Fantasy Basketball Storylines to Watch on NBA Opening Night

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The NBA season opener is finally here, and it strangely feels like a lull in the action after a wild offseason hallmarked by massive trades, big free agent moves, and a wildly hyped incoming class of rookies. It's like we're trading an epic soap opera for a relative lack of drama in the regular season where it feels like we have to, as the great Charles Barkley said, "fake it for seven months that it’s not going to be the Warriors and Cavs in the Finals again."

Luckily for us, fantasy basketball doesn't care about how many games the Warriors will win or if anyone can challenge them in the Finals, so the fantasy game can help substitute a little drama.

There's not much new information in the fantasy world right now, as we wait for the games to get underway.  But here's a key thing to watch out for on each of the teams opening tonight!

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Fantasy Basketball Storylines to Watch on NBA Opening Night

New Love, Old Love, or Somewhere in Between?

There are a lot of fun things to watch on the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. You know (assuming he plays) that LeBron James is going to put on a show to exert his dominance over Kyrie -- a dad hates to lose to his kid, after all, because it's a sign of your fleeting mortality. There are plenty of new players it'll be interesting to see in their Cavs debuts as well, with three out of five starters -- Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and Jae Crowder -- coming on board this offseason. But I'll have my fantasy eyes trained on the one holdover in the starting lineup alongside LeBron, Kevin Love.

For the past three years, Love has been overshadowed in the Cavs offense by the ball-dominant forces of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. In fantasy basketball, he's remained an excellent choice as a threes-and-rebound specialist for a team punting FG% or blocks, but he's been a shadow of his former fantasy dominance in Minnesota. However, with the departure of Kyrie and a new role as starting center that will ask him to play more of an interior role on offense, hope springs eternal that he'll expand his role and move up the fantasy rankings once again.

Here's what to watch out for tonight:

Last year, Love averaged 11.1 rebounds, which was a single-season best as a member of the Cavs. In his last 4 years with the Timberwolves, though, he averaged 13.7 rebounds. With Tristan Thompson now on the bench instead of eating up all the boards, can Love return to his glory days as a rebounder? Watch out tonight to see if he puts up a dominant effort on the boards against Boston's weak group of rebounders.

In his career with the Cavs, Love has averaged only 7.4 attempts per game from 2, with many of those still coming from relatively deep, so he's only averaged 47.3% from inside the arc. In Minnesota, as the focal point of the offense and an interior monster, Love averaged 12.2 attempts from 2 over his last four years, and shot 48.2% despite much greater attention by the defense. He also got to the free throw line almost 8 times per game in Minnesota, while he's barely cracked 4 per game in Cleveland. Love's number of attempts and accuracy from three have remained fairly stable between Minnesota and Cleveland.

You know he's going to get the ball on the perimeter and have the green light to shoot whenever he's open. So all the upside for his scoring is going to come from how many more shots he gets around the basket, where an increase in activity could simultaneously boost his PTs, his FG%, and the impact of his excellent FT%. The good news is Tristan Thompson is on the bench and Kyrie isn't there taking up all the oxygen out of the room. The bad news is Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade are also guys who like to attack the basket, so they may still ask Love to largely stand around the perimeter to make room for their relatively short-ranged guards. Watch out tonight to see how much Love's role on offense changes.

New Kids on the Block, Live in Boston

While it'll certainly be fascinating to see Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward make their debuts in Boston Celtics uniforms, we kind of know they'll be quite awesome, with the main questions being how much Irving can expand his game as a passer and what kind of minutes they'll get in Brad Stevens rotation. I'm more interested in the younger players.

Reports are out there that the Celtics will be starting a rookie and a second year player on opening night, which is pretty surprising for a team that's considered one of the two or three favorites in its conference. Alongside Irving, Hayward, and center Al Horford, 2016 third overall pick Jaylen Brown and 2017 third overall pick Jayson Tatum are expected to start at shooting guard and power forward, respectively (Or is it shooting guard and small forward? Or small forward and power forward? It's so hard to tell with Boston's deep well of positionless wings).

So what to watch for out of them?

How active is Tatum? I'm not sure whether he's going to look great in his debut, or seem shaky going against elite competition. But I'd like to see how much confidence the Celtics have in him. How many shots is he going to take? How involved will he be sets that Stevens draws up? Will he seem like a real part of the offense, or just a bit player in the Kyrie and Hayward show?

As for Brown, I fully expect him to be the fifth wheel on offense. So the questions for him will be about efficiency and hustle. On the efficiency side, how good does his shot look? He'll need to produce offense from open threes and he also must improve his FT% to improve his viability in fantasy. On the hustle side, he averaged 5.9 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 0.5 blocks per 36 minutes last year. The Celtics need rebounding -- can he be a 5-6 rebound guy as a starter? He also needs to play a key role on defense. After the departure of Avery Bradley, he'll often be tasked with covering the opponent's best guard, at least until Marcus Smart checks into the game. How well can he do in that role, and how much can he capitalize with steals given the opportunity to defend players who are handling the ball? Plus, can he be a sneaky source of blocks from the guard position? Brown's viability as a fantasy player depends on how well he can do the little things.

I'm Not a Rocketman, I'm a Rocket, Man.

Chris Paul! James Harden! Carmelo Anthony! The Houston Rockets certainly find a way to get stars on their team. And while I've shirked dwelling on the new stars on the prior two teams, it really is all about Paul and Harden for me when it comes to the Rockets.

The two main things I'll be looking at:

The pace -- Mike D'Antoni and James Harden were a match made in heaven last year for a lightning paced offense that ran teams off the floor with their frenetic pace. Chris Paul has always run slow offenses, holding the ball, surveying the floor, making crisp, well-though out passes to avoid turnovers and maximize each play. So where do the fast Rockets and slow Paul meet in the middle? How much do the Rockets slow down and hurt the overall stats of those on the team from James Harden to Trevor Ariza to Ryan Anderson? And how much does Chris Paul speed up, perhaps reducing his legendary efficiency for some more shots and enough assists alongside Harden to keep up his career averages?

The ball distribution -- How do James Harden and Chris Paul, two guys who excel at running an offense and dishing the ball, play nice and share? Does Harden go largely off-ball while Paul's on the floor? Do they take turns running it up the court? Do they see their minutes staggered so there's always one on the floor? Just how many assists Harden and Paul are able to rack up this year will go a long way toward determining their relative values as fantasy stars.

The Warriors, a Well-Oiled Machine

Of all the starting lineups on opening day, the Golden State Warriors is the one where we don't really have any questions. They're going to be awesome. Two fantasy first round picks in Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, a second rounder in Draymond Green, and a third rounder in Klay Thompson. Also, Zaza Pachulia, who is a fantasy first round pick according to the ADP numbers I'm getting out of Tbilisi. There's not many questions I have about this group of starters, so we'll have to look at the bench.

The big question about the Warriors bench revolves around the health of veteran 6th man Andre Iguodala. The 2015 Finals MVP has typically been the first man off the bench for the Warriors dynasty, but of late he's started to break down with age. Coming into this season, he's already questionable for the opener with a bad back that's likely to bother him throughout the season. If he's a no-go tonight, it'll be key to watch who steps up for the Cavs in his place, as that player is likely to continue playing a big role throughout the season.

While the preseason hype train for the Warriors have surrounded the 2nd round pick they bought from the hapless Bulls for a bag of sea salt and vinegar potato chips, forward Jordan Bell (aka baby Draymond), it seems highly unlikely to me that a 2nd round big with no shooting range would step into the Iguodala role on the Warriors offense. If Draymond Green or David West were to go down, maybe it would be Jordan Bell time, but he's no wing.

Instead, the main guys to look out for in asserting themselves off the bench are last year's 2nd round steal, the talented Patrick McCaw (who played heavily in last year's playoffs and started several regular season games in place of Kevin Durant), Nick Young (who had a resurgent season last year as starting SG for the Lakers), and 3-and-D specialist Omri Casspi (who isn't quite as mobile or versatile as the other two, but is a long-bomb threat as a three point shooter and has the size to guard bigger if he's thrust into the Warriors small ball death lineup sans Iguodala).

Whether Iguodala plays or not, watch to see who gets the most minutes, especially in lineups that include the starters (and not just the bench crew). That will give some indication of who the Warriors would trust to play the biggest role if they had to live without the aching Iguodala for any long stretches.

 

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