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The NBA season is just 10 days away. With players in the bubble and practicing, news is coming in rapidly. Let’s get to it.


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1. Coach Mike D’Antoni says the Rockets may need to get James Harden to 38-40 minutes per game during the eight seeding games. “I’ll rely on [medical/training staff] data, then we go with gut feelings and what we look at,” he said on Sunday.

Oh baby. D’Antoni also said Russell Westbrook is in pretty good shape, ramping up, and the medical staff will determine “when he’s ready to play 20 or 30 minutes.” The Rockets small-ball lineup has put Harden in an extremely high usage role with a 37.9 usage rate without a traditional center out there. Even with bad shooting (38 FG%, 33 3FG%), Harden still put up a 37/8/6 line in his 386 minutes without a traditional center.

Taking it a step further, his usage rate is 43.4 without Russell Westbrook in this sample, and Harden could have more Westy-less minutes as Russ recovers from COVID-19. Russ has also been outstanding in the non-C lineups with a 29/9/5 per-36 line in 226 minutes (34/10/10 in 156 minutes without Harden). MDA says Eric Gordon “looks good” and hasn’t missed a rep in practice. However, he’s had a really tough season as one of the worst catch-and-shoot players in the league (27.9% on treys, lowest among 73 players with 200-plus attempts), but he could cut into Ben McLemore and Danuel House. Although, since Robert Covington joined the Rockets, the Harden, Westbrook, House, RoCo and P.J. Tucker lineup is the most used lineup in the NBA (164 minutes over 10 games, +10.7 net rating). Swapping out House for Gordon in this time, that lineup is at just 45 minutes (+7.1 net rating).

It’s going to be really hard to fade Harden if he’s at 38 minutes a night when many other players will have restrictions around the league. Russ should also be busy once he’s up to speed, but besides those two there won’t be too much usage available when both are active.

 

2. Coach Alvin Gentry says he has no idea when Zion Williamson will be back.

First and foremost, hopefully everything with Zion is OK. The NBA reporting on Zion has been silent, and it’s possible he doesn’t play at all in Orlando. This is potentially a brutal blow to the Pelicans, especially after the lineup of Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Zion and Derrick Favors was the second-best lineup in the NBA with a +26.3 net rating (CP3, SGA, Schroder, Gallo, Adams +29.9, min of 100 minutes). Based on some workout videos, it looks like J.J. Redick may get the first crack at the starting lineup while Nicolo Melli and maybe Kenrich Williams find additional playing time. Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is how much better Brandon Ingram is without Zion, putting up a per-36 line of 26/7/4 on a 59.7 TS% and 28.1 usage rate over 1,578 minutes (23/7/6 with a 25.2 usage rate and 55.5 TS% in 341 minutes with Zion).

The Pelicans want to play fast and multiple people with the team have raved about how everyone is in shape. Lonzo was on fire just before the shutdown and was second in the NBA in touches per game during the 2020 part of the season (97.9, Jokic 101.9). There will be plenty of opportunity for attacking the Pelicans in DFS, especially Ingram, Lonzo, Jrue, Favors and maybe even J.J.

 

3. Coach Mike Malone says Bol Bol is “pretty exciting as a two guard” and Nick Kosmider of The Athletic notes that the Nuggets could use Jerami Grant as a three in a lineup with Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic.

Bol has also spent time as a three in practice, which is likely due to the Nuggets not having Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Michael Porter Jr. and Torrey Craig (Craig and Harris have reportedly arrived in Orlando). Malone added on Monday that he expects to only have nine players available for the scrimmage against the Wizards on Wednesday, which likely means it’s Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant, Nikola Jokic, Bol, Mason Plumlee, Troy Daniels and Noah Vonleh (note: totally unofficial here, just going off players I’ve seen in the bubble). Grant could also play some three, especially against some of the elite, high-volume SFs out there.

We’re kind of in a holding pattern here on the Nuggets, but right now Murray and Will the Thrill should have the ball in their hands a ton until the team gets its full rotation back. Grant may have additional upside, and it’s exciting that we can see some Bol action.

 

4. Donovan Mitchell says he has to “become a better passer” and coach Quin Snyder says the Jazz are “constantly working on, consistently trying to get better” on personnel, spacing and the angles of screens.

The Jazz offense didn’t really get much love around the league, leading the NBA in offensive rating in the 2020 part of the season at 116.6 (31 games). They find themselves in a very unfamiliar position without Bojan Bogdanovic as one of their key pieces used in many of their highly-used combos. In fact, a four-man group of Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Mike Conley and Gobert without Bojan is at just 36 minutes. You can tell by the quote that the flow of the offense is going to be very different without Bojan out there to space the court. Royce O’Neale will probably get the start, but of course he’s not exactly a great per-minute player. Jordan Clarkson could also see his role change a bit to be more of a spacer, and he was playing great over his last 18 games at 17.4 points  on a 62.4 TS%.

Overall there should be more nightly upside in Conley, Mitchell and Gobert, but Ingles possibly being in more of a catch-and-shoot role could lower his upside a bit due to not getting as many assist opportunities. Although, his on/off splits with Bojan don’t show much change in how it affects his assists, so the role change could become a positive, especially if Conley can’t get back on track. Hey, maybe the HORSE championship could give Conley his confidence back.

 

5. Coach Rick Carlisle says he could play Dorian Finney-Smith as a five, and Delon Wright could also play 1-3.

The Mavs still did not get Trey Burke for practice on Monday and did get Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Wright will likely be checking in for Seth Curry as one of the first subs, but he could also check in for really any of the starting five with DFS possibly playing some five. The Mavs system has set up extremely well for assisted buckets for Luka Doncic, and the Mavs have led the NBA in 3-pointers since Jan. 1 (second in attempts behind Houston). In his last 27 games, Luka was driving to the basket a whopping 21.4 times per game (also scored a league-leading 14.9 FD points off drives per game in 2019-20), and he was a tick down in efficiency just before the hiatus. His drives figure to set the tone for the offense in every game to also set up teammates for drive-and-kick treys. Meanwhile, Curry had an 82.2 eFG% on his catch-and-shoot attempts in 2020 (next closest was C.J. McCollum at 71.9, min 100 attempts on 80 qualifiers). Carlisle had also mentioned that Curry was a big part of Portland’s postseason run, and Curry was sitting at 33.1 minutes per game over his last nine prior to injury (19/3/3 line). Plus, Luka’s output with Kristaps Porzingis on the floor was more efficient except from a usage rate standpoint (36.7 without, 33.5 with). KP was also rolling prior to the shutdown, and more center minutes should be a good thing. Per 36 as the lone big man, he sits at a 26/11/3 line (27.1 usage rate, 60.2 TS%; 22/11/2 on the year). The Mavs had a 121.1 O rating in this 341-minute sample, and Curry has an absurd 80.8 TS% in his 199 minutes in a KP-5 lineup.

The Mavs should start Luka, Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith and Kristaps Porzingis with Delon, Maxi Kleber, Justin Jackson and J.J. Barea filling out the second unit (we’ll see on Burke). If the Mavs can have the kind of offensive output their capable of, there will be some very valuable DFS plays in their matchups.

 

UPDATES FROM LAST WEEK
If you missed the first two editions last week (Thursday link is here and Friday is here), we did get a couple updates on some situations mentioned in those QUANs.

1. Hitting the Wizards first, Shabazz Napier had mentioned Troy Brown, Jerome Robinson and Jerian Grant as guys he’s been working with. Brown had mentioned that he expects to create more in halfcourt. Scott Brooks also says the starting PG spot is still up for grabs.

It’s looking more and more likely we get a first unit of Napier, Robinson, Brown, Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant or Moe Wagner. The second unit with likely have Ish Smith with a litany of SG/SF/PF combos of Jerian Grant, Isaac Bonga, Admiral Schofield, Jarred Othoff and Johnathan Williams with Ian Mahinmi or Anzejs Pasecniks as additional center depth if Bryant is limited.

 

2. Moving to the 76ers, coach Brett Brown added there should be more pick-and-roll action, he was coy on Al Horford’s role, and that the 76ers will use a lineup of Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz, Tobias Harris and Al Horford in the rotation

We’re getting a pretty good idea of what the rotation will look like with Shake and Joel Embiid possibly subbing out together (or close to it), and check back in with some combo of Alec Burks, Glenn Robinson III and Mike Scott while other guys rest. Don’t forget coach Brett Brown said he’s likely rolling with a 10-man rotation, so one of Scott, Burks and GR3 will likely get squeezed at some point.

Lastly, it’s not easy being a Kings fan. On Monday the team announced Marvin Bagley suffered a right foot injury and had an MRI. Presumably, they’ll have to shut him down in what has been a nightmare season for him. That means Richaun Holmes is unlocked for big minutes, assuming he doesn’t order PostMates again. Harry Giles will also likely be looking at minutes, and Nemanja Bjelica should see additional playing time, too. Kent Bazemore could play more four, and DaQuan Jeffries may get more run if Harrison Barnes can’t go. With De’Aaron Fox also banged up, there is potentially huge opportunity up for grabs.