By Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
At the beginning of the fantasy basketball season, sometimes adding a key player off waivers early can make a difference in your quest for a title run. However, it’s also important not to overreact to a player having a bad start, like trading them away or dropping them altogether.
Especially early in the season, it’s natural to panic if a star guard is struggling to score 20 points or a big man hasn’t recorded a single double-double. But throughout an 82-game season, the numbers almost always level out. This isn’t baseball, where a player can go from an MVP candidate one season to a .250 hitter the next, with little explanation. The NBA is a league of stars, and those stars usually find ways to get their numbers, unless injuries or age catch up to them.
With that in mind, let’s discuss some players who are off to slow starts and why you shouldn’t panic just yet.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Lillard was likely a mid-first-round pick in most fantasy leagues, and rightfully so. He’s averaged at least 25.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 5.9 assists in each of the last six seasons. He’s coming off of a special 2020-21 season in which he averaged 28.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 4.1 three-pointers. Just as noteworthy was that he shot 45.1 percent from the field, which is impressive given his three-point volume.
Through three games this season, Lillard has disappointed by averaging only 17.0 points and 0.7 three-pointers. The good news is that he’s still averaged 3.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists. His troubles can be traced back almost entirely to three-point shooting. Coming off of an 0-of-8 night against the Clippers on Monday, Lillard is now 2-of-24 from deep on the year (he went 0-of-9 on Opening Night). Given that he’s shot at least 36.1 percent on three-pointers in each of the last six seasons, don’t panic and try to trade him for a player who’s off to a hotter start. Lillard is one of the most consistent superstars in the league. He’ll come around soon enough.
Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
After averaging just 16 minutes per game during his rookie season, the Nuggets moved Porter into a prominent role last season. His playing time nearly doubled to 31 minutes per game and he capitalized on it by averaging 19.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 2.8 three-pointers. Heading into his third season in the league, he was expected to take another step forward in the extended absence of Jamal Murray.
Thus far, that has not been the case. On a positive note, Porter has averaged 32 minutes and posted a 20.2 percent usage rate that is in line with his 21.7 percent rate last season. The problem is he’s only shot 34.6 percent from the field on his way to averaging 11.5 points per game. He had a disastrous 5-of-18 showing against Utah on Tuesday, registering his third straight game with fewer than 15 points. However, Porter was one of the most efficient scorers in the league last season, so the numbers imply that he’ll find his stride soon. If Nikola Jokic misses any time with the bruised knee he suffered Tuesday night, Porter may have no choice but to crank up his production.
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
The addition of Chris Paul before last season certainly hurt Booker’s fantasy value. He averaged 25.6 points and 4.2 rebounds, which were right in line with his past few seasons. However, his assists dropped to 4.3 per game after back-to-back seasons of averaging at least 6.5 per game. He’s been about the same through three games this season with averages of 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
The problem with his start is that he’s only averaged 18.3 points per game. If he’s not scoring in bunches, his fantasy value isn’t nearly the same. With that being said, there’s no need to panic. He’s only shot 39.6 percent from the field, which should correct itself in short order given that he’s shot at least 46.7 percent in three straight seasons. If your team needs a boost in the scoring department, now might actually be a good time to float out an offer to see if you can acquire Booker at a discount. Keep in mind that all three of Phoenix’s games thus far have been blowouts, to varying degrees, so it’s been difficult for most of the Suns’ roster to find a rhythm.
De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings
Noticing a common theme here? A lot of the players on this list are in shooting slumps to begin the season. The same can be said for Fox, who has only averaged 18.7 points on 38.6 percent shooting. The Kentucky product has shot at least 45.8 percent from the floor in each of the last three seasons, so look for him to eventually turn things around.
A good sign with Fox is that he’s averaged 19.0 shots per game, following up on his average of 19.1 attempts per game last season. If there is a concern, though, it’s that he’s only shooting 60.0 percent from the free-throw line. Fantasy-wise, that’s been his biggest area of weakness, and it looks like he’s once again failed to address it during the offseason.
Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers
An ankle injury has forced Garland to miss two of the Cavs’ four games thus far. In the two games that he did appear, he had to face the Grizzlies and Nuggets, two teams that ranked in the top half of the league last season in defensive rating. That’s not exactly a recipe for a hot start, so his average of 11.0 points on 37.5 shooting shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Shooting aside, Garland did dish out 19 assists and hit four three-pointers in the two games that he played. He also logged at least 31 minutes in both contests after averaging 33 minutes per game last season. As his ankle, and the Cavaliers’ schedule, improves, look for Garland to bounce back in a big way in the scoring department.
Kyle Lowry, Miami Heat
Lowry has missed one game with an ankle injury and scored fewer than 10 points in both of the two games that he did play. On the surface, that could be scary, fantasy-wise, for an aging player who finds himself on a new team. However, there are a couple of factors that have played into his slow start.
First, he’s shot just 5-of-19 from the field. He’s never been overly efficient, but he hasn’t shot worse than 41.1 percent from the field since the 2012-13 season. Also, both of the games that he played in were decided by at least 17 points. Miami won its opener by 42 points, which contributed to Lowry playing only 24 minutes. Once his shot improves and the Heat play in some more competitive games, Lowry should return to being a valuable fantasy option. Tyler Herro has provided valuable insurance off the bench, but the Heat need Lowry to be a star-level contributor to reach their potential.
Larry Nance Jr., Portland Trail Blazers
Regardless of how poorly they’ve played thus far, none of the players we’ve discussed should be dropped or traded. However, Nance isn’t on the same level as the rest of the group. If you selected the ex-Cavalier in your draft, it was likely around pick 100 — or maybe even later. He’s not a starter for his team, so his upside is easily the lowest of anyone here.
The Blazers have very little depth, so it looked like Nance was going to receive plenty of playing time off the bench at multiple positions. However, he hasn’t logged more than 22 minutes in any of their three games, and he’s averaging just 5.0 points and 3.0 rebounds. He’s chipped in one three-pointer per game, but he hasn’t racked up defensive stats at nearly the rate fantasy managers hoped.
As bad as things have been for Nance, he’s one injury away from a 30-minutes-per-night role. He’ll likely be dropped in many leagues this week, but if you can afford to keep him on the end of your bench, better days could be ahead.