Preseason is wrapped up, GM polls are done and now we actually have real stuff to talk about in the NBA.
Week 1 is in some ways the easiest time to set your lineup. The order you drafted players in? That's the priority order for them when deciding who starts and who sits. Not that much could have happened in the last two weeks to make your 12th-round pick more attractive than your ninth, right?
On the other hand, there's still so much we don't know heading into Week 1 that could cost you a win. How will the Mavericks settle their point guard and center spots? Who will be healthy for the Pelicans? Will Kevin Love be a Fantasy star with Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Cavaliers' injuries?
We'll start to get answers to some of these questions as soon as opening night. Others might take months to sort out. For now, let's look at Week 1 and the most interesting aspects of the Week 1 projected Top 150, as well as some key players who didn't quite make it.
2 games: Timberwolves, 76ers
3 games: Nets, Celtics, Hornets, Cavaliers, Mavericks, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Rockets, Pacers, Clippers, Lakers, Grizzlies, Heat, Bucks, Pelicans, Knicks, Thunder, Magic, Suns, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Raptors, Jazz, Wizards
4 games: Hawks, Bulls
Top 150 Standouts
Pau Gasol? Really? No. 1? I was admittedly a skeptic of Gasol all of last season and what did he do? He proved me wrong at every step. The 34-year-old carried a big offensive load and didn't break down after years of injury issues. He should see a somewhat smaller load this season with a different coach on board than the hard-driving Tom Thibodeau, but Gasol is also still starting in Fred Hoiberg's rebuilding offense, so he isn't going away. I wouldn't expect him to be the top scoring player of the week -- Jimmy Butler or Anthony Davis are my picks -- but Gasol is still a must-start player. That's quite an accomplishment for someone I thought might be close to done just a year and a half ago.
The Warriors were the best defensive team in basketball last year, which makes what Anthony Davis did against them among the more impressive sustained feats in the league. Davis scored 59 points in two regular season matchups with the Warriors, while adding 25 rebounds and 11 combined blocks and steals. And then, under the bright lights of his first ever playoff appearance, all the 22-year-old did was average 31.5 points, 11. rebounds, 2.0 assists and 4.3 combined blocks and steals. As you'll soon see, the Pelicans have been hit hard by injuries, which means Davis could take on an even larger role in the offense. With the play-making improvements he made late last season, Davis is going to challenge for the top spot even in Head-to-Head leagues.
Joakim Noah is another in a long list of "I'm in the best shape of my life" candidates, and I bought in before the season to the idea that he was a bounce-back candidate. And with four games on the schedule, Noah should be productive enough to be worth a spot in your starting lineup no matter what. However, the Bulls are likely to bring him off the bench to open the season, leaving Gasol and Nikola Mirotic as the starting front court. Noah could still get enough minutes that it doesn't matter when he actually comes into the game. However, you'll want to keep a close eye on his playing time this week to determine how much you want to trust him moving forward.
Jrue Holiday is a terrific player, and seeing what has happened to him over the last few years of recurring stress reactions and fractures in his legs has been tough to watch. The Pelicans are taking a proactive approach to his health this season, putting in a minutes limit that topped out at 15 minutes in the preseason and will likely be in place until at least January. That limit is expected to increase as time goes on, and Holiday will be worth starting once he gets to the 25 minutes per game mark, but he's too highly ranked right now based on his expected role. You'll have to keep him stashed for at least a few weeks.
I have taken Paul George in the first round of some Rotisserie leagues this season, so I definitely think this ranking is underselling him a bit. He might have reservations about whether playing power forward is in his best interests, but I have no such concerns from a Fantasy perspective. George has the height to handle power forwards and the Pacers will likely try to cross-match at times to avoid him taking such a beating for 35-plus minutes per night. And, anything opposing power forwards do to George, he looks liable to dish out twofold on the other end, after a preseason in which he averaged 28.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 9.2 free-throw attempts per-36 minutes. He is going to be a problem.
Eric Gordon took steps toward reviving his career in 2014-15, averaging 14.4 points and 4.2 assists per game after returning from a shoulder injury. Those numbers aren't terribly impressive, but he was able to play in 53 straight games to close out the season, including a playoff series loss against the Warriors in which he averaged 18.5 points and 3.8 assists. Gordon gets those same Warriors twice to open the season, and those should be extremely high-scoring games given how both teams seem likely to push the pace. Gordon might end up serving as the team's primary playmaker to open the season too, making him a very intriguing option early on.
With Deron Williams already dealing with injuries to both calves and Wesley Matthews unlikely to open the season active after Achilles surgery, there are a lot of opportunities for playing time in the backcourt in Dallas. And Devin Harris seems like the best option to take advantage, given his familiarity with the team and ability to play either guard spot. Harris might not start -- he didn't last year even before the Rajon Rondo trade -- but he'll get 25-plus minutes per game. He should be good for something close to 12 points and 5.0 assists per game this week, especially with matchups against the Suns, Clippers and Lakers in what should all be track meets.
Ricky Rubio is projected for 15 assists in his two games this week, and that's as good a place to start as any when discussing why he is still worth starting in Week 1. With 26 other teams set to play three games, you would need to best 5.0 assists per game to top Rubio there, something only 32 players did last season. It's so difficult to find players who can replicate Rubio's assist and steal production, which makes him a must-start even at the deep guard position.
Nerlens Noel doesn't put up huge scoring numbers, so it might be hard to view him as a must-start player, but he absolutely proved he was that in the second half of last season. He just barely squeaks into the Top 150 in Fantasy scoring, but he ranks even higher in Rotisserie leagues, where he was a borderline first-round value in the second half of last season. Also, take it with a grain of salt, but Noel absolutely dominated the preseason, averaging 18.5 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 4.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per-36 minutes in his four games. Noel is probably matchup and schedule-proof.
Jahlil Okafor and Andrew Wiggins couldn't be less similar as players. Wiggins is all speed, aggressiveness and athleticism. Okafor is plodding and patient. However, they have similar Fantasy profiles in many ways. Both should score a lot of points on miserable teams, but they won't do much else. Okafor will get you some rebounds and should be a decent passer for a big man, but his percentages and defensive numbers will leave you wanting. Wiggins is still figuring out how to leverage his myriad skills in ways that affect the box score, as he was a below-average rebounder and steal-producer as a rookie. Most weeks, these two dynamic young players will absolutely be worth a spot in your lineup, but not with only two games on the schedule in Week 1. You've got to have better options.
Derrick Rose has been working out with the team and taking some contact in practices, but he still seems like a long shot to play all of Week 1. It turns out it's difficult to play professional basketball with a swollen eye and double vision. If Rose plays, he should get the lion's share of the minutes, but if not, Aaron Brooks is the best possible option to replace him. Kirk Hinrich might get the start, but Brooks will be the more productive of the two. Brooks averaged 14.1 points, 4.4 assists and 1.5 3-pointers per game in his 21 starts last season and has starting guard upside for Week 1, especially with four games on the way.
Nate Robinson, PG, Pelicans
It's not just Holiday. The Pelicans are a mess right now, with no fewer than six projected rotation players dealing with injuries that could keep them out at least through Week 1 -- and in some cases, much longer. With Holiday's minutes limit, Norris Cole's high ankle sprain and Tyreke Evans' knee surgery, the Pelicans are going to be desperate for play-makers. Eric Gordon will help, but they'll still likely need 30-plus minutes from their reserve point guards, and Robinson is undoubtedly the most skilled of the options. Robinson has posted at least 5.0 assists per-36 minutes in three of the last four seasons, and it wouldn't totally surprise me if he averaged something like 11 points and 5 assists per game for the first few weeks of the season.