If you were paying attention to last season's draft night rumor mill, an unmistakable sense of deja vu surely crossed your mind early in Thursday's draft. The Bulls and Timberwolves reportedly had deep discussions about a trade centered around Jimmy Butler during the 2016 draft, and those talks finally amounted to a blockbuster Thursday, as the Wolves landed Butler for Zach LaVine, last year's No. 5 overall pick, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick in the 2017 draft.
The deal brings about a new era for each team, with the Bulls almost certainly set to lean into a much-needed rebuild, while the Wolves put their rebuild in the rearview mirror by pairing incumbent superstar Karl-Anthony Towns with Butler and Andrew Wiggins. This puts the Wolves in the enviable position of having two legitimate young superstars on the right side of 30, something every team west of the Golden Gate bridge is striving to do.
This is certainly a deal that could fundamentally alter the makeup of the NBA landscape for years, but does it have that kind of potential for the Fantasy hoops world? That's a bit less clear.
On the Wolves side…
Well, they got Jimmy Butler. That's a huge accomplishment for the franchise, one that might give them the most talented duo they've ever had – yes, ahead of Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury. Butler is a legitimate top-10 player, and Karl-Anthony Towns is banging down that door one 25-15 performance at a time.
But the Fantasy ramifications are less clear on this side. The Wolves have more moves coming, with a potential Ricky Rubio trade seeming like the most logical next domino to fall. However, no matter who runs the point, Butler and Towns are going to be the focal point of this offense.
Butler took a huge leap forward in 2016-17, putting up 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game – all career-best marks. The gains he has made as a playmaker make him a legitimate offensive hub, the kind who can create for others nearly as well as he does for himself. He should get his numbers, and it's not unrealistic to think he might improve on what he did a year ago, if only because reuniting with former Bulls' coach Tom Thibodeau might push his minutes back up to the 38-39 per-game range.
As for Towns, well he's going to get his too. He came into the league as such a fully-formed, natural superstar, it's easy to forget he won't even turn 22 until a few weeks into next season. He's coming off a season that saw him average 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.0 combined blocks and steals per game, and is a legitimate contender for the No. 1 overall pick in next year's Fantasy drafts.
Towns is a no-doubt first-rounder in Fantasy, and this trade probably doesn't change that. Maybe he scores a bit less with Butler next to him, but it's not unreasonable to think he can improve on his 1.2 3-pointers and 1.3 blocks per game, possibly pushing them both to 2.0 per game. Add in better than 80-percent shooting from the free-throw line, and you're looking at a potential eight-category contributor as he continues to develop. With no obvious No. 1 pick next season in Roto, Towns is in the mix with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Anthony Davis, and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Butler will likely be a borderline first-rounder on his own, though if you want to discount him just a bit, that makes sense. The Wolves also have to find touches and shots for Wiggins, who averaged 23.6 points per game last season. Given that he and Butler tend to work from the same spots on the floor, they'll likely take more from one another than from Towns. Still, Butler won't last much longer than the middle of the second round.
If anyone loses for next season on the Wolves, it's the role players. Wiggins should still get his 20 points per game, and less defensive attention might actually improve his middling efficiency and defensive production, making up for whatever he might lose in counting stats. However, there won't be much left to go around outside of this big three, with interesting Fantasy options like Rubio and Gorgui Dieng likely to take a backseat. Wiggins, Towns, and Butler might be the only Wolves players worth taking in the top-100 on Draft Day.
On the Bulls side…
The Bulls got a lot of unknowns here, and there isn't as much need to talk at length about that here, so let's go with some quick-ish bullet points:
- LaVine might be the kind of 3-point sharpshooter who can be a Fantasy star as the go-to scorer on a team, perhaps in the mold of Bradley Beal. However, he's coming off an ACL tear in February that leaves at least his immediate future very much in doubt. He could be fully recovered in time for the start of the season, but expect him to be limited at first, pushing him well down draft boards.
- Dunn might be even more of an unknown commodity than LaVine, a bad sign given that he's a year older and isn't coming off a major injury. Dunn was taken No. 5 last season, and appeared in 78 games, but his rookie season was pretty much a disaster. In 17.1 minutes per game, Dunn averaged just 3.8 points, 2.4 assists, 2.1 rebounds, while shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 28.8 percent on 3-pointers. Dunn never really had a chance to get consistent playing time, and that could explain some of his struggles, though he hardly played well enough to justify much more than he got. Dunn will be worth a late-round pick in drafts this fall as a flier on potential alone, but don't talk yourself into much more than that.
- The third piece the Bulls received in the trade turned into Arizona big man Lauri Markkanen. The seven-footer from Finland has a sweet stroke, having knocked down 69 3-pointers in 37 games as a freshman, connecting on 42.3 percent of his attempts. He averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as well, but made almost no other impact on the box score, picking up just 34 combined blocks and steals in 37 games. If the shot translates, he might be able to have a Ryan Anderson-like impact – and Anderson wasn't a top-100 player in Roto last season, his better format. That's probably the ceiling, so don't look to him before the last round or two, especially because there's no guarantee of playing time in Chicago.
- Dwyane Wade is probably the other key player impacted by this trade, though you have to imagine he might be regretting his reported decision to opt in for the 2016-17 hours before this trade. It could be easy to overstate just how much he might be impacted by Butler's departure, as well. Butler's absence leaves a big playmaking and scoring void, and Wade is probably best positioned to step up. However, he'll be 36 by midseason, and can't be relied on for much more than the 60 games he played last season, making him a mid-rounder in a best-case scenario.