Ethan Norof

Risers and Fallers

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Risers & Fallers: Centers

Monday, October 9, 2017

Welcome back to Risers & Fallers!

This is the final edition of a three-pronged preseason series that is true to its name. 

I’ll identify a rundown of names at each position and break them down into two categories: Risers and Fallers.

The risers group will be composed of names to target in drafts as well as those players that will require a premium investment in order to ensure ownership. The fallers group will include those who could either be drafted at a discount for a potential draft-day deal and those “name-value only” players that savvy fantasy GM’s should allow another team to acquire.

We’re addressing a wide audience with a range of different league sizes, so keep deep-league recommendations in mind and evaluate appropriately if you’re in a traditional (12-team) setting or shallow format.

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Dewayne Dedmon, Atlanta Hawks

Dedmon looks like someone who is in good position to provide a positive return on investment given his ADP as a late-round flier in most formats. Atlanta has next to no depth in the frontcourt, and a rebuilding team doesn’t spend $14M on a starting center if he’s there to just take up space. Dedmon showed his fantasy potential in limited minutes during his one-and-done stop in San Antonio, and if in need of a specialist, the big fella makes a lot of sense for someone looking to bulk up in field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks.

Cristiano Felicio, Chicago Bulls

The Bulls finally took the collective advice of the NBA’s Twitterati and embraced the rebuild. Their first move? Re-signing Felicio to a $32 million contract. That’s telling.

Although Robin Lopez has value, it’s hard to imagine Chicago wouldn’t look to move him if the appropriate opportunity surfaced. In that scenario, that would leave Felicio alone as the starting man in the middle, something that would make a lot of sense given the current state of this franchise.

In his sophomore season, the 25-year-old possessed per-36 minute averages of 10.9 points and 10.8 rebounds on an impressive 57.9% shooting. For now, Felicio is a deep-league target with a lot of hidden upside if it all breaks right. Keep him on your “watch list” in standard formats.

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers

Love’s arrow started to point up the moment Kyrie Irving asked out of Cleveland, and the KLOVE stock has only increased in value as the preseason has rolled forward. Despite a loaded roster with a plethora of scoring options, Love should serve as a focal point behind LeBron James with Isaiah Thomas (hip) believed to be sidelined until at least January.

And as the new starting center of a revamped Cavs team, Love could very well flirt with those 25-10 games we got used to seeing so regularly in Minnesota. At that time, Love was considered a borderline first-round pick capable of anchoring championship fantasy teams. Doesn’t that feel like forever ago?

After looking like the odd man out for so long during his Cleveland tenure, Love is now an integral piece in this Cavs construction. This time around, I’ve got zero hesitation in selecting Love following the initial 20-25 picks in your draft. And at that point, instead of feeling resigned like I might have in the past, I’d be feeling empowered because of the potential value. Remember: Love averaged 19 & 11 with 2.4 triples per game last season on a team that included Irving.

Boban Marjanovic, Detroit Pistons

I think it’s important not to oversell Marjanovic. We’ve never seen him in a true featured role, his endurance on the basketball court remains a major question mark and the Pistons have a lot of options with their frontcourt construction. And if Tobias Harris—an underrated fantasy asset—is going to spend most of his minutes at power forward, it only leaves so much time for Boban to do his damage while playing behind Andre Drummond.

Marjanovic makes sense as a late-round flier given his per-minute potential, but those selecting him aggressively with the intention of starting him in two-center leagues may want to reevaluate that stance.

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

So long as Turner remains healthy, it’s hard to envision how he doesn’t make his first All-Star appearance this season.

The Pacers are now Turner’s team, and that’s going to make his expected third-year jump that much more exciting. After Turner still turned in impressive season averages of 14.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 0.9 steal on 51.1% shooting—including a sterling 80.9% from the free throw line—during his sophomore campaign, the new franchise building block still has plenty of room to grow and become an official household name.

Perhaps one of the most underrated parts of Turner’s game is his expanding range, and if he starts hitting the 3-ball with consistency—he made 40 of 115 (34.8%) last season—it will heighten his appeal even more as a potential member of the VIP Triple-One Club. If Turner, as expected, can average somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, a steal and a three while being an asset in the percentage categories, there’s a case to be made for him as an easy top-20 pick. Do you believe?

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Let’s not overcomplicate this one. Even with Jimmy Butler’s arrival into Minnesota, KAT is my No. 1 dog in every nine-cat league.

Willy Hernangomez, New York Knicks

New York’s center “depth chart” has a lot of names, but none of them are as appealing as Hernangomez when it comes to our purposes. In 21 starts during his rookie season, Hernangomez averaged 11.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 0.9 steal and 0.6 block (1.7 TO) on 50.8% from the field in just 25.5 minutes per game. Assuming he can fend off the Wolfpack that is Enes Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn and Joakim Noah, Hernangomez looks like a nice late mid-round pick who can be drafted at a discounted ADP due to unfamiliarity amongst fantasy GM’s and uncertainty about his role in whatever it is the Knicks are doing.

Alex Len, Phoenix Suns

Len could not generate any kind of market in restricted free agency, so he bet on himself by signing the qualifying offer and returning to Phoenix for one more season. And until we learned Alan Williams (knee) was going to miss significant time, no one thought much about it.

It’s time to start thinking about the former first-round pick with a lot to prove in the late rounds of your draft. This is exactly the kind of player I absolutely love to target because Len is playing to reverse his reputation and his future paycheck, meaning he’s going to have plenty of incentive to perform on a bad Suns team all season long.

After Earl Watson stated that Len was taking a major step forward, Len has been impressive in the preseason and should have a real path to a starting spot ahead of Tyson Chandler if his strong play continues and the Suns utilize a traditional starting five. And on a tanking Phoenix team that is clearly playing for the future, there is no reason not to play Len—especially without Williams available—in order to evaluate his potential long-term fit for a club that desperately needs to develop reliable frontcourt talent.  

Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

Nurk Alert season has arrived...and it’s never looked quite so good.

After spending the summer working on his body for the second straight year, Nurkic, who was a phenomenal fit in Portland from the second he arrived on the Blazers, has deemed himself in the best shape of his life. Need more? Nurkic is also in a contract season, playing for what could be a potentially massive payday, and has all of the incentive in the world to show that he’s the player everyone wants to believe he can be.

Injury concerns will likely knock him down the draft board further than he’d otherwise be placed, but grabbing him in the fourth or fifth round of 10-12 team settings as your primary center is an excellent place to start your 2017-18 fantasy hoops campaign. Remember, Nurkic has averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.9 blocks on 50.8% shooting over his first 20 regular season games in a Blazers uniform.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

For a player who has a solidified role and is still dripping with upside, Cauley-Stein is not currently getting the attention he deserves.

In 13 games as the starting center last season, Trill averaged 13.0 points, 9.8 boards, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks on 53.6% shooting in 29.5 minutes per contest. In other words, WCS is a walking double-double with defensive upside who has current competition for minutes from Georgios Papagiannis, Kosta Koufos and Jack Cooley.

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz

Gobert is going to be more involved in Utah’s life after Gordon Hayward, but it’s his ability to dominate categories (field goal percentage, blocks, rebounds) that makes him a first-round difference-maker. For what it’s worth, I’d rather draft someone like Damian Lillard at the back-end of the first round and then pair him with Hassan Whiteside than reach for Gobert in the same spot.

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Follow Ethan Norof on Twitter @Ethan_Norof for more fantasy basketball analysis, advice and all things Los Angeles Lakers.
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