2018-19 Fantasy Basketball: Depth chart analysis
Rosters are being finalized ahead of training camps, and Alex Barutha analyzes some of the most glaring questions on them.
The 2018-19 NBA season is still off in the distance, but most teams are done making major moves in free agency and have begun the process of filling out their training camp rosters.
Now that we've had a moment to digest everything, let's take a look at some depth charts around the league that currently leave us with more questions than answers, so we can be prepared come draft day.
If there's a constant in Charlotte, it's that Kemba Walker, an All-Star in each of the past two years, will see his usual 35 minutes on most nights. But after winning 36 games last season, the Hornets opted to make some changes. Former Spurs' assistant James Borrego replaced Steve Clifford, Dwight Howard was traded away, and Miles Bridges was selected with the 12th overall pick in June's draft.
Still, the Hornets' identity remains clouded, at best. The Eastern Conference is weaker, but there are essentially no playoff expectations for Charlotte, which didn't make any major roster moves outside of dealing Howard. Veterans Marvin Williams (31 years old) and Nicolas Batum (29) were third and fourth on the team in minutes last season and will probably be expecting similar roles this time around. If things go south sooner than later, how quickly will Borrego pull the plug, handing bigger roles to guys like Jeremy Lamb, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, Frank Kaminsky and Willy Hernangomez?
There are no easy answers. And, realistically, even if the Hornets stumble out of the gate, they'll probably in the mix for the eighth seed by default. Fantasy owners looking to draft almost anyone aside from Walker should take caution. Veterans' minutes may dip late in the season; young players' minutes may not evolve until things look grim.
The situation becomes less complicated if Robin Lopez's minutes are thrown out the window, like they were post-All-Star break last season. But that's no guarantee, as the organization may feel it's in position to begin competing for a playoff spot given its recent additions. It's hard to argue that Chicago is less talented than Detroit or Charlotte, but whether the young Bulls are ready to take the next step very much remains to be seen.
In addition to Lopez, coach Fred Hoiberg will be challenged to work out a productive rotation for Wendell Carter, Jr., Bobby Portis, Lauri Markkanen and Jabari Parker. Though he played 78 percent of his minutes at power forward during his 183 games with Milwaukee, Parker will presumably begin the year starting at small forward. If that plan works, Chicago's rotation will be easier to predict.
Putting aside Parker's two ACL tears, Portis is the riskiest gamble Fantasy owners can take out of the group, from a workload perspective. There's reason to still believe in his upside (20.9 PPG and 10.0 RPG when he saw 30-plus minutes last year), but the addition of Carter makes a path to playing time more difficult for Portis, who has seen 42 percent of his career minutes at center. If there's a silver lining for Fantasy owners, it's that when Portis is on the court, he's essentially the big man version of Jordan Clarkson. Last season, Portis posted a career-high 26.0% usage rate, higher than that of Paul George, Julius Randle, Jimmy Butler and Aaron Gordon.
The Clippers' backcourt
The Clippers were decimated by injuries last season, though they remained surprisingly competitive, winning 42 games with Tyrone Wallace, Sindarius Thornwell, and C.J. Williams combining to start 53 games. Only two players started more than half of LA's contests: DeAndre Jordan (77) and Austin Rivers (59), neither of whom are still on the roster. With so many players returning and a couple being added, where are the minutes going?
In the backcourt, coach Doc Rivers has Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Lou Williams and Avery Bradley to choose from. Beverley and Teodosic combined for 56 appearances last season, Bradley was a trade-deadline addition, Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson are promising rookies, while Williams is coming off of arguably the best year of his career.
Fantasy owners looking at a player in this backcourt should err on the side of caution, as it might be tough for any individual player to see minutes in the high-20s. Williams should still manage to retain Fantasy relevance, however, as he averaged just over 17 points per game when seeing between 20 and 29 minutes last season.
Gilgeous-Alexander looked even better than expected for much of the Las Vegas Summer League, but he's more of a consideration in keeper/dynasty formats.
The Lakers, outside of LeBron and Ingram
Promising rookies Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma each saw 30-plus minutes per game last season but will now have to fight for time with veterans Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley, not to mention summer league MVP Josh Hart. Kuzma, in particular, is likely to see a drop in Fantasy value -- though he could pick some of the minutes vacated by Julius Randle -- while Ball's case is a bit more complicated. While his playing time could take a slight dip, Ball was so wildly shaky as a shooter last season -- 36% FG; 30.5% 3PT; 45.1% FT -- that even a modest improvement in all three categories could boost his value. Ball was hyper-efficient as as shooter at UCLA (55.1% FG; 41.2% 3PT), so the hope is that the addition of James leads to a more comfortable and confident Ball, especially in catch-and-shoot situations.
While the backcourt and wing rotations will eventually work themselves out, the Lakers have a major hole at center. JaVale McGee hasn't played 15 minutes per game in five years, Ivica Zubac played more G-League minutes than NBA minutes last season, and Moritz Wagner is yet to play a second in the NBA. For Fantasy purposes, it's probably best to avoid all three in standard formats.
After ranking third on the team in points per game (15.8) during the 2016-17 season, Dion Waiters underwent ankle surgery, limiting him to just 30 appearances last year. In his absence, multiple players stepped up. Josh Richardson took the biggest leap, enjoying a Fantasy breakout that saw him become a top-40 player in many formats. Wayne Ellington also turned into one of the league's best volume outside shooters, tying for sixth in made threes.
A year later, coach Erik Spoelstra will be tasked with figuring out how quickly, and how much, he should re-integrate Waiters back into the rotation. Even beyond Richardson and Ellington, the Heat still have Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow -- both deserving of playing time -- as wing options. From a Fantasy perspective, it feels like a no-win scenario, with every player sacrificing some of their role. Come draft day, it may be best to approach the situation conservatively, though Richardson is the strongest candidate to still turn in a top-60 season.
New York's point guards
Amid offensive struggles for rookie Frank Ntilikina, who posted an abysmal 43.7 true shooting percentage, Knicks management opted to make some moves to add point guard depth. Trey Burke was recalled from the G-League in mid-January and went on to play some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 12.8 points and 4.7 assists on 50.3 percent shooting, which included a 42-point, 12-assist outburst against the Hornets in late March. Also at the trade deadline, the Knicks added Emmanuel Mudiay in a three-team deal that sent Doug McDermott to the Mavericks and a second-round pick to Denver. The change of scenery didn't immediately help the struggling guard, as Mudiay shot just 36.8 percent from the floor after coming to New York.
To alleviate some pressure, new head coach David Fizdale may opt to play the defensive-minded Ntilikina more at shooting guard. Jeff Hornacek tinked with that look last season, with Ntilikina seeing 29 percent of his minutes off the ball. Still, unless the 20-year-old improves his range, that look may not provide adequate floor spacing, particularly with Kristaps Porzingis likely to miss much of the season.
How much patience Fizdale will have with Mudiay is also unclear. From a Fantasy perspective, Ntilikina's defensive upside and Burke's offensive efficiency make them the safer options. However, it's tough to have confidence that either player will see enough usage to be worth a late-round selection come draft day.
The Thunder, who gained a huge victory with Paul George re-signing, made some other moves over the summer to re-tool following a first-round exit against the Jazz. GM Sam Presti traded away Carmelo Anthony and got Dennis Schroder back from Atlanta, bolstering the guard depth for what was one of the league's shallowest benches last season. Nerlens Noel was also acquired through free agency. But what will OKC's rotation look like after losing its starting power forward and failing to acquire a true replacement?
While he was mostly a disappointment in OKC, Anthony's departure leaves just over 32 minutes and 16 points per game on the table. The newly re-signed Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson are the most obvious players to step up, but neither has the ability to score on the level of even the current version of Anthony. Grant is a proven defender (a combined 2.8 blocks/steals per 36 minutes for his career) but hit just 29.1 percent of his threes last season. Patterson is essentially the opposite. He's combined for 1.7 steals/blocks per 36 minutes for his career, but he shot 38.6 percent from deep last year. It's reasonable to expect the two to split minutes, but things could fluctuate on a night-to-night basis, depending on game script.
It will be difficult for Noel to see Fantasy-relevant minutes behind Steven Adams, and he'll probably only be worth checking out if Adams suffers an injury. Schroder, on the other hand, should still be able to garner sixth-man minutes off the bench, assuming Billy Donovan is comfortable putting him and Westbrook on the floor at the same time. In the 22 games last season in which Schroder saw between 20 and 29 minutes, he averaged 16.2 points and 4.5 assists -- a possible indication of the kind of production to expect in OKC.
Orlando's point guard and center
After Orlando dealt Elfrid Payton to the Suns for a second-round pick in February, a void was created at point guard. Veteran D.J. Augustin finished the year out as the starter, averaging 12.8 points and 5.0 assists per game post-deadline. With the team stuck in rebuilding mode but thin on young, promising guards, GM John Hammond moved to acquire Jerian Grant from the Bulls in a three-team deal. Efficiency remains a concern for Grant (41.5% FG last season), but he flashed improved playmaking ability last season, averaging 7.3 assists with just 1.9 turnovers per 36 minutes. Considering the situation, Grant has Fantasy sleeper potential, assuming he can maintain minutes in the upper-20s. More clarity on his role could emerge during training camp.
Nikola Vucevic has started 380 of his past 405 appearances with the Magic, averaging 31.6 minutes per game over that stretch. That role could be in jeopardy this season after the Magic selected Mohamed Bamba with the sixth overall pick in the draft. The Texas product shouldn't be expected to start Day 1, but his defense alone (3.7 blocks per game last season and a freakish 7-foot-9 wingspan) should be enough to warrant a consistent, rotational role. Whether or not he's NBA-ready, offensively, remains to be seen, but Bamba's ability to run the floor in transition and hit spot-up threes makes him an intriguing late-round flyer.
How, exactly, the center rotation shakes out will be something to keep an eye on. Vucevic has the clear advantage at this point, but if Orlando gets off to another rough start, a pivot toward youth -- which could include shopping the expiring Vucevic -- may be in store. For reference, Vucevic averaged 14.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.0 combined steals/blocks when garnering between 20 and 29 minutes last season.
Booker has averaged over 34 minutes per game in each of the past two seasons -- a role that shouldn't change as the Suns shift toward actually trying to win basketball games, let alone his upside as one of the league's best young players. Ayton was the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft and should be the starter from Day 1, even with veteran Tyson Chandler still on the roster. Ayton is coming off of a productive summer league in which he averaged 14.5 points on 59.5 percent shooting, 10.5 rebounds and a combined 2.0 blocks/steals across 26.8 minutes per game.
Meanwhile, here are the rest of the players for the other three positions, each of whom saw rotational minutes last season or will presumably get a shot to this season: Brandon Knight, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Trevor Ariza, Dragan Bender, and Marquese Chriss. You could even throw 31st overall pick, point guard Elie Okobo, into that mix.
Of that list, Knight, Bender and Chriss are the players on the hot seat. Knight didn't play due to a torn ACL last season and hasn't played more than 63 games since 2013-14. Bender, the fourth overall pick in 2016, averaged 6.5 points in 25.2 minutes last season. Chriss regressed as a scorer from his rookie year and has frequent defensive lapses. All three will be given a fair shot to prove themselves at the beginning of the year, but they're the likeliest candidates to see their role reduced. As a result, all three should be avoided in most Fantasy drafts, though Knight is a bit of a wild card given his previous production -- 19.6 PPG, 5.1 APG in 52 games in 2015-16 -- and the lack of depth at point guard.
As skilled as each remaining player is in certain aspects, finding enough run to crack the top-125 by the season's end won't be easy. Warren, Jackson and Ariza are fair options as late-round flyers but have limited upside. Evaluating which one to take might come down to whether you need to bolster scoring (Warren), threes and steals (Ariza), or believe Jackson will blossom into a better all-around player after showing encouraging flashes late in his rookie season.
Brace for a busy Wednesday and Friday sandwiching an idle Thanksgiving.
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