NBA Roundtable: Kyrie's Future, Rookies on the Rise, Best Young Duos

NBA Roundtable: Kyrie's Future, Rookies on the Rise, Best Young Duos

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Welcome to the Week 20 edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable. Each week, our NBA staff gets together to answer questions about the biggest topics of the week, both in fantasy basketball and the league overall.

This week, we talk Kyrie Irving, rookies on the rise, the Lakers' playoff chances, and more.

Both Marvin Bagley and Trae Young have had their ups and downs, but both are playing their best basketball of the season of late. Which player's second-half emergence has been more of a surprise?

Editor's note: Bagley left Wednesday night's game against Milwaukee with a knee injury.

Nick Whalen: Trae Young. I was really low on Young coming out of Oklahoma, and while it initially looked like it might be right, he's proven me wrong -- and then some -- over the last couple of months. He still has his issues defensively, but over his last 15 games, Young is putting up 23.9 points, 9.0 assists and 3.9 rebounds, while hitting nearly 45 percent of his field goals. That he's finally shooting well from deep is less of a surprise to me than the fact that he's been able to consistently get into the paint and draw contact (6.5 FTA/G).

Ken Crites: I'll go with Bagley as more surprising, due to my low expectations of Kings' leadership. It's a shame that Sacramento didn't move Willie Cauley-Stein at the deadline. I'd love to see Bagley start, though the big rookie has played 32+ minutes in four of his last five games.

Mike Barner: Bagley. With Trae Young, it's always been clear that he was going to receive plenty of playing time. I was worried about Bagley's minutes, especially after they brought in Harrison Barnes. However, after averaging 32 minutes across his last five games entering Wednesday, that does not appear to be an issue. As long as he plays, he's going to produce.

Alex Barutha: Bagley. I wasn't high on either player out of the draft, but I've been more surprised by Bagley's offensive game. Other than showing solid post moves, he's great in transition, active on the offensive boards and has shown some shooting ability. There are times he looks like a better all-around prospect than Deandre Ayton.

Alex Rikleen: Bagley. Whether or not we expected it, we all knew that if Trae Young was going to hit, this is what it would look like. Only his die-hard fans could have predicted that he'd average 22 points and 9 assists for a month this early in his career, but 22-and-9 and a ton of long threes (and a ton of turnovers) was always in play. Bagley's emergence has included some surprising developments, like becoming a good free throw shooter and showing better-than-expected defensive chops.

Shannon McKeown: I've been on the Trae Young bandwagon all season, so Bagley has been the bigger surprise for me, personally. Young has shown steady improvement for the past for the past couple months, and it's starting to look like his struggles in November were nothing more than an extended slump. He's legit. With Bagley, it was harder for me to see the upside due to his limited role during the first few months of the season. But Bagley has really rounded into form the past 10 or so games. He has shown improvements with his three-point shot and is much more active on defense than I had expected at this stage of his career. The 2018 draft class has lived up to the hype: Luka, Ayton, Trae, Bagley, JJJ, and Carter Jr. have all been solid-to-great as rookies, and others (SGA, Sexton, Knox, Mitchell Robinson) have shown flashes, too.

Where will Kyrie Irving be playing come October of 2019?

Whalen: Very little has happened to suggest this is realistic, but if the Celtics get their act together and make it to at least the Eastern Conference Finals, then I think Boston is still the clubhouse leader. Reuniting with LeBron in Los Angeles is my personal dream scenario, but I'd be shocked if that's a real possibility.

Crites: That beat down in Toronto was so depressing. I still think Irving stays in Boston, especially if the C's are the frontrunner to get Anthony Davis. But a few more stinkers like that Toronto implosion, and Kyrie will get antsy.

Barner: I'm not completely giving up on a return to the Celtics, but I'd lean towards him joining the Knicks if the Celtics don't make the finals.

Barutha: Do the Celtics even want him back at this point? I think he'll sign with New York -- maybe not on a long-term deal, though.

Rikleen: Not Boston. Danny Ainge is an almost notorious star-hunter, but perhaps the Celtics' biggest problems this year have been internal team dynamics, and between his history in Cleveland and his press conferences, Irving seems to be at the center of those problems. Whether through cap-manipulating jujitsu or just normal free agency, I think he's gone. I think he'll end up in either New York or LA, but I have no guess as to whether he becomes a Knick, Laker, or Clipper.

McKeown: New York

Two-part question on the Lakers: 1. Will the Lakers make the playoffs?; 2. As a basketball-viewer, do you want to see the Lakers in the playoffs?

Whalen: It's going to be close, but I think the Lakers sneak in as the 8. They've already missed some massive opportunities against bad teams, though, so we'll see how they fare when the schedule picks up. Do I want the Lakers in the playoffs? Absolutely. I understand LeBron has given the anti-LeBron crowd plenty of fodder this season, but the NBA Playoffs are better with LeBron James than they are without. It's been over a decade since LeBron entered the postseason as a non-favorite in his conference, so LeBron leading a seven or eight seed would be a fun and necessary twist.

Crites: No and no. I would so much prefer the Kings sneak in. That Sacramento fan base is extremely loyal, receives no national media attention, and would much more appreciate the slight glimmer of hope from a first round elimination.

Barner: Yes, I'll still take LeBron over the field to get the eighth spot. That said, mo, I don't enjoy watching this team play.

Barutha: I'm going with no. The Lakers have the third-toughest remaining schedule in the Western Conference, and they're just 23-19 when LeBron plays. However, I do want to see LA in the playoffs. It would/will be weird without LeBron.

Rikleen: Yes and Yes. LeBron is too good to miss the playoffs, and they are better and more interesting if he's in them. Remember - it was only a few months ago when people were wondering if this same Lakers team could make the Western Conference Finals. They have plenty of talent. Also, if the Lakers are going to unfairly fire Luke Walton, I don't want them to have the easy excuse of "well we didn't make the playoffs".

McKeown: No. Yes, but only because I will get joy out of seeing LeBron being swept in the first round.

Looking ahead, what piece of advice would you give to fantasy owners to help prepare for the postseason?

Whalen: Keep an eye on which bad teams to take advantage of down the stretch.

Crites: Pay attention to tanking teams because that's where the free agency gold resides. Who's getting minutes for the Knicks? Which big men in New Orleans are producing? Who is healthy in Memphis?

Barner: Learn the schedule. You need to know not only how many times teams are playing each week, but also how favorable their matchups are. That's especially important if you need help on waivers due to injuries.

Barutha: Check the schedule for the remainder of the year and see if you can gain and an advantage in games played through some waiver wire moves.

Rikleen: Know your league settings, and how to make full use of every rule. Stop looking at overall rankings and focus on your matchups. What categories do you need? Even if you've been starting Brook Lopez all season, if your opponent is terrible in threes and blocks, then you might benefit from starting someone else in his place. Set alarms on your phone to make sure you check your lineup in the last few minutes before they lock.

McKeown: For Head-to-Head leagues, it's time to look at playoff schedules. The Kings and Wizards are the only two teams with 12 games over Weeks 22-24. Stash useful players from either roster. In rotisserie leagues, it's time to chase your categories of need.

Focusing on the NBA's bottom-feeders, which current young duo would you most want as the foundation of your franchise for the next 3-to-5 years?

The options: Trae Young/John Collins; 2. Wendell Carter/Lauri Markkanen; 3. Mitchell Robinson/Dennis Smith; 4 Devin Booker/Deandre Ayton; 5. Cedi Osman/Collin Sexton; 6. Another duo

Whalen: Absolutely Cedi Osman and Col-- no, I think I'll go with Booker and Ayton. I know neither has proven any thing from a wins and losses perspective, but I think both still have massive ceilings in the long term.

Crites: I'm going with Atlanta's young studs. Over 11 February games, Trae Young is averaging 9.2 dimes per contest and shooting 44% from behind the arc. That's exciting. I'm a tad worried about Collins getting fewer blocks, but he's a double-double machine with an improving outside shot. The Hawks are an electric wing away from being meaningful.

Barner: I'll take Booker and Ayton. I do love Lauri Markkanen and think Wendell Carter will be a very good player, but Booker and Ayton are just too good to pass up. I would definitely make sure to add a point guard, though, and play Booker at shooting guard.

Barutha: Trae Young/John Collins. Collins is quietly averaging close to 20-and-10 while shooting 38 percent from deep, and Trae Young projects out to be one of the best passers in the league.

Rikleen: I'll take Trae Young and John Collins over Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen. As the NBA continues to evolve until all 30 teams are running Moreyball offenses, defenses will start to catch up. And with much of the league already playing Moreyball, the defensive adjustment will begin very soon. Once that starts to happen, the logical counter-punch for offenses is to take another step (or three) back from the three-point line, stretching the new defenses to a new breaking point. Young is already one of the best super-long range shooters in the league, and he's a great passer. Collins' already has a Capela-like offense inside, and he also can shoot. That makes him a near-perfect big man to pair with Young in this future scenario.

McKeown: Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. I kid, I kid. The interesting part will be the third piece each of those teams add. From that pool, though, I would still side with Booker and Ayton.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A multi-time FSGA and FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM Fantasy alongside Jeff Erickson, as well as The RotoWire NBA Show on Sirius XM NBA with Alex Barutha. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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