Kevin Durant looked every bit of his former self in his first real NBA game since his terrible Achilles tear in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, dropping in an easy 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting (7-of-7 from the stripe) to go with five rebounds, three assists, one triple, three steals, one block and just one turnover across 25 minutes in Tuesday’s season-opening 125-99 rout of the Warriors. KD opened the game by drilling his first three shots – all pull-up jumpers that he had to work for – and he was simply unguardable while he was out there. He showed no ill effects of the Achilles tear, attacking the rack with confidence and making his presence felt on defense all while effortlessly gliding around the floor and showing off his silky-smooth game. I don’t care that it was just one game and the season opener – Kevin Durant is back!
Kyrie Irving also looked fantastic in Tuesday’s opener, netting 17 points on eight shots through the first quarter of play and ending his evening with 26 points (10-of-16 FG, 2-of-2 FT), four rebounds, four assists, four triples and one turnover in 25 minutes. He really got whatever he wanted while he was out there, which tends to be the norm for Uncle Drew, but the tag-team duo of KD and Kyrie is going to be nearly impossible to guard this season. I’m also not particularly worried about Kyrie’s ability to stay healthy this season. Yes, last year was a disaster, and he does have a history of missing large chunks of time, but he has never had injury-plagued disasters in back-to-back seasons and he has to be feeling fresh after missing so much time last year. Plus, the Nets are playing for a championship this year and he needs to build chemistry with KD, so that should give him some extra incentive to play through the various nicks and bruises that occur over the year. I mean, just look at how healthy the always injured Anthony Davis was last year when he was finally playing for a team that was playing for something.
Kevin Durant’s $10 million DJ & Dinwiddie
In the least surprising move ever, Steve Nash elected to start Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan over Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen, which is exactly what he did during the preseason. Dinwiddie wasn’t great with just nine points (2-of-6 FG, 4-of-4 FT), five rebounds, four assists, one 3-pointer and three turnovers in 20 minutes; but DJ looked better than expected with four points, 11 rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and three turnovers in 17 minutes. It looks like Dinwiddie is going to be a fourth option with the first unit and play more of a facilitator role when the ball finds him, so as long as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are healthy, Dinwiddie is probably only worth rostering as an insurance policy for Kyrie. As for Jordan, I think he could have some value as a rebounding and shot-blocking specialist in head-to-head leagues. Allen saw 20 minutes off the bench and finished with eight points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal, two blocks and two turnovers, but a lot of his production came during garbage time and I’m not sure he’ll regularly be seeing 20 minutes a night.
As for LeVert, he looked great with the second unit, so fantasy GMs eager for #VertSZN shouldn’t be lobbying for him to start. When LeVert is working with the reserves, he’s allowed to be the lead dog on offense, which is why he finished with 20 points (6-of-17 FG, 5-of-6 FT), nine rebounds, five assists, three triples, two steals, one block and two turnovers in 25 minutes. If he were to be brought into the first unit, he would be asked to play a Spencer Dinwiddie, off-the-ball role, which clearly isn’t ideal. Garbage time was a factor in LeVert’s big stat line, but it wasn’t the only factor, and I do think he can be successful if he’s allowed to be a ball-dominant sixth man while KD and Kyrie are resting.
Lastly, Joe Harris looked good with the first unit, and he’s going to receive a ton of wide-open looks playing on this loaded Brooklyn team. He hit 4-of-8 shots for 10 points, two triples, seven boards, two assists, one block and two turnovers in 21 minutes. He’s not the most exciting guy to have on your roster, but he’ll be a useful source of some points and triples with a trickle of dimes and high shooting percentages.
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Risen Wiseman, Stephen Curry & some other guys
While the Warriors lost the game (badly), it wasn’t a total loss for Dubs’ fans, as James Wiseman easily exceeded expectations in his NBA debut, scoring 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting (4-of-8 FT) to go with six rebounds, one triple, two steals and one turnover in 24 minutes. He did a nice job as a rim roller and had a nice two-man game going with Stephen Curry, and the two other centers on the roster combined for just 23 minutes. Some of that had to do with the blowout nature of the game, and things may get a bit more complicated once Draymond Green (foot) is added to the mix, but Wiseman sure looked good for a guy who played just three college games and missed all of training camp and the preseason.
Stephen Curry double-doubled with 20 points and 10 assists, adding two triples, four rebounds, two steals and three turnovers across 30 minutes, but he didn’t get his points efficiently, going just 7-of-21 from the floor. He was a bit rusty, and he’s playing with a lot of new guys, but I think he’ll be exponentially better once Green gets back on the court. Curry is a lethal one-on-one scorer, but an underrated part of his game is how well he moves off-the-ball, and being able to hand off the rock to Dray to play floor general while Curry scurries around the court is going to unlock a lot of things in Golden State’s offense.
If Curry “struggled” from an efficiency standpoint in his regular-season debut, then it’s tough to cobble together the right word to describe exactly what happened on the court with Andrew Wiggins. Stumbled? Fumbled? Forgot-how-to-play-basketball? It wasn’t fun to watch, is what I’m getting at. He hit 4-of-16 mostly bad shots for 13 points, two treys, two rebounds, one assist, one block and four unfortunate turnovers across 31 minutes. I guess the block was nice, since he typically doesn’t do much defensively, but overall, it wasn’t a good performance. He is what he is.
Kelly Oubre wasn’t much better, bricking all six of his 3-point attempts scoring just six points on 3-of-14 shooting, but at least he added seven boards, two assists, one steal, two blocks and three turnovers while he was out there, and it’s not like he’s never going to hit another 3-pointer again. He shot 35.2% on 5.5 attempts per game last season, and he should see plenty of wide-open looks playing alongside Curry (he did on Tuesday, but they didn’t drop). Oubre tends to find ways to be effective even when his shot isn’t falling, and like Curry, I think having Draymond come back to help facilitate the offense will create a lot of open looks/oops for Oubre.
None of the other Warriors did anything worth writing about, but I’d expect most of them to be better on Christmas vs. the Bucks.
The Battle of Los Angeles
Paul George ruined King James’ ring night, powering the Clippers to a 116-109 win over the Lakers behind 33 points, five triples, six rebounds, three assists, one steal and an unfortunate five turnovers across 36 minutes. He was a bit careless with the rock through the first half, but PG-13 locked in after halftime, scoring 26 of his 33 points on 10-of-12 shooting (4-of-5 from distance). Apparently, George did not find the Wayoff P jokes from The Bubble all that amusing – and I also don’t think we should be so dismissive of the fact that he acknowledged he was dealing with depression/anxiety during the Clippers disastrous postseason run. He looked fresh on Tuesday night, and I think he’s ready for a monster season.
Kawhi Leonard did Kawhi Leonard things with 26 points (10-of-26 FG, 5-of-5 FT), two rebounds, three assists, two steals and three turnovers in 34 minutes. He’s a top-3 player and he looked like it – the rest for every back-to-back set will be annoying in H2H leagues.
Nicolas Batum got the start with Marcus Morris (knee) unavailable and produced three points, six rebounds, one triple, six assists, two steals and one turnover in 28 minutes. Morris is out indefinitely with some strange knee injury, so Batum could have some sneaky value as an assist-specialist in deep leagues.
Serge Ibaka started over Ivica Zubac, just like he did throughout the preseason, and he finished with 15 points (5-of-7 FG, 3-of-5 FT), two triples, six rebounds, one block and one turnover in 21 minutes. However, Zubac was the lead minute-getter with 27 and he ended his evening with 11 points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and one turnover. It looks like it’s going to be a fairly even timeshare at the center-spot in L.A. between these two, but they should both be able to sustain some low-end value with minutes in the 20s.
Anthony Davis was the most efficient of the Lakers’ starters in Tuesday’s loss, going 8-of-15 from the field and 2-of-2 from the line for 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes, but he also committed four turnovers. LeBron James (7-of-17) and Dennis Schroder (5-of-15) were less efficient, but their counting stats were nice, with LBJ tallying 22 points, five assists, five boards, three triples and four turnovers in 28 minutes; and Schroder contributing 14 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, two 3-pointers and one turnover in 28 minutes. The Lakers’ didn’t really have a consistent third option on the team last season, but I think Schroder can be that guy for them, and help take some of the playmaking responsibilities of James.
Schroder also was excellent running the pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell when the second unit subbed in, and Trez finished with 17 points (6-of-7 FG, 5-of-7 FT), 10 rebounds, three assists, one block and one turnover in 32 minutes off the bench. Harrell is technically a reserve for the Lakers, but he’s going to play starters minutes because Anthony Davis (who is listed as three inches taller than Trez) doesn’t like playing center and Marc Gasol is roughly 157 years old. As long as Trez is getting minutes in the upper-20s, he’ll be able to match his numbers from last season.
As for Gasol, it honestly feels like it’s a miracle that the old fella is still out there. He managed to rack up five fouls in just 12 minutes of floor time and finished with just one rebound, one assist and one turnover to his credit. One of his fouls literally involved him running into a group of other basketball players – falling over – and then getting really upset with both the ground and the referee. Like, he was quite livid with the fact that his body briefly forgot how to walk, and decided the best scapegoat was the floor … and the ref … I don’t know. I’m not worried about him taking minutes from Trez.
The preseason darling, Talen Horton-Tucker, saw just 11 minutes off the bench in Tuesday’s loss, contributing six points, one rebound, one steal and one turnover. It’s questionable if he’s worth rostering in 16-team leagues, but he has no business being owned in any 12-team setting. Still, because he’s a Laker, he’ll be rostered in an unfathomable amount of leagues this season. He won’t be worth the season-long attention, but he’ll make for a great DFS target when the Lakers’ rest their main guys.