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RotoBaller NBA Recap: Who Needs a Point Guard When Your Center Can Pass?


Welcome to the RotoBaller NBA Recap. In this feature, we will highlight three fantasy basketball takeaways from last night's slate of NBA games. Video game performances continue to abound in the NBA, with Kemba Walker dropping 43, Joel Embiid embarrassing Deandre Ayton as promised with 33 points and 17 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook scoring 29 with 13 assists, and 7 rebounds. What's amazing is not those stat lines, but that those have become normal. I just think, that's cool, but I've seen those guys do more than that.

Other noteworthy fantasy lines around the league include Jaren Jackson Jr. earning a full 36 minutes to rack up 2 steals and 4 blocks. If he keeps on getting minutes like that, he's going to jump to the top of the rookie rankings. Montrezl Harrell, meanwhile, continues to look like the waiver wire add of the year, racking up an all-around fantasy stat line of 25 points, 11 rebounds, 5 steals, 2 blocks, and an extremely impressive 15 of 18 from the free throw line that made me have to double-check I wasn't looking Lou Williams stats instead (Lou, for his part, went 8/9).

But today we'll be focusing on the guys passing the ball in the modern NBA -- I'm obviously talking about backup centers.  Let's take a look at the recap for Monday, November 19th.

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Who Needs a Guard When You've Got Domantas Sabonis or Julius Randle?

Domantas Sabonis took over as the defacto playmaker for the Pacers bench in a game where they smoked the Jazz despite Victor Oladipo sitting out and Tyreke Evans continuing to be unable to buy a shot. Sabonis shone his playmaking skills in the preseason and his father was legendary as one of the greatest passing big men of all time. So perhaps it's not a surprise to see his passing chops emerge in the regular season with a near triple double slash line of 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists. Sabonis's ability to get assists can help offset his relatively low numbers in steals and blocks. He's a personal favorite of mine, and I believe he has upside to use these skills even more -- I think he'll age well, and is at times an underappreciated dynasty asset because of those low stocks numbers. It helped to see him go 2/2 from three as well.

Speaking of bigs who don't get stocks, but who can augment prodigious rebounding with assists, you know who did get a triple double? Julius Randle. San Antonio received no quarter in their defense of Pelicans centers. When Anthony Davis (who posted his usual monster line, with 29 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks) sat, Julius Randle bossed the Spurs with his own 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists. Both Randle and Sabonis make top of the line assets as centers at an affordable cost in leagues where you're punting blocks.

Don't Have a Point Guard OR a Point Center? Why Not Point Booker?

If Devin Booker is going to make the leap to a first round fantasy asset (and the centerpiece of a winning basketball team) this is what it will look like. Following up two 12-assist games where he was basically playing the point guard role without being called the "point guard" (he was listed SG with Isaiah Canaan listed at PG), Booker finally got the title of starting PG in a Suns lineup that featured Booker, DeAndre Ayton, and three wings -- Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren, and Mikal Bridges (who is a must add in all formats for his upside in threes, steals, and blocks, if he is going to continue getting minutes alongside Ariza).

Booker responded with his second straight elite passing performance, with 8 assists against only 2 turnovers (not to mention 36 points including 6 treys). That follows his 12 assist, 1 turnover performance on Saturday. If he can continue to avoid turnovers -- limiting the number of 7 turnover efforts, like the one last Wednesday -- perhaps he can convince the Suns they don't need to add a "true" point guard. Either way, if he keeps this up, Booker will elevate into James Harden territory as the next all-around source of offensive stats.

 

The Kid is Alright, Too

Let's finish up our tour of unexpected assist-monsters with a real PG, but let's make it a rookie who was more famous for his shooting coming into the league. Trae Young is struggling with his shot early in his NBA career. He's hitting only 24% from 3 on nearly 6 attempts per game, and only seems to be getting worse lately, going a horrific 1 for 19 over his last 4 games. The passing has been impressive, though. Trae dropped a career high 17 assists against the Clippers, the 6th time he's dished double digit assists in 17 games this year. On the season, he now stands at 8.3 assists per game, good for 3rd in the entire NBA, behind Kyle Lowry and Jrue Holiday, and just ahead of John Wall and Ben Simmons. Exactly where we all expected Young to rank, right?

Right now, he's a total drag in two categories with a .391 FG% and 4.1 TOV per game. But given the assists, the turnovers aren't a huge deal. And the FG% is frankly not as bad as it should for a guy who has been slumping so hard from 3 on so many attempts. If he were to hit just a normal, below average rate of 33% from three -- I don't think that's asking too much -- his FG% would move up to a low, but not category-sinking rate of .426, all else being equal. And that would bring with it a related increase in total 3PM and PTS. Trae Young is definitely the real deal as a passer and will continue to have a green light to get out of his shooting slump.  I can tell you that those of us who drafted him on teams punting FG% are smugly patting ourselves on the back right now.

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