Analyzing the NBA offseason, in particular player movement, is key to getting a leg up on the competition heading into Fantasy drafts.
Looking at teams on paper and accurately predicting how the players will mesh -- who will thrive and who won't -- can sometimes be an exercise in futility. But the melding of research and guesswork is all part of the fun of playing Fantasy sports.
While the 2021 offseason did not see as many big-name stars on the move as in years past, several key players -- from Kyle Lowry to Lonzo Ball to Kemba Walker -- changed zip codes and reshaped rosters in the process.
With the dust (mostly) settled on free agency, here are the players whose Fantasy values could be set to rise, or fall, in 2021-22.
Lonzo Ball, Chicago Bulls
Chicago picked up right where it left off during last season's trade deadline when it nabbed Nikola Vucevic, making more win-now moves for Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan this offseason. While DeRozan, Vucevic and Zach LaVine will likely all see slight reductions in value, Ball's Fantasy stock might fall the farthest of the four.
Why is that? For one, Ball is best when he's in transition, and the Bulls don't exactly project to be the '04 Pistons on defense -- they'll be forced to take the ball out of the basket more often than not. Moreover, Ball simply doesn't put enough pressure on defenses as a driver or off-the-dribble shooter to warrant a significant usage rate in half-court settings.
He should still be a rock-solid Fantasy contributor, but LaVine and DeRozan are both accomplished playmakers who will cut into his opportunities in the halfcourt. When the Bulls' projected starting five is on the floor, Ball will be no higher than the fourth option, offensively. Plus, Chicago still has to find minutes for 2019 lottery pick, Coby White.
Despite moving to a full-time backup role, Drummond should still see a decent workload -- especially on nights when Joel Embiid is out. (Spoiler alert: Embiid will not play all 82 games. Nor should he.) Nevertheless, there's no spinning this as a positive development for Drummond, from a Fantasy perspective. Following the Lakers' first round flameout, Drummond's continued demise was all too predictable. For Fantasy purposes, he's essentially in The Enes Kanter Zone.
Oladipo hasn't had much luck avoiding injuries the last few years, and Miami upgraded its backcourt by acquiring Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade for Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa. Lowry appears to be a seamless fit alongside the likes of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson. I don't expect the addition of Lowry to drastically alter the Fantasy value of Miami's full-time starters.
For Oladipo, though, the risk outweighs the potential reward until the last round or two of most drafts. Similarly, Tyler Herro's Fantasy outlook is murky at best heading into 2021-22. Oladipo and Herro can be expected to come off the bench and duel for the sixth-man role—unless Miami opts for a small-ball starting five featuring Butler at power forward. At this stage, neither player has significant upside, though Herro is the much safer play considering Oladipo's health.
Enes Kanter and Robert Williams, Boston Celtics
Kanter has never been all that valuable outside of his volume rebounding and field-goal percentage. But he played particularly well for Portland last season while Jusuf Nurkic was oft injured, averaging 11.2 points (60.4% FG, 77.4% FT) and 11.0 rebounds in 24.4 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Williams is coming off by far his best campaign, having posted averages of 8.0 points, 6.9 boards, 1.8 assists, 1.8 blocks and 0.8 steals across 18.9 minutes. However, with Al Horford back in Boston, Williams and/or Kanter could be in line for some regression. It will be difficult for Ime Udoka to find minutes for all three on most nights, and while Horford isn't the same player he was even two seasons ago, he's still enough of a presence that he could eat into the roles of Williams' and Kanter.
Zeller was already merely a serviceable, low-end option last season, even as a starting center in Charlotte. Now that he's backing up a bona fide starter in Nurkic, there will be even fewer minutes to go around. Zeller, a former top-five pick, has been a late-round target in recent years, but he's not worth the flyer this time around.
On the rise
VanVleet is the most obvious beneficiary of Kyle Lowry's relocation to Miami. Not only can VanVleet create offense for himself and others, but he also scores from all three levels. He will draw opposing teams' best perimeter defenders on a nightly basis, and his field-goal percentage will likely leave plenty to be desired as a result. Nevertheless, VanVleet's counting stats should reach new heights, particularly in the scoring and assist columns.
Having re-signed with Toronto, Khem Birch is another intriguing, late-round option based on his steady play as a starter in the latter stages of 2020-21. In 19 games with the Raptors, Birch averaged 11.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.9 dimes, 1.2 blocks and 0.8 steals in 30.4 minutes. Nick Nurse seemingly went out of his way to play Birch over Chris Boucher, at times. Boucher remains the one with the higher upside, but Birch is the type of steady presence Fantasy managers should want on their bench.
The ripple effects of Toronto's offseason also seem to favor Goran Dragic, given that the team is lacking when it comes to offensive initiators. The problem is there's a decent chance the veteran could be re-routed elsewhere. He even went as far as to publicly say that he has "higher ambitions" than playing for the Raptors -- a comment he eventually apologized for. At this point, it's unclear where Dragic will spend 2021-22, but should he remain in Toronto, the role is ripe enough that he should at least be considered in the later rounds of most leagues.
Graham is a triple threat offensively who puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses by shooting well from deep off the dribble, slinging sharp passes, and limiting turnovers. While Lonzo Ball is the better player overall, Graham is a better pick-and-roll point guard.
The vast majority of Graham's shot attempts come from beyond the arc, so his field-goal percentage is a glaring negative for Fantasy managers. However, I'm curious to see how much more effective he'll be this coming season with Zion Williamson setting the screens and rolling to the rim. New Orleans will run a great deal of its offense through Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas, but Graham's ability to create good looks for himself and others won't be wasted. Most importantly: He's no longer the odd man out behind Terry Rozier and LaMelo Ball in the Hornets' guard rotation.
Kemba Walker, New York Knicks
Walker missed 29 games in 2020-21 and dealt with injuries during the playoffs, as well. His knee issue has reached the point that he has to be penciled in for at least 10-to-15 absences in the regular season. Even so, the situation in New York seems ideal if Walker can manage his workload and stay on the court.
After averaging 19.3 points, 4.9 assists, 4.0 boards, 3.0 3s and 1.1 steals across 31.8 minutes last season as the third option behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Walker is suddenly among the most intriguing high-risk/high-reward players to consider in the middle rounds.
Murray is coming off a career year in which he accumulated career-high averages in scoring (15.7 PPG), rebounding (7.1 RPG), assists (5.4 APG) and minutes (31.9 MPG) while providing his usual stellar defense (1.5 SPG). DeMar DeRozan's offseason departure means Murray may be in line for consecutive career years, as he's now clearly the Spurs' best player and No. 1 option. It's too early to assess just how high his ceiling might be, but Murray will enter 2021-22 at the very top of the Good Stats/Bad Team list.
Dinwiddie missed nearly all of 2020-21 with a torn ACL, but that didn't stop the Wizards from investing heavily in the 28-year-old point guard. The late-bloomer blossomed in 2019-20 when he posted averages of 20.6 points (41.5% FG, 30.8% 3PT, 77.8% FT), 6.8 assists, 3.5 boards and 1.9 3s in 31.2 minutes per game for the pre-Durant/Harden Nets.
Dinwiddie is not a reliable outside shooter, but he's a terrific penetrator who finishes and dishes at a very high level. The Wizards orbit around Bradley Beal, but Dinwiddie should be in line to function as the clear No. 2 scorer on a roster stocked with young bigs and good-not-great wings.
Kelly Olynyk, Detroit Pistons
In 27 games with the Rockets last season, Olynyk was almost suspiciously productive, turning in averages of 19.0 points (54.5% FG, 39.2% 3PT, 84.4% FT), 8.4 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 3s, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks in 31.1 minutes. In Detroit, Olynyk will essentially replace Mason Plumlee (now with Charlotte) as the probable starting center.
Sophomore Isaiah Stewart (ankle) may push Olynyk for minutes, or even the starting gig, but Olynyk is also capable of filling in at the power forward position, so at worst he'll function as the first big man off the bench. As long as he can get to around 25 minutes per game, Olynyk will have a great chance to turn in another top-100 season.