Trae Young was dazzling in a win over Detroit on Thursday night that saw him lead the Hawks in points, 3-pointers, assists, free throws and net rating, but the biggest NBA story of the day happened off the court.
The Suns' Deandre Ayton, selected first overall in the same draft as Young in June of 2018, has been suspended for 25 games for violating the NBA-NBPA's anti-drug policy with a positive test for a diuretic, the league announced Thursday night. Adrian Wojnarowski reports the players' union, the NBPA, will likely seek to expedite the case in an effort to shorten the suspension and get Ayton back on the floor.
Assuming Ayton serves the full suspension (eligible to return Dec. 17) is likely a prudent approach for fantasy managers, just as you might prepare for the longer end of an injury diagnosis. With this in mind, which players on Phoenix benefit statistically from Ayton's absence?
Devin Booker saw his usage rate (estimate of plays and possessions consumed by an individual player while on the floor) swell from 33% to 35.4% with Ayton off the floor last season, while Kelly Oubre Jr. also enjoyed a sizable uptick in usage sans the big man last year. I'd look to add Oubre in all formats, while Dario Saric also becomes more attractive, given what should be more post touches and rebounding chances. For those in deeper formats, it's worth noting Aron Baynes averaged 9.0 PPG and 9.4 RPG with 1.2 BPG for the nine games in which he played at least 22 minutes for Boston last season.
Ayton's managers might have to look outside of Phoenix's roster for real help, such as acquiring Cleveland's Larry Nance Jr., who netted 14 rebounds in his first game and claims some atypically strong assist potential for a big. Charlotte's Cody Zeller is another widely available and productive pivot who can help managers survive Ayton's suspension.
Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks: 38 points (11-21 FG), 7 rebounds, 9 assists, 6 TO
Young's scoring tally marked the most by a Hawks player in a season opener since Dominique Wilkins on Nov. 1, 1986 vs. the New Jersey Nets (39 points). As a measure of the new statistical territory Young is bound to claim this season, his six made 3-pointers last night are tied for the second-most of his young career. For a player who finished second last season behind only Russell Westbrook in total assists, Young's ascent to fantasy superstardom could happen as early as right now.
For the Pistons, Andre Drummond is doing yeoman's work sans Blake Griffin and is the safest bet to lead the league in rebounding since Dennis Rodman's prime. More relevantly for Drummond's already elite fantasy stock; he's made 13 consecutive free throws, the second longest streak of his career. Derrick Rose popped for 27 points off the pine for the Pistons last night and now Detroit is just the second team since starters were first noted in 1970-71 to have two different players score 25 pts off the bench within their first two games of the season (Luke Kennard had 30 Wednesday). The 1989 Suns was the other team (Eddie Johnson and Dan Majerle).
Kennard lofted nine 3-pointers last night and now is up to 18 attempts on the two-game season in addition to taking 14 free throws. These are impressive opportunity rates that could fuel relevance in fantasy leagues for Kennard going forward. For some context, Kennard took as many as nine 3-pointers just twice last season in 63 appearances.
The Clippers spoiled the Warriors' first game at the Chase Center on Thursday, lighting up Golden State for 141 points. That is the most points the Warriors have allowed in 516 games under Steve Kerr (regular season and playoffs) and the most points any team has ever allowed in its first home game at a new arena, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Warriors might just be one of the best matchups for fantasy production in the league, given the roster's lack of defensive prowess past Draymond Green.
No player on Milwaukee other than Antetokounmpo topped 13 points while 10 players netted at least 15 minutes for Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo fouling out surely led the Bucks to dig deeper into their rotation, but I think it will prove difficult for players like Pat Connaughton, Kyle Korver, and George Hill to surface as fantasy-relevant, given how deep the rotation could prove.
As I quipped on Twitter, the Rockets' documentary this season might be called "9 for 30" if they keep up such an inefficient scoring pattern. But really, the Bucks claimed the top defensive rating in the league last season and we at least learned that both Westbrook and James Harden can sustain strong raw statistics (the tandem combined for 23 rebounds and 21 assists). One interesting advanced number would be that Harden and Westbrook claimed usage rates of 28.6% and 28.1%, respectively, far below the huge rates they consumed the past several seasons.
Kawhi Leonard was the initiator or ball-handler on 29 pick-and-roll sets last night against the Warriors, his most in a game since Second Spectrum began tracking such play types in 2013-14. Such creation equity led to a career-high nine dimes for Leonard, adding to his already elite statistical stock. Keeping with this theme, Lou Williams is also enjoying a great deal of distribution duties and now has 15 assists through two appearances. Forward Patrick Peterson made a career-high six 3-pointers in the victory in 28 minutes of action, but I'd like to see a few more box scores from Patterson before buying, given the sheer depth of the Clippers' rotation.
Somehow lost in the shuffle of Wednesday's massive 11-game slate was Charlotte rookie PJ Washington's amazing NBA debut that saw him sink seven 3-pointrs, tied for the most in a season opener in NBA history (by anyone, not just a rookie). His 27 points marked the most in a career debut in Hornets history. Washington might not even hit seven 3-pointers in a game again this season, but he'll surely enjoy rare freedom to shoot and produce on a young Charlotte roster.
Injuries of note
The Kings' talented young backcourt is ailing a bit heading into Friday's tilt against the Trail Blazers, as De'Aaron Fox is probable with a sore knee caused by a collision with Ayton in the opener. Buddy Hield, meanwhile, rolled his ankle late in the loss to Phoenix on Wednesday, but he told reporters he's going to play tonight.
The Kings' frontcourt didn't escape significant injury, however, as Marvin Bagley III will miss up to six weeks with a thumb injury. This is quite the blow to a Kings team that got off to a rough start in the opener. The fantasy fallout likely sees more rebounding and scoring equity for Dewayne Dedmon and deep-league appeal for stretch-forward Nemanja Bjelica, the likely starter in Bagley's place.
Analytics advantage for Friday
During the offseason, LeBron James emphasized getting the ball to Anthony Davis. That's exactly what happened during Tuesday's opener, as Davis recorded 20 direct post-ups, his most in a game since Second Spectrum began player tracking in 2013-14. Davis' 20 direct posts are tied for second most by any player in a game over the past four seasons, per Second Spectrum, trailing only the 25 direct posts for LaMarcus Aldridge in his 56-point opus last January. The Lakers scored 1.10 points per Davis direct post, an awesome clip in the context of league-wide rates.
The big challenge tonight will be getting Davis on track on the block against Utah's Rudy Gobert, who has won the past two Defensive Player of the Year honors, thanks to some of the best rim protection metrics in the league. That said, it could be wise to fade Davis in DFS play and instead pivot to Denver's Nikola Jokic, who could feast on the interior against an Ayton-less Phoenix frontcourt.
Top players to watch tonight
Tonight's matchup of Dallas and New Orleans has the highest point total of Friday's slate (228.5). The Pelicans were second in the NBA last season in pace and sought to push the ball in transition whenever possible in the preseason. The Mavericks also enjoyed an up-tempo style in the preseason that carried over into their opener. This all leads to an awesome matchup of one of the league's elite perimeter defenders in Jrue Holiday facing off with the ever-crafty Luka Doncic on ESPN tonight.
Doncic scored 17 points on 10 isolation possessions in the opener, a brilliant per-play scoring clip. Holiday, meanwhile, was 10th in defensive real-plus minus among point guards last season and will likely trace Doncic throughout tonight's matchup. In addition to this compelling matchup, it will be interesting to see if the Pelicans' frontcourt can handle Kristaps Porzingis' size, making the big man a fun DFS play.