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FA Winners and Losers - Part 2

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Last week we highlighted players in the Eastern Conference who saw their fantasy value rise or fall due to the many moves made this offseason.


Today we focus on the Western Conference and examine which players benefited and which saw their stock drop as a result of free agency and trades this summer.


* Rudy Gobert - Utah Jazz:
Gobert had been improving steadily over the first three years of his career before breaking out and emerging as a superstar last season, finishing the 2016-17 campaign ranked inside the top-20 in standard fantasy leagues. According to Basketball Reference, Gobert became the first player in Utah franchise history, and just the eighth NBA player over the last 40 years, to tally at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 200 blocks in a single season. The other seven are Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Dwight Howard, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


Next season, Gobert has a chance to produce even more prodigious numbers. After Gordon Hayward left Utah to sign with the Celtics, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey said the Jazz were committed to building the team around Rudy. Last season, Hayward attempted 15.8 shots per game, while Gobert attempted just 7.7. George Hill, who was second on the team in field goal attempts (12.4), also left via free agency and was replaced by Ricky Rubio. Rubio is a pass-first point guard who’ll surely be a formidable pick-and-roll partner with Gobert. Rudy’s defensive dominance gives him a rock-solid floor, and the expected increase in offensive production make a leap into the top-10 entirely possible.


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* Maurice Harkless - Portland Trail Blazers:
In order to clear some salary off their books, the Blazers traded Allen Crabbe to the Nets last month in exchange for Andrew Nicholson, whom they promptly waived. With Crabbe, who averaged 28.5 minutes per game last season, now out of the picture, Harkless should see plenty of additional playing time and scoring opportunities. The Blazers currently have very little depth at small forward behind Harkless. Evan Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu will see time on the wing, but it is probable that Harkless sets career-highs across the board. That makes Moe an attractive fantasy commodity, considering he cracked the top-100 overall last season despite partially splitting time with Crabbe.


* Tyreke Evans - Memphis Grizzlies:
Evans entered the NBA with a bang, beating out Stephen Curry to take home Rookie of the Year honors back in 2010. That season Evans became just the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in his rookie year, joining Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. The years since have seen Evans’ production dip as his injuries have mounted. While Steph Curry was busy signing a five-year, $201 million contract in early July, Evans had to settle for a one-year deal with Memphis at near-minimum level salary.


Evans bet on himself in the hopes that he could prove he was capable of staying healthy and re-establishing his value. If so, he’ll be able to cash in next summer when he re-enters the free agent market. As it turns out, Evans may be looking at more playing time than expected. Ben McLemore, who many projected as Memphis’ starting shooting guard, broke a bone in his foot last week and is expected to be sidelined for three months. Vince Carter, who averaged 25 minutes per game for the Grizz last season, left Memphis to sign with Sacramento. Chandler Parsons, penciled in as the Grizzlies starting small forward, has been battling crippling knee issues and appeared in just 34 games last year. With plenty of playing time potentially up for grabs, Evans could make a case for a substantial role early on, if he can stay healthy himself. The talent is still there. Over his final 14 games with the Kings last season, Evans averaged 18.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per-36 minutes.


* Blake Griffin - Los Angeles Clippers:
Although he has dealt with his fair share of injury issues, there is no denying Griffin’s remarkable talent when he’s on the floor. Here’s the proof: Griffin is one of just four players in NBA history to average at least 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game over the course of their careers. The other three are Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird.


And now, with Chris Paul now in Houston, the Clippers are Blake Griffin’s team. One could argue there are pros and cons to Griffin flying solo without CP3. Paul, arguably the game’s best point guard, was responsible for consistently setting up Griffin and putting him in position to score. On the other hand, without Paul in the mix, Griffin will be the focal point of the offense and won’t have to rely on CP3 getting him the rock. Overall, it’s likely a net positive. Yes, injuries are a concern, but Griffin, at 28, is in the heart of his prime. His last fully healthy season was in 2014, and he finished third in MVP voting that year after averaging 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.2 steals.


* Dejounte Murray / Patty Mills - San Antonio Spurs:
Tony Parker, the floor leader of the Spurs for over a decade, ruptured his left quadriceps tendon in May and is not expected return to the court until January. Even before suffering this serious injury, Parker’s production had dipped dramatically. Thus, there was talk early in the summer that the Spurs were attempting to clear cap space to make a run at a stud point guard such as Chris Paul or Kyle Lowry. However, the Spurs lost out on the CP3 sweepstakes, Lowry re-upped with the Raps, and San Antonio simply re-signed Patty Mills.


That’s encouraging news for Murray, who may be plugged in as the team’s starter in 2017-18. As a rookie last season, Murray started a total of eight games and averaged 9.5 points, 3.3 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 22.6 minutes over those eight contests. He struggled in summer league action last month, but Murray’s upside is enticing if he falls far enough on draft day. Mills will also carry extra value over the first few months of the season, providing solid, if unspectacular, stat lines.


* Patrick Patterson - Oklahoma City Thunder:
I’d be more confident in declaring that Patterson will exceed expectations if he hadn’t just undergone knee surgery that is expected to sideline him for 4-to-6 weeks. On the flip side, he’s expected back by training camp and the surgery news will likely cause him to plummet in preseason fantasy rankings. As a result, his extremely low ADP may present an intriguing value point.


Assuming Patterson avoids any setbacks and remains healthy this season, he has a chance to be a fantasy asset in deep leagues. There is a clear path to consistent playing time, as there is limited competition for minutes at power forward in OKC after the Thunder traded away Domantas Sabonis and lost Taj Gibson in free agency. P-Patt will likely end up starting, with Jerami Grant backing him up. Playing alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George, Patterson will be left wide open quite often. He averaged a career-high 1.4 3-pointers per game last season, while shooting 37.2 percent from downtown. For his career, he averages 4.7 boards and will sprinkle in a few steals and blocks, while not hurting your percentages. If you are looking for a solid, all-around contributor late in deeper league drafts, keep Patterson in mind.


* Joe Ingles / Rodney Hood - Utah Jazz:
As detailed above in the write-up on Rudy Gobert, the Jazz roster has undergone a major reconstruction. Last season, Gordon Hayward, George Hill, Shelvin Mack, and Trey Lyles accounted for 52.8 points on 41.2 field goal attempts per game. All four are no longer in Utah. The Jazz did bring in plenty of qualified veterans, to help fill the holes, but many of the team’s remaining players will be asked to shoulder additional responsibilities.


Of the 15 players on the Jazz last season, Joe Ingles posted the lowest usage rate (13.9) on the entire team. Yes, less than even Jeff Withey. Ingles averaged only 5.5 field goal attempts. Ten other members of the Jazz averaged more shots. Still, Ingles consistently found ways to contribute. Now, with Hayward in Beantown, Ingles will likely replace him in the starting lineup. Ingles per-36 minute stats from 2016-17 are certainly encouraging: 10.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.2 treys and 1.8 steals. The Jazz clearly have plenty of faith in Ingles, as they re-signed him to a four-year, $52 million deal this summer. Fantasy GM’s should show similar faith on draft day in October, especially considering Ingles may still be on the board in the 10th round or later.


Much like Ingles, Rodney Hood should see a spike in his fantasy value as well. Hood was slowed by a myriad of injuries and took a step back last season after breaking out in a big way back in 2015-16. Hood still averaged 11.3 FG attempts per contest last season, the highest among all returning Jazz players. He and Gobert will likely be the team’s leading scorers next season. Assuming Hood can stay healthy, he has a decent chance to post top-100 overall value.


Honorable Mentions:
* Paul Millsap - Denver Nuggets
* Patrick Beverley / Milos Teodosic - Los Angeles Clippers
* Clint Capela - Houston Rockets

* De’Aaron Fox / George Hill - Sacramento Kings:
The moment the Kings drafted Fox with the fifth overall pick, I was ready to go all in on the lightning-quick youngster out of Kentucky. The Kings, seemingly at the start of a long rebuild, didn’t have any other point guards on their roster and it appeared that Fox would log all the minutes he could handle as Sacramento’s starting PG.


However, the Kings surprisingly prioritized adding veterans to the roster in free agency. They signed Zach Randolph to a two-year, $24 million contract and brought in Vince Carter as well. Sacramento's most expensive free agent addition was George Hill, one of the top point guards on the market. The plan is to have Hill and Fox split time, while the veteran tutors and mentors the rookie. This may very well prove beneficial to Fox in the long run, but it considerably dampens the fantasy forecast for both Hill and Fox in 2017-18. With second-round pick Frank Mason expected to get some run at some point as well, there are not enough point guard minutes to go around. Hill averaged over 12 field goal attempts per game in 31.5 minutes last season, and finished the year ranked 61st overall in standard leagues. His playing time will likely dip below 30 minutes per contest, and his ADP for drafts this October will likely land in the 80’s. While no longer among the favorites for Rookie of the Year, Fox still carries plenty of upside. He’s worth a flier late in drafts and would see his stock soar if Hill (who has played fewer than 50 games in two of his last three seasons) is sidelined by an injury.


* Brook Lopez - Los Angeles Lakers:
Lopez took his game to the next level last season by adding a 3-point shot to his arsenal. He had made a total of just three 3-pointers on 31 attempts in 487 games prior to the 2016-17 campaign and then knocked down 134 3-pointers on 387 attempts in 65 games last season. In the process, Lopez became just the second player in NBA history to average at least 1.7 treys and 1.7 blocks per game. He also benefited from being the undisputed focal point of the Nets offense last season. Lopez led the team in field goal attempts by a wide margin, averaging 4.5 more shots per game than any other player. BroLo also led the Nets in minutes played and not only led Brooklyn in usage rate, but he also posted the second-highest usage rate (29.2) among all qualified NBA centers.


Now that’s he’s been relocated to the West Coast, Lopez won’t enjoy the same offensive freedom. Lonzo Ball will have no problem spreading the love around next season, but he’ll have plenty of options. The Lakers are obviously heavily invested in Brandon Ingram and will want to make sure he gets his touches. And, while Lopez is in a contract year, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Julius Randle are also set to hit the free agent market next summer, which means they’ll be highly motivated to put up numbers and show their worth.


* Gorgui Dieng - Minnesota Timberwolves:
Dieng was extremely efficient and effective last season. He exceeded expectations and provided substantial value (finishing just outside the top-50 overall in standard leagues) considering his ADP hovered around 70 in drafts before the start of the year.


However, it will be quite difficult for Dieng to match his production from last season due to the overhauled roster in Minnesota. Not only did the Wolves add three high-scoring guards in Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford and the superstar Jimmy Butler, but Minnesota's head coach and president of basketball operations, Tom Thibodeau, signed Taj Gibson to a massive two-year, $28 million contract. Gibson was one of Thibs favorite players when he coached Taj during their days with the Bulls. Based on the large salary Thibodeau was willing to offer, he still believes Gibson is capable of producing at a high level. Dieng didn’t have much competition for playing time last season, averaging 32.4 minutes per game. That won’t be the case in 2017-18. Dieng will remain the starter and is still a safe pick around round eight or nine in standard leagues due to his high percentages and versatile contributions, but don't expect him to finish near the top-50 going forward.


* Jrue Holiday - New Orleans Pelicans:
New Orleans made a serious commitment to Holiday this summer, re-signing him to a five-year deal that could pay up to $150 million if Jrue hits certain incentives. However, the Pelicans brought in few other guards this offseason as well. The question now is whether or not there are too many chefs in the kitchen.


In one of the more interesting moves of the summer, New Orleans signed Rajon Rondo to a one-year pact. Holiday did spend some time playing off the ball late last season when the Pels played Tim Frazier at point guard, and Holiday proved he was able to produce. Still, sharing a backcourt with Rondo will present challenges. With DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis expecting to be force fed, Rondo (who led the NBA in assists three of the last six seasons) will dish out plenty of dimes if he's asked to run the show. The Pelicans also signed Ian Clark from the world-champion Warriors and drafted Frank Jackson, an All-American PG from Kansas, with the 34th overall pick in the 2017 draft. They'll have to compete for backup minutes in the backcourt with E'Twaun Moore (who started 22 games for the Pels last season) and Jordan Crawford, who averaged over 23 minutes per game off the bench in the 19 contests he appeared in. Holiday obviously sits atop the pecking order in New Orleans, but it will be difficult for him to maximize his potential given the current situation.

* Nick Young - Golden State Warriors:
After a disappointing season in 2015-16, when he averaged just 7.3 points on 33.9 percent shooting, Young bounced back in a big way last season, scoring 13.2 points a night and shooting 43.0 percent from the floor. Shockingly, he finished 2016-17 campaign ranked 107th overall in standard leagues, one spot ahead of Dennis Schroder.


With the Lakers looking for offense wherever they could find it, Young was happy to deliver. He averaged 25.9 minutes on 10.6 field goal attempts per game. Now that Swaggy P finds himself in Golden State, playing behind the Splash Brothers, the opportunities won’t be nearly as plentiful. Only three Warriors averaged more than eight field goal attempts per game last season: Stephen Curry (18.3), Klay Thompson (17.6) and Kevin Durant (16.5). After the big three, Draymond Green got up 8.6 shots a night. Ian Clark (5.6) was actually fifth on the team in attempts. There is no reason to believe any of the four Warriors All-Stars will see a drop in usage rate going forward. Because he’ll be surrounded by arguably the greatest collection of shooters ever assembled on one roster, Young will be left wide-open far more frequently than he was in L.A. However, the volume won’t be there. Thus, expect a significant decline in his fantasy value. On days when Klay or KD are resting or injured, Young will be a very popular DFS play, but I’ll avoid investing heavily in Young in year-long leagues.

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