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Fantasy Basketball Stock Report: 2015-16 Preseason Edition

Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports

It’s always dangerous to place too much stock in an NBA player’s preseason production. Just look at last year, where Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jeremy Lamb finished among the top 20 preseason scorers before regressing significantly once real action began. For some bigger-name players, surprising preseason production can portend a breakout — see: Thompson, Klay in 2014-15 — but fringe guys putting up huge numbers can largely be ignored.

So, with apologies to John Jenkins, he’s being left off this preseason edition of the fantasy basketball stock watch, despite ranking as the league’s fourth-highest scorer to date. Once Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons are healthy enough to return, Jenkins will fade back into fantasy anonymity. The same can’t be said, however, about a few of the preseason’s other risers and fallers, though. Here’s a brief look at whose fantasy stock is soaring and plummeting following the preseason.

Rising

Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors

So…skinny Kyle Lowry appears to be a thing. After noticeably slimming down over the summer, Lowry took no prisoners throughout the preseason, averaging 22.0 points on 52.3 percent shooting while playing just 26.2 minutes per game. The Villanova product also knocked down an insane 53.8 percent of his 5.2 three-point attempts per game (14-of-26 overall), making him look like the second coming of Stephen Curry.

Lowry’s shooting percentages will regress to the mean once the regular season commences — he’s yet to ever finish above 43.5 percent from the field throughout his nine-year career — but if he’s able to improve his efficiency even slightly, he could push for top 20 value. Despite knocking down just 41.2 percent of his shots last season, after all, Lowry finished as the 27th-best player in eight-category leagues. Owners who grab him with a third-round pick are likely to be pleased.

Nikola Mirotic, PF, Chicago Bulls

It didn’t take long for new Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg to make his impact on the team. After implementing an uptempo offense that should be a boon to the fantasy value of all Chicago players, Hoiberg decided to split up Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, moving Nikola Mirotic into the starting lineup in place of the latter. That makes the second-year Serbian forward a highly intriguing mid-round pick, especially after he averaged 12.9 points on 44.9 percent shooting, 6.1 rebounds, 1.9 treys and 1.8 assists in just 22.6 minutes per game throughout the preseason.

Mirotic didn’t make much noise early in the 2014-15 campaign, but following the All-Star break, he erupted for 16.0 points, 6.3 boards, 1.7 triples and 1.4 assists in 26.0 minutes a night, becoming a significant boon to fantasy owners savvy enough to have scooped him off waivers. The Bulls’ frontcourt is no less crowded this year — in fact, with Bobby Portis in tow, Hoiberg has even more big men deserving of minutes at his disposal — but Mirotic’s long-range stroke should earn him a significant role regardless. He has an outside chance at returning top 50 value.

Eric Gordon, SG, New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans’ backcourt has quickly become a battle of attrition, and somehow, Eric Gordon is the one left standing at the end of the preseason. Jrue Holiday will be on a minutes restriction until January, while Tyreke Evans will be sidelined for six-to-eight weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee during the preseason. As a result, Gordon looks primed for a humongous early-season role, which makes him perhaps one of fantasy’s best sell-high candidates.

With new head coach Alvin Gentry at the helm, the Pelicans are committed to playing at a faster pace, which will only further help Gordon’s fantasy value. “I’ll play a much bigger role this year because Coach is letting me get the ball in so many different ways and wants me to be a major playmaker for this team,” he recently told USA Today‘s Jeff Zillgitt. Injury risk is always a concern with Gordon, which is why he’s 87th on my Top 200 Big Board, but owners who take him with a mid-round pick should reap the early-season rewards and then aim to trade him at the end of November.

Falling

Joakim Noah, C, Chicago Bulls

With Mirotic having moved into the Bulls’ starting lineup in place of Joakim Noah, the days of relying upon the Florida product as a fantasy contributor are over. One season after being a consensus top 50 pick, Noah’s ADP plummeted to 94.3 this year, and even that may be overrating the type of fantasy impact you can expect from the Bulls big man this season.

During the preseason, Noah simply couldn’t get himself into a rhythm offensively, averaging just 6.0 points on 31.4 percent shooting. Though his rebounding (8.3) and assist (2.3) numbers remained strong, the big man blocked just one shot in his 126 preseason minutes. His shot-blocking numbers won’t stay that low once the regular season commences, but given his likely reduction in minutes and continued offensive struggles, fantasy owners can’t count on him for reliable contributions.

Jahlil Okafor, C, Philadelphia 76ers

Unless you’re in a keeper league, you should want no part of Jahlil Okafor at his current ADP (93.3). Though the 76ers won’t hesitate to throw their talented rookie into the fire, his inconsistency throughout the preseason should have fantasy owners sweating bullets, as he’s in for some major ups and downs over the coming year. At best, you can expect 15 points, eight rebounds and a block per game from the Duke product, but his floor is considerably lower than that.

Given the Sixers’ dearth of reliable offensive threats, opponents will primarily focus on preventing Okafor from receiving entry passes near the hoop, forcing the big man into repeatedly attempting difficult shots. The Sixers also have major question marks at point guard, so while Okafor should receive plenty of touches on a nightly basis, the team could struggle to get him quality positioning. After you factor in his lackluster free throw shooting, the big man is damn near untouchable in 10-team roto leagues, while head-to-head owners shouldn’t be expecting big things, either.

Tyreke Evans, PG/SG/SF, New Orleans Pelicans

No preseason injury hurt fantasy owners worse than Tyreke Evans’s, as the Pelicans swingman is set to be sidelined for over a month after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. With Jrue Holiday limited for the first few months of the year, Evans was poised for an enormous early-season role prior to his surgery, making him a top-tier mid-round value pick this season.

Owners in head-to-head leagues have no choice but to hold on to Evans while he recuperates from his surgery, as his upside makes him effectively undroppable. Owners in roto leagues, however, could find themselves in a bit of a pinch if the Memphis product isn’t back by late November, which could force them to sell him for 40 cents on the dollar. When Evans returns, he’s likely to be a rest-of-season top 50 value, but the risk of reinjury should rightfully leave owners feeling slightly skittish.

All statistics via NBA.com or Basketball-Reference.com. All ADP data via FantasyPros.com.

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