Fantasy projections aren’t easy. 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, contemplating what was real or a façade in The Bubble; who looks like they’re ready to play from only two preseason games, after either too long or too short of an offseason; and 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. You always want to weigh relative draft value, too; just like playing actual D, don’t reach!

(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 counting stats, and FGP/3PT/FT for percentages. “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.)

  1. Andre Drummond (Y!: C; PDR: 37; ADP: 35.0; ESPN: C; PDR: 18; ADP: 24). Drummond is a reliable veteran center who’s still only entering his age-27 season and can be booked for 33-plus minutes over 65-plus games this campaign. While there isn’t a consensus on whether or not he’s actually a good defender, that’s irrelevant for our purposes, because he’s gonna get you blocks and steals, plus a double-double, which is all we care about, unless you’re still a Cavs fan (respect). Last season: Drummond might be hitting his ceiling, but, it’s a valuable one, as he posted a 17.7/15.2/2.7/1.9/1.6. While it’d be remiss to omit that he averaged a career-high 3.6 turnovers a game, you find more player flaws as the draft progresses, and Drummond looks like a solid third-rounder. For percentages, he posted .533/.143/.575, so, not exactly a stretch-5, but, he’s going to give you the goods for the other counting stats, and his FGP more than justifies his lack of treys and poor FT (which you already expect from someone with Drummond’s profile). This season: J.B. Bickerstaff is at the Cavs’ helm for his first full season after replacing John Beilein, but Drummond will equal or exceed his previous season and career averages across the board; Bickerstaff coached under Kevin McHale and Kurt Rambis (and since their names were mentioned consecutively, I’m legally required to share a link to The Clothesline), so it’s easy to imagine he’s big-man friendly. Drummond did sit the last preseason game, but it was reportedly precautionary. Buy: Low. If I went with a guard and a wing to start the draft, I’d consider Drummond in the late 3rd, and would be pleased to pluck him in the 4th, which is the last round you’ll find him. There’s a lot of talent within Drummond’s range, though, like Ben Simmons (PDR: Y!: 35; E: 28) Jamal Murray (36; 41), Christian Wood (42; 47), and Domantas Sabonis (43; 44), and there’s no way I’m taking Drummond ahead of them. He’s just not a second-round pick.
  2. Kevin Love (Y!: PF, C; PDR: 78; ADP: 77.8; ESPN: PF; PDR: 77; ADP: 101). Overview: Love is only 32 years old, and, if you remember what he looked like coming out of UCLA, he’s clearly figured out how to stay in shape. His injury history is mostly bumps, bruises, and one-off accidents, but a right-leg issue that popped up in February either lingered or returned, which may keep him out of the season opener. However, if the 5-time All-Star isn’t the team’s best overall player and ratings draw, at least this season, please, elucidate me; he’s going to get minutes and looks, including from deep. Last season: Love had his highest MPG (31.8) in five seasons, which portends to few load-management concerns. He slashed .450/.374/.854 last year on 13.0 FGA, which was good for 17.6 PPG and then 9.8/3.2/0.6/0.3 for the rest of the counting stats, and he got to the line about twice a game; looking at his body of work, his post-Lebron numbers largely align with his King-era production. This season: While everyone’s wheels eventually fall off, it’s not happening with Love this year, and you should be able to count on him for similar production. He’s durable, consistent, and can do about everything you need to produce across all areas. Maybe he even perfected his 3-point stroke during his squad’s 10-month COVIDacation? While he does have a right calf or Achilles injury depending upon where you look, he’s not expected to miss significant time, and the Cavs shouldn’t cut minutes to save guys for the playoffs. Buy: High. Other than Jaylen Brown (PDR: Y!: 71; E: 63), I would take Love over anyone in his range. Lonzo Ball (82; 65) can’t shoot from close or deep (.403/.375/.566) and is really only a middling source of assists and steals. Plus, there’s no way he’s going to avoid injury if he still lifts like this; his right elbow has a mind of its own, no wonder he can’t stroke. 
  3. Collin Sexton (Y!: PG, SG; PDR: 90; ADP: 83.5; ESPN: PG, SG; PDR: 86; ADP: 90): Overview: Sexton is a budding serial scorer who boosted his numbers across the board in his second season, flourished once Bickerstaff got the late-season promotion and is poised to be The Cavs’ most pleasant surprise. Last season: Sexton has yet to miss a game in his fledgling NBA career, and started all 65 of Cleveland’s contests. He put up a points-heavy counting line of 20.8/3.1/3.0/1.0/.01 but shot a healthy .472/.380/.846 to mitigate it. This season: He’s a starter that’s going to have the ball and put up close to 20 shots a game. His scoring totals will make other fantasy manager’s eyes pop when the draft enters his range, but, if you went big-heavy or have a balanced squad, he’s a good piece to add. Buy: High. Other than Duncan Robinson (PDR: Y!: 88; E: 172), I like Sexton more than any players within a range of 5 picks in either direction, even Aaron Gordon (92; 105), who doesn’t put up good enough numbers as a big or scorer to draft ahead of Sexton.
  4. Larry Nance, Jr. (Y!: PF, C; PDR: 91; ADP: 127.9; ESPN: PF, C; PDR: 138; ADP: 142). Overview: Despite unquestioned athleticism, it always seems like the undersized Nance falls short of expectations and, more importantly, fantasy-roster worthiness. Coming into his sixth season in the league, he has yet to average more than 30 minutes per game, and less than half a block per game for a big just won’t cut it.  Last Season: Nance posted double-figure points for the first time, going for 10.1/7.3/2.2/1.0/0.4 and shooting a modest 53.1/35.2/67.6, but those percentages don’t justify rostering someone with such low ancillary counting stats. He did go from shooting 1.5 3PA to 2.8 year over year, and went up from .337 to .352 in the process, but the Cavs ranked 21st last season in 3PA. This Season: It’s dubious that Bickerstaff’s squad will shoot enough treys to make Nance worth rostering for those makes; he doesn’t score enough overall to make him worth a stash; he’s not an elite rebounder; his FGP isn’t absurdly high enough to make his overall drag worth a collective uptick there; lastly, that he can’t average more than a block a game with those springs is a plaintive, telling figure. Buy: Low. Maybe Bickerstaff can find a way to deploy Nance’s aerial superiority similar to D’Antoni with Russell Westbrook last season, but that’s a straight guess from me, and even if so, that probably won’t mean more than a bucket a game and it wouldn’t meaningfully impact any other stat save FGP. In closing, you’re going to look like the fantasy version of a Creaster, who only watches ASW and the playoffs — neither of which feature Cavaliers since Lebron left again, unless Nance is dunking competitively.
  5. Kevin Porter, Jr. (Y!: SG, SF; PDR: 181; ADP: 148.8; no ESPN rankings). Overview: Porter has a lot of buzz around him to make a big leap as a scorer and make standard progress elsewhere coming into his second season; he could certainly be worth a stash in deeper leagues, and is the kind of low-risk, high-reward pick you want in late rounds if you don’t have a better plan. Last season: Porter posted a decent wing line of 10.0/3.2/2.2/0.9/0.3 for tallying stats, to pair with a percentage line of .442/.335/.723. It’s hard to comment meaningfully on a second-year player on the wrong side of the Top-150, as even trying to compare first- and second-half stats means a 42-game sample compared to 8 for once. That said, his February numbers were his best, always promising for a developing player. But the Cavs only played two games in March, and Bickerstaff didn’t take the helm until Feb. 18, so it’s unclear if there’s causality from the coaching change. This Season: As mentioned, most of his stats should improve this year, but how much depends on myriad factors, and to write more would be speculation on my part. Buy: Low. If I’m looking for a late homerun pick, I’m more apt to take R.J. Barrett (PDR: Y!: 185; E: 149), if I want a reliable bench player I’m taking Paul Millsap (188; 176) depending upon what my remaining needs are. Unless you’re in the final rounds of a 14-team draft, THIS Porter, Jr. should be someone you check in on occasion, like a cool uncle, but not someone you want taking up space on your fantasy roster or actual couch.

The Rundown on the Rest: Incoming rookie SF Isaac Okoro (PDR: Y:! 190; E: 169) is getting drafted around pick 140 in Yahoo! and 148 on ESPN, is reported to be a starter on opening night, played heavily in Cleveland’s two pre-season games, and had a green light to let it fly from deep. The fifth-overall pick may be worth stashing in deep ones, but I prefer veterans to start the year, and then jettison the underperformers for rookies other owners grew frustrated with too early. 2019’s no. 5 overall pick, PG Darius Garland (PDR: Y:! 200; E: 187), is also getting picked around the 140s, started all 59 games he played in last year getting just over 30 minutes on average, with 5 3PA he hit at a clip of .355. His turnovers were on the low-side (2.6) but so were the rest of his stats. That said, there are worse flyers to take to close out a draft, and his youth means upside. SF/PF Cedi Osman (PDR: Y!: 209; E: 168) might be a guy to add to your watch list in a very deep league who could give you low but well-rounded numbers, if you need to fill an injury void at forward for a stretch (that’s a lot of qualifiers). A starter the last two seasons in Cleveland, he averaged 30 MPG over that span with about 10 FGA, but went from averaging 13.0 PPG to 11.0 last year, while his boards dropped, too, 4.7 to 3.6. Love would have to be ruled out for a significant stretch for Osman to have real fantasy value, but would warrant consideration in that scenario. And if you’re still reading, you must be JaVale McGee’s family; be proud of him for his NBA title and more, and forgive me for deeming him irrelevant for this upcoming campaign, barring yet-unknown pharmaceutical regeneration of questionable origin and legality, or unless there are masochists out there with enough hoop-loving friends to join 16-teamers.