October is upon us and that is a wonderful thing. The leaves turn beauteous colors while the weather provides crisp breezes. Both adults and kids get to dress up. Kids to beg for huge bags of candy. Adults to fantasize and act silly. There is even a holiday when some folks get to stay home from work to celebrate the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus! But the real greatness of October lies in the fact that it is the month where our sports converge together like women for the 70% off sale at Nordstroms. College football, which if you haven’t heard, is its own religion in the South, and the NFL are into their second month. The guys in the US and Canada start wielding sticks and slapping pucks around, as the NHL season begins. Our national pastime breaks into its glorious playoff season. But for fantasy hoopheads, the most important thing that happens is the NBA season kicks off in earnest.
It is almost here. We have just a few days until October 16, and there are mock drafts, real drafts, online drafts, auction drafts, snake drafts, and dynasty drafts scheduled over the next two weeks in every hamlet in this fair country.
On September 28th, we saw Gordon Hayward in the Boston Green to kick off the preseason. Each team will play five games that don’t count in preparation for those that do. What then to watch for to help you hoodwink all your buddies and have the best draft imaginable?
I will look Division by Division to give you some keys to watch that might provide some guidance.
Let’s start in the Eastern conference:
For the Sixers, watch Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons. Does the former have his swagger back? Fultz will get his shots up, but does he look like the confident, aggressive alpha scorer he was in college? If so, take a chance on him growing and realizing his potential. Downgrade JJ Redick because he may lose minutes if Fultz is ready to claim the starting nod. For Simmons, watch for an improvement in his free throw shooting. If the stroke looks good, his overall numbers could jump because he won’t be afraid of being fouled in late game situations. How will the master wizard Brad Stephens apportion minutes in Beantown? The growth of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier give the wizard an embarrassment of riches. But will the numbers of Kyrie and Hayward take a hit? Or will the youngsters revert to rotational mediocrity and not produce anywhere near their playoff numbers? Who is the Knicks point guard? Will Kevin Knox still look great against real NBA players after feasting against Summer League competition? Is Kawhi Leonard smiling? He almost never smiles, but does his play indicate he is both healthy and, more importantly, happy to get his mail in another country? I am aggressively drafting him in my leagues. That brings us to the Brooklyn quintet. Can Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell co-exist? Will Jarrett Allen make the big leap everyone is predicting?
For the Cavs, now minus LeBron James, we have to answer the question of whether Kevin Love can return to his Minnesota numbers with increased usage. If it looks like they are really working to give him post looks as the number one option, we may see 24/12 K Love again. Larry Nance Jr. should get an uptick with more minutes, but I am scared of Collin Sexton. Jordan Clarkson may be forgotten by many and may end up the steal in Cleveland. Newly minted Coach Bud of the Bucks always has a good offensive scheme, so I am high on all the Bucks, and getting Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova will open up scoring lanes for the Greek Freak, Eric Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton. Expect them all to prosper. I never felt like Stan Van Gundy had confidence in young players or developed them. Stanley Johnson and Henry Ellenson are first rounders who never seemed to progress. New Pistons coach, Dwayne Casey, may change that, as he did wonders with the Raptors young players, but don’t go off the deep end. As always be careful about Blake Griffin with his health history – but jump if you can to get Andre Drummond. I just have a good feeling about him. Reggie Jackson, not so much. The Pacers may have overachieved last year and won’t catch anybody by surprise this time around, but Tyreke Evans slots perfectly as a 6th man spark plug, who provides ball-handling, scoring, and three point shooting. Victor Oladipo has said he is more confident and ready to do even more, and I think Nate McMillan provides a great environment for that to happen. Expect a rebound from Myles Turner. In Chicago, Fred Hoiberg has young guns who can score but don’t play much defense, which is why I am watching Kris Dunn closely. Coach Hoiberg will have to keep him on the floor a lot since some of the others don’t play defense: Jabari Parker, Zach Lavine, Lauri Markkanen, and Bobby Portis. Oops, did those names slip out? I don’t usually like rookies, but Wendell Carter Jr. may thrive early and receive more minutes as Markkanen recovers from his injury.
John Collins is the only Hawk I would draft, but watch the games to see if Taurean Prince continues his late season scoring binge. Be careful about putting too much trust in Trae Young. His slight build scares me. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see him making it through the long grueling season playing against grown men. What is the deal with Hassan Whiteside? The Heat pay him a ton of money, but in critical points of the games, they don’t play him. A bounce back year for James Johnson is very possible, but stay away from Dion Waiters like the plague. In Orlando, watch to see if the offensive improvements of Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac are real or just hype. If not, they will be both be drafted only as defensive specialists for steals and blocks. Charlotte has some questions also. Is Malik Monk ready for prime time minutes? Or is this the year Jeremy Lamb finally produces? The Hornets played better with Cody Zeller than they did with Dwight Howard. Does Dwight mess up the mojo in Washington as well? Another leap is projected for Otto Porter Jr, but I believe he is what he is.
Jerami Grant will take all the PF minutes left by Carmelo Anthony, provide blocks, rebounds, and points. Paul George was his old multi-categorical productive self in the second half of last year after he got used to being an Okie, and I expect him to have a monster year. Donovan Mitchell is on everybody’s list to improve after last year’s strong rookie campaign, but I also like the way he collaborated with Ricky Rubio and will try to acquire Rubio for cheap. I would be careful about Derrick Favors. His numbers were inflated due to the time Ruby Gobert missed due to injury. Jae Crowder is so much better than he played last year – and is sure to to shoot better from deep. Run, don’t walk to get Karl-Anthony Towns on your squad. Once the issue with Jimmy Butler is resolved, KAT becomes the man. Which also means be careful about Jimmy Boy, since you don’t know what situation he will end up in. Portland finishing 3rd in the West seemed like a mirage to me and I can’t see them repeating that success, even with the way Damian Lilliard was killing it in the second half. Jusuf Nurkic is due for a bounce back, as he disappointed last year. Denver has to make the playoffs this year, Paul Millsap needs to stay healthy this time, and Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Nikola Jokic will continue to grow with experience. Will Barton quietly plays 30 minutes, gets his points, rebounds and threes, and doesn’t have to worry about Wilson Chandler anymore. Get him if you can.
I would only draft DeMarcus Cousins in a keeper league. Select him in the late rounds, hope he recovers late, and plays his way into a major role on another team next year. The rest of the Warriors are the Warriors. You might want to take a late flyer on Jordan Bell who may provide blocks and rebounds for the first two months. Not sure which of the eighteen Clipper guards are going to see the most minutes, but watch to see who Doc favors in the preseason games. Some may be trade bait to lure Jimmy from Minny. Snatch Tobias Harris though. He was unspectacular in Detroit, but turned it up when he came to La-La Land. The Kings have a bevy of young bigs with Willie Cauley Stein, Skal Labisierre, Harry Giles, and Marvin Bagley, so take your best guess on which two emerge and thrive. Stay away from Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufas, as I don’t see them playing much. For the second straight year, Buddy Hield played better in the second half of the season, but he is fighting Bogdan Bogdonavic for court time. See who comes out of the preseason as the starter. Devin Booker is the Suns best player, but is recovering from surgery on his shooting hand and will be out approximately three more weeks. A shooting guard with surgery on his shooting hand may push him down draft boards a bit, but probably not too much. Big things are expected of No. 1 draft pick DeAndre Ayton and 2nd year player Josh Jackson. Your guess is as good as mine as who the PG will be, as currently there are two rookies, Elie Okobo, a Frenchmen, and De’Anthony Melton. New Suns coach Igor Kokosov’s system may not be heavily reliant on PG play, but neither of those rookies is ready. Isaiah Canaan may get minutes early.
Chris Paul was great last year as a Rocket until he succumbed to injury. Seems like a pattern for poor CP3, a pattern I am afraid of. Drafting him is classic risk/reward. Also, will Clint Capela play with the same fire now that his bank account is stuffed? This is the year we fully realize the greatness of Pop. All the vets are gone, unless you count the ghost of Pau Gasol. Can he tweak the offense to get the most out of DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray, who will probably finish 30th in the numbers of threes made by a backcourt tandem. Derrick White was a Vegas stud. Watch to see if he continues his growth, as Pop may have to utilize him as a long-range shooter. The Pelicans are deathly afraid of Anthony Davis leaving. I would be too. I might be tempted to have a voodoo priestess put something in his gumbo to ensure he stays. He was great last year with Boogie Cousins, and amazing after Boogie got hurt. Julius Randle may have a shot at the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. Elfrid Payton has another chance to prove he is a starting NBA point guard, and should be motivated to produce for his hometown Pelicans. The Mavs have retooled to try to give Dirk Nowitzki one last shot at the playoffs and the chemistry between Dennis Smith Jr, last year’s rookie phenom, and this year’s rookie phenom, Luka Doncic, is the key thing to watch for in Texas. Memphis is totally reliant on Mike Conley being healthy. Look to see if he has that old spryness in his step. 30-something point guards are like NFL running backs. Once they hit 30 years of age, the drop is steep and quick. Jaren Jackson Jr was a hit in Vegas, but the bigs in the real league are vastly different than anything he saw in Vegas, so I am not as much on the JJJ hype train as everybody else. Dillon Brooks was a surprise last year, fighting his way onto the court to secure minutes. He may be a sneaky late-round you will be happy with.