NBA Roundtable: Are the Lakers the Second-Best Team in the West?
NBA Roundtable: Are the Lakers the Second-Best Team in the West?

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Welcome to the Week 9 edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable. Each week, our NBA staff gets together to answer questions about the biggest topics of the week, both in fantasy basketball and the league overall.

This week, we talk power rankings, Coach of the Year, the Lakers' place in the West and more:

With Gary Harris, Will Barton and Paul Millsap all out for Denver, which Nuggets players are you most confident can help fantasy owners in the meantime?

Nick Whalen: Juancho Hernangomez is the obvious one, but he was already a major factor in the rotation before the injuries, and he could see a slight regression when Will Barton returns. Monte Morris is a name to keep an eye on in deeper formats. Obviously he's more of a point guard, but his opportunities have increased since Harris went down, and he's averaging 13.8 points, 4.3 assists and 2.3 made threes over the last four games.

Ken Crites: I gotta go with Juancho. I love his potential for threes and rebounds. He's only 23 and missed most of last season, there is room for more upside. Hopefully Will Barton returns this weekend.

Shannon McKeown: I'm targeting Hernangomez and Lyles in all but the shallowest of formats. Millsap will be out the longest, and the Nuggets two forwards have the highest ceiling. Morris is also a good option in deeper formats, if you're looking for a short-term boost in assists.

Mike Barner: I like Hernangomez the most. He's logged at least 37 minutes in four straight games, so he certainly has a clear path to playing time. Across 10 games in which he has logged at least 30 minutes, he has averaged 13.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 three-pointers while shooting 51.1 percent from the field.

Alex Rikleen: Trey Lyles. Hernangomez was averaging 32.7 minutes and starting before Harris or Millsap got hurt, and we didn't feel compelled to add him then. Beasley and Morris are interesting, especially in deeper leagues, but they don't have the upside of Lyles. During a 19-game stretch in 2017-18 when Millsap was out, Lyles averaged 16.1 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.1 threes and 1.4 assists in 28.3 minutes. He wasn't that effective for the entirety of Millsap's absence last year, but that's a long stretch of really good production.

As of today, who is your Coach of the Year?

James Anderson: Dave Joerger. This may be the greatest coaching performance in league history through 27 games.

Whalen: Jim Boylen. It's about time someone brought some accountability back to the NBA. Actually, though, in the spirit of how the award is traditionally handed out, it's probably Budenholzer or Mike Malone. Nick Nurse certainly has a case, but Toronto won 59 games last season, and if they eclipse that number a lot of the credit probably goes to Kawhi Leonard. If Denver finishes with a top-two seed or the Kings make the playoffs, Mike Malone and Dave Joerger will also have strong cases.

Crites: Let's stay in Denver and go with Mike Malone. The Nuggets are in first place in the West. Who would have predicted that, especially with their injuries?

McKeown: If the season ended today, Rick Carlisle, J.B. Bickerstaff and Dave Joerger would be my top picks. Those are the only two candidates whose teams are vastly outperforming their preseason expectations. Toronto, for instance, was a favorite in the East, even without Nick Nurse's impressive display of coaching.

Barner: Nick Nurse. Kawhi Leonard still isn't playing in both games of back-to-back sets and has missed a total of eight games, but the Raptors are still a sparkling 23-7.

Rikleen: This is a tough one to answer, since so frequently the winner is determined by which teams surge or collapse late. Additionally, you have the same problem with Gregg Popovich that exists with LeBron and the MVP – does it ever make sense to give the award to someone else? That said, I'd give it to Mike Budenholzer, for finally making the Bucks as good as we knew they should be. Honorable Mention to Brett Brown for seamlessly incorporating Jimmy Butler and managing the ongoing Markelle Fultz fiasco while keeping the 76ers at the top of the East.

Power Rankings: Rank the top five teams in the NBA as of Thursday.

Anderson: Warriors, Raptors, Celtics, Bucks, 76ers

Whalen: Warriors, Raptors, Celtics, Bucks, Thunder

Crites: Raptors, Nuggets, Warriors, Bucks and Celtics.

McKeown: Warriors, Bucks, Raptors, Thunder, Celtics

Barner: Raptors, Warriors, Nuggets, Bucks and Celtics

Rikleen: Warriors, Raptors, Bucks, Thunder, Celtics. Celtics passed up the Nuggets due to the Nuggets injuries.

Would you rather buy low on Khris Middleton (averaging 11.2 points on 27.9% shooting since the start of December), or Jamal Murray (down to 41.8% FG and 30.5% 3PT on the season)?

Anderson: I like both of them. I'm guessing Murray would be cheaper to acquire. Can't imagine the Middleton owner is panicking, but if they are, then by all means.

Whalen: I expected much bigger things out of Murray this season, and while he still has time to turn it around, I think Middleton is the slightly safer bet. These last two weeks have been a disaster, but he's still hovering around 40 percent from three for the season.

Crites: I'm going with Middleton because I assume Murray's scoring opportunities will go down slightly with Barton's return, followed by Harris in early January.

McKeown: I'm buying low on both, but I prefer Murray. We saw Middleton's ceiling last year. Meanwhile, at 21, Murray still has plenty of untapped upside

Barner: Middleton. There is no way he continues to shoot just 41.8 percent from the field. He's a career 45.2 percent shooter. Murray has expanded his all-around contributions this season, but Middleton still has the edge in rebounds and steals.

Rikleen: I'm always going to side with the guy who has been there before. Middleton is only 27 years old, it's not like he's fading because he's past the zenith of his career. He was a top-30 player in two of the last three seasons. And with all the Nuggets injuries, defenses will be better able to focus in on Murray, at least over the short term. I expect both to bounce back, but if I have to pick one it's Middleton.

Projecting over the next three seasons, who are your top three rookies to own?

Anderson: Luka Doncic (duh). Jaren Jackson (the defensive counting stats are going to be spectacular). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (he might be an above-average contributor in every category except three-pointers).

Whalen: Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson, Deandre Ayton. You can maybe shuffle the order depending on format, but the first two are locks. I debated between Ayton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Wendell Carter for the third spot. Ayton is probably the safest bet, but SGA has the higher ceiling. Carter is difficult to evaluate in his current basketball situation.

Crites: Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Doncic is 19, yet already plays like a vet. Dallas will be his team next year. Jackson is a blocks machine who might average a double-double next season SGA, like Doncic, already looks like a vet – he's a longer Sidney Moncrief. I don't trust the Suns and Kings to develop Ayton and Bagley.

McKeown: From a fantasy perspective, Jaren Jackson, Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, in that order. Jackson's elite defensive production will push him to the top of the heap, as far as overall fantasy value is concerned. In real-life, Luka will be the best player.

Barner: Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Deandre Ayton. Doncic is going to me a multi-category monster for years to come. Once Jackson learns how to stay out of foul trouble, the sky's the limit for him. Ayton is a walking double-double who isn't a liability with his free-throw shooting, which is huge for a center.

Rikleen: 1. Jaren Jackson. He's a defensive monster and he's efficient on offense. His defensive stats aren't going anywhere, and he's already one of the best Fantasy defensive players regardless of age. 2. Luka Doncic. He'd be No. 1 in 8-cat, but his turnover rate knocks him down a peg in 9-cat. 3. Robert Williams or Mo Bamba. Blocks and assists are huge drivers of Fantasy value, and this rookie class has several absurdly talented shot-blockers. Both Williams and Bamba are suck behind really good big men, so whichever has the clearest path to minutes over the next three years is the one I'd rather.

How many teams in the West would you take to win a playoff series over the Lakers right now?

Anderson: Probably just the Warriors.

Whalen: You could talk me into Denver or OKC, but right now the Warriors are the only team I'm 100 percent confident would win that series.

Crites: Two: Golden State and Denver. LeBron is saving himself. He'll crank it up another gear come playoff time.

McKeown: Two: Golden State and Oklahoma City. I really want to add Denver, but then I remember that the Lakers have LeBron.

Barner: One. That team is, of course, the Warriors. I know the Lakers have an awkward roster, but beating LeBron in a seven-game series is no easy task.

Rikleen: One

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Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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