Welcome back indeed! Draft season is okay, but it feels so good to have basketball back. Roster speculation and divination is no substitute for actual games and real rotations. Considering all my fretting about what to do with Centers, it should come as no surprise that I’ve still got my eye on how some of these uncertain situations are coming together in this first column of the season. Granted, it has only been a week, but some telling decisions have been made now that we’re off and running. Eventually I’ll give some love to guards and forwards, but for now I’m hung up on the big guys. Here’s what’s caught my eye thus far.
New York Knicks – Isaiah Hartenstein, Mitchell Robinson
By the numbers alone, it sure looks like Isaiah Hartenstein has moved past Mitchell Robinson from a fantasy standpoint. Robinson drew starts in both of New York’s games, but Hartenstein has played 25 more minutes as a reserve in this admittedly small sample size. Mitchell has never been a player who has played huge minutes, as fouls and ineffectiveness have routinely limited his ability to go deep in games. Hartenstein, on the other hand, has only had his minutes capped because he’s never been given a sincere crack at a starting job. That could be changing in New York. Even in a reserve role, Isaiah should see at least a 50/50 split in time, and could easily move into the driver’s seat soon. Try to get out ahead of this if you can. Robinson has had two seasons to put a padlock on this job, yet New York still saw fit to bring in Hartenstein on a two-year deal this offseason. The winds seem to be shifting, and considering how limited Robinson is even in the best of circumstances, I wouldn’t want to be left holding the bag with him.
It has not taken long for the bloom to come off the rose on the “JaVale McGee is a viable center option” concept, one that unfortunately took root on a couple of my fantasy teams this season. True, McGee has started both of the Mavs first two games, but the minutes — a meager 13 per — are so limited that he’s hard to roster in anything other than the deepest of leagues. That JaVale has been able to reject three shots and grab 10 boards in 27 total minutes demonstrates the per-minute appeal, but as long as Christian Wood (24.5 MPG) and Maxi Kleber (24 MPG) are seeing so much time, we can seek other alternatives. Dallas values the floor spacing that Wood and Kleber provide around Luka too much to feel compelled to feed minutes to McGee. Barring injury, the upside is extremely limited.
The early-season absence of Marvin Bagley III hasn’t helped the Pistons (1-2) regain their winning ways, but it has provided temporary clarity in their front-court rotation. At present, Bojan Bogdanovic and Isaiah Stewart are the starters and see the lion’s share of time, while Isaiah Livers and rookie Jaren Duren spell them off the pine. Duren, the youngest player in the NBA this season, looks like the real deal through three games, averaging 9.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in just 21 minutes per. Bojan and Beef also have handled themselves just fine thus far. Bagley was diagnosed with a bone bruise and knee sprain in the preseason and that injury will keep on the shelf for at least another week. The potential impact of his return is a bit tough to forecast though, as the reporting in the offseason had pegged Bagley as the starting 5 with Stewart playing the four alongside him. With a full compliment of bigs already, figuring out how the minutes will be divided again is a headache.
Beef has been given the green light to launch from three – 4.7 of his 7.3 FGA this season are triples – which would insulate him a bit from Bagley’s looming return if not for Bojan playing 30+ MPG at the four. With Bogdanovic, Stewart, and the fast start from Duren, it’s hard to see Marvin’s return as anything but a wet blanket. Livers, who had some buzz about him this offseason but isn’t on many fantasy rosters at this point, probably feels the brunt of the squeeze, and I’d expect Stewart, Duren, Bojan — in that order — to cede time eventually. If this seems like a lot of juggling to accommodate a player with a career line of 13.6/7.4/0.9/0.5/0.7, I’m with you. But the Pistons handed out a three-year contract to the still-only 22-year-old Bagley this summer, so he’s definitely not going to rot on the bench when he’s back to full strength. Enjoy the lack of clutter for now. It won’t always be this tidy.
When considering the Onyeka Okongwu era in Atlanta, the future has all but arrived. Clint Capela is — for now — still the starter for the Hawks, but considering Okongwu’s upside and production in 24-ish minutes per game, it’s safe to say that we’re living in a world where a 50/50 timeshare is upon us and it could tip the other way sooner rather than later. Foul trouble for OO and Clint’s $18M salary for this season mean that Capela isn’t going to disappear entirely, but after underwhelming in 21 minutes as the starter in game 1 (2 points, 8 boards, 2 blocks), he didn’t cover himself in glory (8 points, 7 boards, 2 steals and a block) in 32 minutes against the Magic when Okongwu struggled with fouls. Things went better against the Hornets from a production standpoint (14 and 10 with a steal and swat) but Onyeka spent more time on the floor than Capela (23 minutes to 22) in a blowout loss. The best case scenario would be the Hawks moving Clint’s expiring contract and committing to Okongwu, John Collins, and Jalen Johnson as the core group of bigs. Unfortunately, Capela is still too valuable to a Hawks team that fancies itself a contender for a deal to go down in the immediate future. I have both Capela and Okongwu (and Collins), but I feel better holding the younger, more cost effective option than the vet who is trying to beat back the rising tide. As long as the two are both in town, neither will get too far out in front of the other. I’d try to deal CC before the other shoe drops.
Seeing Bruno Fernando’s name in the starting five in Houston’s first two games certainly caught me off guard, how about you? Fernando impressed in 25 minutes in game one, going for 7/9/7 and 2 swats, but that’s not the name we’re most concerned about in Houston. Alperen Sengun, who was going in the middle rounds of drafts a few weeks ago, has been relegated to running the second team and it doesn’t seem like Coach Stephen Silas is planning on deviating from the plan anytime soon. When Fernando was unable to go against the Bucks, Sengun still sat, as Usman Garuba (25 minutes) saw his first action of the season as the starter in Milwaukee. Sengun has logged 22, 27, and 22 minutes as a reserve and has been able to post per game values of 15/10/1 as the hub of the second team. It’s a suboptimal setup to be sure, and if this rotation holds, Sengun will be hard pressed to return value on his ADP. The upside (and sunk cost) is too great to send Alpy to the wire, so I’m holding tight in the leagues I drafted Sengun, but exploring a deal doesn’t seem like a terrible idea. Otherwise, patience is the only path.
At least we’re all taking these Ls together. LeBron and Co. fell to 0-3 on Sunday and have all the symptoms of a broken team. To make matters worse, presumed starting five Thomas Bryant sustained a thumb injury that required surgery, opening the door for Damian Jones to get a crack at the pivot. Instead of Jones, however, Anthony Davis has manned the center position all by his lonesome. Jones has played 13 minutes — not per game, but total. The good news, unless you’re Son or any other Laker fan, is that because Los Angeles is crumbling, nothing outside of Davis and LeBron (and maybe Pat Bev?) is set in stone. Any good play can and should be rewarded with additional minutes. I’d rather be rostering Bryant in an IL spot than having any share of Jones, but I’m not holding my breath for TB’s to be a cure-all. This situation is going to be both fluid and messy, especially considering the role of Davis’ health has on the rest of the group.