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Free Agency Winners and Losers

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

With nearly all notable free agents now off the board, let’s take a look back at the offseason as a whole to determine which players benefited the most from this summer’s wheeling and dealing. Also, we’ll examine which players saw their fantasy value decrease as result of these roster transformations.

Today’s focus is solely on the Eastern Conference. Next week, in Part Two, we’ll head out West.

* Victor Oladipo - Indiana Pacers:
Last season, Oladipo shot a career-high from the floor (44.2 percent) and 3-point range (36.1 percent). Furthermore, compared to his 2015-16 season in Orlando, his playing time increased in 2016-17 with the Thunder. However, Oladipo averaged fewer points, rebounds and assists with OKC as compared to his final season with the Magic. This was because Oladipo often got lost in the whirlwind that was Russell Westbrook’s incredible assault on the record books. Despite shooting efficiently and taking care of the ball (he averaged a career-low 1.8 turnovers per game), Oladipo recorded a usage rate of just 21.4%, the lowest of his career.

Now that Oladipo has landed in Indiana, where he starred collegiately as a Hoosier, he’ll no longer have to share the floor with Westbrook. In addition, Paul George is headed to Oklahoma City in the trade that landed ‘Dipo on the Pacers. Indiana also lost Jeff Teague, the team’s second leading scorer last season, via free agency. Thus, the Pacers will need to lean heavily on Oladipo and ask him to create scoring opportunities for himself and others. Expect Oladipo’s usage rate to spike next season, along with his counting stats and fantasy value.

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* Tim Hardaway Jr. - New York Knicks:
Most league executives reportedly believed Hardaway would land a contract worth approximately $45 million this summer. New York shockingly handed him $71 million. The Knicks organization clearly has a very high opinion of Mr. Hardaway. As a result, we can assume they will look to feed him early and often to help justify their perceived overpayment.

Hardaway showed the kind of upside he possesses in the second half of last season with the Hawks. Over the final 32 games of the 2016-17 campaign, Hardaway poured in 18.2 points a night, while shooting 47.9 percent from the floor (including 37.8 percent from 3-point territory) in 32.3 minutes per contest. If the Knicks eventually end up trading away Carmelo Anthony, there will be plenty of shots up for grabs in New York and Hardaway Jr. would be a prime beneficiary.

* Taurean Prince - Atlanta Hawks:
Of the six players who led the Hawks in total points and minutes played last season, four of them (Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dwight Howard, and Thabo Sefolosha) have flown the coup and are no longer on Atlanta’s roster. Thus, there will be plenty of playing time, points, rebounds, assists etc. up for grabs in the ATL.

Even before the Hawks cleaned house and embarked on their current rebuild, Taurean Prince had earned the coaches trust. As a rookie last year, he started the final ten games of the regular season and all six playoff contests. Prince’s numbers don’t jump off the page at first glance, but his all-around game is very fantasy-friendly. Although his playing time was limited as a rookie, he stuffed the stat sheet when he was on the floor. His per-36 minute averages are very encouraging: 12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.2 treys, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks. Savvy fantasy owners will likely be able to scoop him up a steep discount on draft day.

* D'Angelo Russell - Brooklyn Nets:
For whatever reason, possibly because he entered the NBA with such high expectations, there seems to be a prevailing view that Russell’s first two seasons were relatively disappointing. In reality, he’s posted some very impressive numbers. Consider this: According to Basketball Reference, last season Russell became the first player in NBA history to average at least 15 points, four assists and two 3-pointers per game before his age-21 season.

Now that he has a new lease on life in Brooklyn, it’s safe to assume his production will only increase. With Brook Lopez in L.A., Russell will likely be the focal point of the Nets offense. It’s an ideal situation for DAR. Head coach Kenny Atkinson has expertly tutored many young point guards during his various stints around the league. Atkinson’s Nets also love to push the ball at every opportunity. Brooklyn led the entire league in pace last season, averaging 103.6 possessions per game, which is music to the ears of fantasy owners.

* Kris Dunn - Chicago Bulls:
Let’s not mince words here. Dunn disappointed during his sole season in Minnesota. He averaged just 3.8 points and 2.4 assists in 17.1 minutes, while shooting a putrid 37.7 percent from the floor, 28.8 percent from 3-point range and 61.0 percent from the charity stripe. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Dunn has been relocated to the Windy City and the rebuilding Bulls are in desperate need of playmakers. Dunn was highly regarded coming out of Providence. Over his final two collegiate seasons, in which he was named Big East Player of the Year two years in a row, Dunn averaged 16.0 points (on 46.1 percent shooting from the field and 36.3 percent from downtown) and 6.9 assists. The Bulls have every reason to start Dunn at point guard and give him a long leash in hopes he bounces back in a big way.

* Boban Marjanovic - Detroit Pistons:
It didn’t cause major waves nationwide, but when Aron Baynes opted out of his contract this summer and signed with the Boston Celtics, Pistons fans and fantasy GM’s knew what that meant. MORE BOBAN! Marjanovic played sparingly for Detroit last season. He appeared in only 35 games and played more than 16 minutes in any single game just once over the first five months of the season. However, once the Pistons were eliminated from postseason contention, coach Stan Van Gundy finally unleashed the Boban. Over this final four games of the regular season, Marjanovic averaged 15.8 points and 10.3 boards, while shooting 59.1 percent from the field and 84.6 percent from the stripe in 23 minutes per contest. With Baynes now in Boston, Boban should see consistent minutes on a nightly basis as the primary backup behind Andre Drummond.

* C.J. Miles - Toronto Raptors:
The Raps lost P.J. Tucker to the Rockets in free agency and traded away DeMarre Carroll before signing Miles to a multi-year contract, which means there is currently very little depth at small forward behind Miles. Norman Powell, who also benefits from the Raps offseason moves in, will see minutes on the wing, but other than that the only other SF’s on the roster are OG Anunoby and Bruno Caboclo. As a result, Miles should see upwards of 25 minutes a night. He’ll be a reliable source of 3-pointers all year long. Last season, Miles finished 12th in the NBA while shooting a career-best 41.3 percent from long range. In fact, among players who attempted at least 400 treys, only three finished with a higher percentage (Klay Thompson, C.J. McCollum and J.J. Redick).

* Myles Turner - Indiana Pacers:
Last season, Turner (at just 21 years old) averaged 14.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 2.1 blocks and 0.5 3-pointers. In the process, he became just the third player NBA history to block at least 170 shots and knock down 40 3-pointers in the same season. Turner also shot over 80% from the free-throw line. Per Basketball Monster, he ended the season ranked 25th overall in nine-category leagues. As if there already wasn’t enough to like, Paul George is no longer a Pacer, which means that Turner is now an offensive focal point as the new face of the franchise. It’s certainly safe to assume Turner will average more than the 10.7 field goals he attempted per game last season.

* Dennis Schroder - Atlanta Hawks:
As noted above in the write-up on Taurean Prince, the Hawks gutted their roster and Atlanta will struggle to stay competitive. But, as we know, even the league’s worst teams still can be mined for fantasy gold. Schroder will run the show next season and should only improve upon the career-best numbers he posted as a full-time starter in 2016-17. Schroder was particularly impressive in the postseason, where he averaged 24.7 points, 7.7 assists (versus just 1.7 turnovers) and 2.8 treys. Other Hawks that may provide sneaky value next season include Dewayne Dedmon, Mike Muscala, and Ersan Ilyasova.

* Derrick Rose - Cleveland Cavaliers:
Rose’s value remains very much in flux. If Kyrie Irving stays in Cleveland, then Rose will see only limited minutes off the bench. If Kyrie is traded, and the Cavs don’t bring another point guard back in the deal, then Rose will be thrust into the starting lineup and his stock will spike precipitously.

* Stanley Johnson – Detroit Pistons:
There were high hopes for Johnson when the Pistons selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2015 draft (ahead of players such as Devin Booker and Myles Turner). As a 19-year old rookie, he averaged 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds in 23.1 minutes. However, last season Johnson took a step back, averaging 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 17.8 minutes per contest. He was also far less efficient, shooting just 35.3 percent from the field, 29.2 percent from downtown and 67.9 percent at the stripe. Yet, with Marcus Morris shipped off to Boston, Johnson will have an excellent opportunity to get his career back on track. He has a chance to win the starting the small forward gig, which would ensure plenty of playing time.

* Ramon Sessions - New York Knicks:
It’s been a long time since Sessions was even a minor fantasy factor, but the reality is somebody has to play point guard for the Knicks. The Knicks drafted 18-year old Frank Ntilikina from France, but he’s not expected to handle significant minutes early. They also re-signed Ron Baker, who is an unproven combo guard. Don’t expect any exceptional stats from Sessions, but it’s rare that you have a chance to draft a player that may end up as a starting point guard in the final round of a fantasy draft.


* Isaiah Thomas/ Gordon Hayward/ Jae Crowder - Boston Celtics:
There were only 26 players in the NBA last season who finished with a higher usage rate than Gordon Hayward (27.6 percent). Isaiah Thomas, who posted a USG rate of 34.0 (fifth highest in the league) was one of them. With Thomas and Hayward now sharing the court together in Boston, they will both have to sacrifice a bit on the offensive end to maximize efficiency and keep everyone happy. Still, it is important to note that neither player will be impacted dramatically. Thomas gets bumped down slightly, and now projects as a late second or early-third round pick. Hayward should probably come off the board later in round three. As for Crowder, he finished last season ranked 50th overall in nine-category leagues, but almost certainly will not be able to match that lofty ranking in 2017-18. Crowder is still capable of providing seventh or eighth-round value next season, even though he'll have to shift over to playing primarily as a power forward when on the floor with Hayward.


* Caris LeVert - Brooklyn Nets:
Prior to the D'Angelo Russell trade, LeVert was ticketed as the Nets starting shooting guard. However, Russell and Jeremy Lin are now expected to comprise Brooklyn's starting backcourt. The Nets also traded for Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll this offseason, which limits the amount minutes available on the wing. LeVert still possesses an enticing upside, and the Nets organization remains high on him, but his fantasy outlook for the 2017-18 had been muddied by the team’s moves over the last month. LeVert is worth a late-round flier due to his impressive skill set, but it’s unwise to invest too heavily.


* Reggie Jackson - Detroit Pistons:
The Pistons didn’t add any true point guards this offseason, but they signed Langston Galloway, traded for Avery Bradley and drafted Luke Kennard. Both Galloway and Bradley have been asked to bring the ball up the floor and facilitate the offense on occasion in their previous NBA stops. In addition, Detroit held onto Ish Smith, who outplayed Jackson much of last season. Smith ranked second among all NBA point guards in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.73) in 2016-17 and third overall in the NBA. Chris Paul was the only point guard with a better ratio. Jackson, meanwhile, was unable to stay healthy, missing the first 21 and the final nine games of the year due to knee issues. Jackson is owed $51 million over the next three years, so the Pistons are surely hoping he returns to form, but they have other options if he is unable to avoid injury setbacks or play up to expectations.


* Mario Hezonja - Orlando Magic:
Mario’s first two years in the NBA have been anything but ‘super,’ and his sophomore season was worse than his rookie campaign. Hezonja saw his playing time and production dip in 2016-17. He averaged just 4.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 14.8 minutes, while shooting an abdominal 35.5 percent from the floor. Now, after the moves the Magic made this offseason, it appears his path to playing time and fantasy relevance are more unlikely than previously imagined. Orlando signed Jonathon Simmons to a multi-year contract, drafted Wesley Iwundu with the 33rd overall pick in the draft, and also brought in veteran Arron Afflalo. First round pick Jonathan Isaac might also see some time on the wing. The Magic surely don’t want to give up on Hezonja, a player they drafted fifth overall (one spot after Kristaps Porzingis) just two years ago, but it’s difficult to envision Mario enjoying a breakout season in 2017-18.


* T.J. McConnell - Philadelphia 76ers:
McConnell was a very pleasant surprise for Sixers fans and fantasy owners last season. Due to injuries to both Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, McConnell was thrust into the starting lineup and proceeded to exceed expectations. In fact, he was one of just five players to tally at least 500 assists and 130 steals last season. The other four were Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, John Wall and Draymond Green. Shockingly, McConnell finished last season ranked just outside the top-100 overall in standard leagues. However, not only is Jerryd Bayless set to return from injury, but the Sixers also drafted Markelle Fultz with the first overall pick in last June’s draft. Fultz is expected to start, with Bayless (who is owed $17.5 million over the next two years) and McConnell backing him up.

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