside makes it worth it.
Westbrook and Durant are going to be tough to figure out. Each has led the league in Fantasy scoring per game over the last two seasons, largely because the other was hurt for long stretches. Durant is riskier in terms of health, and I wouldn't argue if you swapped him and Westbrook.
How far does LeBron fall?
This is the obvious question after seeing my first-round projection. James has been a consistent presence in the top three of Fantasy drafts for well over a decade, but he wasn't worth that last season. The numbers were fine -- not quite as good as Miami-LeBron, but very good overall -- but one in particular stands out: James missed 13 games. He had never missed more than seven games in a season in his career, but it seems like James knows that holding back is a key at this point in his career; he took two weeks off to basically rest his body midseason.
After a grueling postseason run that saw him play 42.2 minutes per game while carrying an insane load on offense, it's hard to see James putting himself through another 3,000-minute campaign. He played just 69 games in 2014-15, and I would take the under on that total this season. He will be a top-three player when he does play, but the missed games will hurt. With Davis and Durant featuring injury questions that are just as concerning, James isn't alone there, which is why he can't fall too far. But, you have to keep it in mind.
Nikola Mirotic, F, Bulls: This might not count, because he already broke out last March. However, the Bulls could move one of their other big men and, if not, Mirotic will still enter the season as the only one without a serious leg injury in his recent past. He should be the third option on a very good offense this season.
Jusuf Nurkic, C, Nuggets:- Mike Malone isn't a coach that likes to push the pace, and that should suit Nurkic just fine. It isn't that he doesn't have athleticism, but he's got the size and skill to punish defenders in the half-court if he becomes a focus. Fouls are an issue, but he has top-15 C upside this season.
Ricky Rubio, G, Timberwolves: Rubio appears to have plateaued since entering the league, but there were some promising signs of improvement last season amid all the injuries. Over a 10-game stretch from Feb. 11 through March 9 -- the only point during the season when he played 30 minutes in more than three straight games, mind you -- Rubio averaged 11.9 points, 10.2 assists, 7.1 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game.
Otto Porter, F, Wizards: The Wizards stunned the world by going small in the playoffs, and Porter was a big part of their success. After showing very little through two full seasons, he broke out with 10.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.2 steals per game in the playoffs. He could be a Roto steal, especially if Paul Pierce leaves.
George Hill, G, Pacers:Fantasy players might be the only people besides Pacers fans who truly realize how good Hill was last season. Injuries took their toll, but he averaged 19.7 points, 6.3 assists and 5.1 rebounds per-36 minutes, numbers that rivaled Kyrie Irving' season-long production. However, Paul George's return might limit his upside a bit, so don't expect a repeat.
Tristan Thompson, F, Cavaliers:Thompson was huge in the playoffs, averaging 10.6 points and 12.1 rebounds per-game over the team's final 15 games. Of course, he did that while playing 39.2 minutes per game with Kevin Love out. In 67 games as a reserve, he averaged just 7.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game, numbers that make him hardly worth drafting.
Dwyane Wade, G, Heat: Assuming Wade returns to Miami -- by no means a sure thing -- he is coming back to a very crowded situation. That could be a good thing as far as keeping him healthy, but Wade isn't going to be asked to carry as much of a load as he has been, with a full season of Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside around.
Michael Carter-Williams, G, Bucks:The assumption in a lot of places is that Jason Kidd can help Carter-Williams find a way to be the best version of himself despite his poor shooting. However, his numbers in Milwaukee were underwhelming, and it's hard to see him posting the kind of assist numbers he once did in Philadelphia.
What will the 76ers look like?
The positive to the 76ers' exceedingly slow rebuilding plan is it creates plenty of opportunities for Fantasy production. That is how you end up with Ish Smith, on his eighth team in five seasons, averaging 12.0 points and 6.1 assists per game in the heart of the Fantasy playoffs. This is a team that pushes the pace, forces a lot of turnovers, and puts the ball in their point guards' hands and gives them the freedom to create. Now, imagine what kind of Fantasy impact could be made by players with significant talent.
I am rooting hard for the 76ers to draft D'Angelo Russell, the point guard out of Ohio State, for exactly this reason. He is a tremendous shooter and passer, and could have a Tyreke Evans-esque rookie season if unleashed in Philadelphia. Otherwise, they might open the season with Smith or Isaiah Canaan running the point, and neither would exactly be an ideal option.
It will also be interesting to see how the team's frontcourt works out. Joel Embiid has the potential to be a first-round Fantasy option some day, but he may not even play for the second season in a row depending on the sseverity of his foot injury. Nerlens Noel looked like a Fantasy difference maker as well last season, and could be a breakout candidate if Embiid is limited -- Noel averaged 13.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 4.4 combined blocks and steals per game after the All-Star break. Speaking of which ...
So many young centers
Center used to be a Fantasy wasteland, but things really started to turn around last season. Just take a look at the under-25 centers who burst onto the season late last season:
All numbers post-All Star break
Noel: 13.1 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 4.4 combined blocks and steals
Rudy Gobert: 11.1 points, 13.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 3.5 combined blocks and steals
Whiteside: 13.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.4 combined blocks and steals
Jonas Valanciunas: 12.0 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.7 combined blocks and steals
Enes Kanter: 18.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 combined blocks and steals
These are players who were barely Fantasy relevant before last season, and all of a sudden looked like quality starting options at a historically shallow position. And that isn't even considering names like Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe or Gorgui Dieng who had already proven they could play, or other young players like Nurkic, Alex Len, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Donatas Motiejunas or Cody Zeller among others who have flashed potential.
Oh, and the consensus top two prospects in this year's draft are centers. All of a sudden, waiting on your big man doesn't sound like such a bad idea.
Speaking of that draft class...
It is fair to say the 2014 draft class didn't live up to expectations, though that might not be an indictment on the collective talent. Julius Randle effectively missed the entire season; Joel Embiid actually did miss the entire season; Jabari Parker only played 25 games; Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh, and Doug McDermott were all lottery picks who missed significant time as well.
It is, obviously, impossible to say how this year's draft class will pan out, but there is reason to be optimistic. Assuming health, D'Angelo Russell and Jahlil Okafor look like they have the kinds of offensive chops to make an immediate Fantasy impact, especially with the Lakers and 76ers sitting in the top-3. The likely top pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, is a bit tougher to figure out, however.
Towns has the makings of a good jumper, shot well from the free-throw line, posting solid rebounding and block numbers and finished extremely well at the rim as a freshman. However, he also averaged 5.6 personal fouls per-40 minutes, and wasn't often asked to do much scoring on a Kentucky team that had plenty of options. The Timberwolves have Nikola Pekovic and Dieng in-house, so they can afford to bring him along rather slowly. He might be the single most talented player in this draft, but I might not expect him to be a Fantasy difference maker in his first season.