Kawhi Leonard is averaging 12.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, and 2.0 apg over two games this season.
Welcome to the very first edition of the NBA.com fantasy basketball mailbag! Every few weeks throughout the season, we’ll field your questions and provide some insight on the best way to handle your fantasy dilemmas.
If you have a question, be sure to tweet at us at @RotoWireNBA and @NBAFantasy for a chance to be featured in this column. This week, we tackle questions on Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, the surprising Utah Jazz, the Trail Blazers and more.
Would you rather roster Klay Thompson or Russell Westbrook for the rest of the season?
This is an easy one for me. I’d much rather roster Thompson. Gone are the days of Klay perennially finishing inside the top-50 in category leagues, but he’s still an elite source of three-pointers who also adds raw scoring and helps out in free throw percentage (90.2% FT last season). He may never be the same player he was pre-injury, but I was encouraged by how he finished last season. It’s been a relatively slow start, but Thompson did just hit five three-pointers against the Heat on Thursday – as long as he stays healthy, the numbers will come around over the course of a full season.
For as much as we pile on Westbrook, I understand that he still has more fantasy value than we give him credit for. Last season, he managed to hang around as a top-100 player, though it’s highly unlikely that he matches his 2021-22 production – 18.5 PPG, 7.4 RBG, 7.1 APG, 1.0 SPG) – as long as he’s a member of the Lakers. That situation appears to be heading toward a divorce at some point, so there is a chance he lands with another team willing to unleash him as a featured option – much like the Wizards did in 2020-21. However, the list of potential landing spots is extremely short, and Westbrook’s skill set appears to have diminished considerably since that year in Washington.
Long story short, I’d prefer the safer, more-efficient option in Thompson.
Should I roster Shaedon Sharpe or RJ Hampton (points league)?
While a quick look at Hampton’s game log may leave you wondering why anyone would pick him up, keep in mind that Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz, Jalen Suggs and Gary Harris are all currently injured. All four players are without clear timetables, so there could be a multi-week period in which Hampton is forced into a much larger role. Hampton showed glimpses of his potential in 2021-22, though he averaged only 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.4 threes – while shooting 37% from the field – in the 24 games in which he played at least 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, Sharpe has played in exactly five NBA games, so we don’t have much of a sample to draw from. Like Hampton, he’ll be in position to benefit from injury after Damian Lillard suffered a calf strain earlier in the week. With Lillard likely out at least two weeks, I would lean toward rostering Sharpe in hopes that his workload is bumped up to around 25 minutes per night. If that’s the case, he should be a decent source of points and 3s with some rebounds and free throws.
Ultimately, both players are relatively low-upside fantasy assets, but I’d prefer the untapped potential of Sharpe over Hampton.
Expectations for Anfernee Simons with Damian Lillard out?
Fortunately, we caught an extended glimpse of Simons operating without Lillard last season, and for the most part it was encouraging. In 27 games after Lillard went down with an abdominal injury, Simons averaged 23.4 points, 5.8 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 4.4 threes per game (42.3% 3Pt) in addition to shooting 86.6% at the charity stripe.
This time around, Portland has a better supporting cast, but there’s a case to be made that Simons will split No. 1 option duties with Jerami Grant for the next few weeks. The hope is that his assists production, in particular, will rise without Lillard, but he should also see an appreciable bump in scoring, 3s and free-throw volume. Earlier this week against Denver, Simons went off for seven 3s en route to 29 points – and that was with Lillard in the lineup.
Suffice it to say I’m optimistic about what we’ll see from Simons as long as Lillard is sidelined.
How do I handle Kawhi Leonard? Should I already be looking to trade?
This is a great question, and unfortunately one that I’m grappling with myself in a league. Leonard’s injury occurred two postseasons ago, so I was fully expecting him to be back at full strength for the start of the season. Perhaps I should’ve known better, but he’s already dealing with discomfort in the knee, and it could be a few more weeks until he’s cleared for a full workload. Even then, Leonard will almost certainly sit out one-half of every back-to-back, with more built-in rest days to come throughout the season.
Trading low a player you probably drafted in the second round is a tough pill to swallow, but I would look to shop him around your league and see what you can get in return. While you’ll have to be prepared to accept a fairly underwhelming return – his value may be at its lowest right now – there could be a fantasy manager who’s willing to take on that risk. Even if you’re not thrilled with the return, keep in mind that getting 70-to-75 games out of a less-productive player could easily end up being more valuable than 45-to-50 games from Leonard.
Do I hold onto Walker Kessler and/or Collin Sexton? I’m getting impatient. 12-team, head-to-head league.
Another good question. Kessler has played 19 total minutes over the last two games, so I would feel pretty comfortable cutting bait unless you really need to chase his blocks. Later this season, I think there’s a great chance Kessler moves into a much larger role, but that might not be for a couple more months.
The Sexton situation is a bit more complicated. There’s been no outright indication that his workload is being monitored coming off of the meniscus injury, and yet he’s played 19, 19, 15 and 10 minutes, respectively, in Utah’s last four games. At some point, that’s going to change, but it may not be until the Jazz inevitably trade one – or both – of Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson.
It will likely be a bumpy ride for a while, but I would hold on to Sexton (he’s 82% rostered in Yahoo leagues as of Friday) if you can spare the roster spot. The Jazz didn’t sign him to an extension to play him 15 minutes per game off the bench.
What’s going on with Alperen Sengun? Is he ever going to start at center?
For the sake of a few of my fantasy teams, I sure hope so. Coach Stephen Silas hoodwinked, bamboozled and let us astray on Opening Night, when he opted to start Bruno Fernando at center over Sengun. Silas even took it a step further last week when he started Usman Garuba at center while Sengun came off the bench.
The waters have been muddied a bit by Sengun missing the Rockets’ last two games with an illness, but he’s expected to return Friday against Portland. For the time being, Silas has given no indication that he plans to start Sengun, though he did note that he prefers to use him off the bench, as it gives Sengun more opportunities to have the ball in his hands.
To Sengun’s credit, he’s still managing 15.7 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.0 block per game, so it hasn’t been a complete disaster by any means. As long as he’s consistently seeing around 25 minutes per game, he should be viable in a reserve role. And my guess is that eventually Silas cracks and moves Sengun into the lineup. In shallower leagues, Sengun may not be an every-week starter, but I wouldn’t be looking to move him yet.