We're officially just three weeks away from the 2022-23 NBA season opener, and news has been picking up as teams open up training camps and make themselves available to the media. Here are some of the highlights from the first few days of Media Day.
Who's Healthy & Who's Not?
Kawhi Leonard (knee) said he's planning to participate at camp, but it's unclear exactly to what degree. Tyrone Lue said he didn't know how much Leonard would practice or play during the preseason, so it's clear that they're going to be cautious. There's no denying Leonard's talent, and I would expect him to be ready to go for the start of the season, but one problem from the jump is that the Clippers are one of five teams with a league-high, 15 back-to-back sets this season. That means you can slash off 15 games from Leonard's projected games played total from the jump, and that's not considering the times he'll sit for minor injuries on this loaded Clippers' team. Now, a lot of this is already baked into this first-round producer's ADP (29.1), although spending a third-round pick on a guy who is so unreliable remains a risky endeavor. I think I'll be staying away from Leonard in most leagues.
Zion Williamson (foot) said he feels he's “at his best” right now and he's ready to go for training camp. Like Leonard, Williamson is likely to exceed his current draft day ADP of 42.1, but the question is, how often will he be on the court? If he can stay healthy, he could be in for a truly monstrous season, as I would anticipate improvement upon his averages from his sophomore year when he delivered 27.0 points (61.1 FG, 69.8 FT), 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks and 2.7 turnovers per game. He's a risky fourth round option, but if he makes it through close to 70 games, he'll be on a lot of winning fantasy teams.
Denver GM, Clavin Booth said that Michael Porter Jr. (back surgery) will have no real limitations at camp, and MPJ is saying that he's feeling the best he has in a long time. He'll look to bounce back after a lost season, and while he may have some minutes restrictions early in the season, it's not hard to imagine him putting up top-50 value once he's fully up to speed. There's certainly some risk here, but he's worth taking a swing at in the 75-range.
Jamal Murray (knee) said he's “feeling back to normal” and “excited” to get back to the court for the 2022-23 season. It sounds like he'll be making his return to the floor during the preseason, and like MPJ, while he may have limitations early on, this is a guy with enormous upside. Mike Malone said that Murray has his “swagger” back, so I wouldn't be shocked to see him close out the year as a top-30 product. He's one of the better, mid-round value targets for draft day, although his stock will likely start rising with all these positive reports.
Jaren Jackson Jr. was optimistic when discussing his recovery from right foot surgery, saying he believed he was ahead of schedule with his 4-6 month timetable. GM, Zach Kleinman, said that JJJ was “on track,” with his recovery, so it does seem like there's a possibility he could return on the early end of this timetable. If he's back by the four-month mark, that would have him on the floor in November, although it's worth mentioning that stress fracture injuries have a high chance of a setback if a player is brought back too soon. Players also tend to be overly optimistic when prognosticating on their injuries, so there's still an equal chance we won't see him on the floor until Christmas. Unless he falls to the 80-range, I'd let someone else deal with the oft-injured forward on draft day.
Keldon Johnson suffered a dislocated right shoulder, but he's expected to be ready for the season opener. Still, he's going to miss all of training camp and the preseason, so he could get off to a bit of a slow start. Johnson should see more scoring opportunities this season with Dejounte Murray no longer around, but he'll need to improve his peripheral stats to make a significant jump in the rankings. He's worth taking a flier on to see if he can make a leap in his age-24 season, but I wouldn't recommend reaching for him.
Joe Ingles (knee) isn't expected to be ready until January, and I'd expect him to be brought along slowly. He's not someone you'll want to draft.
Khris Middleton (left wrist surgery) has shed his cast, and while he doesn't have a firm timetable, he's expected to be ready “early in the season.” He underwent the wrist procedure in July, so while he'll miss the start of the season, it doesn't sound like he'll be out all that long. I'd be comfortable drafting him in the fourth round.
Collin Sexton (knee surgery) has been fully cleared for camp and I'm expecting him to have a big year as the lead man in Utah. Just two seasons ago, when the Cavs were bad and Sexton was free to fire up 18.4 shots a night, he was a top-90 option with averages of 24.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.6 triples, 1.1 steals and 2.8 turnovers per contest on 47.5% shooting from the field and 81.5% at the stripe. I'd expect improvement upon those numbers as he enters his age-24 season and an extremely favorable situation in Utah, so he looks like one of the better value picks towards the 90s and I'd be comfortable reaching for him in the top-75 range if you find yourself needing a guard.
Udoka Azubuike (right foot/ankle surgery) has still not cleared for 5-on-5 work, so he'll be limited at the start of camp, and it's unclear if he'll be ready for the opener. However, once he does get fully up to speed, he could vie for the starting five-spot on this rebuilding Utah team, so for those who play in deep leagues, he's someone to keep on your radar.
Jonathan Isaac (ACL) will not do contact work at camp and it's unclear when he'll return to the court, which is absolutely insane. He's been out with this knee injury for nearly three years now, and he's returning to a team that is loaded at his position and seemingly ready to move on. I don't think I would draft JI in any scenario this season, not even with a last-round pick.
Markelle Fultz (fractured left big toe) will not participate at training camp and he's currently without a timetable to return. This is extremely unfortunate news, as I think Fultz could be primed for a breakout season, but he just can't seem to stay healthy. If he misses all of camp, that likely means that he'll miss out on the starting gig to Cole Anthony, and given his injury history, he'll likely be brought back slowly. Fultz' upside is limited in a reserve role, so, unfortunately, this injury news means I wouldn't draft him in standard leagues.
Kira Lewis Jr. (knee) has progressed to 1-on-1 workouts, meaning he'll be limited at the start of camp. With the emergence of Jose “Grand Theft” Alvarado, Lewis Jr. has become an afterthought in the Pelicans grand scheme of things.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (fractured left foot) said he's 100% healthy ahead of camp. He'll likely start for the Mavericks this season, but he doesn't do much more than score and hit triples.
Nerlens Noel will be limited at the start of training camp as he continues to deal with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, which is the same issue that derailed him last season. Plantar fasciitis is a particularly troublesome injury, as the only remedy is prolonged rest, making it that much more concerning that Noel is still dealing with this after having an entire offseason to recover. I would avoid him in most leagues, but his injury makes Jalen Duran a bit more intriguing as a late-round target in deep leagues.
P.J. Tucker (arthroscopic knee surgery) has been cleared for on-court work at camp. He should be ready for the start of the season, but he doesn't do much in fantasy hoops.
T.J. Warren, who hasn't played a game since Dec. 29 of 2020 due to a left foot injury, has still not been cleared for the Nets training camp. He's undraftable.
After helping the Warriors bring home yet another Larry O'Brien trophy last season, Kevon Looney has solidified as starting center in Golden State, which lowers the draft appeal of James Wiseman. Despite being the starting center on a championship team, Looney doesn't offer much fantasy value at all, and he'll likely see his minutes dip this season with Wiseman healthy. So, this looks to be a value-killing, timeshare situation at the five-spot in Golden State.
While we know that Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam will start for the Raptors this season, the final starting slot is up for grabs, and the battle will be between Gary Trent Jr. and Precious Achiuwa.
Gary Trent Jr. started 69 games for the Raptors last season, and helped Toronto secure the No. 5 seed out East, but with Toronto saying they want to get Barnes more involved as a playmaker they may want the second-year stud to spend more time in their backcourt. That could shift GTJ to a reserve role, and if that's the case, it'll be tough for him to replicate the numbers he put up last season.
Precious Achiuwa wasn't terribly impressive through his 28 starts last season, posting averages of 9.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 blocks and 1.4 turnovers per game on 41.2% shooting from the field and 57.4% at the stripe, so if he earns the gig, he'd still only be worth a late-round target in deep leagues due to his efficiency issues.
I think GTJ should have the edge in coming out on top in this battle, but if he winds up in a Sixth Man role, I'll be steering away from him on draft day.
Joe Harris only made it through 14 games last season before requiring season-ending ankle surgery, while Seth Curry labored through his ankle issue and delayed surgery until the offseason. These two will be competing for the starting for the final starting spot in Brooklyn's backcourt, but with Harris fully recovered from his ankle procedure and Curry still not cleared for 5-on-5 work, that could give Harris the early edge.
Considering that Harris isn't quite capable of handling the rock or creating his own shot, it may make more sense to allow him to start and let Curry shine in a Sixth Man role, but neither guy is a particularly attractive fantasy target on this loaded Nets team. They should be good for some points and triples, but not much else.
Russell Westbrook vs. The World
Russell Westbrook has been given no assurances that he'll start for the Lakers, nor is he even guaranteed to remain with the team for the entirety of the season, although it's proven difficult for the Lakers front office to find another team willing to take on the former MVP's bloated contract worth $47.1 million.
Russ just doesn't make sense on the Lakers given their need for floor spacers, so I wouldn't be shocked to see Patrick Beverley earn the starting gig, which would provide a pathway to low-end value for the 34-year-old vet. As for Westbrook, perhaps he'd be better suited in a Sixth Man role where he can fire up all the random shots he wants, but I'm still staying away from him in all leagues given his ability to absolutely destroy you in three categories (FG%, FT%, TOs).
Who starts at PF in Miami?
Jimmy Butler said at media day that he wasn't planning to play a lot of power forward this season, which would imply that Caleb Martin, Bam Adebayo and rookie Nikola Jovic will be handling the bulk of the minutes at the four-spot. It's possible that Erik Spoelstra could move Bam up to PF and allow either Dewayne Dedmon or Omer Yurtseven start at C, but I think what's more likely is that Martin will open the year as the starting four-man.
Through 12 starts last season, Martin put in averages of 13.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 triples, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 swats and just 1.3 turnovers per contest on 52.8% shooting from the field and 76.3% at the line, so if he is named the opening night starter, he'll gain some appeal as a late-round target.
Confirmed: Christian Wood transitioning to Sixth Man Role
Jason Kidd confirmed during his media day availability that Christian Wood will be operating in a Sixth Man role for the Mavericks, with JaVale McGee starting at center. I can't imagine McGee will earn much more than 15 minutes in the starting role, so I wouldn't view him as anything more than a low-end, shot blocking specialist in deep leagues, but the reserve role for Wood certainly caps his upside. He was a top-30 option last season if you were punting FT, but he was also earning 30.8 minutes a night, and it'll be tough for him to match those minutes when he comes off the bench. Wood should still be able to provide some fantasy value, and he should still flirt with ~28 minutes a night, but I think his production will be more like that of a top-75 player than a top-30 stud.
With Lonzo Ball undergoing yet another knee procedure and set to miss the start of the season, the starting point guard position is up for grabs, and it'll be Goran Dragić, Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu battling it out at training camp.
Caruso was Billy Donovan's preferred option last season, but Ayo Dosunmu has been getting hyped up as a guy who could take a big leap in Year 2, while the newly added Dragic provides the most veteran presence. However, at 36 years old, Dragic may be better suited for a reserve/mentorship role on this team, so I think the true battle will be between Caruso and Dosunmu.
Between those two, I like Caruso the most for his ability to rack up the dimes and steals, but if Dosunmu comes out on top in this position battle, he's the guy I'd look to take a flier on. This is a position battle that we'll be watching closely.
Chauncey Billups said that the starting SF spot is up for grabs in Portland, so it'll be Josh Hart battling with Nassir Little at camp. Because the Trail Blazers have so much offense amongst their solidified starters (Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, Jusuf Nurkić), and not much defense, it might make more sense to allow Little to start.
Little could spend most of his energy chasing around the opposing teams' best wing on defense, and Hart could be responsible for orchestrating the offense in the second unit. Regardless of how this plays out, Hart would be my preferred late-round target for his ability to chip in a little bit of everything without really hurting you anywhere. I think if Little starts, his usage will be too low for him to make much of a difference in fantasy hoops.
Whether it's Okoro or Osman who wins this battle, I wouldn't look to draft either player, as they've shown over the years that they can't bring useful lines to the box score. The offense in Cleveland will be based around Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, in that order, leaving whoever starts at the small forward position to pick up the scraps.