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.
Terance Mann is good. He’s the third player in recent years to catch on in the NBA from Florida State University, joining Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley. However, unlike those players, Mann’s greatest strength is his passing. All three players are capable of explosive feats of athleticism. Beasley is by far the best shooter of the bunch, but Mann’s size (6’5’’ 216 pounds) and passing ability might make him the most intriguing of the three. Mann was exclusively an off-ball wing player in college, but took to the point guard position like a natural in the NBA. In three Las Vegas Summer League Games, Mann averaged 8.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 1 steal, and 0.7 blocks per game. Mann started three games earlier this season when Patrick Beverley was dealing with a calf issue and in his second start he put up a 13 point, 6 rebound, 8 assist line in a victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Unless two of Lou Williams, Landry Shamet or Patrick Beverley miss extended time at the same time, there won’t be much opportunity for Mann this year, but I could see him turning into an effective back-up point guard for years to come. Obviously his ultimate ceiling will depend greatly on skill development and playing time, but he’s already flashed that fickle, enchanting thing.
Many draft evaluators believed Kevin Porter Jr. was a lottery talent. Although he went 15 picks lower than that (mainly for off the court issues), the high price the Cleveland Cavaliers paid (four future second-round picks and $5 million) to acquire his draft rights suggest they believe in his talent as well. Time will tell whether or not the Cavs gamble was a wise one, but Porter Jr. has already had some highlight worthy moments this season. Porter Jr. had a thunderous dunk in transition on November 25 and also had seven assists in that game. The lowest pick of the three, Porter might have the best passing chops of any of the young guards in Cleveland. Garland looks to be the most advanced passer at this early stage in their careers, as he’s currently averaging 3.1 assists, but Porter’s size (6’6″) should allow him to make passes that might prove difficult for the shorter Garland (6’1″) and Sexton (6’2″). James Harden was a popular comp for Porter leading up to the draft. While I think that comparison is a bit too rich, the similarities are there. Like Harden, Porter is a shifty, physical attacker. He likes to bully his way into the paint and finish with either authority or finesse. He’s also capable of threatening a drive, stopping on a dime, and canning a step-back jumper. His ability to create space is already elite. Porter’s size is a major plus, but his shooting and playmaking development will determine how good he can be. His percentages so far this year are a bit of an eye sore—22.9 percent from three and 39.6 percent from the field.
Anfernee Simons is already better than Terance Mann and Kevin Porter Jr. If you’re a serious NBA fan or fantasy basketball player, you’ve likely already heard of him. Simons had his official coming out party in last season’s finale against the Sacramento Kings. Simons got the start, played all 48 minutes and scored a hyper-efficient 37 points (13 of 21 from the field, 7-11 from three, and 4 of 6 from the line), grabbed 6 rebounds, dished out 9 assists, and added a steal for good measure. Due in large part from the play of Simons, the Blazers erased a 28-point deficit and won the game. This, of course, ensured the Portland Trail Blazers would match up against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, which gave us one of the most memorable moments in recent sports history. We all have Anfernee Simons to thank for that.
This year, Simons has been awarded more weight and responsibility within the offense. He’s playing fairly consistent minutes and operating as a major scoring punch off the bench. Neil Olshey hasn’t been shy about praising him. A simple google search of Simons will turn you on to loads of praise from all corners of the NBA internet—coaches, scouts, analysts—just about everyone is all-in on Simons. He’s already a capable three-point shooter (35.9 percent this season) and pull-up three-point shooter (34.2 percent), one of the most important skills in the game. At worst, he projects as a Jamaal Crawford, Lou Will-esque scorer off the bench. At best he’s the future in Portland, the heir apparent to Dame’s throne, the key to getting all Spursian and extending Portland’s run of successful seasons under Olshey and Lillard. My guess is he ends up somewhere in the middle. It’s hard for players to reach the NBA pinnacle without elite athleticism or at least one (probably two) otherworldly skills. Nonetheless, there is plenty in Simons’ game to be excited about.
Lineup Changes Impacting Fantasy
For now, both Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon remain out. Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch have been starting in their stead. Iwundu hasn’t done a great deal with the extra minutes, but he did put up a respectable 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 block line in the Magic’s November 27 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Khem Birch and Mohamed Bamba on the other hand, appear to be trending upward. Birch is a solid all-around player and certainly the more reliable player on a night-to-night basis, but Bamba just oozes potential. Birch has gotten a few more minutes than Bamba, averaging 26 minutes since Vucevic went out, but Bamba has put together back-to-back solid games. He put up 6 points, 12 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, and 3 blocks on November 25 against the Detroit pistons. Josh Loyd and I had similar thoughts watching the game:
Good stuff from Bamba today so far, defensive stream guy
— Josh Lloyd (@redrock_bball) November 26, 2019
— Shot Tower (@shottowerpod) November 26, 2019
Bamba then followed that game up by playing a season high 23 minutes on November 27 and putting up 15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. The blocks appear to be trending up and Bamba hit five threes in the game. The outline of the player everyone hoped Mohamed Bamba could be is starting to take shape.
Ryan Saunders has decided to shake things up in Minnesota. Jeff Teague has been moved to the second unit indefinitely. According to the Athletic’s John Krawczynski, Teague “welcomed the move.” Saunders has made it clear with this move that his priority is maximizing the abilities of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and to a lesser degree Jarret Culver. The Wolves will only go as far as Towns and Wiggins take them. This should be a boon for the all-around game Wiggins flashed while Teague was sidelined. Whether you believed in the Wiggins transformation or not, it appears we’re all about to get an extended run of point Wiggins.
One thing to keep in mind in this new Timberwolves lineup configuration:
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) November 26, 2019
Keita Bates-Diop was sent to the G League on Monday, October 28. He’s played in seven games since he rejoined the big club, starting with a November 16 game against the Houston Rockets. I’m certain there will be fluctuations in his minutes, but he’s doing more than holding his own since “the call-up.” In 37 minutes against the Phoenix Suns on November 23 Bates-Diop had 22 points and 4 rebounds. In 26 minutes against the San Antonio Spurs on November 23, he made 4 three’s, had 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal. The ability is obviously there and, for now, the playing time is as well.
With Aron Baynes dealing with a lingering hip issue (I’m getting nervous), both Frank Kaminsky and Cheick Diallo have been seeing more playing time. Kaminsky fits the stretch big mold that Baynes played, but his defensive issues and lack of explosiveness around the rim leave plenty of room for Diallo to fill. Diallo’s had back-to-back impressive games, scoring 22 points in 36 minutes against the Denver Nuggets on November 24 and posting his first double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds against the Washington Wizards on November 27. Diallo is more of a short term/streaming option. His minutes will disappear once Baynes and Ayton return. Even with those players out, he’s not playing that many minutes.
Keep your eye on Bruno Fernando. Damian Jones is more productive and getting more of the playing time right now, but after watching him play in Golden State the past couple of seasons I have serious questions about his ability to function on a playoff-level defense. Don’t get me wrong, the blocked shots are there for Jones, but the mobility and awareness are where I have questions. Fernando is the stronger of the two players and should be able to hold up against physical big men better than Jones. Fernando’s best game of late came against Karl-Anthony Towns. In between banging with Kat on the block, he did his own work on the offensive end and had a well-rounded impact—13 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block.