Fantasy basketball – Russell Westbrook, the rebuilt Warriors and other opening night takeaways

Good morning.

Welcome to the morning of a thousand overreactions. (Most will be about Russell Westbrook. We will do our best to avoid.)

The 2021 NBA fantasy off-season lasted about 48-72 hours. (Up from 2020’s 48-72 minutes.) We have plenty of data points, hot takes and preseason observations to lend us a deep-dish perspective.

You’d think by now we’d learn.

Because opening night arrives, and about 90 seconds into pregame No. 1? We are already at Finals-Game 7-levels of un-perspective.

We have an opening night problem.

Throughout the first evening of the NBA season? There is no tomorrow. Everything rides on this slate of games. Nothing less than an analytic/existential referendum. (Even if we’re only rostering five players across two games.)

Fine. I have an opening night problem. But I’ll wager you affiliate with my affliction.

A few years ago, I began throwing myself a Night One lifeline. For each team in action, I write down a single fantasy question. This question focuses yours truly on larger-scale storylines so as not to spin out over every last missed free throw. (Of which there were a lot.)

Here were Tuesday night’s questions:

1. Milwaukee Bucks — Division of backcourt minutes? Jrue Holiday hurt his heel. So hard to tell if either Pat Connaughton or Grayson Allen retain lasting deep league value after Donte DiVincenzo returns. (BTW, don’t forget Jordan Nwora’s 34-point gem in the final game of 2020-21. Something about Nwora bears watching.)

2. Brooklyn Nets — Who/what replaces Kyrie? TBD. Don’t be fooled by one hot half of Patty Mills.

3. Los Angeles Lakers — Westbrook’s minutes/usage? 35 minutes. Replacement-level touches.

(I watched every game Westbrook played last year. I came away impressed as a basketball fan… but not as a fantasy geek. For fantasy, Westbrook is better off as option 1b on a play-in team (see: my Wizards.) In that spot, dominating possession, he can still be a fantasy overachiever. A few miles away at Staples… not so much. But if the thought of rostering Westbrook as option 3a on a contender doesn’t give you night sweats, and you’re not in a roto league? Start working the phones.)

4. Golden State Warriors — Can they run it back — even halfway?

Wait. What? Is that… wistful? As a rule, I try to avoid wistful phrases. Each one tends to cost me approximately four billable hours of therapeutic over-examination.

What I meant was: “Can the still-injured Warriors recapture some of their old offensive efficiency?” This really means: “until Klay Thompson is back up to full speed, can someone — anyone — consistently make defenses pay for running three guys at Curry every possession? And can that guy be on my fantasy roster when it happens?”

For you young people: once upon a time (2018-19) the Warriors operated the most fantasy- friendly offense in basketball. They led the NBA in offensive efficiency, were top-10 in pace, and curated a predictably short rotation.

The Durant-Curry-Thompson-Green Warriors set an all-time standard when it came to reliable, rock-solid, high-return fantasy production.

Then Thompson got hurt in the Finals. Durant decamped. Curry lost his season just a few games into 2019-20. Thompson got hurt again.

(For a simulation of Peak Warriors efficiency? Watch the high-pace, high-efficiency Bucks. In Milwaukee, the fantasy issue isn’t production. It’s the division of said production. Meaning: their rotation is a couple of players too deep.)

Last season provided a view into what the Warriors became short of one-to-two surefire offensive options beyond a healthy Curry.

Middle-of-the-road.

Golden State’s pace spiked into the top three. Their efficiency sank into the teens. That’s lousy polarity. That’s what happens when you swap Durant-Curry-Thompson-Green for Wiggins- Curry-Oubre Jr.-Green.

This is what happens when gravity compacts. When you don’t have Klay Thompson to tilt the floor. Curry is so good; he can still produce, via the space he can constantly self-generate. But last season, no one else was able to provide gravitational pull away from Curry.

As we were prepping for 2021-22, we knew that Thompson was tabbed for a January return. And a handful of rumored trades plus free agent signings never transpired. It seemed like Steve Kerr would have to stick with the hot-hand approach until after the New Year.

But throughout the preseason, some of us began to wonder if Jordan Poole might be ready. Ready to apply a little force to the Warriors’ spacing. Because Poole’s shooting percentages took a quiet leap forward in 2020-21, and he showed out enough over the Warriors’ May closeout winning streak to cement the inclination.

Not to be Klay Thompson II. But a consistent deep threat with developmental alpha upside… more of a Fred VanVleet V.2.2.

In terms of second options last night? Nemanja Bjelica (15 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) posted the more productive fantasy game. But if you’re like me, and roster Poole? You had the full Jordan Poole experience. A tale of two halves. Four points in the first half, 16 in the second. The line: an early Klay VanVleetish 20 points, four 3s, three assists and a steal.

If you watched the game, you know: it wasn’t Curry that keyed the Warriors’ comeback (a 38-point fourth quarter). It was Poole. Poole, with a caveat: a lot of damage was done over a 3-minute surge with the second team… with Curry on the bench.

So no overreactions. But if you’re mining for upside early this campaign? There’s a metric ton of potential in what promises to be a shifting Warriors lineup.

Poole just had a moment… but expect some streakiness. Both Wiggins and Green are on early- season minute restrictions, so their value should rise. James Wiseman will return before Thompson. And you never know when the Warriors’ system might flip a switch in someone like Bjelica (or Otto Porter Jr., but that may be a stretch.)

Across the NBA, an underrated early fantasy storyline: how will teams coming off rocky, back- o-back-ridden 2020-21 seasons respond to regaining complete health?

The Warriors — like the Lakers — are one of those teams to watch.

Heck. Maybe they can run it back.

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