Fantasy Basketball Fallout: The Kevin Love Trade

Now that Kevin Love is officially in Cleveland, what type of impact is there from a fantasy basketball standpoint?

After months of speculation, the Kevin Love deal has finally been agreed upon and the “Summer of Love” is officially over, just in time for Labor Day. The final iteration of the trade ended up including three teams: the Cavaliers, the Timberwolves, and the 76ers. Here’s each team’s respective haul:

Cavaliers get:

PF/C Kevin Love

Timberwolves get:

SF/PF Thaddeus Young
SF Andrew Wiggins
SF/PF Anthony Bennett

76ers get:

PG/SG Alexey Shved
SF/PF Luc Mbah a Moute
Miami’s 2015 first-round pick (1-10 protected)

We covered the deal back when the necessary hands had been shaken, both at the Love/Wiggins level and the secondary Young/Bennett level (it should be noted that this was a reaction to the initial reports that had Bennett continuing on to Philly, which didn’t end up happening). Essentially, the deal works on some level for all teams involved; Cleveland got another star to chase championships with LeBron and Kyrie Irving, the Wolves recovered from the inevitability of losing their franchise player by swapping him out for young talent, and the Sixers found yet another way to continue spitting in the face of competitive basketball.

That’s all well and good, but what we really care about is how this affects each player’s fantasy outlook and where we should be drafting these guys in a month or two, right?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Early-round Picks: LeBron James, Kevin Love, & Kyrie Irving

Whenever stars team up for the sake of winning, a statistical sacrifice is practically inevitable from an individual perspective. For an idea of how these things tend to go, look no further than when LeBron teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami:

Note: “Pre-Big 3” refers to the 2009-10 season, “Post-Big 3” to the 2010-11 season.

PlayerUSG%Fantasy Rank
LeBron pre-Big 333.52
LeBron post-Big 331.53
Wade pre-Big 334.97
Wade post-Big 331.67
Bosh pre-Big 328.712
Bosh post-Big 323.541

Usage rate (USG% above) tends to be indicative of fantasy success, as players who finish possessions tend to score a lot of points, be on the floor a lot, accumulate other counting stats, etc. When players who sport high usage rates team up, a drop off in that area is usually a given. If Miami’s Big 3 had maintained their high rates from the season before they came together once they went to Miami, they would’ve accounted for a combined 97.1% usage; essentially leaving 2.9% of the team’s possessions for their teammates when the three were on the floor together. That said, LeBron and Wade maintained their fantasy ranking fairly well that first year, even with the dip in usage, but Bosh took a big hit.

Now, let’s take a look at Cleveland’s new power trio:

PlayerUSG%Fantasy Rank
LeBron James31.05
Kevin Love28.86
Kyrie Irving28.223

The first year that Miami’s Big 3 was together, their combined usage rate was 88.0%. If you combined the usage of LeBron, Love, and Irving from last year, you’d get 86.6%. With that in mind, it’s certainly conceivable that all three could maintain their relative usage and put up close to the same numbers. If you were to pick one of the three to drop off “like a Bosh” next year, however, you have to imagine it’s Kyrie.

James and Love were second and third in nERD in the entire league last season at 20.4 and 17.7 respectively, while Kyrie was 45th at 3.0. Irving is a great young player with lots of room to grow, but he’s still clearly the third wheel of this trio.

LeBron should stay relatively the same next season and Love should see a bump in efficiency to make up for what will likely be a slight drop off in points. I’d still gladly take either in the early first round of fantasy drafts next season.

Kyrie, on the other hand, is a bit too pricey at his current second-round ranking (according to the early Yahoo! O-Ranks), considering we don’t know how effective he can be without the ball in his hands as much. I expect an incremental rise in assists and field goal percentage (the LeBron effect), but I’m concerned about three-pointers (he’ll be open a lot, but only shot 32.1% on catch-and-shoot long balls last season), and his points are probably in for a pretty big hit. On top of that, he’s still generally an injury concern (he has played fewer than 60 games in two of his three seasons). I’d actually prefer to go after John Wall, Damian Lillard, or Kyle Lowry if I’m targeting a point guard in Kyrie’s range.

Mid-round Picks: Thaddeus Young & Andrew Wiggins

Young and Wiggins will likely be offensive options 1A and 1B for Ricky Rubio’s 9 assists or so per game next year. Young had a breakout year for the Sixers last season, finishing as a top-30 fantasy value. He might not reach those heights on the Wolves - considering there are a few more mouths to feed in Minny than there were in Philly - but it’s not like he’s going to a situation where his usage rate (24.1) would go down dramatically. He’s a plus in points and rebounds and one of the best in the league for steals. As an added bonus, he made 1.1 threes per game last season, a huge leap from 0.0 each of the two years prior. Also, his SF/PF eligibility makes him a great player to plug in at small forward, arguably the thinnest position in fantasy hoops these days.

Another good player to own at small forward, albeit a risky one, will be Andrew Wiggins. By moving to Minnesota, his fantasy outlook is far superior to what it would’ve been in Cleveland, where he was set to be a clear third wheel to LeBron and Kyrie. Like any rookie, it’s hard to project just how he’ll adapt to the NBA game, but the Timberwolves clearly view Wiggins as their future star and he’ll likely start over Corey Brewer and earn big minutes and possessions from the get go. He’ll be worth the mid-round pick if he can keep his field goal percentage in a decent range, while giving owners decent points, rebounds, steals, blocks, and threes in the process.

Deep-league Only: Anthony Bennett, Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute

All three of these guys will continue to be outside of draft consideration in standard leagues. Bennett was poised to be upgraded to a late-round flier when it looked like he was going to a run-and-gun Philly team devoid of talent, but in Minnesota he doesn’t profile very well in a crowded Wolves frontcourt that includes Thad Young, Nikola Pekovic, and Gorgui Dieng. There’s a good chance he does better than last season (nowhere to go but up), but he’ll probably be off fantasy radars for the better part of the year.

If anything, Nerlens Noel becomes the biggest fantasy beneficiary in Philly. He looked to have the makings of a dominant big in Summer League and the Sixers won’t have much to do this season other than force feeding his development. On top of being a decent bet for points, field goal percentage, and rebounds, he’ll likely be among the league leaders in blocks - a very scarce stat in fantasy hoops and a great find in the mid- to late-rounds of drafts.