Fantasy Basketball: Familiar Faces, New Places
While most of us have been enveloped by the first seven weeks of football, we failed to realize that the NBA season tips off in one week, and that we are totally unprepared for our fantasy drafts. But don’t fret my fellow procrastinators!
The first step in preparing for any fantasy draft is to assess what has changed and what the ensuing impact will be. In the case of the NBA, we had quite the offseason including the movement of superstars, franchise icons, and talented players on the cusp of stardom. So in the next 2,500 words, I’m going to attempt to sum up a summers worth of excitement so you can get ready for your draft.
Note: I will be using the metric of nERD often, so it’s best you understand the meaning of such a nerdy (get it?) stat. numberFire Efficiency Rating Derivative (nERD) is a metric that quantifies how many wins above .500 a player would account for on a league-average team. Of the many factors that go into calculating nERD, the most relatable for NBA fans are usage rate (percent of a team’s offensive possessions a player uses), offensive rating (players offensive contribution over 100 possessions) and defensive rating (how many points a player allows per 100 possessions).
The biggest name and best player on the market put on a show that only Howard could. Ditching the Lakers, Howard took his talents to H-Town to play with James Harden and the Houston Rockets. While unhealthy for large amounts of the season, Howard had one of the worst seasons of his career last year. Playing second fiddle to Kobe Bryant and his usage rate that ranked third in the league, Dwight posted point, rebound and free throw percentage totals all well below his career averages. Because of this, Howard’s nERD of 3.9 ranked 54th in the NBA, lower than centers like J.J. Hickson and Kosta Koufos. Leaving that situation for Houston’s high-tempo attack should help his fantasy numbers and real-life production.
The Rockets have a style of play that makes NBA aficionados like me salivate, moving at a very fast pace and only taking the high-efficiency shots of three pointers and buckets at the rim, avoiding the inefficient mid-ranged twos. In this offense, one very similar to the one Howard thrived in in Orlando, Dwight will flourish and improve greatly upon his numbers from last year. Houston’s multiple three-point threats and incredible spacing will allow Howard to dominate in the post with little completion for touches. James Harden remains the focal point of the offense, capping Howard’s upside, but a healthy Superman will beat last year’s number and be one of the better centers in fantasy this year.
The beast of the left block left Utah’s crowded frontcourt in pursuit of greener pastures, and found plenty of green ($13.5 million per year) in Charlotte. Jefferson was one of the most consistent big men in fantasy during his tenure with the Jazz, averaging 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds over the past three seasons. But Big Al had an off year last season while fighting for touches with Utah’s young studs in Enas Kanter and Derrick Favors. Jefferson posted his lowest point (17.8), rebound (9.2), block (1.1) and free throw attempt (2.8) totals since his second year in the league with Boston.
I’d expect all of these numbers to improve as Jefferson will become the Bobcat’s number one option offensively, and get all the post touches he can handle on his beloved left block. Jefferson should flirt with 20 ppg and 10 rpg in route to becoming one of fantasy’s top big men once again.
One of the most polarizing players in the NBA, Ellis was up to his normal antics last year with Milwaukee. Ellis put up stellar fantasy numbers across the board last year except for his career low in FG percentage. But as they usually do, the advanced metrics tell us another story. Ellis ranked 436th out of 470 players in the NBA with a nERD of -4.0, meaning he actually hurt his team. This is mostly a product of Ellis’ incompetency on the defensive end and his terrible shot selection. But when talking about fantasy, none of this really matters, as all we care about are his totals in basic stats.
Moving to Dallas, Ellis should continue to put up his solid fantasy numbers. Monta will be option 1B to Dirk Nowitzki’s 1A, a similar role he played in Milwaukee. His assists should regress back to his career average of 4.7 apg with the addition of Jose Calderon, but the rest of his numbers should remain similar to what he has posted throughout his career.
Another one of the NBA’s most polarizing players, Smoove left his long-time home of Atlanta to join the Pistons up in Detroit. During his time in Atlanta, Smith made a name for himself by putting up a variety of stats. Career averages of 2.1 blocks per game and 1.3 steals per game made Smoove a commodity every year, but his frustrating shot selection left his shooting percentages much to be desired. Smith took a career high 2.6 threes per game last year, but at a mind-numbing 30%.
Smith now joins Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in a very talented and defensively potent frontcourt. The problem is, none of these players are very good shooters, thus having a negative impact on the team’s offensive spacing. In addition to that, Smith will now be forced to play SF, meaning he will play further away from the rim where is shot a blistering 63% last year. He should continue to post elite blocks, steals, and assists for his position, but the crowded frontcourt will decrease Smoove's point and rebounding totals.
The perennially underrated Millsap followed his teammate Al Jefferson in leaving Utah’s crowded frontcourt in joining the Atlanta Hawks. Millsap has a very diverse skill set, able to play anywhere from SF to a small-ball C. This has allowed him to average over 1.0 blocks, 1.0 steals, 7.0 rebounds, and elite shooting percentages. However, Millsap was criminally underused last year, averaging only 30.4 minutes per game. He was still able to put up very solid numbers in those limited minuets though, including a nERD of 5.8 that ranked in between stars like Paul George and David Lee.
Now playing his natural position of PF in Atlanta, Millsap should improve across the board and push 36 mpg. He will form a nice high-low combo with Al Horford, who now gets to play his preferred position of center. Jeff Teague is the best point guard Millsap has played with since he had his best years with Deron Williams in Utah, and Teague will provide solid scoring opportunities through his abilities in the pick-and-roll. Entering his prime at age 28, Millsap should post career highs.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce
These two are grouped together as they were both traded from Boston to the Nets, and as a diehard Celtics fan, this one is truly hard to write. In their last years as Celtics, they both had their worst nERD ratings in Celtic uniforms. While KG’s basic stats correlated to this decrease in nERD, The Truth actually had a very good fantasy year. Pierce put up 4.8 apg, 6.3 rpg, and 1.9 threes per game, all were his highest totals in since 2007.
But in moving to the Nets, both future hall-of-famers should put up the worst numbers of their career. Brooklyn is already loaded with offensive forces that all require that ball, so touches for Pierce and especially KG will be rare. Coach Jason Kidd has also expressed his desire to rest the two extensively, as they are both getting up there in age. Pierce could put up solid shooting stats like threes, points and percents in an elite offense, but KG should be avoided on draft day due to his inevitable lack of minutes and minute role on offense.
Shooting under 40% for his career and only cracking 6.0 apg once, Jenningshas proven himself to be an inefficient, score-first point guard. This allows him to post gaudy totals in points, threes and steals, but takes a toll on his FG% and assist. Jennings has had a positive nERD just once in his career, and averaged an offensive rating of just 100 (per 100 possession) the last two years. But maybe all Jennings needed was a change in scenery.
With his new team in Detroit, Jennings will be needed as a distributor to feed it’s plethora of big men. If he is able to change his mindset as a point guard, which is entirely possible being only 23, Jennings could be in line for a monster year. But I don’t see it. This Pistons team lacks any above average shooters and has a bunch of ball dominate players, and Jennings is no different. There is hope for improvement, but a decrease in touches, shots and fantasy value is likely looming.
Jrue Holliday and Tyreke Evans
The Pelicans seem to be in a win-now mode, as they made quite the splash this offseason and during the draft in acquiring Holiday and Evans. Holiday is coming of a career year with the 76ers where he posted career highs in points (17.7), assists (8.0), steals (1.6) and threes (1.2) but he shot a career low 43% and was one of the most turnover prone players in the league at 3.7 per game. Evans is coming from a dysfunctional Sacramento team where he has yet to replicate his outstanding rookie year, but has improve his efficiency in regards to shooting and turnovers.
They both now join Eric Gordon on a team that seems a bit redundant in terms of skill set. Holiday, Evans, and Gordon are all talented players who thrive with the ball in their hands running pick-and-rolls and taking shots. None of them have been in a secondary role for years, so it will be interesting to see if they will learn to play off of each other and become helpful without the ball via off-ball cuts and coming off screens. I think that Eric Gordon will eventually be traded, but until then I think Evans and Holiday will be solid fantasy options, but inconsistent.
Similarly to Evans, Mayo has yet to replicate his rookie year where he showed so much promise. But the juice man gave us another glimpse of it last year. Mayo averaged 17.9 points, 4.3 assists, 2.0 threes and 1.3 steals a game last year before the All-Star break, where he was not only Dallas’ number one option without Dirk but a distributor as well. Mayo has never been an efficient player, posting a negative nERD every year, but still maintains solid fantasy value.
Moving on to Milwaukee, Mayo will essentially replace now Maverick Monta Ellis as the Bucks number one option and a distributor. Being that he has never been an efficient player in terms of advanced metrics, this could be a bad thing as Mayo may be more suited as a second scoring option from the wing, but there is a chance he succeeds in his new role. I’d expect a downswing in his shooting percent’s and turnovers, but the possibilities for a career high in points and assists.
In route to the Golden State Warriors, this move has a huge impact on the playoff landscape of the Western Conference, but I don’t think his fantasy value changes too much. Iguodala disappointed many is his only year in Denver, compiling a nERD of -.2, which was a steep fall from his career-high of 6.4 the year before. However, his numbers remained consistent with those he put up the 76ers, with his usual variety of steals, assists, rebounds and threes.
Iggy now moves to a Warriors team with a similar fast-pace, high octane offense as Denver. Likely starting over Harrison Barnes at SF, Iguodala will likely have a reduced offensive role due and be asked to be their defensive leader. But Iggy’s fantasy value remains constant as it doesn’t stem from points, but statistical variety.
The beast has been unleashed. Since being drafted by the Clippers in 2010, Bledsoe has been sitting under Chris Paul on the depth chart, waiting to get his chance. In his three years in LA, Bledsoe and his uber-athleticism has put up ridiculous numbers in what little playing time he’s gotten. Giving fantasy owners dreams about what he could do with starters minutes.
Bledsoe has since been traded to the Phoenix Suns where Bledsoe will start along Goran Dragic in a small backcourt. This team is tanking like Lebron James’ hairline is receding, so there is no reason to believe the Suns won’t give this insane talent all the minutes he can handle. If Bledsoe can approach his per 36 min. stat line of 15 points, 5+ assists, 5+ rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks, he could be the steal of your draft.
You either love Bynum or you hate him. Either he helped you win your league in 2012, or you might just enjoy his hair like me. But if that doesn’t sound like you, then you probably drafted him last year and watched him play all of 0 games. There is not much to judge off of from Bynum’s stint in Philly, but we all know what he can do. In 2012, the last time he played, Bynum had a nERD of 9.7 which ranked 11th in the NBA. Bynum can be the most dominant big man in the league, with an extensive offensive repertoire in addition to the ability to block two shots and pull down ten boards a game.
Having not played in over a year, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a shot at the 24 year old with 80 year old knees. Bynum is still hurt and has yet to receive a firm timetable, so his fantasy value is all speculative. But if/when healthy, Bynum will join a crowded Cavs front court including veteran Anderson Varajao, Tristan Thompson, and number one overall pick Anthony Bennett. Bynum surly has the talent to beat them all out for playing time, and if so could be an elite fantasy center once again with Kyrie Irving at the helm. I wouldn’t expect much, or anything, from Bynum, but if you have an I.R. spot it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stash him later on in the year.