Fantasy projections are hard. We look to others in the industry for guidance without plagiarizing or pilfering, overanalyze quotes from team personnel, and process the preseason (paltry as this one is) like we’re being given tea leaves to read — when by and large they should be treated like used tea bags and be tossed. Yet, we try to put forth the best information possible — even if some of it is conjured from the Ether — because, above all, NONE of us want to hear about it later if we miss poorly.
It’s even harder this year, ruminating on what The Bubble was worth; deciding who’s ready to break out based on two measly preseason games, after either too long or too short of an offseason; guessing who’s going to follow COVID protocols, or be caught on social media without a mask, licking stripper poles.
How do you quantify and qualify all of that?
In short, you apply standards as evenly as possible, which means simplicity; every player (save incoming rookies) played regular-season games last year, those games produced stats, and you average them. If you try to deviate much, especially after all of last year’s variables, you’re gonna look and sound like Charlie Kelly at the end of his mailroom run.
The most important thing I consider for projections: Minutes. There are only so many, and you can’t accumulate any stats sitting. Plus, Brad Stevens is likely to give Semi Ojeleye more minutes than he deserves (at least at this point in his career, with so many younger guys to develop), and while he’s a delightful athlete and versatile defender, for our purposes, he’s vulturing minutes from someone who could actually do something for us with them, like these seven guys:
(Yahoo! position, PDR and ADP as of Dec. 18, and ESPN’s position, H2H Cat Top 200 and ADP Page as of Dec. 20; stats are from Basketball Reference, slash lines are points/rebounds/assists/steals/blocks for average stats, and FGP/3PT/FT for percentage stats. “Buy: High” means I recommend drafting above the range of PDR and ADP and the inverse for “Buy: Low,” and “Buy: Push” means somewhere in the range.)
- Jayson Tatum (Y!: SF, PF; PDR: 7; ADP: 11.8; ESPN: SF, PF; PDR: 12; ADP: 12). Overview: Tatum’s a guy who could make your season, either if he leaps to top-3 fantasy player whom you grabbed late in the first, or slides to you in the second in smaller leagues. Sow subtle seeds of doubt with fellow GMs to make him slip, if you’re slick, because he’s right in that zone where you may be able to grab him on the backend of your first two picks if you’re low in the initial draft order, perhaps in a league where everyone hates Boston (likely, unless it’s a buncha Bahhhneys from theah). In short, he’ll have every opportunity to put up MVP-worthy numbers this season. Last Season: Tatum made a big leap last year, going from 15.7/6.0/2.1/1.1/0.7 in 2018-’19 to 23.4/7.0/3.0/1.4/.09, and from .450/.373/.855 to .450/.403/.812 last year; while we’d like to see his percentages go up in tandem, take solace in the consistency, as he went from 13.1 FGA to 18.6. This Season: Tatum could put up 25/10/5/1+/1+ while shooting above the vaunted .400/.500/.900 line. He has the tools, confidence, green light, and, maybe above all, fewer teammates who’ll need shots, as Gordon Hayward took the proverbial bag from Charlotte and Kemba will be seeing limited minutes no matter how well his knee progresses. Further, Tristan Thompson is in the fold to screen for him on the perimeter. Buy: High. I like him more than Kawhi (PDR: Y! 6: E: 13), Dame (4; 9), John Collins (9; 36), WayOff P (10; 24), and Durant (11; 12), because, remember: We’re not trying to win NBA titles, we’re trying to win fantasy titles based on regular-season numbers, and, barring the unforeseen, Tatum’s going to average near or over 35 MPG with no concerns and give solid-to-elite production for every category, and could have a top-3 campaign simply by virtue of playing more than superstars on restrictions. However, while he’s alleged to have grown two inches between preseason camps (6’8” to 6’10”), Tatum, Sr., an avid golfer for…months, now, is adamant that he’s not 19 anymore (and wasn’t the past two seasons, either).
- Marcus Smart (Y!: PG, SG; PDR: 63; ADP: 80.1; ESPN: PG, SG; PDR: 93; ADP: 88). Overview: He can be incredibly frustrating to watch and even sometimes own, and with such a disparity between PDR and ADP, clearly people are passing on a guy who’ll log major minutes and fills out a sheet, because of, what, a slightly subpar FGP? Smart averaged .422 in 2018-’19, but regressed back to .373 last year, bringing his 6-year career average to .373. However, while his career .318 3PT can make you grimace, he posted .364 and .347 the last two seasons and has worked immensely on his long ball. Also, poorly-timed elbow, hand, and wrist injuries the past three seasons have diminished his percentages, as he’ll play (and still shoot) through anything if he’s cleared. Last Season: On the year, Smart went for 12.9/3.8/4.9/1.7/0.5 and .374/.347/.836. As mentioned, his FGP and 3PT regressed, but his FT went up from .806 to .836. While he continued to be streaky throughout the year, as is his nature, he’s become a much better shooter. This Season: Between Kemba’s knee and Hayward’s departure, Smart may well exceed last season’s career-high of 32 MPG; you can count on Stevens to have him on the court as much as possible. He has no compunction about taking shots, jumping from 7.1 to 11.4 FGA last year, especially in crunch time, which can frustrate C’s fans, but for fantasy owners, it’s like Michael Scott’s Kobe quote about Wayne Gretsky. Plus, since he can defend anyone from Giannis to Kyrie, that’s a guarantee he’s going to get steals AND blocks, a rarity for a guard available this late. Buy: Low. The FGP will still scare off people, but if he’s available in the 7th round still, that’s a season-altering pick. You’re not taking him over Jonas Valanciunas (PDR: Y!: 59; E: 57), Kelly Oubre, Jr. (62; 65), or Buddy Hield (64; 61), but you’ll be a lot happier with him than Nerlens Noel (65; 181; I took him last year with a similar rank but was laughed off in trade attempts, dropped him, and he spent the season on the wire intermittently), Lauri Markkanen (66; 74), or Richaun Holmes (67; 111) unless you’re already worried about big-man depth.
- Jaylen Brown (Y!: SG, SF; PDR: 71; ADP: 46.3; ESPN: SG, SF; PDR: 63 ; ADP: 60). Overview: It’s hard to separate Brown’s development from Tatum’s, as they’re both top-3 picks taken in consecutive drafts, have similar skill sets, expectations, ceilings, and made tremendous gains last season. While Tatum earned his first ASG nod last year as Brown stayed home, it’s possible that Brown closes any perceived and real gap between the two this season, which likely explains why we see a PDR vs. ADP that’s the opposite of Smart’s, as people are clearly reaching for Brown early. Last Season: Brown blew up as expected, posting 20.3/6.4/2.1/1.1/0.4 with .481/.382/.724, all of which were career highs save his 3PT (.395 in 2017-’18). Like Tatum, his FGA leapt from 10.7 to 15.6, and like Tatum and Smart, he averaged a career-high MPG (33.9). This Season: He’s going to get his 30-plus minutes, 15-plus shots, his athleticism and experience should portend to even more boards, blocks, and steals, and an ASG nod would surprise none. But he can be mercurial, himself, and if he’s not hitting his beloved corner 3’s, it throws off his entire game; to be blunt, Stevens needs to tell him to cut the shit and take it to the rack more. Buy: Push. He’s not a third-round guy, he’s not a seventh-round guy, but if you can get him in the late fourth or early fifth, you’ve gotten a great pick.
- Daniel Theis (Y!: C; PDR: 77; ADP: 118.5; ESPN: PF, C; PDR: 118; ADP: ?*). Overview: The last time a Celtic was asked to do more than anyone could’ve hoped, was, well, fairly recently, when Isaiah Thomas played through a bad hip all year, then in the postseason, a busted face and even the tragic passing of his sister, en route to an All-NBA 2nd-team year in 2016-17. While Theis didn’t have to overcome as much, the gritty 6’8” German was asked to play starting center for a title contender with no back-ups who could be counted on from matchup to matchup. The last time I saw a Celtic take so much abuse was when I watched Dave Cowens’ face fight the vaunted Garden parquet floor diving for that loose ball; Theis got cracked in the face AND the groin, conspicuously and consistently, with hardly a call to be found, like this egregious incident, but, like a villain from a WWII movie, nothing seems to stop this athletic German for long. Last Season: Theis was definitely a great pick-up off the wire, also posting career highs with his move from matchup-dependent reserve to full-time starter, posting 9.2/6.6/1.7/0.6/1.3 with an encouraging .566/.333/.763. While it was hard to gauge game to game if his supporting cast would find him open under the cup for easy flushes, or if he’d have to settle for a handful of uncontested J’s (6.6 FGA), his ancillary production was guaranteed. This season: Theis deserves to be rewarded for his noble efforts last season. Trouble is, the Celtics could give a flip about what you did for them in the past (just ask IT). Tristan Thompson should be the Celtics starting center before long, and it’s a fair assumption that Timelord Williams will snipe other minutes to get some growth; I would take the under on Theis averaging 20 MPG. Buy: Low. This season, Theis seems like a sure bet to get drafted and dropped quickly by an owner who starts off slow, as Theis will, while every team’s rotations slowly crystalize after this abridged preseason. He’s great to have on your bench as a flex and a third center (or hopefully to fill in at PF in leagues where he’s eligible) but, I hope you don’t spend real money on fantasy hoops if you’re taking Theis over guys like Kevin Love (PDR: Y!: 78; E: 77) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (PDR: Y!: 81; E: 80) this year.
- Kemba Walker (Y!: PG; PDR: 89; ADP: 87.7; ESPN: PG; PDR: 73; ADP: 82). Overview: Obviously, Kemba’s left knee is the biggest unknown and concern, this season and onward. He turned 30 years old in May, wasn’t ready to play after four months of resting it between GobertGate and The Bubble, received a stem-cell injection in October to alleviate the issues — which seems like the kind of half-measure that would make “Breaking Bad” Mike snicker slightly before he had to put you down — and is looking at MPG and GP restrictions when he can return. Last season: Everything started off magically with Kemba and the Celtics; it was like watching your best friend get out of a bad relationship (i.e. Kyrie), and then find someone new and flourish. Then came the 2020 All-Star game, when conference-rival coach Nick Nurse let Kemba be one of four players on either side to log 29 or more minutes in an exhibition game — AFTER Stevens played him 45 minutes in the last game before ASW. Kemba’s a good shooter, but much of his game is derived from the vicious cuts he can (used to be able to?) make, like to create separation on his signature step-back J. Also, nobody looked more exposed in The Bubble against the zone defenses than Walker did against Toronto and then Miami; he appeared perplexed like a soccer player who’d just been told that putting your hands on the ball is suddenly allowed but has no clue how to leverage that. Part of that is on Stevens and the offense (GET OUT OF THE STUPID CORNERS WAITING FOR A BAD LOOK AND CUT BACK DOOR!!!), but, it was tough to see the injury and zone struggles from a freshly-minted max player. This season: All you can do is make assumptions about how much he can contribute. While he didn’t LOOK hobbled in averaging 36.9 minutes over 17 playoff games, his game appeared limited at times, but fluid at others — except when Nurse and then Erik Spoelstra flummoxed him with the same defensive strategy employed by youth coaches and favored in over-40 rec leagues. The meathead-idiot, former-team-icon head coaches are going extinct and are being replaced by progressive eggheads like Stevens, Nurse, and Spoels. It’s a mistake to think that teams won’t throw zone at the C’s with Kemba on the court until the offense shows why large doses of zone are for fat guys and little kids. Buy: Low. Kemba’s injury is too detrimental to his elemental play, and he’s been too exposed by zone D to go near him in the first 10 rounds of a draft. I would love to get him as an early bench pick to then stash on IR and then grab a fresh FA. I’m taking Duncan Robinson (PDR: Y!: 88; E: 172), Aaron Gordon (92; 105), Montrezl Harrell (98; 78), and even Markelle Fultz (93; 93) ahead of him this season.
- Robert “Timelord” Williams, III, (Y!: C; PDR: 136; ADP: 141.0; ESPN PDR: 146; ADP: ?*). Overview: After playing some crucial playoff minutes off the bench in Boston’s win over Toronto in the playoffs, Timelord created a lot of believers, and has natural tools that make scouts and fantasy owners ogle. He’s not going to need the ball to contribute, save for an instant on a lob before a robust flush, and for a few uncontested pops from the elbows, which he can reliably hit. Last season: Williams demonstrated typical sophomore improvement, assembled an impressive highlight reel, and showed flashes of being a reliable rotation player. But we only saw flashes. Over 13.4 minutes last year, he posted 5.2/4.4/0.9/0.8/1.2 with a .727/.000/.647. This season: I know what you’re thinking: “Low minutes, but he PRODUCES when he’s out there!” Sure. Sometimes. If there’s a bet whether Williams will have more double-doubles than DNPs this season, I’m taking the DNPs, every time, and it could be as many as a dozen if he dozes incrementally to start the season; to the C’s chagrin, Williams does look dazed for stretches and good coaches can and will easily exploit his weaknesses. He’s not even the best big on this team named “Williams;” his undersized un-brother Grant was deservedly getting crunchtime playoff minutes instead of him, especially in the Miami series, because he’s consistent and dependable on D, which matters. Buy: Low. Or, not at all. Andrew Wiggins (PDR: Y!: 129; E: 72), Joe Ingles (132; 111), Dennis Schroder (135; 80), Tim Hardaway, Jr. (137; 151), Will Barton (141) are all worth rostering ahead of Williams. I’d even take Dario Saric (146) and Marvin Bagley, III (144; 127) ahead of him; while they’re flawed players, they’re under less pressure to produce and both have more diverse skills and upside.
- Jeff Teague (Y!: PG, SG;PDR: 179; ADP: 132.4; ESPN: PG; PDR: 124; ADP: ?*). Overview: Widely believed to start while Kemba recovers and play major minutes all year, Teague’s a true sleeper that could tip fantasy fortunes. He’s entering his 12th season, and considering the amount of minutes Stevens gave Brad Wanamaker last year, it’s easy to sell us on the former all-star contributing. Last Season: His minutes dipped below his usual 30-per in his two stops in Minnesota and Atlanta last year, but he’s still got his legs; he’s only missed games sporadically over the past three seasons, with no maladies recurring often. Posting a 10.9/2.4/5.2/0.7/0.4 last year won’t stagger most, but, consider these: 1. The guard minutes up for grabs, especially at the onset; 2. The performance of ball-handling guards under Brad Stevens. While his percentages last year won’t overwhelm or even partially whelm drafters — .436/.368/.868 — he’s a guard you can draft late, who’ll appeal with dimes and steals — especially if you went big-heavy to start your draft. He’ll punch his weight in the percentages, and since we’re talking about rounds where high turnovers can be prohibitive, he’s a decent career 2.3 TOV and it’s steadily trended downward. Buy: High. Teague deserves to be on the bench and a slow-day starter in everything but an 8-teamer, and I bet his MPG won’t drop appreciably whenever Kemba returns; the Celtics have a great young nucleus but the true veteran stewardship departed with Al Horford, and while Smart is unquestionably the heart and soul of the team, Stevens will utilize a gritty, experienced, fleet gamer like Teague more than people expect.
The Rundown on the Rest: Picked at no. 14 in this year’s draft, Aaron Nesmith (SG, SF) is the next-ranked Celtic with a PDR of 183 on Yahoo!, but didn’t crack ESPN’s top-200, and unless Nesmith can do everything right to stay on the floor for meaningful stretches, it’s not going to matter how good a shooter he is, at least this season. He’s looked competent in two preseason games, plus his biggest competition, Romeo Langford (SG; Y! PDR: 452; E: 228; also pick no. 14, in 2019), isn’t due back from wrist surgery until well into January, and the lithe 6’6” wing’s athletic profile automatically distinguishes him from the C’s plethora of young guards. Then again, Stevens started Javonte Green (Y!: PG; PDR: 322) — who, to his credit, balls with malice and dunks like the rim tried to touch his sister — for both preseason games, and it’s a given this season that guys like Semi (SF, PF; Y! PDR: 328) will log 15 minutes on nights when Nesmith is a healthy scratch. Tristan Thompson (PF, C; PDR: Y!: 205; E: 140) should be high on your Watch List, or a late grab in deeper leagues; he’s another gritty veteran who should play 30 MPG for the Celtics, as he’s a great fit with his interior toughness and rebounding, and he’s a guaranteed double-double with a career .518 FGP. As mentioned, his elite screening ability guarantees him minutes and should net him easy lay-ups and put-backs when he rolls to the rim. He should be a top-120 player at year’s end if he hits the league average for GP. Grant Williams (SF, PF; PDR: Y!: 310; E: 237) could be the biggest fantasy surprise on the team, as his reliability and versatility will earn him minutes; he’ll definitely board, and his 3-point stroke continues to improve. At a glance, Payton Pritchard (PG; PDR: Y!: 415; E: UR (but with a shocking ADP of 195)) has the poise and presence of a backcourt craftsman, as one would hope from a 4-year collegiate, but is another guy whose minutes are unpredictable.
In closing, about the only thing I know is that Tacko isn’t playing meaningful minutes this year. Yes, ESPN has him with an ADP of 151, and that’s…unconscionable. Are there slots for 2-way players only in ESPN leagues of which I’m unaware? Don’t even think about it, think about 65-plus DNP-CDs. I wish I was wrong. He’s too physically dominant for G-League run to help, yet he’s too lost and slow to earn meaningful NBA minutes to progress, at least in Boston, but, how can Ainge not save a roster spot for the guy, at least on a two-way? Tacko Fall: True Enigma.
*I wasted 20 minutes on my life using CNTL+F to find Theis, Teague, and Timelord on ESPN’S ADP page, then manually scrolled through it in disbelief, for all of them, and they’re nowhere in its top-500. I dunno, ask them, I have things to do.