Fantasy Basketball 2020: Predictions, Mock Draft for Leagues Restarting

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 28, 2020

Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert (22) takes the ball up court during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

It seems more than appropriate that fantasy basketball players can thank the NBA's Disney-based bubble for the return of their leagues.

But with the Association slimmed down to 22 teams, these fantasy leagues won't be like you remember. Whereas we're used to the marathon treks over an 82-game campaign, these are rapid, eight-game sprints to the finish line.

In other words, you're tightrope-walking without a safety net, and one misstep could be disastrous.

To help you gain maximum impact from your roster, we'll build and break down a mock first round, then make some predictions about two of our favorite fantasy sleepers.

                   

10-Team Mock First Round for NBA's Restart

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

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2. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

7. Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers

8. LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

9. Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Clippers

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

It's tough to tell whether teams will run through the tape during the seeding games since home-court advantage is out of the equation. Saying that, we're working under the assumption that teams with positions to gain in the standings will try to do so.

That gives a bump to the likes of James Harden, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic, whose teams are all jostling for position in the West's midsection. But no elite player might be more motivated than Damian Lillard, who knows his team has a second lease on life after a disappointing season.

"Anything can happen right now," he told The Athletic's Jason Quick. "We haven't played in four months, and our focus is to get into the playoffs and anything is possible, literally, because of the circumstances we are playing under. ... I want to get it done and win it all."

A fully charged Lillard could be a fantasy juggernaut. Prior to the campaign's suspension, he was sitting on several career highs, including 28.9 points, 7.8 assists and 3.9 three-pointers. If he's going full bore through all eight seeding games, he might be the second-best fantasy hooper around.

While your league might draft differently, we're dropping Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo a pinch for the possibility of strategic resting. They're so productive when they play that they still demand first-round attention, but if they only go six games (maybe one or two of them at less than full speed), they'll have trouble returning top-five value.

                  

Fantasy Sleeper Predictions

Caris LeVert Will Average 25 Points, Five Assists

The Brooklyn Nets have lost so many players in this pandemic that their bubble roster is barely recognizable. Caris LeVert is a notable presence, though, and the man dubbed "Baby Durant" should have complete control of the roster.

The lack of scoring help—the Nets are without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan, among others—could hurt the 25-year-old's efficiency, but his counting categories will more than compensate.

While LeVert opened the scrimmage schedule with only 10 points in Brooklyn's 31-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, he showed the reach of his green light by getting up 18 shots. Those opportunities went his way more often after that, and he closed out the scrimmages with 50 combined points his last two times inside the lines.

Unless the Nets get overprotective with him—he has a lengthy injury history, but they might want to showcase him ahead of a possible offseason blockbuster—his stat sheet could run wild.

                 

Myles Turner Will Average 18 Points, 10 Rebounds

Defense and floor-spacing have helped Myles Turner establish his NBA niche. With Domantas Sabonis out of the middle (he left the bubble to rehab a foot injury), the Indiana Pacers center has a chance to show what he can bring as a scorer and glass-cleaner.

The 24-year-old already did it during the regular season whenever Sabonis took a breather. Turner averaged 20.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes during the time he played without Sabonis. More recently, Turner made his scrimmage debut in Orlando, Florida (again with no Sabonis) and jammed 15 points, eight boards and two blocks into only 24 minutes.

"I really like what I've seen from him since this restart," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said of Turner. "He's come back and seems to have matured even more since that four-month layoff. He has a great spirit about him."

Turner has shooting range out to the three-point arc and the size and footwork to punish smaller defenders in the post. He should be more of a matchup problem than his career 12.7 points per game say he is, and this is a chance for his fantasy-relevant numbers to better align with his true talent level.