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We're one sleep away from the beginning of the 2021-22 NBA season, and Sunday was rather quiet since there were no games on the schedule. But that doesn't mean that nothing happened. Philadelphia's disgruntled point guard made his return to practice, Phoenix rewarded one of its young stars with a new deal, and Brooklyn is preparing for the possibility that it won't have one of its stars at all this season. Let's get into the Daily Dose.
Simmons participates in Sunday practice
Just days after he began the process of clearing the league's health and safety protocols, 76ers point guard Ben Simmons took part in Sunday's practice. Following the session, Doc Rivers said that Simmons was "good," but did not offer any details with regard to how much the All-Defensive Team selection did. Was he a full participant? Or did Simmons not take part in the "contact" portions of the session? That is anyone's guess, as is the point guard's availability for Wednesday's season opener.
"I’m going to wait and see," Rivers said. "Conditioning, just watching him, I thought he was in decent shape. Still not obviously game shape. … Right now, I’m just trying to get him back comfortable and integrated.
"When he’s ready, he’ll play."
It's fair to question just how motivated Simmons will be to play for a franchise that he no longer wants to be a part of, as evidenced by his offseason trade demand and subsequent holdout. But he's there now, and from a fantasy standpoint, the hope is that Simmons rebounds from what was (comparatively speaking) a disappointing season. In 9-cat formats Simmons ranked 97th according to Basketball Monster, averaging 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.6 blocks, 0.1 3-pointers and 3.0 turnovers per game.
The lack of 3-point production isn't much of a concern; by this point in Simmons' career, fantasy managers know not to expect much there. Outside of blocks, which remained steady, his averages dropped across the board. Add in his 61.3% shooting from the foul line, and that's why Simmons barely stuck within the top-100. He's capable of rebounding, but how high will the climb be given his offensive limitations? Simmons should definitely be rostered in all leagues, since we now know that he'll play at some point, but the expectations should be held in check.
As for who fantasy managers should keep an eye on to begin this season, that would be Tyrese Maxey. Philadelphia began the process of giving the second-year guard more responsibility during Summer League play, but it's fair to wonder how the return of Simmons will impact that. Whether it's as a starter or as a reserve, Maxey offers a lot with regard to fantasy upside. And his shooting ability could offer more spacing for higher-profile options Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris.
Nets prepared to not have Kyrie this season
While Philadelphia was able to add a player to its roster, Brooklyn is reportedly preparing for the possibility that Kyrie Irving won't play at all this season. By now you know why Irving is sitting out, but we'll go over it again. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Nets are not expecting a change of heart from the All-Star guard when it comes to complying with New York City's vaccine mandate. City employees who work at indoor public facilities are required to have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Irving has yet to do so. Until that changes, he won't be available to play in home games (or the Nets' two road games against the Knicks).
The "public" distinction is why the city cleared Irving to take part in team practices, as that facility was deemed to be "private." But with the Nets deciding that it would not accommodate a "part-time" player, Irving will not be available. As a result, it can be argued that James Harden should be mentioned with Nikola Jokic as a possible top overall pick in all leagues. After two straight seasons as the top player in 9-cat formats, Harden finished last season ranked seventh. At minimum he should be a top-5 player, especially if he stays healthy.
Bruce Brown and Patty Mills, with the latter having averaged 2.4 3-pointers per game last season, stand to see a bump in minutes with Irving sidelined. Of the two Brown would be the better deep league option, due to what he can provide in the rebounding and defensive stats. Mills is essentially a points and 3-pointers player.
Suns, Bridges agree to four-year extension
Monday evening marks the NBA deadline for teams and rookie extension-eligible players to come to an agreement, and the Suns managed to get a deal done with one of its young stars. The franchise and Mikal Bridges agreed to an extension worth approximately $90 million over four years, good value for the versatile small forward. Bridges was a top-50 player in 9-cat formats last season, ranking higher than teammate Devin Booker, posting averages of 13.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks, 1.9 3-pointers and 0.8 turnovers per game. Bridges also brings good percentages to the table, as he shot 54.3% from the field and 84.0% from the foul line.
So, what is his fantasy ceiling? Given Phoenix's current roster, with Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton being ahead of Bridges in the team's offensive pecking order, it's difficult to see him cracking the top-25. But top-50 is a more than fair expectation, given what he produced last season. And speaking of Ayton, it's worth noting that he and the Suns have not agreed to a new deal. How far apart the two sides are isn't truly known, but Ayton did say last week that he was "disappointed" that a new deal had not been agreed to.
"I love Phoenix but I’m really disappointed that we haven’t really gotten a deal done yet," Ayton said. "We were two wins from a championship and I just really want to be respected, to be honest. Be respected like my peers are being respected by their teams."
What's the price tag on "respect" in Ayton's view? It was reported that he wants a max extension, which would be $173 million over five years. If Ayton and the Suns can't get something done by Monday night, he would be a restricted free agent next offseason. If that happens Phoenix, which will be able to pay Ayton more than anyone else per league rules, can match any offer sheet that Ayton signs.
Timberwolves' Beasley not concerned about role
Due to injuries and a 12-game suspension, Malik Beasley appeared in just 37 games last season. He finished as a top-100 player in 9-cat, averaging 19.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 3.5 3-pointers and 1.6 turnovers per game, while shooting 44.0% from the field and 85.0% from the foul line. With Anthony Edwards emerging during the second half of the season, while Beasley was sidelined, where will the veteran guard fit into the Timberwolves rotation?
It appears that Beasley will be asked to serve as an offensive focal point for the second unit, and he doesn't have an issue with it. Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said on Sunday that he and his staff have been selling Beasley on the fact that "he's probably gonna get more opportunities with the second unit than he is with the first," and that makes sense. Edwards, D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns all need their touches, with each boasting a usage of at least 27.0 last season. That won't leave much beyond "catch-and-shoot" opportunities for Beasley, which would limit his potential impact.
Coming off the bench to begin games doesn't mean that he can't be on the court in crunch time, either. And Beasley didn't sound too concerned about where he plays when asked on Sunday.
"At the end of the day, I just want to be one of the best players on the court," Beasley said. "I want to be defending. I want to be playing, regardless of if I’m starting or not."
This would also explain what Minnesota was taking a longer look at Jaden McDaniels at the small forward position during the preseason. With Russell, Edwards and Towns penned into the starting five, those two open spots are going to be filled by low-usage players. McDaniels certainly fits that mold, and it's possible that Jarred Vanderbilt would slot in at the four if Minnesota were to use him (meaning McDaniels) at the three. McDaniels has been pegged as a breakout candidate ahead of this season, and it's fair to wonder if he can fill a role similar to the one that the aforementioned Bridges does in Phoenix.
Pistons awaiting news on starting backcourt
It appears that fans will have to wait a little longer for the official debut of Detroit's new backcourt, due to injuries. Killian Hayes (concussion protocols) is well on his way to being cleared for Wednesday's opener, but the situation is a bit murkier for Cade Cunningham. The first overall pick, who has been sidelined due to a sprained right ankle, is considered to be questionable for Wednesday's game against the Bulls. He didn't participate in Sunday's practice, but there is still time for Cunningham to get some work in.
That being said, how much can we expect to see Cunningham play Wednesday night if he's cleared? There's likely to be a ramping up process that the Pistons will have their prized rookie go through before having him take on a full workload. And if Cunningham can't play, who fills the resulting void? Detroit did not field its expecting starting lineup for the preseason finale against Philadelphia as, in addition to Hayes and Cunningham, Saddiq Bey (left ankle sprain) was also sidelined. If only Cunningham sits Wednesday, Frank Jackson and Josh Jackson appear to be the most likely options to step in.
Knicks not expected to have Noel Wednesday night
New York may also be down a starter when the regular season begins, as Nerlens Noel (left knee soreness) is considered to be doubtful for Wednesday's game against Boston. There's no timeline for a return, and this could mean a start for Taj Gibson. He won't offer much offensively, so there really isn't a need to grab the veteran pivot off of the waiver wire if your league has already held its draft. Obviously Mitchell Robinson also bears watching, as he missed the end of last season due to a broken foot.
Robinson made his return to game action in Friday's win over the Wizards, playing 27 minutes and tallying six points, nine rebounds and two steals. The good news is that after the game Robinson said that he wasn't dealing with any pain in the foot, but (as expected) conditioning is an issue. He also noted that he's about 50% in that regard, so fantasy managers should not expect to see Robinson logging 30+ minutes immediately. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau may also be a bit more willing to go with a Julius Randle/Obi Toppin pairing in spurts, as they were both on the court Friday as the team mounted its late rally.
Randle and Toppin only played together for just over one minutes per game last season, per the league's tracking data, and Thibodeau said earlier in the preseason that the pairing wasn't all that effective. With Toppin continuing to make strides, the coach may be willing to change his thinking on using them together out of necessity more than anything else.