Offseason Extra: The winners and losers
Who were the winners and losers this offseason? Our Chris Towers takes stock in the roster moves over the last couple months and points out who's looking good and who's in trouble.
With a few exceptions -- Nikola Pekovic agent forget to pay the phone bill? -- the dust has largely settled on the busiest part of the offseason.
The biggest names have all found new homes, either via trade or free agency, and there is plenty to digest for Fantasy owners as they prepare for next season.
Some of the moves won't make much of an impact right away: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul were going to be elite Fantasy options no matter where they ended up. The opposite is true for guys like Nick Young and Byron Mullens , who probably cannot do much of anything to change who they are at this point.
There were plenty of changes across the landscape of the league that will change how Fantasy owners have to approach the upcoming season. While it isn't always a cut-and-dried issue, I like to think at least some of the offseason's moves can be broken down by a binary system -- Winners vs. Losers.
Young players in Boston, Philadelphia, and Utah
With seemingly half the league gunning for pole position in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes in next season's draft lottery, we saw quite a few teams shed payroll and playoff aspirations in an effort to be as bad as possible this season. The easiest way to get bad fast is to throw young players into the fire, and that is what these three teams in particular look to be doing.
The Celtics and 76ers could rely more on newly acquired players, specifically rookies Kelly Olynyk and Michael Carter-Williams , who have a good chance to emerge as Fantasy contributors as the season goes on given their projected roles. We should also see the continued emergence of relatively young players with mixed track records like Thaddeus Young , Evan Turner and Jeff Green , who should be asked to shoulder a bigger load than ever before this season.
The Jazz, however, are the most intriguing option, as they already had plenty of young talent on hand before letting Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk via free agency. Those two departures should lead to the long-awaited unleashing of former No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors , who has been a Fantasy favorite for a while. We should also see Gordon Hayward take on more responsibility as a scorer and a playmaker, and I think he is more than ready to do so. Hayward is going to be a popular breakout pick this season and I think he can vault into the top-25 among Fantasy forwards. Alec Burks and Trey Burke should also be a popular sleeper options in the backcourt.
It says a lot about what kind of career Pau Gasol has had when 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.2 blocks per game is considered a resounding disappointment. This is a bar for future first-ballot Hall-of-Fame players, and it is one that Gasol should have little trouble clearing with ease, even if he isn't much of a leaper in real life anymore.
Dwight Howard gone via free agency and Kobe Bryant likely to get a late start on the season thanks to an Achilles surgery, Gasol should be asked to carry a larger load than usual this season. He should also be moving back to center, where his skill set should age more gracefully. Gasol might not ever be the 20-10 player of years past, but expect the Lakers to lean on him to a large degree, especially since Chris Kaman is the only other option picked up as a free agent. With the Lakers lacking much of anything resembling go-to options until Kobe comes back, I'm expecting a big bounce-back campaign from Gasol. And that is almost entirely due to Dwight Howard departure.
Though he has likely doomed himself to at least a few years of lottery trips, Al Jefferson 's decision to sign with the Bobcats should be a boon for his Fantasy value. After being forced to take on ever-smaller roles in the Jazz's crowded frontcourt, Jefferson will now be the man in Charlotte. He should get the ball whenever he wants and will be the focal point of an offense that actually has some talent on the perimeter.
Jefferson has been in a steady statistical decline since joining the Jazz, but he could see a return to levels of production not seen since he was in Minnesota. Jefferson was once a lock for 20 points and 11 rebounds per game and he could approach those numbers with the Bobcats. Jefferson still finished fifth in Fantasy scoring among centers last season, but I could see him emerging as a possible option for the top center in the league in 2013-14.
Eric Bledsoe is going to be a popular breakout choice this season -- and for good reason. After the trade that sent him to Phoenix, Bledsoe should be given much more leeway than he had in Los Angeles, where he was buried behind Chris Paul and could only show glimpses of his considerable potential. The Suns should be dreadful again this season, but watching Bledsoe figure out how to harness his considerable physical gifts within the confines of a functioning offense.
Bledsoe fills up the box score like few other players in the game, as he averaged 14.9 points, 5.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 steals and an astounding 1.3 blocks per-36 minutes last season. While he did much of that against tired starters or second units, Bledsoe's work in 12 games as a starter last season does much to make me confident in his ability to sustain his production; he averaged 14.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists in those games. While Bledsoe will be sharing the point guard duties with Goran Dragic in Phoenix, his move this offseason immediately puts him among the ranks of the starting guards in Fantasy, with huge upside.
Like Pau Gasol , Chandler Parsons didn't actually change his address this offseason, but his Fantasy value should tick up with Dwight Howard 's decision to head to Houston. Parsons already took a step forward across the board last season, and that was before Howard arrived to occupy all that space in the middle of the floor. Omer Asik was a solid pick and roll partner for James Harden , but Howard is on another level, and defenses will have no choice but to inch down into the paint to guard that. That should leave Parsons even more wide open than he was last season, when he shot 38.5 percent from three-point range and upped his scoring to 15.5 points per game.
Without much in the way of competition for playing time at small forward, Parsons should play a ton of minutes yet again. His skill set has increased across the board in his two years in the NBA, which only serves to increase his value. Parsons upped his assist rate last season, and could have the potential to play the part of the late-2000's Hedo Turkoglu , who thrived so much next to Howard. Parsons should receive plenty of ancillary benefits to Howard's move to Houston, making him a possible top-15 Fantasy forward in all formats.
The Warriors stumbled onto a second-gear in the postseason last year, as they became a long-range juggernaut once David Lee went down with a hip injury. Though he was ultimately able to play in five games after the injury, the Warriors consistently played their best ball without Lee on the floor, as they were able to load up on the perimeter and open driving lanes with their elite shooting. And their offseason acquisition of Andre Iguodala indicates that the organization thinks that small ball is the answer long term.
The elephant in the room, then, is Lee and his massive contract. The Warriors cannot turn away from him, but it is abundantly clear that he is no longer the franchise centerpiece he once was. They reportedly tried to trade Lee last season, and it is not hard to see how his brand of flat-footed defense and lack of three-point range will lead to the Warriors leaning on him less. Lee is still a fantastic player -- on the offensive side of the ball -- but I expect a reduction in both playing time and touches, especially after each of his last two seasons have ended with Lee going under the knife. Lee has consistently been a top Fantasy option in recent years, but the Warriors' changing culture should knock him down to the next tier this season.
Old players in Brooklyn
That pretty much covers everyone in Brooklyn, as the Nets doubled down on their star-heavy plans this offseason with the acquisitions of Kevin Garnett , Paul Pierce , Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry . That means six of the team's top nine rotation options are above the age of 32, with only Deron Williams (29) and Brook Lopez (25) entering the season on the right side of 30. This arrangement should work out fine for the Nets, who have the kind of depth to keep their older players healthy and fresh by limiting their minutes, but it also should create a headache for Fantasy owners.
The Nets have strong options at three of five positions, with Lopez and Williams the only starters likely to continue seeing a similar number of minutes as last season. Not coincidentally, they are the only Nets' players I have projected as top-tier options at their respective positions. Pierce, Garnett and Kirilenko, along with Joe Johnson , should all remain useful and worth having on the roster, but Fantasy owners will likely grow frustrated if they expect their previous levels out of those vets.
Everyone not named Ty Lawson in Denver
Though some of the Nuggets' disastrous offseason has been self-inflicted (firing George Karl, specifically), much of what went wrong in Denver was largely beyond their control. Still, it is tough to make sense of their fallback options, which included signing J.J. Hickson, Timofey Mozgov and Nat Robinson. The Nuggets' unique roster construction at least made sense last season; now, I'm not sure what to make of their rotations, especially with new coach Brian Shaw's plans a mystery.
Ty Lawson should remain a rock, but I can't make sense of the rest of the team right now. There is loads of Fantasy potential here, especially with JaVale McGee and Wilson Chandler looking at larger roles. Unfortunately, that potential comes with plenty of risk given the numerous questions surrounding the team and their plans. I wouldn't want to take a chance on anyone in Denver except Lawson on Draft Day.
J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley
I'm sure if you asked J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley , they would probably count themselves among the big winners of the offseason. Each went from a fairly hopeless situation to a team that could very easily come out of the West this season, and they will be placed in better positions to succeed than arguably at any other time in their career.
Unfortunately, from a Fantasy perspective, we're likely to see both players take a step back this season. Redick enjoyed a career-best season across the board in 2012-13, but his production took a big hit after he was taken from his high-usage role in Orlando, and Fantasy owners should expect more of the same as the Clippers will be able to limit what he is asked to do. Dudley will similarly be used more as a role player than in recent years, as he will be asked to do little more than spot up on offense, while putting more focus on defense. Each player will likely see their Fantasy value drop to that of a low-end starting option, at best, after their moves.
Omer Asik spent the first two years of his career stuck behind an All-Star center before breaking out in his first season with the Rockets last season. So it is no surprise that he reportedly demanded a trade upon learning of the Rockets' acquisition of Dwight Howard , as it will only serve to push Asik to the same role coming off the bench that he escaped in Chicago. Howard reportedly asked the Rockets to keep Asik, as he has expressed in the past how much he enjoys playing with another seven-footer, but it is pretty clear Asik is looking at a significantly decreased role yet again.
Last season, Asik was one of the more useful centers in the league, averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game; only 11 other players averaged a double-double, and none did so while playing in all 82 games as Asik did. While he is likely to see more than the 13.2 minutes per game he averaged over his first two seasons, Asik is clearly not going to be a worthy starting Fantasy option this season. Strike one more center off your list on Draft Day, weakening an already shallow position.