Are You For Real? (2020-21 Fantasy Basketball)
Through two weeks of the NBA season, we’ve seen some big performances from unlikely names. Likewise, we’ve witnessed some marquee players underachieve. How much stock should we take in these early showings?
Which players’ early-season performance is for real?
Brandon Ingram (F – NO)
Ingram entered the 2020-2021 season ranked 40th in Yahoo H2H rankings. He was a first-time All-Star last year after putting together a breakout campaign with averages of 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per contest. With Jrue Holiday out of the picture, impending RFA Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe were on track to fill in as the Pelicans’ primary facilitators. However, Ingram jumped the line and is becoming the best playmaker for New Orleans this season. Through seven games, he’s averaging 5.7 assists per game, with a robust 30.2 usage rate (compared to 27.5 last season). The five-year pro wasted no time taking over the Pelicans’ offense, leading them to a 5-2 record, and is the #21 overall player in Yahoo’s rankings through Monday night. The game is slowing down for him, and he’s on track to average new career-highs in points (25.3), rebounds (6.4), and blocks (0.9) per game. He’s the primary scoring option on a young, athletic team, and I see no reason for his value to fall. Brandon Ingram will crack the top-20 by seasons’ end. He’s for real. -Titus
Domantas Sabonis (F/C – IND)
Sabonis (17) was ranked at 44 by Yahoo to start the season and has been absolutely crushing his ADP. He’s started the season with six straight double-doubles and is averaging 20.8 points, 11.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists, and 0.8 steals whiles shooting 56.8% from the field and 57.1% from deep. While the three-point percentage is bound to come back down to earth, the rest of his numbers are pretty in-line with what we saw last year, giving no reason to believe that the fifth-year forward has any plans of slowing down. Sabonis deserves to be in the top-20 in all rankings as he’s likely to finish the season averaging a 20-point double-double while providing great consistency every night. -Kluge
Mikal Bridges (F – PHO)
It’s not shocking to see Bridges excel in his new starting role. He’s averaging career highs with 14.1 points, 5.6 boards, 2.7 triples and 1.4 blocks, while shooting nearly 50/40/90. He’s been a quality shooter through the first two seasons of his career, and while his 46.0% mark from downtown will surely regress, his steals (1.5 average first two seasons) should regress in a positive direction. Bridges is capable of contributing on both ends of the court, can shoot well, and is averaging better than 30 minutes per night on an up-and-coming team. I’m here for the breakout third season, and I think this production is here to stay. He should be a consistent top-40 producer in category leagues with upside. -Hanshew
Jaylen Brown (F – BOS)
Brown has begun his fifth professional season with a bang to say the least, posting career-high numbers in every major stat category outside of rebounds. While it will be tough for him to maintain his efficiency throughout the entire season (59.8% FG, 42.5% 3PT), the coast is clear for him to continue producing elite numbers. Kemba Walker is seemingly nowhere close to returning to the court, leaving Brown and Jayson Tatum as the only two worthy options on offense. While their preseason rankings were far apart, their USG rate is not. Through the first seven games of the season, Brown is seeing a 29.6% USG rating compared to Tatum’s 30% USG rate. Tatum may be more talented and the better fantasy option, but the opportunity at hand will make it easy for Brown to sustain this kind of production. -Burns
De’Andre Hunter (F – ATL)
Hunter continues to produce for fantasy managers in 2020-21. He is averaging 15.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.4 triples while shooting 53% from the field across 32.3 minutes. Newly acquired Danilo Gallinari (ankle) will be sidelined another two weeks, Hunter will continue to have an expanded role in an explosive Hawks offense. Atlanta is the third highest (118.3 PPG) scoring team in the NBA and its lack of defense provides fantasy gold. Hunter is behind star Trae Young, John Collins and Clint Capela in the pecking order for shot opportunities, but the 23-year-old SF has thrived so far this season. Hunter is breaking out and will continue to do so as long as he sees consistent minutes. -Camara
Julius Randle (F/C – NYK)
Randle has been handed the keys to the kingdom on this Tom Thibodeau-coached Knicks squad. Through seven games, he’s playing the most minutes per game (38.5) of his entire career and has rewarded fantasy managers with incredible numbers to show for it. He’s averaging career-highs in points (22.1), 3PM (1.6), rebounds (11.4), assists (7.4), and turnovers (4.9). The turnovers are a bit of a concern, but they’re to be expected given the heavy minutes and the amount of time Randle spends handling the basketball as a point forward. Thibodeau is known for running a tight eight or nine-man rotation, so the minutes, while high, will likely stay in the mid-to-upper-30s range throughout the season. Coach Thibodeau looks to have unlocked the full potential of Julius Randle, which has meant wonders for his 9-category fantasy value. -Koffler
Which players’ early-season performance is unsustainable?
Otto Porter (F – CHI)
Porter came over to the Chicago Bulls via trade in the 2018-2019 season with the expectation of becoming a cornerstone player of the future. His plans got sidetracked as he battled a lingering foot injury that cost him much of the last two seasons. He’s finally back, and with the added layoff due to the pandemic, he is healthy and thriving this season. He’s the 44th-ranked player in Yahoo rankings through Monday night, but I think it’s fool’s gold – and here’s why. Porter is in the final year of his contract. He has a player option for a whopping $28.4M next season, but the Bulls drafted Patrick Williams fourth overall in the 2020 Draft to replace him. Seasoned veteran Thaddeus Young just returned to the lineup, and I think the Bulls’ forward position is far too crowded for Porter to sustain his value. He’s been delivering for fantasy managers this season with averages of 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists with 2.1 3PM in 25 minutes per contest. Despite his sizzling start, the Bulls are terrible defensively (allowing 121.3 PPG, good for last in the NBA), and I suspect they’ll be in tank mode by midseason. Being one of the team’s older players with a storied injury history won’t bode well for Porter. The youth movement and deep position depth will ultimately sink his long term value by the end of the season. -Titus
Jerami Grant (F – DET)
After seven years in the league and four different teams, I struggle to believe that Jerami Grant (42) is suddenly a legitimate scoring weapon. You can cherry-pick the best numbers from his career and get 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds (2018-2019 OKC), both significantly lower than what he’s doing to start this season in Detroit. He’s currently pacing at 22.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. He’s posting these numbers while shooting just 45.3% from the field, the lowest mark since his rookie season. After averaging 38.7 minutes in his previous four games, Grant played just 34 minutes in Blake Griffin‘s debut on Sunday, the fewest he’s played since the season opener. With Griffin back in the lineup, that should cut into Grant’s playing time and production, making him a prime sell-high candidate for me. -Kluge
Nikola Vucevic (C – ORL)
Vuc has gotten off to a hot start to the 2020-21 campaign, but we’ve seen him routinely put up 20/10 averages with quality assist numbers throughout his career. Nothing new there. However, the numbers that stands out to me are his three-pointers made and three-point percentage. Vucevic is shooting a career-high 5.4 triples per contest, draining them at a 47.4 percent clip. The career-best shooting percentage and threes made (2.6) can’t be sustained by the big man, and while he’s improved his outside shooting game, he should regress from this outstanding mark which will cut into his overall field-goal percentage, scoring, and threes made. He’s a phenomenal player all around, but I can’t imagine him maintaining his top-10 pace. -Hanshew
John Wall (G – HOU)
A player who’s current production is unsustainable is John Wall. While he’s only played in three games, it’s clear that can still hoop and can be an elite piece on any franchise. What scares me is that he is playing alongside one of the most ball-dominant players of all time in James Harden. Wall is averaging 21.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists so far this season but his best game of the season, a 28-point-six assist outing, came on a night where Harden was out of the lineup with an injury. Averaging 20.0 points per game is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities with someone as talented as Wall, but the odds are stacked against him for as long as Harden remains on the Rockets roster. -Burns
Kyle Anderson (F – MEM)
Anderson continues to be one of the Grizzlies’ primary options on offense while Ja Morant (ankle) and Jaren Jackson Jr. are sidelined. He is averaging 18.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.8 triples across 32.4 minutes over four games. Anderson has never averaged more than 8.0 points per game in his career and was always known more as a defender than an offensive contributor. Anderson’s fantasy production will be short lived until Jackson and Morant are able to return. He’s worth picking up in all league formats, but fantasy managers should sell high before Anderson’s fantasy value comes crashing back down to earth. -Camara
Collin Sexton (G – CLE)
It’s not that I don’t think Sexton is a good player, but he’s shooting a very high 55.1% from the field through seven games. For a guy that chucks up 18 shots per game, that FG% seems highly unattainable, especially considering he’s a career 45% shooter, including his one season at Alabama. Now mix in the fact that he doesn’t provide much outside of scoring, averaging just 2.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game so far this season. Currently ranked inside the top-30, there is no better time to move Collin Sexton for a guy who has underperformed to begin the season. Think guys like De’Aaron Fox or Jamal Murray. -Koffler
Thanks to all our experts for their responses! Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter and check out their other work.