This is my 21st season playing fantasy hoops and my 18th writing about it, and one thing that has proved to be true year in and year out is that in order to win, you must be bold.
Be bold during drafts by reaching for players in whom you believe and passing on players you don't. Be bold when working the waiver wire so you catch breakout players right when they get hot and ditch hot players just as they turn cold. Be bold when making trades by focusing on the stats you expect to come, not the stats that already have been produced.
With the NBA regular season tipping off tonight, let's take being bold to the ultimate level with my top 10 bold predictions for the 2015-16 fantasy hoops campaign.
Damian Lillard will lead the NBA in points per game
The Portland Trail Blazers lost 48.7 PPG in scoring via the departures of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews during the offseason -- and didn't replace them with any other scorers (no offense, Gerald Henderson). It's hardly outrageous to think Lillard could chuck up enough field goal and free throw attempts to tack on another seven to eight points per game. His situation is tailor-made for a scoring title.
Nerlens Noel makes the All-Star team
I'm not sure why there isn't more buzz surrounding Noel's fantasy upside this season. He has the potential for 15 PPG, 11 RPG, 2.5 BPG and 2.1 SPG. He could top 50 FG%, so his only real hang-up is a shaky free throw percentage (60.9 FT% last season). He will battle generally weak frontcourts in the Eastern Conference on a team that will allow him to play a boatload of minutes, plus he will benefit from defenses having to pay attention to rookie frontcourt mate Jahlil Okafor this season. The table is set for Noel to break out in the NBA and Fantasyland.
I guess you could argue that the Sacramento Kings' decision to sign malcontent locker room headache Rondo to start over 2014-15 breakout point guard Collison was really bold -- in a bad way. I think this is one of those situations where you just have to give it the eye test. We know Collison is a multifaceted guard who can score, dish and play some defense. We also know that Rondo has had trouble getting along with teammates and coaches and is playing under a demanding coach in George Karl. You play those odds and it would almost be surprising if Collison isn't starting by Turkey Day.
Bojan Bogdanovic finishes in the top 30 on the Player Rater
Per StatMuse, Bogdanovic averaged 15.9 PPG, 2.1 3-PPG, 3.6 RPG, 51.0 FG% and 91.7 FT% in the 24 games in which he took double-digit field goal attempts last season. He averaged 8.9 FGA per game after the All-Star break, and he has a wide-open door for minutes and shots in a backcourt that features an aging and declining Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack, who has averaged more than 13.1 PPG just once in his decade-long career.
Andrew Wiggins takes the most free throw attempts
As a rookie who turned only 20 midway through last season, Wiggins averaged an impressive 5.7 FTA per game. He also averaged 7.9 FTA per game in 29 post-All-Star break games and a whopping 10.0 FTA over his final 13 contests. The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to feed him the ball a ton in the paint, and the free throws are going to come in bunches. Although his fantasy game is rather one-dimensional as just a scorer, he could be a real difference-maker in free throws if he can average 78 FG% or better with a monster volume of shots.
Only the Splash Brothers average more 3-point attempts per game than J.J. Redick
I've heard comments that the offseason additions of guys like Wesley Johnson, Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce will somehow limit Redick's role this season, but I just don't see it. Redick passed the aging Jamal Crawford last season as the Los Angeles Clippers' top 3-point scorer, and he is a far better option in that regard than Johnson, Stephenson and Pierce combined. He has a good chance to average at least 3.0 3-PPG this season and outpace everyone besides Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Danilo Gallinari finally stays healthy and finishes in the top 25 on the Player Rater
To be fair, he basically broke out after the All-Star break last season, when he averaged 18.6 PPG, 2.8 3-PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 44.3 FG% and 89.1 FT%. With former coach Brian Shaw's painfully slow-paced offense replaced by new coach Mike Malone's up-tempo pace, all Gallo has to do is stay healthy and he will be an absolute fantasy beast. This is the year it happens -- and maybe the only year it happens, considering his lengthy health issues.
Robin Lopez finishes as a top-10 fantasy center
He isn't going to be a big-time scorer, but in a barren New York Knicks frontcourt, he is going to see all of the minutes he can handle. That means he has a legitimate chance to average a double-double and 2.0 BPG while shooting better than 80 percent from the stripe and well over 50 percent from the field. He is an ideal second center in leagues that start a pair at that position.
I know -- talk about bold, right? Rose has totaled 100 games over the past four NBA seasons. But this is more about my concerns regarding James than whether Rose can beat the odds and stay on the court for 65 to 70 games this season. James already missed most of the preseason and needed an injection to deal with back pain. Think about that. A 6-foot-8, 250-pound player who turns 31 in December and has 35,769 minutes of wear and tear on his body needed an injection before the season even began. And with James' singular goal of winning the NBA championship, we can safely expect him to take games off late in the season to rest and to sit out any time there is a concern that a little injury could turn into something long term. I expect this to be a frustrating season for LeBron owners, and smashed face and blurred vision aside, Rose is healthy in basketball terms and nearly four years younger than James.
Stanley Johnson will be the Fantasy Rookie of the Year
Karl-Anthony Towns is the odds-on favorite in my eyes -- and I plunked down $24 to secure him in a keeper auction on Monday because I am a believer that he will take flight immediately and be a stud for years to come. But I'm being bold here, and as I recently told a friend, "Stanley Johnson is going to be a star." There is just something about his combination of talent and tenacity that is contagious. And in fantasy terms, he has the ability to score, drop 3s, hit the glass and rack up big steal totals. He also is likely to take and make a lot of free throws (25 of 29 FT in eight preseason games). Make sure he is on your rosters before he pushes Marcus Morris aside for the starting small forward gig -- I'm guessing before Christmas.