Ethan Cohen @Acog_Sportscards 10/17/22


Nothing; NOTHING!, gets my juices flowing like NBA talk, and what is at the pinnacle of NBA talk? That's right, you guessed it; PRESEASON, BABY! I mean, who else spends their days and nights relentlessly immersed in non-stop action that doesn’t count!? Hello?... Anyone?... Bueller…. Just me? Ok, some things never change I guess, but I’m here to tell you that even though the preseason doesn't count, it matters.

The inaugural edition of this blog will be looking at players that I think will exceed expectations. Basically, I like these players more than the consensus and will be targeting them in any way that I can, whether that be cards and/or fantasy. With the NBA Season right around the corner, starting October 18th, let's dive into it.

1. Darius Garland - Darius was an all-star last season and is starting to get the respect he deserves. If the Cavaliers are the team that the media believes they will become (being touted with the best young core in basketball) this season and over the next two or three seasons, Darius will be the facilitator and running the show night in and out. The stage is set for Darius and newly acquired Donovan Mitchell and if Darius can somehow outshine Mitchell by ways of his fantastic shooting ability, elite passing vision & a slippery way of always getting his runner off at the rim… he will be a problem this upcoming season for opposing defenses and make investors extremely happy.

2. Tyrese Maxey - Maxey bulked up a bit this off season and looks great this preseason already. He is as explosive as ever and a true pro at getting to the rim. Bulking up during the off-season will only help his chances of finishing tough lays, beating defenders off the dribble, and being able to defend his opponent. Maxey is in a position of third fiddle on the sixers, but he can potentially take over games during the regular season and get the team wins if Harden and Embiid are having off nights or unwilling to exert the maximum energy we know they sometimes don’t exhibit & if Tyrese’s 3 is falling? It’s over.

3. RJ Barrett - Signing 100 Million man Jalen Brunson this off season gives New York a true point and a leader at the position that they have been trying to fill for years. This will do nothing but help RJ in his development. Part of this prediction is that the Knicks allow RJ to be the 1 option over Julius Randle, who is simply not the guy for the Knickerbockers. RJ is top 5 at simply getting to the rim with his biggest fault being his unwillingness to pass out of a contested drive & that aspect of his game looks to be improving which will add a new dynamic to his game and hopefully increase his PPG and/or Shooting percentages.

4. Jalen Smith - In 2020, the Phoenix Suns got a shocking invitation to the bubble and miraculously went 8-0 while still missing the playoffs, it truly set the franchise up for future success. Phoenix, just a few short months later, shocked the world again with the 10th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft selecting Jalen Smith over higher projected prospects (Tyrese Haliburton 12th pick by SAC). The now Indiana Pacer projected starting power forward will be a walking double-double this season on a below average Pacers team. After being dealt from the Suns, Jalen averaged 14 & 8 in 24.7 minutes a night for Indiana. Having the entire offseason to work with Tyrese and his otherworldly passing ability, Jalen should be in for a good year. A lot of this take is based on the attention Tyrese and other scorers (Hield,Duarte) will draw & the potential dealing of Myles Turner during the season. As a result, I see Jalen Smith being the largest beneficiary with easy bucket after bucket and minimal threat at his position.

5. Zeke Nnaji - Some of you just said “who?” Some know Zeke due to ripping too much wax, either way… the Nuggets have a problem that flies under the radar. Yes, Jamal Murray and MPJ coming back will propel the team to new heights. Bones Hyland and Bruce Brown are great role players for the team, the only lacking piece is Aaron Gordon. Sure, he is flashy and can explode on dunks, but quite frankly, he doesn’t fit on the team. I’d like my Uber talented, reigning back-to-back MVP, big man to be able to work the floor and dish to open shooters all night long. Aaron Gordon can “barely” stretch the floor shooting 33% from 3 on a mere 3 attempts a night. Zeke Nnaji on the other hand; 46% from 3 on 2.5 attempts in 17 minutes a night. Small sample size for sure, but the upside is clearly there where Aaron Gordon is lacking. Do we see the nuggets making a switch this season at the starting PF? With only competition for minutes being Uncle Jeff Green (36) & Deandre Jordan (34) look for an uptick & fairly impactful minutes out of Zeke in 2023.

6. Anfernee Simons - The opportunity is there with CJ out the door and Simons should step in and become the counterpart to the Damian Lillard lead offense. Many have Anfernee as their favorite for Most Improved Player this season and for good reason. Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkic help fill out a decent starting five on a team lacking bench depth. Jerami had the ultimate green light with the Pistons, averaging 20+ppg, unless this happens again the scoring for Portland must come somewhere and the young exciting bucket getter in Simons seems like the likely choice. Pencil in Anfernee as a prime candidate to average 20+.

7. Kendrick Nunn - After an extremely impressive finals run with the Heat, Kendrick fell off the face of the earth. He suffered a bone bruise injury and unfortunately missed the entirety of last season. In the preseason Nunn is averaging 17 points on 60% from the field and 53% from 3 point range, displaying how he typically gets his buckets as he has attempted only 3 shots from the charity stripe over 3 games. Some project him as starter or the sixth man, either or, Kendrick has his opportunity to show the world his scoring talents once more on a depleted Lakers team begging for some help and relief for LeBron.

8. Coby White / Ayo Dosunmu - With Lonzo Ball's injury the starting point guard spot is wide open. Ayo fits better as he can dish the ball and provide defensive help to the starting lineup that can clearly score between LaVine and DeRozan. Ayo also started the preseason at point, although 67% of his minutes came at the 2 last season. Coby is an electric off the bench scorer with a few 30 point games under his belt already. Watching him last season it seemed as if the game had finally started to slow down for him, a common feat of 3rd year points. Playing 99% of his minutes at point in the prior season, Coby may seem like the answer, but it is unclear as of now who the biggest benefactor of the lonzo injury will truly be. Either way, both guys should have a good season.

9. Isaac Okoro - Double dipping here with the Cavaliers but for good reason. Okoro projects to be the defensive lockdown starting small forward for the Cavaliers, tasked with guarding opposing teams best players night in and night out. Teammates and those around the team are constantly praising how much better he looks and while there is still a solid chance he averages around 10 points per game, his all-around impact will be felt on the court. He may not translate to the best investment, but Isaac gets a ton of open 3 point shots and open Fastbreak layups and if he slightly increases the rate at which he can drill 3’s, we’re in for a good season.

10. Killian Hayes - Rated as the worst player in basketball his rookie season, Killian Hayes may shock some by being on this list. This heavily leans on urgency. Killian may lose his spot on a roster soon enough if he does not produce. Scouts drooled over him pre-draft and he still possesses a vast skill set but, with Detroit drafting Jaden Ivey, Killian can either; play well and prove he belongs or, he will fumble and fall out of the league. Overall, I see a Killian investment as a cheap price point for a young player with good upside IF it clicks & it’s a big if….

11. Jaden Mcdaniels - Certainly not a household name quite yet, Jaden is now the only non all-star in the Timberwolves impressive starting five and he is a complete bucket. Jaden in college at Washington looks like a very very very raw Kevin Durant. Super skinny and lengthy, good at getting to the rim, and an improving jump shot are all ingredients for a recipe of success in this league. Jaden may be the forgotten player in games, and he may burn his opposition over and over as a result.

12. Santi Aldama - Huh? Did I type that correctly? Yes. The only Grizzlies rookie since Ivan Rabb & Wayne Selden back in 2016 & 2017 that you didn’t want out of your packs and break spots. With Jaren Jackson jr set to miss time this season, the most likely player to step up into the starting role is Santi. Memphis likes running Brandon Clarke off the bench and so be it, he thrives there. Santi in his first preseason game went for 21 points on 7-9 shooting (4-5 from 3) and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes. While I am not saying Santi is going to be amazing or the next big thing, I believe he will be appreciated as he will step into a starting lineup next to Ja Morant and get national attention as a result. If he can carry over the preseason momentum into the regular season in any way, shape or form…. A cheap shot in the dark on Aldama could very well pay off.

Honorable Mentions: Collin Sexton, Kevin Huerter, Josh Green, Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy, Austin Reaves, Cameron Thomas, Dalano Banton, Tre Mann, Franz Wagner, Jaylen Nowell, Keon Johnson/CJ Elleby, Jordan Nwora, Quentin Grimes, Tari Eason (Rookie), Jamal Cain (Rookie)