There was plenty of basketball to watch on Christmas Day, 13 hours worth to be exact. What figured to be a disappointing slate of easily predictable outcomes turned out to be a surprisingly fun, upset-filled NBA gift. A Golden State Warriors team full of two-way and minimum contract players managed to beat James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the rest of the Houston Rockets. Joel Embiid played grinch for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, leading to fans firing up all of the familiar “Bucks are a regular season team” takes. The solid, wing-heavy Boston Celtics comfortably beat an injury ravaged Raptors team and a newly rejuvenated New Orleans Pelicans squad pulled out a victory against the Denver Nuggets. And in the most anticipated game of the day, Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers outlasted and outshot LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. I enjoyed myself.

I viewed the Christmas day outcomes as a reminder of all there is to love about the NBA. Star-players duking it out for legacy supremacy and short-lived bragging rights. Yes, the regular season isn’t the most accurate prediction of playoff success, but it is still entertaining and compelling nonetheless. Wednesday’s games continued to reinforce my belief that, if you’re truly interested in the NBA, there is more than enough nightly entertainment to satisfy your intrigue.

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The Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks played one of the most exciting games of the season on Tuesday, October 10. The Heat eventually came out victorious in overtime 135-121, but only after Trae Young pronounced the game “over,” right before the Heat scored six straight points to tie the score in the final 59 seconds of regulation. The Heat then scored 16 straight points in overtime, making the final outcome a formality. The fireworks didn’t start or stop there, however. Trae Young had a relatively quiet first half (8 points and 6 assists), but he came out aggressive in the second half and scored 10 quick points and finished with 11 points in the quarter, and then the fourth quarter happened. Young was in rhythm and headed for another gaudy stat-line before Erik Spoelstra made the astute decision to put Derrick Jones Jr. on him. Jones Jr. is length personified, or as Scott Van Pelt used to say, “He’s all arms and legs, he can’t buy pants at the mall.” Jones’ length and quick feet turned a potentially explosive night into a sour one for Trae Young and the Hawks—Young finished the fourth quarter with only two points. He was unable to draw fouls to counter Jones’ length and physicality, though it was not for a lack of trying. There might be some brewing animus between Jones and Young. Fortunately for us, the Hawks and Heat matchup one more time this season. Get the popcorn ready.

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We’ve made it through a quarter of the NBA season. Some players signed this summer will be eligible to be traded on December 15, others will be trade eligible on January 15. Fantasy trade deadlines aren’t far off. It’s  a good time to check-in on a few teams and see what’s shaking. The Miami Heat currently sit third in the Eastern Conference. They’re obviously firmly in the playoff race, but any Pat Riley-run organization is playing for much more than a simple playoff birth. The Heat are relying on two promising rookie guards and a third second-year player. How those players develop will not only help determine their fate this season, but it might also influence trade decisions around the deadline and in the summer. The Atlanta Hawks are at a bit of a hinge point in their rebuild. They came into the season with a lot of media buzz and some vague playoff talk. Trae Young went all scorched earth and they started the season 2-0. All hell broke loose after that. They’ve got to figure out what they have in their young players. Is this the beginning of the end of their rebuild or are they smack dab in the middle of it? The Minnesota Timberwolves are firmly in rebuilding mode, but for the first time they’re making decisions that prioritize Karl-Anthony Towns as the rightful centerpiece and key to their future. How do Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, and Jarrett Culver fit into their future plans? What do Ryan Saunders lineup decisions portend for later this season? And most relevant to all of you beautiful readers, what does this mean for you and your fantasy team? Keep reading to find out.

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Potential, Potential, Potential

Potential is enticing, if fickle. Potential is a first date. A 0-0 count in the top of the first. Potential is a stray glance or wink, a few perfectly volleyed bits of of banter between two people soon to be lovers. Potential is the essay before its written, the hazy four-line outline in the mind. Potential is the moment before the moment, where dream and reality meet, if only for an instant.

Potential is not, however, negative capability, as Keats described it: “I mean Negative Capability, that is when man ‘or woman’ is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without, any irritable reaching after fact or reason.” Potential implies a payoff, a return on investment. The hung curveball must be sent screaming to the seats. The alley must be ooped. The first date must lead to a second.

In the poem, the reward is the exploration of uncertainty itself. In fantasy sports, that irritable reaching after fact or reason is all we know. With that in mind, here are some players who’ve been blessed with the wicked kiss of potential.

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If you’re a habitual bad drafter like I am, you’re probably well acquainted with the power of the waiver wire. First I was a bad drafter in fantasy football and now that non-skill has transferred over to fantasy basketball. I often make too much of my hay on the wire. I have never won the championship in my fantasy football league—an indication that I haven’t had the top-end talent necessary to take home the trophy. But I have made the playoffs every year except one—an indication that timely, intelligent pick-ups on the wire are not to be taken for granted, especially in football where long injury absences are common. I also made the playoffs in my first year of fantasy basketball as an expansion team after auto-drafting. It’s a 14 team, 9-category, head-to-head Yahoo league for perspective. I tell you all this not to toot my own horn, but to lay out my strengths and weaknesses, to cement my waiver wire guru credentials.

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Brandon Ingram

The long-awaited Brandon Ingram breakout is here in earnest. So far this season, Ingram is averaging 25.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, while shooting 55.2 percent from the field, 48.6 percent from three, and 74.3 percent from the free-throw line (all career highs). Ingram is not a legitimate 48 percent shooter from three, especially on five attempts a game. The dreaded regression to the mean is coming. Before this season, he had never shot 40 percent, topping out at 39 percent on 1.8 attempts a game in his sophomore season. Even with that in mind, there is reason to believe he’ll shoot better this year. Ingram’s field goal percentage has improved each season he’s been in the league and he entered the NBA with solid form and touch. The Pelicans play at a fast pace. They are currently sixth in the league in pace and increased transition opportunities should lead to more lightly-contested shots. Furthermore, when Zion returns the Pelicans will have yet another ball-handler who commands defensive attention, which could lead to more spot-up opportunities for Ingram.

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Kawhi & The Clips

Kawhi Leonard entered the 2019-20 season as a first-round fantasy talent and one of the best two or three players in the NBA. He’s lived up to that billing and then some to start the season. Over the first four games, Kawhi is averaging 27 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.3 blocks. He’s shooting 51.9 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from three, and 84 percent from the free-throw line. The 7.5 assists per game are particularly noteworthy since prior to this season, Kawhi had never averaged more than 3.5 assists a game, which he did in the 2016-17 season. Yes, the sample size is microscopic, but the evidence is hard to ignore. In the second game of the season against the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi matched his career high for assists in a game with nine. In game three against the Phoenix Suns, he set a new career high with 10 assists. This is no blip on the radar. Of the very few weaknesses in Leonard’s game, playmaking was the largest.

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I maintain, that when Steph Curry gets going, he’s the best show in the NBA. There are certainly other contenders for the NBA’s best show on hardwood, but Curry’s blend of fundamental and evolutionary NBA skills are what separates him from the competition. Curry walked into the league as an offensive engine in the mold of Reggie Miller, who shot 35.5 percent from three in year one and 40.2 percent from three in his second season in the NBA. Curry shot 43.7 percent from three in his first season. As a young player, Curry was not the statistical outlier he has become, as he only attempted 4.8 threes a game his rookie year. Miller took 2.2 threes as a rookie, but he was up to 4.4 attempts in his third season. Curry’s early career numbers were the result of the game’s natural evolution and increased acceptance of the three-point shot. In Curry’s early years, he did a lot of his work off-ball, running off screens and mirroring more traditional shooting guards like Miller and Ray Allen. It’s part of the reason many people insisted Curry wasn’t a true point guard. His conditioning allows him to run around for part of or even the entirety of some possessions. This non-stop movement draws a lot of attention and fatigues the defense, both mentally and physically—hence all the back-cut layups for Curry’s teammates. Check out this illuminating breakdown from the 2018-19 NBA Finals by Ben Taylor.

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