You'd be hard-pressed to find a fantasy basketball league as active and creative as the dealings that go on in the actual NBA. Trading Paul George in the middle of a Friday night for a promising young guard, a savvy Italian wing, and a haul of future draft picks? That sounds a bit bold for your home roto league -- especially since you'd have to be up all night texting -- but is just the type of transaction the NBA is known for.
As John Cregan notes in his hilarious canvassing of this uniquely entertaining summer in the NBA, we saw an absurd amount of significant player movement occur in that wild first week of July. For some context, half of the 10 starters for the All-Star game last February are now on different teams heading into the new season. In total, eight 2019 All-Stars changed jerseys this summer.
With a focus on the top faces in new places this season (not including rookies), let's discuss the fantasy-relevant players from each position who've landed in new and potentially meaningful roles. I group and discuss such players as maintaining value, gaining value, or losing value from a fantasy perspective.
Let's lead off with the most boring bunch! But really, it's natural that some high-usage superstars will sustain nearly equal fantasy value despite changing teams. Anthony Davis, for instance, will almost surely match his opportunity rates from the past three seasons with the Pelicans, which come to 19.5 shots per game and a usage rate (estimate of team plays an individual player consumes) around 30%, in his debut season with the Lakers. Entering his age 26 season, Davis is in the heart of his prime and reasonably ranked first overall in our rotisserie rankings and third in both sets of head-to-head rankings.
Several superstar guards shifted addresses this past July, and most of them fit in this same sustained valued tier as Davis. Acquired by Boston in a unique sign-and-trade deal with the Hornets, Kemba Walker is ranked 15th in roto heading into the season after finishing 11th overall last season on the Player Rater -- a standard deviation model that values statistical diversity and scarcity.
Walker won't shoot 20.5 times per game with the Celtics like he did last year with the Hornets, but I'm of the belief he can leap in scoring efficiency and even assist rate in a Boston system that has routinely fostered career-best offensive efficiency rates from the likes of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Morris and Jae Crowder to name a few. Even Kyrie Irving, whom I discuss in greater detail below, posted his two best true shooting rates of his career in Brad Stevens' system.
Back to George and the Clippers' overnight coup, I find that both he and Kawhi Leonard also sustain value, given how the team cleared the deck for them to be key high-usage wings. There is potential for Leonard to actually gain value fantasy-wise if he's able to play more games than last year's load management campaign with the Raptors.
Now to the fun tier -- those who potentially gained value as fantasy performers this offseason.
Let's lead off with Irving, who might not post the same offensive efficiency rates as with Boston, but his shift to Brooklyn likely means a worthy uptick in pick-and-roll volume and simply a leap in raw shooting output. I'd look to Irving's final season in Cleveland, when he approached 20 shots per game and produced a career-best 25.2 PPG as a precedent. Given Nets coach Kenny Atkinson's affinity for pace, this could be an epic fantasy campaign from "Uncle Drew."
You can make the argument that shooting guard is the most shallow position when it comes to superstar-grade statistical production. With this in mind, I think Jimmy Butler's shift to South Beach (however painful for this Sixers fan), is a massive boon to his fantasy stock. While he was the closer for the Sixers in many senses last season while handling a great share of high-leverage possessions, he will now be the opener and closer for Miami. Like with Irving, I look to Butler's last season with Chicago or his first season in Minnesota as the precedent for usage and production heading into this season. It seems a key motivation in Butler's affinity for Miami was unfettered stardom and freedom to play his ball-dominant dribble-and-probe style. With an average draft position of 22nd overall at the moment, I think there is some room for profit in that range for Butler and his fantasy investors.
In a recent breakdown of second-year breakout candidates, Cregan deftly details how Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has top-60 potential as a fantasy contributor, given the Thunder's obvious commitment to building around the emergent combo guard. While I am content to take mid-round risks on SGA, considering what should be a rewarding role with the Thunder, I'm actually most interested in a CP3 revival. I know that Chris Paul is an injury risk, given age and precedent, but consider that he posted a rich usage rate of 28.6% and slashed for per-36-minutes rates of 22.5 PPG, 12.5 APG, 5.4 RPG, with 3.1 3PG and a gaudy 2.2 SPG last season with Houston in the 726 minutes he played with James Harden on the bench. These numbers dipped to 17.6 PPG, 9.2 APG, 5.2 RPG and fewer 3s and the same steal rate with Harden on the floor on a per-36 basis.
This signals that Paul was actually still very much elite statistically when he was the unquestioned floor general for Houston and could return major value at his current ADP of 42nd overall. Those non-Harden numbers are the things expected of first-round fantasy forces. For some context, I was able to land Paul in the sixth round of a recent staff roto mock draft.
Lonzo Ball gained some value simply by being afforded a fresh start on a team that can help buffer some of his scoring deficiencies. Brandon Ingram is similarly in a better spot, since he should see the ball more with Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson as the only players who profile as truly high-usage peers in New Orleans. Going 81st overall in drafts as the 14th wing off the board on average, behind the likes of Rudy Gay and RJ Barrett, there is undoubtedly some profit potential for a young wing who quietly was ascending before suffering a season-ending ailment. To confirm his strong finish to the season, most of these games sans LeBron James, Ingram averaged 20.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.5 APG with somewhat modest defensive rates during his past 32 games with Los Angeles last season. I completely believe he can sustain this level of production for the Pelicans.
Of the big men who changed jerseys and gained significant value, Derrick Favors has to be near the top of the list. After years struggling to stay on the court, Favors has averaged 77 games the past two seasons with Utah. Favors' rebounding opportunities should absolutely spike now that he's the clear starting center for the Hawks. The rare big capable of averaging more than a steal and block per game, Favors undoubtedly gained value this offseason and his draft price remains entirely reasonable (ADP of 77).
Whatever Josh Richardson loses in creation duties -- he was 31st in the league in possessions as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll sets last season -- I believe he can offset with increased freedom to gamble for steals and blocks in Philly. Richardson made nearly 39 percent of his 4.6 catch-and-shoot attempts from 3-point range last summer, and his shooting opportunities could also spike in Philly's pace-and-space system.
Terry Rozier is a bit trickier to diagnose, yet I've concluded that he's a good buy in points leagues, given what should be a high-usage role for the Hornets, but I recommend fading him in roto and category leagues for his potential to sink shooting efficiency without the requisite payoff.
Per some of the more under-the-radar risers, Tomas Satoransky is a solid sleeper in Chicago. Kris Dunn has struggled to provide league-average offense to date, while Coby White likely needs time to develop. This could all lead to "Sato" getting real burn on what could be a rising roster in the East.
I'm a big fan of two sleepers for Dallas, as a return to the Mavericks signals a familiar role for Seth Curry, who profiles as essentially a free shooting specialist deep into drafts. Curry could enjoy career-best volume from behind the line and, mind you, is third all-time in NBA history with a silly 43.8% clip from 3-point range (just besting brother Stephen, who comes in at fifth overall at 43.6%). I'm an even bigger fan of the value Delon Wright gained by securing a full-time combo role in Dallas. One of best sources for cheap steals and atypically strong rebounding from the backcourt, Wright can build on his strong finish from last season in Memphis.
Delving deep into the twilight rounds of fantasy drafts, it's worth taking fliers on Alec Burks -- who is going to play a lot of minutes for Golden State to begin the season -- and Ish Smith, who will by default consume a ton of touches and playmaking possessions for a depleted Wizards roster.
Sticking with the Wizards, Davis Bertans is going to have great opportunity rates and could deliver nice value as a shooting specialist late into drafts. I'm also taking shots on Portland's Kent Bazemore, who really needed only consistent minutes in Atlanta to flash rewarding steal and shooting results. Portland lost lots of wing minutes over the offseason, leaving Bazemore in a great spot to excel.
Much like with Walker, Russell Westbrook joins a team with a stronger offensive resume than his previous past several seasons; Houston ranked second in offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) in 2018-19 and has set 3-point frequency records (percentage of total shots that come from beyond the arc) for several seasons now. Unlike with Walker, Westbrook joins a team that already has a high-usage initiator coming off of the highest usage rate in league history amid one of the best scoring seasons we've ever seen.
Like with Paul last season, I think Westbrook can and will thrive when he's the creator in Mike D'Antoni's fantasy-friendly system, but I also believe -- as the case was with Paul -- Westbrook's opportunity rates could be suppressed when on the floor with Harden. Currently going ninth overall in ESPN live drafts, I'd rather roster Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, and both Clippers wings to name some players going just after Westbrook in drafts.
While I'm buying several new Pelicans, I'm fading JJ Redick. The veteran sharpshooter was awesome for the Sixers as a high-volume gravity force the past two seasons. And that's just it, I can't buy that the Pelicans are going to construct the same screen gauntlet and DHO-driven (direct handoff) offense Brett Brown orchestrated for Redick. The Sixers didn't have other shooting sources, but the Pelicans appear far deeper in perimeter creation. Redick is a one-trick fantasy performer, so there is simply less room for error if his role or shot quality shifts.
I loved what he was able to do with Brooklyn last season in his breakout All-Star campaign, but D'Angelo Russell is a player I will generally fade given this fairly massive transition from a pick-and-roll heavy role in Brooklyn to a motion-driven Golden State scheme. The shooting production will likely still prove elite, but it's hard to overlook a potentially sizable dip in assist opportunities.
To confirm I'm not fully in the bag for my Sixers, it seems Horford's shift to Philly includes more rest and far less work around the rim, given he's transitioning away from playing primarily center. I'm going to guess less work at the rim could lead to fewer blocks and boards. There could be more shooting opportunities for Horford on a team that will need his spacing, but this is likely one of those moves that could work out really well in the real sense but causes a sense of depreciation in fantasy value.
Can T.J. Warren build on one of the biggest surges in shooting efficiency we've ever seen? If you know the answer, please let me know. Warren was afforded rare offensive freedom in Phoenix and might be on more of usage budget with the Pacers.