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2016-17 fantasy basketball: Preseason risers and fallers

Los Angeles Lakers' D'Angelo Russell looks on during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Though fantasy basketball owners shouldn’t go tearing up their draft boards based on the results of preseason action, it shouldn’t be entirely disregarded, either. The preseason marks our first chance to see how players fit in new destinations or what systems look like under new head coaches, giving fantasy owners some semblance of an idea what to expect in the 2016-17 campaign.

Unfortunately, a handful of injuries have also sprung up since the start of training camp, sending certain players’ fantasy stock plunging. Their loss is some of their teammates’ gain, however, as someone will need to take over their spots in their respective teams’ lineups. While fantasy owners shouldn’t drop injured players off of their draft boards entirely, you’ll need to factor in their projected timetables to return when considering where to draft them.

Here’s a look at five players whose fantasy stock has soared since training camp kicked off and five players whose stock is heading in the wrong direction.

Risers

D’Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers

D’Angelo Russell looks like an entirely different (read: better) player under new head coach Luke Walton. Through his first four preseason games, Russell has averaged 20.2 points on 50.0 percent shooting, 4.6 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 2.6 treys and 1.8 steals in just 29.6 minutes, including a 33-point, 11-assist outing against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday. While fantasy owners would ideally like to see a few more assists per game in Russell’s ledger, everything else is highly encouraging for those hoping to invest a sixth- or seventh-round pick in him. The Ohio State product is poised for a breakout campaign and should be rising up draft boards once owners realize his mediocre rookie campaign was largely due to Byron Scott.

Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns

It’s Devin Booker’s world, and we’re just living in it. The second-year sharpshooter is leading the league in scoring heading into Friday’s preseason action with 21.5 points on 50.0 percent shooting to go with 3.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 treys in just 25.2 minutes per night. Head coach Earl Watson has already announced Booker will be the Suns’ starting 2-guard this season, staving off the threat from Brandon Knight to supplant him. If he’s able to keep his shooting efficiency north of 45 percent while pouring in somewhere around 20 points, 3-4 assists, 3-4 rebounds and 1.5 triples a game, he’ll likely return top-75 value. 

Jusuf Nurkic, C, Denver Nuggets

After an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, is Jusuf Nurkic ready to win over fantasy owners again like he did during his rookie year? “The Bosnian Bear” is averaging 18.0 points on 48.4 percent shooting, 13.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in just 27.1 minutes through three preseason games, drawing praise from head coach Mike Malone about his “amazing” offseason, per Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. Nurkic won’t supplant Nikola Jokic as Denver’s starting center, but Malone has proved throughout the preseason that he’s willing to play both bigs simultaneously. He’s a worthy later-round pick given his upside. 

Dario Saric, PF, Philadelphia 76ers

Had Ben Simmons not suffered a foot fracture during a preseason practice, Dario Saric would have been waiver-wire fodder to start the year. Instead, he’s now likely to be tabbed as the Sixers’ opening-night starter at the 4. Head coach Brett Brown told reporters that Saric “complements our [centers] completely,” adding, “He is an elite passer. He understands the big-to-big relationship.” While he’ll have to fend off challenges from Richaun Holmes and Jerami Grant for minutes at the 4, Simmons’ injury cracks the door for him to have a huge early-season role. Whereas he wouldn’t have been draftable outside of deeper leagues three weeks ago, he’s now worth a pick in the 12th or 13th round. 

Ish Smith, PG, Detroit Pistons

With Reggie Jackson out until late November or early December due to tendinitis in his left knee, per Aaron McCann of MLive.com, Ish Smith is going to be the Pistons’ starting point guard for the first month of the season (at least). During Thursday’s preseason contest against the Atlanta Hawks, Smith put up 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, eight assists, seven rebounds, two treys and a block in 30 minutes, giving fantasy owners a taste of what’s to come with Jackson sidelined. Smith has never been a bastion of shooting efficiency — in fact, his career-best field goal percentage was 42.3 back in 2013-14 — but if you can live with that middling average, he’ll be a valuable contributor in points, assists and rebounds. Don’t go reaching for Smith in the top 100, but somewhere in the 13th or 14th round seems about right for him.

Fallers

Note: All five of these players fell due to injuries and/or other expected absences.

Gordon Hayward, SF, Utah Jazz

Had Gordon Hayward not suffered a broken and dislocated finger on his left hand during the preseason, he’d have been an ideal target toward the turn of the third and fourth rounds. Alas, he did suffer such an injury, which is expected to cost him six weeks, according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News. In the best-case scenario, the injury will only cost him around 12 games, meaning he’s still worth picking up in Rounds 5 or 6, particularly for owners in head-to-head leagues. Those with a games-played cap in roto leagues, however, likely can’t consider him until Round 7 at the earliest.

Ben Simmons, PF, Philadelphia 76ers

Of all the preseason injuries to date, Ben Simmons’ is the one that should have fantasy owners feeling the queasiest. While ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported Simmons is likely to miss “about three months” as he recovers from surgery on his Jones fracture, “which would peg his return in December or possibly even January,” the Sixers have yet to release a definitive timetable for his return. Additionally, during an interview with 97.5 The Fanatic, Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News said, “I just got off the phone with somebody who I really trust in the NBA, and he’s like ‘there’s no way his agent is going to let him play this year.'” Given the uncertainty around Simmons’ return — namely, whether he’ll make his debut at all this year — owners in redraft leagues are best suited spending their draft picks elsewhere. 

Reggie Jackson, PG, Detroit Pistons

Before undergoing platelet-rich-plasma treatment on his left knee and right thumb in early October, Reggie Jackson was one of my favorite mid-round point guards to target for owners who didn’t get an elite floor general early. Instead, he’s now out for 6-8 weeks, which means he could miss 20 or more games. Accordingly, he slipped from 52nd on my original big board to 91st now, as there were only four players in the league last year who returned top-100 value despite missing 20 or more games. Owners in head-to-head leagues — particularly those with IR spots — could consider taking Jackson a round or two earlier than I have him ranked, but he’s a high-risk pick in the later middle rounds. 

Darren Collison, PG, Sacramento Kings

I already touched on why I’m lower on Darren Collison than the Expert Consensus Ranking in my Top 250 column, namely his eight-game suspension to start the year and the Kings’ signing of Ty Lawson. In mid-August, Collison was the Kings’ unquestioned starting point guard, with only Garrett Temple backing him up, and the NBA had yet to suspend him for his domestic violence incident. Now, the most he can play is 74 games — the same amount he did last season when he finished as the 66th-best player in fantasy — and has a legitimate threat of a backup in Lawson. Collison’s stock has trended the wrong way over the past six weeks.

Gary Harris, SG, Denver Nuggets

After a quiet rookie campaign, Gary Harris was one of the best waiver-wire surprises last season, averaging 12.3 points on 46.9 percent shooting, 2.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 treys and 1.3 steals in 32.1 minutes to finish as the 68th-ranked player in fantasy. Unfortunately, he’s expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a partially torn groin muscle, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, significantly decreasing the odds of a repeat performance. In Harris’ absence, Will Barton and No. 7 overall pick Jamal Murray figure to shoulder more responsibility, perhaps turning the Denver 2-guard spot into an ugly timeshare for fantasy purposes.

 

 

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