We’re back with the second part of the breakdown of one of the craziest nights in NBA history. If you missed part one about the Clippers, check it out here. For part two, we’re going over the Thunder, Lakers missing out on Kawhi Leonard, and where the Raptors go from here.
What an awkward feeling for the Thunder. Sure, the headline is that yet another All-NBA wing wanted to depart from the Russell Westbrook usage vortex, but it’s not like OKC got the short end of the stick in this trade. PG-13 deciding to play there last year was still able to yield all those draft picks, Danilo Gallinari and one of the best rooks from the 2018 class in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. If the Lakers were able to sign him last year and he didn’t go to a Nas concert, the Thunder would’ve been stuck with nothing. It could be worse, but they are still almost $15 million over the tax and their championship aspirations are on hold for a few years at least.
The biggest question for OKC going forward is what is up with Russell Westbrook? Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Thunder “had been willing to pursue a package of Russell Westbrook and Paul George to the Raptors, but no talks ever gained traction." Woj also added, "Westbrook and his agent, Thad Foucher, are engaged with Thunder GM Sam Presti about the next steps of Westbrook's career, including the possibility of a trade prior to the start of next season." OKC could opt to flip some of these recently-acquired assets to get another player to go next to Westbrook, but what happens if that player eventually doesn’t want to play with Westbrook? It certainly makes sense to blow it all up, but it’s not going to be easy to trade. Westbrook has $38.5 million on his contract for next season, $41.4 million in 2020-21, $44.2 million in 2021-22, and a player option at $47.0 million for 2022-23. It wouldn’t be totally crazy to think Presti dumps him for cap space plus only some other minor pieces to make the money work. Maybe a team like the Suns or Knicks kick the tires on it after their perpetual letdowns over the past few years. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it, but for now let’s break down the current roster and fantasy value.
Westbrook is probably looking at another season triple-double with some disgusting efficiency. Per 36 minutes without PG next to him last year, Westbrook put up 25.6 points, 10.5 boards, 10.0 dimes, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 4.5 turnovers and 2.1 treys on a 42//28/65 shooting line over a 648-minute sample. He shot the ball worse without PG while his turnovers are up and his steals were down. Sure, Danilo Gallinari is no slouch, but he’s 31, injury prone, and only plays 30 minutes per game. Westbrook might be looking at 30/10/10 again.
Speaking of Gallo, he should be starting at small forward with a hit to his usage rate. Gallo was the main man for the Clippers first unit, but his 23.7 usage rate may drop into the upper teens because of so much overlap with Westbrook. Gallo was also ultra efficient last year with his 63.3 TS% because he was able to get to the line, but with the way Westbrook gets in the paint, he might drop there, as well. Considering his injury history with back issues and a litany of leg concerns, I’ll be fading him in drafts unless he really slides to the late rounds.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was going to be a very popular breakout play in fantasy, but now he gets stuck in the Westy vortex. Sure, SGA can certainly play next to Westbrook and he was starting to develop as an off-ball cutter with improved jump-shooting. He shot 40.5% on his catch-and-shoot treys after the break, which is even more impressive after making just 35.1% before All-Star. SGA had a more-than-respectable 57.7 TS% after the break with his 2.8 assist:turnover ratio helping his case as a potential efficient guard. He did only have an 18.4 usage rate after the break, and yet he was still able to put up averages of 12.7 points, 3.1 boards, 4.0 dimes, 1.4 steals, 0.5 blocks and 0.9 treys. Prior to Friday, I had SGA as a potential top-50 pick, but the Westbrook factor currently drops him to the 75-100 range. If Westbrook is somehow dealt, SGA would be back in the fourth-round mix.
One low-key improvement from OKC last year was from Jerami Grant, but part of his improvement was because of PG helping him get easier shots. Grant made just 41.2% from the floor with Westbrook and without PG, but that increased to 50.3% with both Westy and George. Besides a slight boost to boards, most of his other stats are fairly similar, so he may not see a boost with potentially a bigger role.
Steven Adams looks like the oldest 25-year-old player in the NBA. It’s possible the Thunder do trade him if they go into a full rebuild, and his role will likely be the same regardless of where he lands. Adams’ rebounding saw a major boost without PG and with Westbrook while his scoring actually goes up when he’s with both. Like Grant, Adams shouldn’t see his value altered from this move, and you could say the same thing for Nerlens Noel behind Adams. Noel may even be worth a stash with the Adams trade rumors. Dennis Schroder is also on the block, but no team is going to want to trade for his $31 million over two years. He could be looking at being a handcuff to a Westbrook deal, but he has needed some major volume to have fantasy value. There should be more high-upside stashes in the later rounds of standard leagues, but he could be worth a Hail Mary in points formats.
OKC may get an incomplete for the offseason with more moves on the horizon. For now, Westbrook could be the top dog for points leagues and perhaps a second-round option in H2H category leagues. Maybe you could use him in a built to punt FG% and turnovers, and hope somehow he fixes his FT% woes that have been a major problem over the last two years. SGA is still worth a pick in the middle rounds because he should get better while no other OKC guys should see much change.
After winning an NBA title for the first time, the Raptors are back to square one on needing another championship idea from Masai Ujiri. Besides not having DeMar DeRozan, one thing that’s different from last summer is that the Raps have a superstar on their roster: Pascal Siakam.
The reigning Most Improved Player got better as the year went on, and even said after the title-clinching win that he got better every game. Siakam’s stats were even better without Kawhi on the floor, putting up per-36 stats of 20.3 points, 8.4 boards, 3.6 dimes, 1.1 steals, 0.7 blocks and 1.0 treys on a 54/30/79 shooting line over 1,012 regular season minutes. However, his playoff output decreased without Leonard in a 173-minute sample, but keep in mind he saw most of his minutes against very tough frontcourt defenses. Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka were fairly healthy last year, so there could be an even bigger role for him. Back-to-back Most Improved Player? He should be coming off the board in the third round and joins Bam Adebayo as two of the more attractive upside plays in the early rounds.
Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka could also see a slight boost in output, and are both likely to slide because of their age. Ibaka went for 23 and 12 per 36 with Lowry and without Leonard. Lowry’s stats without Kawhi were also noteworthy, posting per-36 stats of 19.1 points, 6.2 boards, 9.8 dimes, 1.4 steals and 3.3. Treys on a 44/38/80 shooting line. Lowry was actually a disaster on shot making at just 38.5% next to Kawhi in the regular season, so signs point to him offering a higher ceiling. He’s getting up there in age at 33, so he could become a value in the early middle rounds.
Fred VanVleet figures to be the guy who gets the biggest ADP boost. FVV was dynamite in his minutes without Kawhi thanks to a 50/49/91 shooting line in his 437 minutes next to Lowry, putting up per-36 stats of 15.0 points, 6.8 boards, 1.6 dimes, 0.9 steals and 2.4 treys. With Danny Green also out of the picture, FVV is likely looking at minutes in the 30s, and Lowry’s age makes him even a more attractive fantasy target.
The Raptors are really going to need more out of Norman Powell and OG Anunoby should see more offensive chances. Although, there really hasn’t been enough from those two guys to warrant a fantasy selection in the late rounds of 12-team leagues. Perhaps Stanley Johnson can shock us to be a serviceable player?
This team should still compete for a playoff spot, which makes their younger studs FVV and Pascal very strong targets while their older guys could become values if they slide.
The Lakers didn’t land Kawhi, but they were able to reel in DeMarcus Cousins on a one-year deal. They’re still in great position for a postseason run after feeling crestfallen with the Clippers stealing their thunder along with a Thunder player.
Assuming they’re not a major disappointment, LeBron James is also a good bet to miss several games. He had a career-low 55 games played last season, and it was shockingly just the second season he’s missed more than 10 games (2014-15) since his debut way back in 2003. James has also seen his minutes decrease over the last three seasons, and his minutes were even lower before the break at 34.9 compared to 35.9 after the All-Star Game. LeBron is one of the most indestructible players in sports history, but he is going to be 35 years old in December and the success of the Kawhi rest plan is likely to rub off on him even though they’re not teammates.
Anyone who has played DFS knows all about the Anthony Davis locker room trips. Even in just 56 games last year, he went to the locker room a whopping 10 times. That’s almost 18% of his games, and none of those 10 times were in the fourth quarter. Most importantly, he is going to be in a contract year, so that makes him even more likely to rest when he can, especially with how he can miss so many games due to minor injuries. If you want to take it a step further, perhaps players are going to be even a little more shy about playing at a shade under 100% after KD’s devastating injury. That image likely frightened a lot of players, and you would think AD is one of them. It would be a major surprise to see him get to 70 game with a lot of rest along the way, especially late in the season as the Lakers gear up for the playoffs. Of course, DeMarcus Cousins is also a very good bet to rest after whiffing on a big contract two years in a row, and suffering an Achilles tear along with a quad tear in the postseason.
A distant second concern is the ol’ “there’s only one ball” argument. Last season, both 'Born and AD were in the top 21 for usage rate while Boogie was still in the top 30 next to the star-studded Dubs. LeBron was one of 11 players with a 31-plus usage rate and AD coming in at 28.8. We’ve seen instances when two players can flirt with a 30-plus usage with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook doing so back when KD was in OKC, and AD also was close to it with DeMarcus Cousins in 2017-18. Plus, KD, Steph Curry and Cousins all showed they can be in the upper 20s for usage rate. All three players figure to fall in the 25-29 range as coach Frank Vogel staggers their minutes.
One thing that won’t be an issue with AD and LeBron is their efficiency. AD and LeBron have each put up a 30/30/60 season (minutes per/usage rate/TS%) in the last two seasons, which is one quarter of the eight total guys to reach those marks in the last two years (Kawhi, Harden, Steph, KD, Kyrie, Giannis the other six). Plus, only 15 guys have even hit these marks in NBA history. That should make the Lakers one of the most efficient teams in the NBA. Besides the dynasty Warriors, no NBA team has reached 56 eFG% in a season. With these three and what should be a litany of wide-open treys, the Lakers could join the Dubs in efficiency.
LeBron getting some help around him should really boost his efficiency. Last year in the Lakers dumpster fire, LeBron’s 58.8 TS% was a sizeable drop from his 62.1 in 2017-18 and 61.9 three seasons ago. He has seen his FG% at the rim drop in each of the last three seasons with his 71.1% dropping 4.1% compared to the previous year (0.9% before that). LeBron also had his highest 3-point rate of his career by far, so that should also help him play off the ball. Plus, it’s worth adding all of his efficiency drops last year were prior to his injury, so it wasn’t all about him playing through his groin issue. LeBron’s blocks, steals and boards were all the way down from last year per 100 possessions, and his 66.5 FT% last year was his lowest of his career. LeBron has given father time more L’s than almost anyone, but it might be starting to catch up with him on his absurd across-the-board numbers over his career.
Then there’s Anthony Davis, who is firmly in his prime at 26 years old. AD saw his rebounding, steals, threes and assists all increase last year per 100 possessions. After most of this column talked about scoring and usage, that’s basically the point here. AD does so many things that even a dip in usage shouldn’t hurt him. AD’s usage has dropped in the last two seasons, and in 2017-18 he was easily the best player per game in nine-category leagues with most of that time coming next to Cousins. He should still offer top upside in per-game value in nine-category leagues and perhaps top three in points formats.
Cousins finds himself in a similar position as last year. Once he got rolling for his final 10 games of the regular season, Cousins averaged 17.2 points, 9.0 boards, 3.7 boards, 1.4 steals, 1.4 blocks, 2.4 turnovers and 1.1 treys on a 50/33/63 shooting line. Even with the horrendous foul shooting and missed treys, Boogie finished just outside the top 50 per game in nine-category value. He should offer top-30 upside, if healthy.
The bottom line for season-long fantasy here for the Lakers is all about the “load management” days of the NBA are likely to affect their starting lineups. The risk on LeBron pushes him outside of the top 20 for me, and AD currently moves to four for me behind James Harden, Karl-Anthony Towns and Stephen Curry. For Cousins, I’d much rather take the plunge on Bam Adebayo and Kristaps Porzingis. I would still take Boogie over Julius Randle in nine cat and I trust him a little more than guys like Montrezl Harrell, Lauri Markkanen and Al Horford, who all figure to go in the same neighborhood during drafts.
Regarding the other Lakers, Kyle Kuzma figures to take a big hit because he needs to score to have value. When LeBron and/or AD rest, he figures to absorb more shots than anyone else. Danny Green should continue to be his catch-and-shoot self, and he’ll be on his usual roller-coaster ways as a fantasy asset.
The Lakers also just added Rajon Rondo to give them a very Pelicans feel with some LeBron James as the main course. Rondo is not going to handle the ball as much, and it makes sense to bring him off the bench to help distribute the ball in the second unit.
The amount of star players on different teams makes this one of the most fascinating NBA seasons ever. We'll be learning a whole lot early in the year and personally I can't wait to see how all these guys fit together.
And it's still just July 6!
Here are some of our other free agency columns: My free agent fantasy losers, Jonas Nader is going to do the fantasy winners, Steve Alexander will cover the team grades, Raphielle Johnson will preview some guys to watch in summer league, and Tommy Beer will add our free agent trackers.