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Fantasy NBA Daily Notes: Kawhi takes control on opening night

Kawhi Leonard sported a monster usage rate in his debut with the Clippers, as they beat LeBron James and the Lakers. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the dynamic and dramatic world of NBA basketball. After months of arguing on Twitter about what might happen next June while also following shooting coaches on Instagram, actual games are now here to satiate your basketball jones.

The primary goal of this column -- which runs every weekday morning throughout the regular season on our fantasy basketball page -- is to inform fantasy basketball managers of meaningful player and team trends that influence fantasy value. The NBA is such a fluid league in regards to rotational shifts, injuries, and slumps and surges from teams and players, that simply keeping up is a key part of success in fantasy hoops.

Speaking of surges, the Toronto Raptors enjoyed an offensive opus in the opener against the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday evening; Fred VanVleet poured in a career-high 34 points as the Raptors set a franchise record for an opener with 130 points (albeit in overtime). VanVleet continued the clutch play that defined his playoff run last June with a series of big shots last night and is a worthy addition in all fantasy formats. You can find this diminutive playmaker for the price of a roster spot in more than 80% of ESPN leagues.

It wasn't just FVV lighting up the scoreboard, as he and recently extended Pascal Siakam became the first pair of teammates to each score 30 points in the first game of the season for the defending champion in NBA history, per Elias.

Those two, along with Kyle Lowry, combined for 90 points, the most by a trio of teammates in a season opener since Run TMC (Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, and Mitch Richmond) scored 99 in 1990 for the Warriors, again per Elias.

Siakam became just the fourth different player over the last 40 seasons to have at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists in a season opener, joining Anthony Davis (twice), Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.

Tuesday recap

Highlights

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers: 25 points (8-21 FG), 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks, 3 TO

Kawhi Leonard, LA Clippers: 30 points (10-19 FG), 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 6 TO

Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors: 34 points (11-26 FG, 10-11 FT), 18 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, 4 TO

Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors: 34 points (12-18 FG), 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 TO

Lowlights

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers: 0 points (0-3 FG), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 TO

Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors: 6 points (2-9 FG), 4 rebounds, 1 assist

Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers: 3 points (1-3 FG), 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block

Tuesday takeaways

  • The Clippers continued their dominance over the Lakers on Tuesday; Ballmer's boys have the best record of any team against the Lakers over the past 10 seasons at 26-10. Kawhi led all players on both teams with 30 points in his debut with the Clippers, becoming the sixth player to score 30 in his Clippers debut and the first since Sam Cassell in 2005. Leonard boasted a Harden-like usage rate of 40.8%. Usage is an estimate of the possessions or plays (such as shots, assists, turnovers) an individual player consumes, thus 40% is a massive rate and could indicate Leonard is going to be an absolute fantasy force sans Paul George in the early going.

  • Of the non-Kawhi Clippers, it was impressive to see Lou Williams lead the team with 16 potential assists (pass that leads directly to a possession event such as a shot, foul, turnover) en route to seven actual dimes. While he didn't do a ton of damage in the box score, it's worth noting Montrezl Harrell played 38 minutes to just 10 for Ivica Zubac. For some context, Harrell never topped 36 minutes in 82 appearances last season, signaling he could be in for a rewarding uptick in exposure this season. In what was a decisive factor, the Clippers' bench outscored the Lakers' reserves 60-19 in the win.

  • The Lakers had a positive point differential in the 11 minutes Davis was on the court without LeBron James, but they had a negative point differential in the nine minutes James was on the court without Davis. The main fantasy takeaway from the Lakers' performance was Danny Green erupting for 28 points in his Lakers debut, including 25 in the second half. Amazingly, this is the most by any Laker in their first game with the team, besting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 27 in the fall of 1975.

  • With Zion Williamson sidelined for up to two months with a knee injury, we saw the Pelicans employ more spacing than ever as a strategic endeavor, setting a franchise record with 19 3-pointers made. The minutes likely won't be there to sustain value in standard leagues, but those in deeper formats (think at least 12 teams) can benefit from the shooting savvy of Nicolo Melli, a smooth Italian stretch-big who sank four of his five 3-point attempts on Tuesday. For New Orleans, I'm most intrigued by the strong offensive showing from Brandon Ingram on Tuesday, who despite having the worst net rating on the roster, boasted a rewarding 27% usage rate on the way to 22 points with 10 combined assists and rebounds.

  • For those in need of defensive depth in deeper leagues, Toronto's OG Anunoby and New Orleans' Josh Hart are both nice options for strong rebounding and steal rates from the backcourt.

Injuries of note

  • Blake Griffin is due to miss the first several weeks of the season with lingering hamstring and knee ailments, per ESPN's Tim Bontemps. Markieff Morris surfaces as a viable streaming option in the wake of Griffin's absence, while managers in deeper formats might take a look at Christian Wood, given his ability to build big box scores in limited exposure.

Analytics advantage for Wednesday

A player's preseason performance isn't necessarily accurately predictive of regular season production, but as Kevin Pelton and other analysts have noted, playing style for teams can prove revealing. For instance, pace (possessions per 48 minutes) and 3-point frequency (percentage of total attempts on the floor that come from beyond the arc) are two factors that can surface in the preseason and often carry over to a strong degree into the season.

With this in mind, it's helpful to note that the Minnesota Timberwolves led the preseason in pace with a breakneck 112.8 possessions per 48 minutes in exhibition play. The Wolves are in Brooklyn tonight for Kyrie Irving's debut in black and white, and the Nets pushed the tempo last year finishing 11th in pace (Wolves were 13th).

This game could prove decidedly fast, helping promote a fantasy-friendly environment ideal for daily fantasy competition. In addition to stacking with Karl-Anthony Towns, Robert Covington, Caris LeVert and Ivring tonight, streaming shares of players such as Taurean Prince from Brooklyn and speculative shares of Jarrett Culver in deeper leagues could also prove rewarding.

Another track meet could be underway in Phoenix, with the Kings and Suns ranked third and 12th in pace, respectively, last season, only to finish seventh and eighth this preseason in possessions per 48 minutes. Using some help from Vegas, this contest of Pacific Division foes claims the highest total of the slate by nearly 10 points; making for a quality fantasy climate.

Top players to watch tonight

The Trail Blazers host the Nuggets in a rematch of last year's Western Conference semis which Portland won in seven games. The teams are plenty familiar after facing each other twice in the preseason.

Jerami Grant is expected to make his Nuggets debut after being acquired from the Thunder in the offseason for a protected first-round pick. Grant averaged career highs of 13.6 PPG and 5.2 RPG last season and ranked second on Denver with 12 PPG in the preseason. Grant is the rare player capable of producing a nice blend of shooting and defensive metrics and could be a hot name on the waiver wire in the first few weeks.

For the Blazers, I'm intrigued to see how the wing rotation plays out. Can Kent Bazemore earn enough burn to surface as a relevant fantasy contributor? His stellar defensive rates and competent shooting skills could really pop if he's afforded more than 25 minutes per game with Portland.

Hassan Whiteside also makes his debut for the Blazers after being acquired in an offseason trade. It will be revealing to see how much run Whiteside gets and how often the team pairs him and Zach Collins, the team's presumptive starter at power forward. Collins has some breakout potential as a savvy spacing threat on offense who can protect the rim, but playing alongside Whiteside could curb his rebounding and block rates, thus tonight's rotation can help illuminate how this frontcourt pairing might work.