Key fantasy basketball takeaways from the NBA’s playoff seeding games

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Nick Whalen and Alex Barutha weigh in on the fantasy takeaways as seeding games come to a close this week.» data-reactid=»22″>Nick Whalen and Alex Barutha weigh in on the fantasy takeaways as seeding games come to a close this week.

<h2 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Inconsistent Lakers» data-reactid=»23″>Inconsistent Lakers

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The three best teams before the shutdown — the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks — have each experienced varying degrees of struggles in Orlando, but the Lakers’ are the most concerning. While they righted the ship, to some degree, in Monday’s win over the Nuggets, LA has looked out of sorts on the offensive end. Per 100 possessions, the Lakers rank dead-last in Orlando in scoring, made threes, field goal percentage and three-point percentage, while ranking second-to-last in assists and free throw percentage. In other words: The Lakers have the worst offense in the bubble — even worse than the 0-7 Washington Wizards.» data-reactid=»24″>The three best teams before the shutdown — the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks — have each experienced varying degrees of struggles in Orlando, but the Lakers’ are the most concerning. While they righted the ship, to some degree, in Monday’s win over the Nuggets, LA has looked out of sorts on the offensive end. Per 100 possessions, the Lakers rank dead-last in Orlando in scoring, made threes, field goal percentage and three-point percentage, while ranking second-to-last in assists and free throw percentage. In other words: The Lakers have the worst offense in the bubble — even worse than the 0-7 Washington Wizards.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="It all starts with LeBron James, who, before Monday’s game, was averaging just 21.6 points on 45.2 percent shooting, including 28.6 percent from three. James has also struggled at the line, and his decision-making has lacked the confidence we’re used to seeing. Like James, Anthony Davis looked much better Monday night. But prior to that, Davis was alternating between imitations of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar one night and Eddy Curry (sorry, Eddy) the next. Three of Davis’ six lowest-scoring games have come in the bubble, including an eight-point abomination against the Pacers in which he got to the line only twice in 35 minutes.» data-reactid=»25″>It all starts with LeBron James, who, before Monday’s game, was averaging just 21.6 points on 45.2 percent shooting, including 28.6 percent from three. James has also struggled at the line, and his decision-making has lacked the confidence we’re used to seeing. Like James, Anthony Davis looked much better Monday night. But prior to that, Davis was alternating between imitations of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar one night and Eddy Curry (sorry, Eddy) the next. Three of Davis’ six lowest-scoring games have come in the bubble, including an eight-point abomination against the Pacers in which he got to the line only twice in 35 minutes.

Come playoff time, bet against two of the league’s top-10 players at your own risk. But there’s no debating that the Lakers look considerably more fallible now than they did in March.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Porter has been unstoppable in the bubble. Across the Nuggets’ first six seeding games, he averaged 40.4 fantasy points on the back of 23.8 points (56.8 FG%, 46.3 3Pt%, 96.0 FT%), 9.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.8 combined steals-plus-blocks in 34.7 minutes. That stretch includes three performances of 50-plus fantasy points, which is just three fewer than Jamal Murray has throughout the entire season.» data-reactid=»28″>Porter has been unstoppable in the bubble. Across the Nuggets’ first six seeding games, he averaged 40.4 fantasy points on the back of 23.8 points (56.8 FG%, 46.3 3Pt%, 96.0 FT%), 9.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.8 combined steals-plus-blocks in 34.7 minutes. That stretch includes three performances of 50-plus fantasy points, which is just three fewer than Jamal Murray has throughout the entire season.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="He’s been doing this without Will Barton or Gary Harris available due to injury, but it would be surprising if Porter Jr. got his role yanked away from him; he’s too good. While we don’t know what Denver’s roster will look like next season, MPJ may be the team’s second-best fantasy asset behind only Nikola Jokic.» data-reactid=»29″>He’s been doing this without Will Barton or Gary Harris available due to injury, but it would be surprising if Porter Jr. got his role yanked away from him; he’s too good. While we don’t know what Denver’s roster will look like next season, MPJ may be the team’s second-best fantasy asset behind only Nikola Jokic.

Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets Michael Porter Jr. #1 of the Denver Nuggets
A healthy Michael Porter Jr. is proving to be a formidable fantasy force. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Warren is doing in the bubble what Caris LeVert was supposed to, and it’s a fun look into the conversation of “Which mid-tier players could drop 30 points a night if given the opportunity?” My money would have certainly not been on Warren taking 21.3 shots per game in the bubble and averaging north of 30 points. Still, anyone who has relentlessly drafted him in fantasy thinking, “This is the year he stays healthy” has to feel some sort of validation. His usage rate is so high, of course, due to the absence of Domantas Sabonis (foot) and the fluctuating statuses of Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo.» data-reactid=»42″>Warren is doing in the bubble what Caris LeVert was supposed to, and it’s a fun look into the conversation of “Which mid-tier players could drop 30 points a night if given the opportunity?” My money would have certainly not been on Warren taking 21.3 shots per game in the bubble and averaging north of 30 points. Still, anyone who has relentlessly drafted him in fantasy thinking, “This is the year he stays healthy” has to feel some sort of validation. His usage rate is so high, of course, due to the absence of Domantas Sabonis (foot) and the fluctuating statuses of Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo.

While Warren’s role will undoubtedly be reduced next season once everyone is available, how much can you pull the rug out from under a player who is putting up these numbers? If he continues his strong play in the postseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Warren be drafted in the third or fourth round of fantasy leagues. He’s currently the 69th-best fantasy player in terms of per-game production in eight-category leagues.

Tatum’s performances picked up steam in late January, when he averaged 28.3 points on 20.3 shots, 7.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.5 combined steals-plus-blocks across the final 19 games before the shutdown. Booker peaked similarly, but earlier. In the 22 games from Dec. 28 through Feb. 8, Booker averaged 29.7 points on 19.0 shots, 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds.

However, Booker has looked like the better player in the bubble, averaging 45.4 fantasy points — 31.0 PPG, 6.1 APG, 4.6 RPG — compared to Tatum’s 37.9 fantasy points — 22.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 STL. For the season as a whole, Booker has also been the better fantasy asset, ranking as the 17th-best player in eight-category leagues compared to Tatum’s rank of 21st.

The two are vastly different players, and fantasy managers may just opt to select Booker for assists or Tatum for his defense. But it won’t be an easy choice if both are on the board when it’s your time to pick next season.

<h2 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Young Role Players Stepping Up» data-reactid=»52″>Young Role Players Stepping Up

With most teams using the seeding games to gear up for the postseason, strategically resting stars and veterans has been commonplace in Orlando. That’s allowed a number of role players to take on larger workloads, which has led to some standout performances.

For Portland, Gary Trent Jr. has emerged as a major weapon, averaging 17.0 points on 52.3 percent shooting from three. Over his first five seeding games, Trent hit 28 of his 45 attempts from deep. Rookie Darius Bazley is coming off of back-to-back 20-plus-point games for the Thunder, while fellow first-year forward Keldon Johnson’s three best games of the season have come in the bubble.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="The Phoenix Suns — the undefeated Phoenix Suns — have a pair of young wings in Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson embracing starting roles. Bridges is quickly emerging as one of the league’s better end-to-end defenders, and his offense is beginning to catch up. The Villanova product went for a season-high 24 points Monday against Philadelphia, and he’s 8-of-13 from three over his last two games. Meanwhile, Johnson has started all seven seeding games and is averaging 13.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. In a key win over Dallas on Aug. 2, Johnson posted 19 points and 12 rebounds — plus four made threes — for his first career double-double.» data-reactid=»55″>The Phoenix Suns — the undefeated Phoenix Suns — have a pair of young wings in Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson embracing starting roles. Bridges is quickly emerging as one of the league’s better end-to-end defenders, and his offense is beginning to catch up. The Villanova product went for a season-high 24 points Monday against Philadelphia, and he’s 8-of-13 from three over his last two games. Meanwhile, Johnson has started all seven seeding games and is averaging 13.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists. In a key win over Dallas on Aug. 2, Johnson posted 19 points and 12 rebounds — plus four made threes — for his first career double-double.

<h2 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Zion Williamson looked out of shape, and Lonzo Ball was awful» data-reactid=»56″>Zion Williamson looked out of shape, and Lonzo Ball was awful

Williamson left the bubble on July 16 due to a family matter and he didn’t return until July 24. As a result, he had a minutes limit that prevented him from playing 20-plus minutes until his third appearance. While Zion still managed to average 18.4 points on 55.9 percent shooting in 20.6 minutes, his rebounding remained inconsistent, he failed to record a single block or steal, and he committed eight turnovers to nine assists.

Zion’s raw talent — and sky-high usage rate — keep his scoring afloat, but it was clear from his other numbers, not to mention the eye test, that he wasn’t in the kind of shape he needed to be. Fantasy managers should at least have their eyes on how his conditioning looks ahead of next season, whether that be from what can be gathered in training camp or preseason contests.

Ball took a step back as well, shooting a tragic 30.5 percent from the field, 28.1 percent from three and 55.6 percent from the free-throw line during the restart, making for a true shooting percentage (39.7) that’s significantly lower than the worst qualifier for the whole season (Jordan Poole, 45.4%). Ball was improved as a shooter overall this year, but fantasy managers would be right to harbor some concerns about regression, or a lack of improvement, next season after this disappointing showing.

<h2 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Fred VanVleet is still excellent; what’s his ceiling if he leaves Toronto?» data-reactid=»62″>Fred VanVleet is still excellent; what’s his ceiling if he leaves Toronto?

VanVleet hasn’t missed a step in the bubble, averaging 19.4 points, 6.8 assists, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.6 combined steals-plus-blocks (40.2 fantasy points) in 36.6 minutes. While he won’t get the recognition he deserves in the Most Improved Player conversation given how stacked this year’s class is, he could have been a strong candidate in many other seasons.

He’s carved out a role that works in Toronto, but VanVleet is a free agent this offseason and could be looking toward a more prominent role. If he lands in a spot where he’s the second-best player on the team, it’s reasonable to think VanVleet could crack the 40-fantasy-point-per-game mark. For example, when Kyle Lowry is off the court, VanVleet averages 21.7 points, 7.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals per 36 minutes.

<h2 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Nurkic not missing a step» data-reactid=»65″>Nurkic not missing a step

Any concerns that Nurkic would need a few weeks to work his way back into form were erased as soon as the Blazers began seeding play on July 31. Starting in a win over Memphis, Nurkic played 33 minutes and went for 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two steals, and six blocks. Over his first six seeding games, Nurkic averaged 18.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.3 steals — even better than the career-best numbers he put up last season.

Nurkic has been so effective that he’s rendered Hassan Whiteside — a first-round fantasy value for much of the season — essentially an afterthought. In five healthy games, Whiteside is yet to play more than 19 minutes. He’s still an effective per-minute producer, but with Nurkic healthy, Whiteside becomes a significantly less valuable fantasy play.

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