If the rumors turn out to be true, we could be drafting our fantasy basketball squads much earlier than we anticipated. After it was initially reported that next season could begin on or around January 18, reports last week indicated that the season could get underway as early as December 22.
As we start to prepare for drafts, let's discuss some key questions heading into the season.
When to draft Luka Doncic?
It's crazy to see the improvement that Doncic made in just his second season in the league. He nearly averaged a triple-double with 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8.8 assists per contest. He also averaged 2.8 three-pointers per contest, which is even more impressive when you consider he improved his overall efficiency, shooting 46.3 percent from the field this season compared to 42.7 percent during his rookie campaign. His 35.5 percent usage rate was the third-highest mark in the league and that's not a number that's likely to decline next year with the Mavericks clearly building their team around him. With Doncic's ability to contribute in so many different areas, he's worth considering in the middle of the first round.
Will the Rockets stay small?
Maybe the real question is: do the Rockets have any choice but to play small? They traded Clint Capela to the Hawks last year, so if they are going to stop deploying ultra-small lineups now that Mike D'Antoni is no longer in town, they need to sign or trade for some size. Cap space will be limited, so if they do add a more traditional center, they might have to sign a veteran in the mold of Dwight Howard. From a fantasy perspective, the biggest losers of the team adding more size would likely be P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington since both players were able to rack up added rebounds in D'Antoni's system.
How good will the Warriors be?
It's been awhile since we've seen Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are in a unique situation in which they have talented stars coming back from injury to go along with the No. 2 pick in the draft. That combination could immediately make them a threat in the West again. Curry and Thompson might have to shake off some rust since they have been out of action so long, but the added time off has also helped them become completely healthy. Playing both games of back-to-back sets is probably out the window to start the season, but expect Curry and Thompson to return to form in short order.
Can Kyrie and KD make it work in Brooklyn?
Curry and Thompson aren't the only stars who should benefit from the long layoff. The Nets knew they weren't going to have Kevin Durant at their disposal last season as he rehabbed from a torn Achilles and he remained out despite the pause in the season. Once this season gets underway, he will have had a full year-and-a-half to recover. It wouldn't be surprising to see him start out on a minutes limit and there's a chance that he doesn't play in both games of a back-to-back set all season.
The same concerns shouldn't surround Kyrie Irving, who will be returning from shoulder surgery. The question is, how will these two play together? The good news is we've seen both players thrive statistically despite having to share the spotlight, Durant doing so with the Warriors and Irving playing alongside LeBron James on the Cavaliers. From a fantasy perspective, both could be selected as early as the end of the first round and will likely be gone by the end of the second round at the latest.
Where will Fred VanVleet land?
VanVleet was one of the main reasons why the Raptors were able to remain successful despite Kawhi Leonard departing for the Clippers. He improved in nearly every fact of the game, finishing with averages of 17.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.7 three-pointers. Really, the only downside was him shooting 41.3 percent from the field. Even that was somewhat offset by his 84.8 percent shooting from the charity stripe and his very reasonable average of 2.2 turnovers per game despite having the ball in his hands so often.
Now a free agent, his fantasy value could be impacted by where he signs. If he remains with the Raptors, it's reasonable to expect similar production next season. If he departs for a team like the Pistons or the Knicks, he could see an increase in scoring as he would immediately become either team's best player.
Will the Thunder turn the keys over to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?
The Thunder will almost certainly blow things up this offseason. Head coach Billy Donovan left for the Bulls, Danilo Gallinari is a free agent and Chris Paul is likely to be shopped in a trade. If Paul is dealt for spare parts or young pieces, then Gilgeous-Alexander would unquestionably be the leader of the team. He already made himself a valuable fantasy asset last season, averaging 19 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.2 three-pointers while shooting 47.1 percent from the field. With his usage rate likely on the rise, he could easily surpass 20 points a game this season while also seeing an increase in assists.
Are the Bulls relevant again?
This offseason brought a significant overhaul for the Bulls, and I'm not talking about their roster. They mercifully moved on from John Paxson and Gar Forman in the front office and fired the clearly-overmatched Jim Boylen. Donovan immediately brings some credibility to the coaching spot, but now we have to see what direction Arturas Karnisovas takes the franchise. Does he trade Lauri Markkanen and/or Wendell Carter Jr.? Is Zach LaVine someone they continue to build around? Maybe they settle for adding to their young stable of players with the fourth selection in the draft and see how this season plays out before making any significant trades.
Of the players who stand to benefit the most from the coaching change, Markkanen stands out – if he remains with the team. Boylen couldn't seem to figure out how to put him in a position to succeed and oddly reduced his playing time despite him being one of the cornerstones of the team. Assists and defensive stats will likely be difficult for Markkanen to come by even with the coaching change, but there's a path for him to at least approach his averages of 18.7 points and nine rebounds a game from two seasons ago.