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Offseason Beat

Changes for Bulls & Raptors

by Mike Gallagher
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

As much as I’d like to admit this is a super important column for news pertaining to the upcoming season, it’s not. August is easily the slowest month of the year for NBA news and several non-players in the NBA take their vacations this month. Plus, 95 percent of the season-long fantasy players are spending all of their time on preparing for fantasy football and trying to win their fantasy baseball leagues. 

In other words, if you’re reading this, the Rotoworld Basketball crew certainly appreciates it and you probably crush it for fantasy hoops. Anyway, there were some telling bits of info in the past week regarding some rotations. Today, we'll check out what could be going down in Toronto and Chicago.
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Also, in case you missed my encyclopedia-like series on Summer League, check them out here (it's kind of like a scouting report for each team's younger players):

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Rap it Up-Tempo
Coach Dwane Casey had some interesting comments regarding his rotation last week. He said he expects DeMarre Carroll to play some four, Cory Joseph to play next to Kyle Lowry, and he would like to see DeMar DeRozan and Lowry not have so much pressure on them. What does this all mean?
Let’s start with DeMarre at the four. The Raptors look a little different this year with Amir Johnson now in Boston and Tyler Hansbrough in Charlotte while basically swapping in Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo. Hansbrough is in a similar class as Scola and Biz — assuming Biz doesn’t continue to grow, which could happen — while Amir is a much more capable player. That means there should be a few more minutes available for the Raptors to go small. Plus, it does seem the Raptors are less bullish on playing Jonas Valanciunas bigger minutes and James Johnson is likely being viewed more as a three and not a four — Johnson also basically fell out of the rotation in the playoffs.
Can DeMarre play the four, though? Well, that’s tough to tell. Last season, only 17 of Carroll’s 2,747 minutes in the regular season and playoffs came at power forward. The Hawks had two All-Star talents in Al Horford and Paul Millsap, who both are capable of playing big minutes. The NBA is clearly shifting the paradigm to more of a small-ball approach, so that is good news for any player capable of playing more than one position in an up-tempo style. Also, the Raptors were 20th in pace last season, so this news helps them there, too. Carroll should see career highs in usage rate, assists and minutes with the Raptors this season. He’s a strong target in the middle rounds and hopefully his efficiency doesn’t suffer.
Cory Joseph playing next to Kyle Lowry is interesting. It further accentuates the uptempo pace, especially since Casey said he can see Lowry, Joseph and DeRozan all being in the same lineup. It is worth mentioning a two-PG lineup with DeMar didn’t work for them last year, though. For Raptors lineups with at least 100 minutes last year, the worst one was a lineup of Lowry, Greivis Vasquez (now with the Bucks), DeMar, Amir and Valanciunas. Interestingly, that lineup was also the slowest, so the added pace should help them out. The point here is I’m not sure that this lineup works, but again it speaks to the versatility of Casey’s rotation this year. Obviously, you should not be drafting Joseph as anything more than a handcuff to Lowry in deep leagues. It is worth mentioning Co-Jo did have a solid run in 14 starts last year, averaging 13.2 points, 4.5 boards, 3.6 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.3 treys on 56.2 percent from the field. Of course, Spurs.
DeMar DeRozan has been one of the most inefficient, high-usage players in the NBA. In fact, he was the only qualifier for minutes last season to have a true shooting percentage below 52 with a usage rate of at least 28. Even the “analytics are dumb” crowd will attest that high usage and low efficiency is a bad formula. The Raptors likely know this and will look to cut down on his mid-range shooting. DD took a whopping 508 mid-range shots last season and only made 35.8 percent of them. He’s also not fouled as much on those, so his favorable 83.2 percent at the line from last year is less useful, too.
Usually, a player getting a pass results in higher efficiency. However, on DeRozan’s 916 shots off a pass, he made just 40.9 percent from the field, which is lower than his total of 41.3 percent. That does not compute. The passing was much better than his multi-dribbling attempts because his efficiency is way down on shots with three-plus dribbles. On those 420 shots last year, he had an effective field goal percentage of 38.3. That’s unbelievably bad, especially considering those types of shots accounted for 42.5 percent of his total.
The bottom line here is no high-usage player needs to take better shots than DeRozan. Subsequently, this potential change would mean he has a lower usage and hopefully more efficiency. For fantasy, I haven’t drafted DeMar DeRozan in nine-category leagues in my entire life and that won’t change this season.
Lowry, on the other hand, is a solid player off the ball. On his shots without a dribble, he had an effective field goal percentage of 53.3. Lowry’s fantasy value gets a slight uptick in the possible new system and it may even help his 3-pointers rise. He is a little injury prone and was just outside of the top 30 for per-game value last year, so I’d probably pounce in the 25-35 range, depending what’s out there.
The Mayor's Offense
The Bulls are going to have a lot of changes this upcoming season. Year after year, coach Tom Thibodeau had his team in the bottom third for pace, but that will change with Fred Hoiberg taking over. He’s already said the team will push the ball more, which means there will be more stats to go around. The Bulls were also in the bottom two for 3-point attempts per game in two of the last three seasons. That should also change and they may be able to climb into the top 15. Still, the Bulls had two top-15 players per game in standard leagues in Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol. They could be one of the most fantasy relevant teams in the 2015-16 season.
The most interesting item from last week is NBA.com’s Sam Smith saying Gasol and Joakim Noah are unlikely to start together. One quick reminder is “starting” is the most overrated aspect of a player for fantasy. If a player produces, he produces. Fantasy owners shouldn’t get too caught up in who has his name announced in the starting lineup. Johnny O’Bryant started 15 games last year and Kyle Singler started in 58 games. When the Bulls announce the starters, do not overreact. Let’s go through this big by big for who could start. 
Hearing this info should automatically favor one guy: Nikola Mirotic. The Bulls were at their best with Mirotic on the court with his team-high net rating of 6.1. Of the two-man lineups with at least 200 minutes together, Mirotic was in each of the top three. He was paired with Mike Dunleavy, Butler and Aaron Brooks in those.
The Bulls basically played at the same tempo with Mirotic on or off the court, so there’s really no clear indicator of the new system favoring him in that regard. Per Synergy, he came in at 40.9 percentile for transition scoring, so again it’s kind of inconclusive. For what it’s worth, he didn’t really look bad/tired and the Bulls as a team were 24.1 percentile in transition scoring. Obviously a faster tempo should be a good thing for him, though. The Bulls taking more treys for him also bodes well.
The upside is just so high on Mirotic. He improved as the year went on even though is per-minute stats fell off a tad. The upside is just so nice for a second-year player with international experience. I’ve always been a fan of being semi-safe in the first half of fantasy drafts and shooting for upside in the second half — it’s all I draft in the last four picks. Don’t sleep on him and you can target him aggressively.
Pau Gasol may be the best offensive option for the Bulls, but it does make some sense to put him in the second unit to a degree. He led the team in PIE (player impact estimate), had a 24.4 usage rate and a 55.0 true shooting percentage. Gasol also only had 61.9 percent of his buckets assisted, which is the lowest among the PF/C starting candidates. He can get his own shot and his low-post presence should help space the floor for some shooters in the unit. Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose can get their own shot and don’t need the spacing quite as much.
Whatever happens, Gasol should see his 34.4 minutes per game take a hit. At worst, he’ll be looking at around 31. He’s still a solid target in the second round with a very high floor. The coaching change shouldn’t affect him negatively.
Noah is certainly a strange case. When we was off the court, the Bulls had a net rating of 4.3 compared to just 2.3 when he was on the court. In other words, they were better without him based on that stat alone. He is also really running into a number of injuries, so there is little doubt we see his minutes slide from his 30.6 per game from last season.
Just because he gets less minutes, it doesn’t mean he should be moved out of the starting lineup. We all know Noah is not the offensive weapon he used to be, but his presence in the first unit offense is superfluous with the Butler offensive breakout. It’s all about defense for Noah and he still has it. While defending shots from within 10 feet, Noah’s man made just 46.5 percent, which is 8.2 percent below the league average.  
Starter or not, his fantasy value doesn’t look good. Last season, he was just 111th on per-game value with all that playing time. He had a 13.7 usage rate last season and his non-scoring numbers took a tumble as well. Let someone else draft him.
Doug McDermott’s rookie season was one to forget. When he was on the court, he only had a net rating of -12.2 — the lowest among Bulls with at least 65 minutes last season. Thibodeau put him in the dog house more than Snoopy last year, so the coaching change helps him regardless. Yeah, he’ll likely be getting some minutes at small forward, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bobby Portis move ahead of him on the depth chart at the four. If you’re looking for more info on these two guys, check out the Central Summer League recap here. I really like Portis.

As for Taj Gibson, it’s pretty obvious he’s not going to be starting. He is a nice fill-in guy when the Bulls have an injury, but he just doesn’t seem like a guy who would thrive in an uptempo, floor-spacing system. 
So of all the possible starting combos, which had the best effect on net rating?
Note: These numbers do include some minutes with Mirotic at the three and include the postseason.
Gasol, Mirotic
On: 3.5
Off: -8.4
Gasol, Noah

On: 4.2
Off: 8.4

Gasol, Gibson

On: 3.4
Off: 10.1

Noah, Mirotic

On: 1.6
Off: 1.0

Noah, Gibson

On: -8.6
Off: 6.2

This is fascinating. While the Bulls were solid with Mirotic-Gasol, they were awful without them with a negative rating while they were both off the court. On the other hand, the other four lineup combos all had a positive net rating while they were off.  To take it a step further, the Bulls had a net rating of 4.6 with Mirotic playing the four next to Pau. When Mirotic was playing the four with Noah, the Bulls had a net rating of 8.1 Again, Mirotic was really good at power forward last year and there is so much to like about him this year.

Right now I’d probably say Noah gets bumped to the bench. He isn’t really capable of playing big minutes anymore. Mirotic and Gasol have the highest ceiling on offense and coach Hoiberg strikes me as a guy who wants to score as much as possible. As far as fantasy value goes for this group, I’d rank them: Gasol, Mirotic, Noah, Gibson, McDermott.
That’ll do it for today, but I’ll be back later this week with more info on the Wolves, Celtics and more

Mike Gallagher
Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.