By Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
We’ve made it through the first week of the NBA season, but like with other professional sports leagues, it wasn’t without some disruptions caused by COVID-19. As we sift through all of the individual player performances, here’s an initial stock report on where some fantasy basketball standouts currently stand.
Caris LeVert, Nets
Depth might be a team’s best friend in real-life basketball, but that’s not usually the case in fantasy basketball. The Nets entered this season loaded with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving healthy and most of their key contributors from last season still in the fold. That meant a potential decline in production was coming from LeVert, who was second on the team last season with a 29.5 percent usage rate.
Irving and Durant have been as advertised in the early going, but the Nets have already suffered a blow to their roster with Spencer Dinwiddie (knee) lost for the season. That should open up more playing time for LeVert, who has already logged at least 25 minutes in three of four games. Add in a few extra shot attempts and, while LeVert should still see his usage rate decline compared to last season, he could still be a valuable fantasy asset.
Keldon Johnson, Spurs
After being selected with the 29th pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, we didn’t see much of Johnson during his rookie season. He only averaged 18 minutes a night, which left him with averages of 9.1 points and 3.4 rebounds. However, there were encouraging signs that he could be a valuable fantasy option when given an extended run, considering he averaged 0.8 steals and 0.8 three-pointers despite his limited minutes.
The Spurs decided to take the kid gloves off from the onset of this season, moving Johnson into their starting five. He hasn’t let them down, averaging 14 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, one block, and one three-pointer through three games. The key stat is that he logged at least 28 minutes in all three contests. As long as he continues to receive around that number of minutes, he could end up being one of the top early waiver wire adds who pays off in a big way over the course of the season.
Kyle Anderson, Grizzlies
The Grizzlies entered the season shorthanded with Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee) sidelined. Brandon Clarke was also slowed by an injury during training camp, which further solidified playing time for Anderson. After only averaging 20 minutes a game last season, he’s logged at least 29 minutes in all three games this season. The end result has been lofty averages of 18.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, two assists, and 2.3 three-pointers.
It’s highly unlikely that Anderson will be able to keep producing at this pace throughout the season. However, playing time should continue to be readily available to him with Jackson still sidelined and Ja Morant (ankle) now out for three-to-five weeks. Anderson is far from a traditional point guard, but he should spend more time on the ball over the next month — especially with DeAnthony Melton (COVID protocols) still unavailable.
Darius Garland, Cavaliers
Garland showed promise in his rookie season, but he clearly had several areas in which he needed to improve. Despite averaging 31 minutes a night, the point guard only averaged 3.9 assists. He also shot an ugly 40.1 percent from the field. Combine that with lackluster defensive stats and his fantasy appeal entering this season seemed somewhat limited.
The Cavaliers have expanded his role out of the gate, playing him an average of 36 minutes a night. He was aided by a game against the Pistons that went into overtime, but his playing time is clearly trending in a fantasy-friendly direction. He’s shown to be a better facilitator on offense, dishing out at least six assists in all four games. On top of that, he’s shooting 48.3 percent from the field and averaging 1.8 steals. He could end up being one of the better draft-day bargains if these trends continue, although it would seem likely that his field goal percentage declines, at least somewhat, as the season moves along.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs
Aldridge might not be a sexy fantasy option, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been valuable. Even in a down season last year by his standards, he still averaged 18.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.2 three-pointers. With the Spurs not making any significant moves in the offseason, Aldridge was once again expected to be one of the key focal points of the team.
Aldridge came storming out of the gate with 20 points in the season opener against the Grizzlies, but he scored a combined 16 points over their last two games. In their last contest against the Pelicans, he produced only four points on seven shot attempts in 20 minutes. The veteran is dealing with a knee issue entering Thursday’s contest, so that’s something worth keeping an eye on. With that said, this might be a prime opportunity to trade for Aldridge at a discount. His injury risk grows as he continues to age, but Aldridge has been remarkably consistent since joining the Spurs, so chances are this first week was merely a blip on the radar.
Robert Covington, Trail Blazers
Of all of the players who are off to a slow start, Covington is among the most concerning. He went from an ideal situation in Houston where he was able to shoot a ton of threes and gobble up rebounds and blocks in small-ball lineups. Now part of a loaded Blazers’ starting five that has size in Jusuf Nurkic and potent scorers in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Covington’s production has fallen off.
The good news is that Covington is still providing strong defensive stats with six steals and two blocks through three games. The bad news is that he’s recorded a paltry 10.2 percent usage rate. To compound matters, he’s just 1-for-13 from behind the arc. He’ll improve in that department, but his lack of shot attempts could be an issue that plagues him all season.
Brook Lopez, Bucks
Those who drafted Lopez mostly did so for blocks and three-pointers. As he’s improved his game from behind the arc in recent years, his rebounding numbers have plummeted. His playing time has also been on the decline, which resulted in him averaging 27 minutes per game last season.
Lopez has seen his playing time decline even more this season, logging 21 minutes or fewer in three of four games. However, it should be noted that all three of those contests were lopsided results. Still, that could be a somewhat common occurrence for the Bucks this season given their loaded roster. With averages of 8.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and 1.0 three-pointer out of the gate, Lopez has been a significant disappointment. His lack of rebounding at the center position makes him more of a liability when he isn’t racking up blocks and threes.