Fantasy Basketball: Lakers dump salary, giving talented D'Angelo Russell a fresh start
The Lakers' decision to dump salary could prove to have huge ramifications for Fantasy players, with D'Angelo Russell landing in possibly the best location possible for his value.
This wasn't supposed to be a good week for Nets' fans. Thanks to a series of abysmal decisions in the past, they watched the Celtics win the lottery with their pick, and then watched the 76ers trade for their pick when Boston decided to move back. As if finishing with the worst record in the NBA isn't bad enough, they had to watch seemingly everyone else's future get brighter with their pick while they were left out in the cold.
Kudos to Sean Marks, then, for finding a way to get a little sunshine to break through those dark clouds over Brooklyn. The Nets pulled off a shocking trade Tuesday, sending Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick in Thursday's draft to the Lakers, for D'Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov.
The move gives the Lakers additional flexibility to pursue some of the game's glitziest names, but there isn't much of a Fantasy impact here – yet. This seemingly clears the way for them to take Lonzo Ball at No. 2 Thursday, a move we'll cover if and when it happens.
As for Lopez? He should continue to get his buckets, moving to another team filled with unproven young players. Expect the Lakers to lean on him just as much as the Nets did, with similar results: around 20 points per game, with better assist and 3-point shooting numbers than your average center, offset by weak rebounding and merely decent block totals. That was good enough to make him a top-40 player in Roto last season, and he should be worth targeting in the fifth round as a solid No. 1 center next season.
The much more interesting side of this deal is Brooklyn's, at least for our purposes. Let's dive into just what this means for the Nets, and more specifically for their new young point guard -- sorry Mozgov fans, it's hard to see how he matters after that disastrous season.
This wasn't how D'Angelo Russell's career was supposed to go. He was widely heralded as the future of the Lakers' franchise when he was selected No. 2 overall in 2015, but Russell's Lakers career was defined by inconsistency. Both in role and in production, as he started just 48 of 80 games as a rookie, and then disappointed when finally given a starting role all last season.
Russell showed flashes of his potential, but ultimately underwhelmed in 2016-17. He started 60 of 63 games, but saw his minutes per game rise from 28.2 to just 28.7. He averaged 15.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists, but shot just 40.5 percent from the field and finished 103rd overall in Roto scoring last season, and just 40th in per-game value among guards.
The issue for Russell is he just hasn't been as good a shooter or playmaker as advertised coming out of college. Blessed with the size of a shooting guard, Russell was supposed to have the playmaking chops to more than handle point guard duties. However, the Lakers actually moved Russell to an off-ball role late in the season, so they clearly weren't pleased with what he did as a lead guard. And, with a 3-point percentage right around 35.0 in each of his first two seasons, he hasn't yet developed into much more than an adequate threat from long range.
And yet, it's pretty easy to see the hype train for Russell building even more momentum this offseason than it had a year ago. Sure, Russell's been a disappointment, but the Lakers deserve at least some of the blame for that; their year-long retirement party for Kobe Bryant in 2015-16 hampered pretty much everyone in the room's development. And Russell also had trouble staying healthy last season, as he dealt with issues in both knees that can explain at least some of his struggles.
There are excuses here if you want to find them, and Russell gets to land in an even better situation for his Fantasy value next season. Outside of Lopez, the Nets were as bereft of NBA-quality talent as any team in the last decade last season, and Russell is going to get every chance possible to prove he still has some elite potential left to grow into. With this year's draft pick going to the Celtics – followed shortly by next year's – the Nets don't have any real chance to acquire an elite young talent in the near future.
Russell, then, represents their lone shot to find something like a franchise player for the next two years. Caris LeVert was a nice high-risk, high-reward pick a year ago, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has the kind of interesting, jack-of-all-trades skill set that could make him a long-term starter, but Russell is the only player with franchise-altering talent in the same zip code as the Nets.
Whether they play him next to Jeremy Lin in the backcourt, or look to move Lin and give Russell the reigns to the offense full-time, expect him to be the team's focal point. 30-plus minutes per game seems like an easy bet, and a usage bump might not be a bad bet, on a team that is likely to be solely devoted to his development. The Nets need to be all-in on Russell, whereas the Lakers still had the development of other young players like Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle to consider.
Russell is, obviously, not a sure thing to live up to his potential in Brooklyn – in fact, the Lakers are betting he won't. Fantasy players got burned last fall betting on that potential, when he somehow ended up with an early-fifth round ADP. If that's what Russell ends up costing come draft season, he won't be worth it.
However, if you can make the same kind of bet the Nets are making -- one that doesn't cost you much up front -- Russell certainly has the talent to make it well worth your while. The Nets are smart enough to be betting on it, and you should too. Look at Russell as a potential league-winning pick in the seventh or eighth round.
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