Fantasy Basketball: Early-Season Surprises
The season is very young, and that means there are lots of things that happen in the NBA that surprise even the most ardent student of the league. Some of these things will continue, while some will fade away like Wade Baldwin’s debut performance last season. I’m going to go through some of my most surprising starts to the 2017-18 NBA season, starting off with Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic.
Nikola Vucevic – Orlando Magic
Vucevic has been on fire to start this season, due in large part to a 41-point, six-triple night against Brooklyn. Last season, Vucevic fell victim to bad coaching from Frank Vogel, who tried playing him alongside Bismack Biyombo, and then inexplicably behind him. As a result, Vucevic’s confidence dropped, and his free throw and field goal percentages suffered in a big way. This season, as the unquestioned starter again, he is thriving and has a good chance to be a top-30 player once again. Beware, though, as Vucevic has had a history of succumbing to minor injuries throughout his career.
LaMarcus Aldridge – San Antonio Spurs
One of the biggest criticisms of Aldridge over the summer was the fact that he failed to do anything when he was called on in the playoffs with Kawhi Leonard sidelined. Well, to start this season, Aldridge has been the man for the Spurs and is putting up comfortable top-30 numbers without Kawhi. Will that continue when Kawhi makes his way back? Probably not to this level. However, Aldridge looks more aggressive and assertive and is adding a nice number of blocked shots to his fantasy arsenal.
Joe Ingles – Utah Jazz
When Gordon Hayward bolted for the northeast, someone was going to have to take over his role on the Jazz. Ingles moved into Hayward’s old starting small forward job this season and has been a key figure for the Jazz. He is currently a top-25 player, averaging 14.7 points before Tuesday’s game. I don’t think he will keep up this level of production, especially the 85 percent true shooting mark he’s currently at. However, Ingles’ ability to hit threes efficiently and get assists and steals makes him someone who needs to be owned everywhere. He could maintain a top-100 season, if not higher.
Dejounte Murray – San Antonio Spurs
With Tony Parker sidelined due to a quad issue until at least December, Dejounte Murray has been the Spurs’ starting point guard. I always thought he would start, but I believed that recently re-signed Patty Mills would get the bulk of the minutes. That has not been the case, as Murray has been clearly outplaying the Aussie, particularly impressing with his ability to use his length. He is averaging 10.0 rebounds per game and was blocking a lot of shots in the preseason. His ability to get steals is also very interesting for fantasy. I don’t think he will continue to shoot 57 percent from the field, so he will drop off, but when Tony Parker comes back, it isn’t a fait accompli that he just waltzes back into the starting five, relegating Murray to the DNP-CD most nights. Murray should be able to stick in the rotation and probably should remain the starter. He won’t maintain his top-50 rank, though.
DeMarre Carroll – Brooklyn Nets
Carroll’s time in Canada was so bad that he must have had a real issue with the metric system. Either that or injuries; I guess we will never know. Back in the United States, Carroll is starting for the super fun Brooklyn Nets and putting up impressive numbers. He probably won’t play 30 minutes per night, as no one in Brooklyn will, but he is averaging 2.0 triples and steals per game and shooting a great percentage — much improved from his sub-40 percent mark last season. Carroll should be owned everywhere. Expect a top-80 finish.
Reggie Jackson – Detroit Pistons
Let’s not sugarcoat it. Reggie Jackson was terrible last season. However, given how he has played this season, it appears his struggles were due to injury, not a decline in his talents. He has looked spry to begin the season and clearly has the starting job over Ish Smith. Jackson should be owned in all leagues, even though his high steal rate will likely regress down to career norms soon. The good thing about his numbers is that he is doing it while shooting just 40 percent from the field, not some unsustainable level of marksmanship.
Delon Wright – Toronto Raptors
While I can’t say I’m totally surprised at how well Delon Wright has played, the fact that he is impacting NBA games at such a high level is a shock. The fact that I’m talking about Wright as a standard league fantasy guy is also mildly surprising. But, I was intrigued about his assists and steals upside in the preseason, and I thought that, if he fitted seamlessly into the Cory Joseph Role, he could have value. Well, that’s exactly what he has done, playing minutes at point guard, shooting guard, and small forward, and cutting into Norman Powell and CJ Miles’ playing time. It’s not like Wright is benefiting from any injuries in the backcourt or on the wing in Toronto, so there is no reason to think that he can’t keep up a similar level of production for the rest of the season. We have to remember, though, that the Raptors’ first two games were huge blowouts, allowing Wright to feast against inferior second units.
De’Aaron Fox – Sacramento Kings
I didn’t expect Fox to look this good this early. Rookies, especially rookie point guards, don’t usually burst out of the gate like this. But with George Hill looking like a shell of himself, it feels like it’s almost an inevitability that Fox will take the reins and not let go. He played more minutes than Hill in the last game and actually shared the court with him to close the game against the Suns. I think the most surprising thing is that Fox is shooting 45 percent from the field on 14.3 attempts. He is aggressive, and he still has upside for more steals. Fox could actually improve from where he is now, which is saying something considering he’s already a top-100 player.