What fantasy players should look for on NBA Opening Night

By Alex BaruthaRotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Tuesday is opening night in the NBA, with the Cleveland Cavaliers facing off against the Boston Celtics, followed by the Golden State Warriors taking on the Houston Rockets.

The league’s schedule makers wasted no time previewing what might be the Conference Finals this season. There’s little doubt some incredible basketball will be on display, but what should fantasy owners be looking for on Tuesday?

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Boston at Cleveland (8:00 PM ET, TNT)

Calling this bout “high-tension” might be an understatement.  In his first regular-season game with his new team, Kyrie Irving has to march back to Cleveland and put on a performance good enough to take down both LeBron James and a hostile crowd.  From a fantasy perspective, seeing how Irving moves the ball and plays off-ball in coach Brad Stevens’ system should be intriguing.

Gordon Hayward’s involvement is something to keep an eye on as well. He’s moving from a slow-paced team to a fast-paced team, which theoretically helps his numbers. However, he led the Jazz in points per game each of the last four seasons and will have to adjust to being the No. 2 option in Boston. Fantasy owners who took a shot on Hayward this season are probably banking on trading raw numbers for efficiency, though he had neither in his three preseason appearances. He mustered up just 9.0 points (39.3 percent from the field), 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steal across 23.3 minutes per game.

Jayson Tatum will be drawing the start in place of the injured Marcus Morris. As of Tuesday morning, Tatum is owned in 62 percent of Yahoo! Fantasy leagues. That number may see movement depending on his performance Tuesday. Keep in mind, however, the minutes he sees are, first and foremost, a result of Morris’ injury. We probably won’t discover his true role until the team is healthy.

LeBron James  played just one preseason game while nursing a sprained ankle — he’s technically questionable to play Tuesday — so we have a pretty sparse sample size on what the Cavaliers will really look like this season. If history is any indication, we probably have nothing to worry about with regard to James’ numbers.

What will Derrick Rose’s and Dwyane Wade’s roles really be next to James? Rose shot 3-of-5 and Wade shot 2-of-5 from beyond the arc this preseason – not great numbers for guys who may spend a lot of time off-ball. Revamped teams often take time to figure things out, however, so jumping ship in fantasy off either player based on their first week of performances could come back to haunt owners long-term.

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How will Kevin Love fare at center? It should mean more rebounds for Love, who has been one of the best in the league throughout his career on both the offensive and defensive glass. It could mean more threes, too. Slower centers will probably have a hard time closing out on him at the arc. If he pump fakes and drives to the basket, the Cavs has no shortage of veterans who know how to take advantage of a collapsing defense. Love could start to rack up more assists than we’ve been accustomed to since he joined Cleveland for that reason.

Will Tristan Thompson be effective enough to warrant fantasy ownership? Watch his minutes. He doesn’t score a lot of points or rack up blocks, but fantasy owners in categorical formats have found a use for Thompson in the past due to his rebounding ability. But, if he ends up receiving true reserve minutes, there might be better options on the waiver wire.

Houston at Golden State (10:30 PM ET, TNT)

 The elephant in the room is the chemistry between Chris Paul and James Harden. Teams are going to deal with miscommunication early in the season, which may lead to turnovers and bad shots. I assume it will happen with Houston as well. From a fantasy perspective, I’m really looking for how the usage shakes out for these two. Will it be like having two point guards on the floor? Will Harden revert back to more of a score-first role? If they have a bad first week or so, owners may start to get nervous and try to sell.

Is Clint Capela the new DeAndre Jordan? That’s a joke. But, he could see a bump in points this year. Chris Paul is one of the best pick-and-roll point guards in the league, and, well, Capela picks and rolls for a living. Unfortunately, he won’t be on most waiver wires due to the fact that he’s a starting center. But it wouldn’t hurt to keep him in mind for shallow leagues and DFS.

And then there’s the Warriors. If we’re being honest, I’m not really sure what to watch for here. This is essentially the same team as last year, except with better depth (yikes). Draymond Green’s offense could be worth monitoring, I suppose. He lost over five percentage points in both field-goal and three-point efficiency last season with the addition of Kevin Durant. Another year of playing together might see those shoot back up. That said, it might be too hard to tell this early in the year.

Nick Young and Omri Casspi could also be of use in deep (and I mean deep) categorical leagues as a result of their three-point shooting. Workload will be the ultimate determining factor there.