Fantasy Basketball: Implications of early offseason moves starting with Anthony Davis to Lakers
Anthony Davis to L.A.? What about Kawhi Leonard? The two superstars headline early offseason moves and storylines that will impact Fantasy.
The NBA Finals came to an end more than a week ago, but the NBA's perpetual news cycle hasn't slowed down one bit. In fact, if anything, it's picked up steam as free agency approaches.
Thursday night's NBA Draft represents a significant tentpole in the league's offseason, and with all 60 picks now set, we have a better understanding of what to expect come July 1. While our final Fantasy projections won't be solidified until the dust settles on free agency, now is the time to survey the landscape and address the Fantasy ramifications of what's already transpired since the 2018-19 season came to a close.
Anthony Davis to the Lakers
By far the biggest move of the offseason to date, Davis finally getting his wish and heading west to Los Angeles represents a massive shift in power. Pairing Davis with a rejuvenated LeBron James automatically puts the Lakers near the front of the title chase, but they'll first need to fill out what's otherwise a barren roster. How, exactly, Rob Pelinka goes about doing that remains to be seen, but what we know now is Davis and LeBron will form arguably the best 1-2 punch in the NBA.
Fantasy-wise, LeBron James is going to be LeBron James. He's played with superstars in the past, and his Fantasy value has been impenetrable. At some point, James' mileage is going to catch up with him, but when he was on the court last season, he was as effective as ever. There's a case to be made that Davis is talented enough to finally convince James to take on a lesser role offensively, and while that sounds fine in theory, James has been unwilling to cede responsibility in the past. Plus, with the Lakers likely to employ an extraordinarily top-heavy roster, they'll likely need James' full suite of playmaking skills on most nights.
For Davis, the adjustment to playing alongside James could entail more of an adjustment, but it's also unlikely that he takes much of a step back. When healthy, Davis has been as valuable in Fantasy as any player in the league, and that didn't change when he played alongside another high-usage star in DeMarcus Cousins. The Lakers are James' show, but it's tough to dream up a more perfect partner than Davis, who's never played with anyone nearly as well-rounded as James. Even if the Lakers bring on a third star, Davis is far too talented on both ends to ever shrink into the West Coast version of Kevin Love or Chris Bosh.
For New Orleans, it'll be up to Alvin Gentry to figure out how to best surround Zion Williamson with the host of young talent David Griffin amassed via the Davis trade and the draft. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram both project to start, while Josh Hart figures to play an important role off the bench. On draft night, the Pelicans also added a developing center in Jaxson Hayes (No. 8) and an oversized point guard in Nickeil Alexander-Walker (17).
With Ball and Alexander-Walker in the fold, free-agent-to-be Elfrid Payton probably won't be back, and it's hard to imagine New Orleans working too hard to retain Julius Randle, who's essentially Zion-lite.
Jrue Holiday is still around to serve as Zion's No. 2, but he's a candidate to take a slight step back in terms of scoring. While the overall talent around him has been upgraded, Holiday essentially played half of last season as the Pelicans' best offensive option, which won't be the case this time around.
Perhaps most intriguing, from a Fantasy perspective, is the center position. The Pels picked up Jahlil Okafor's team option for next season, so both he and Hayes will be options for Gentry. Williamson will also see his fair share of small-ball center minutes, but it wouldn't be a surprise if Griffin looks to add another big body in free agency.
Kawhi holds the keys
With the possible exception of the Davis trade, where the reigning Finals MVP signs as a free agent will be the biggest news of the summer. A lot can change between now and July 1, but it seems like it's a two-team race between Toronto and the Clippers.
If Kawhi Leonard remains in Toronto, the Raptors will be positioned to run it back with mostly the same cast of characters. In that scenario, not much would change on the Fantasy front for Toronto. If Leonard heads West, it shakes up two franchises, setting the Raptors on course for a potential rebuild and turning the Clippers into instant title contenders.
In that scenario, Pascal Siakam's value could skyrocket, while Toronto would have to consider selling off some of its core pieces. In Los Angeles, players like Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari could take slight steps back with the arrival of a high-usage wing in Leonard.
Mike Conley to Utah
The Jazz paid a fair price for Conley and are now poised to strike in a Western Conference that's as wide open as it's been in at least five years. Leaving Memphis behind to team with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell will probably result in a reduction in scoring for Conley, who averaged a career-best 21.1 points per game on 16.0 field goal attempts (also a career-high) last season. However, with a better supporting cast, the veteran should continue to be a reliable source of assists, 3s and steals. Also working in Conley's favor is the fact that he'll leave the NBA's slowest team last season for a team that finished 13th in pace.
For Memphis, the deal was mostly about draft picks, but the Grizzlies brought in veterans Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver, as well as second-year guard Grayson Allen. Korver is likely to be waived or bought out, while Crowder could be a one-year rental before he hits free agency next summer. Allen is the one to keep an eye on. The Duke product couldn't crack Utah's regular rotation as a rookie, but he should find more opportunity with the rebuilding Grizzlies. Whether Memphis opts to bring back restricted free agent Delon Wright could partially determine Allen's worth.
T.J. Warren to the Pacers
By the end of Thursday night, the Suns shipped Warren to Indiana and brought in Aron Baynes from Boston. So while they succeeded in clearing cap space, Phoenix essentially gave away a productive player in Warren for the chance to go big-game hunting in free agency -- something that hasn't worked out well for the franchise in recent years.
Moving Warren momentarily cleared some of the clutter on the wing, but the Suns promptly drafted 23-year-old sharpshooter Cam Johnson with the No. 11 pick, which they acquired from Minnesota in a deal that also netted Dario Saric. With the Suns expected to re-sign Kelly Oubre, the wing rotation projects to be as crowded as ever.
Warren, meanwhile, could slide into a starting spot with the Pacers if they're not able to retain Bojan Bogdanovic. Injuries have gotten the best of Warren for much of his five NBA seasons, but he averaged 18.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in 43 games last season while (finally) adding an outside shot to his offensive package (42.8% 3PT).
No surprise here, but the acquisition of Mike Conley spells the end of Ricky Rubio's tenure in Utah. Rubio is still only 28, but he took a step back last season, shooting just 40.4 percent from the floor, including 31.1 percent from 3. If he lands in the right situation, the hope is he can get back to being the eight-plus-assists-per-game point guard he was from 2013-17.
In a cap-clearing move for Milwaukee, the Bucks sent Tony Snell to Detroit and received former Wisconsin Badger Jon Leuer in return. Not much to see here, Fantasy-wise, though Detroit was extremely shallow on the wing last season, so Snell will likely have a path to consistent minutes.
Hassan Whiteside exercised his $27.1 million player option -- you read that correctly -- to remain with the Heat next season. The 30-year-old has been one of the more difficult Fantasy players to project in recent seasons, and that's unlikely to change in 2019-20. When on the floor and engaged, Whiteside is one of the best shot-blockers and volume rebounders in the league, but he fell out of favor last season and ultimately lost his starting job to Bam Adebayo. While Whiteside doesn't need huge minutes to put up close to 2.0 blocks per game, his deficiencies as a free throw shooter, which reached new lows last season, make him difficult to roster. Not to mention, Whiteside adds little to no value in assists or 3-pointers.
The Suns' Tyler Johnson announced Friday that he'll also exercise his player option, which will pay him just north of $19 million in 2019-20. Phoenix will likely do all it can to move Johnson at some point, but getting off of that kind of money won't be easy. Johnson currently sits atop the Suns' depth chart at point guard, but it's no secret the Suns have their eyes on an upgrade, so Johnson's value is in a holding pattern for the time being.
As the Celtics' core falls apart before our eyes, the carnage may open the door for some Fantasy opportunities. With Kyrie Irving and Al Horford on their way out, Boston is apparently prioritizing keeping Terry Rozier on a new contract. With Irving out of the way, Rozier would be poised to be among the biggest year-over-year risers in all of Fantasy basketball. Both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who struggled to adapt to Irving, could also be risers. Something else to keep an eye on: Boston is also reportedly eyeing Nikola Vucevic as a Horford replacement.
Speaking of Horford, Dallas has emerged as the front-runner for his services and is reportedly willing to offer the 33-year-old a nine-figure deal. Teaming with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis would arguably be a situational upgrade, though at some point Horford's age is going to precipitate a decline. Horford averaged just 6.7 rebounds per game last season, but his overall rebounding rate was actually higher than it was in his first year with the Celtics (2016-17).
Atlanta added a pair of rangy wings in De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish with top-10 picks Thursday night. The hope is that at least one pans out, but both figure to be prominent rotation players for an outwardly rebuilding team. Trading Taurean Prince to Brooklyn foreshadowed Atlanta's draft plans, and it would not be a surprise if the Hawks make an effort to move the expiring Kent Bazemore, as well.
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