Fantasy Basketball

2015-16 Fantasy Basketball: Assessing Value in Contract-Year Players

Besides being 7-feet tall, owning fleets of cars and having Drake on speed dial, basketball players are no different that any other human beings. Like us, they are mapping out their future every day, with the goal of filling their man purses with money for the remainder of their careers.

For as long as fantasy sports has existed, we as owners have targeted players that will be entering free agency at year’s end. The simple reasoning: with the potential to sign a big deal in the off-season, said player’s performance will improve.

This, of course, isn’t written in stone. We’ve seen players tank in contract years, but for the most part, it seems — and I emphasize “seems” — that their play on the court is better for it.

Let’s look at some free agents from this past summer, and compare their 2014-15 output to their career numbers:

Jae Crowder 10.3 pts, 5.3 reb per 36 14.0 pts, 6.9 reb per 36 (w/ BOS) 5 yr, $35 mil
Danny Green 8.8 pts, 3.0 reb, 0.9 stl, 0.7 blk, 1.8 3pt 11.7 pts, 4.2 reb, 1.2 stl, 1.1 blk, 2.4 3pt 4 yr, $40 mil
Lou Williams 11.4 pts, 0.8 stl, 0.9 3pt, 47.1 eFG% 15.5 pts, 1.1 stl, 1.9 3pt, 48.6 eFG% 3 yr, $21 mil
Patrick Beverley 8.3 pts, 3.1 reb, 1.2 stl, 1.3 3pt, 1.2 DWS 10.1 pts, 4.2 reb, 1.1 stl, 2.1 3pt, 1.8 DWS 4 yr, $23 mil

The best case scenario for all of these players is to continue the production they had in 2014-15, but that’s unlikely. All four of these players are what you might call “fringe” players — in fantasy, and in real life. Green is really the only one with significant value in either, but he was included since he’s still considered to be a “role player” on a deep San Antonio Spurs team.

Crowder played very well after he was traded to the Celtics, but their frontcourt is rather deep now after the acquisitions of David Lee and Amir Johnson. He also played some shooting guard last year, but the Celtics still have Evan Turner and Avery Bradley there. I don’t expect his numbers to increase.

Williams had a career year on a team that utilized him very well in the sixth man role. In fact, he won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, which likely led to his large contract. That, or the Lakers are just poor with money these days. It was probably a combination of both. No matter, with Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell in their backcourt (though Kobe will supposedly play some small forward), Williams simply won’t get enough looks to be able to reproduce last year’s statistics.

The Rockets went out and traded for stud point guard Ty Lawson, which will relegate Beverley to a bench role. He’s still a defensive stalwart and can knock down some big threes, but he won’t live up to the nearly $8 million per year he is now owed.

Though they don’t play the same positions as Green, adding LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to the Spurs rotation will certainly cut into Green’s playing time.

What all of this basically shows is that even the NBA’s top role players and category specialists can earn large paydays following breakout seasons in their contract years. This leads us to this year’s crop of impending free agents, and what fantasy owners should expect when drafting them.

Dwyane Wade, Heat

Future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade has spent his entire NBA career playing for the Miami Heat. This past off-season, the team kept Wade in South Beach by agreeing to a one-year, $20 million deal with the soon-to-be 34-year-old. It was a smart deal on both the Heat’s and Wade’s part, as it keeps their leader around for at least one more year, and it allowed Wade to recoup some of the money he lost when he opted out of his deal a couple years prior.

The big question next summer will be whether Wade chooses to sign another deal to stay in Miami. The jury is really out on this one.

On one hand, a player of his age may want one more chance to win a ring, as well as possibly sign one more long-term deal. It’s very possible that neither of those happen with the Heat. But on the other hand, Miami is Wade’s home, and his childrens’ home. Uprooting his family at this stage of his career could prove to be too big of a deterrent when it comes to free agency. The Heat have also retooled (to a degree), trading for and signing Goran Dragic, signing Amare Stoudemire and drafting Justise Winslow. They’ll also have a healthy Chris Bosh back to pair with 2014-15 breakout player Hassan Whiteside.

I’m pretty high on the Heat this year. They are contenders in a weak Eastern Conference, and if Wade wants to win one more ring in Miami, the window is closing, like, right now.

I expect Wade to be on top of his game this season, but it won’t come without faults, and by faults I mean injuries. Wade has missed exactly 25 percent of the Heat’s games the past three seasons, and that number shouldn’t change much. He’s older and the team has more bodies to replace him with when he does sit out.

Wade is a tough guy to own in head-to-head leagues, but in roto leagues, he’s still a top 60 player in my eyes. He doesn’t hurt ratios and his steals, assists and rebounds are elite for a shooting guard. As for his injuries? Since you’ll have to adhere to your league’s games played limits anyway, you can just bench him on nights he doesn’t suit up.

Bradley Beal, Wizards

Beal is one of the top up-and-coming shooting guards in the league, but he’s failed to make huge strides due to a multitude of injuries.

At just 22 years of age, Beal will be entering his fourth season in the NBA. After averaging 17.1 points in 2013-14, last year’s scoring average of 15.3 points was a big disappointment. He wasn’t able to improve on his field goal percentage, his three-point shooting, his passing or his rebounding. He did manage 0.2 more steals per game, but all in all, 2014-15 was a bust for the former Florida Gator.

But as this article has shown, contract years have a funny way of bringing out the best in players. If last year’s playoffs were a glimpse into what Beal’s future holds, he’s someone fantasy owners should be buying this season. Beal put up excellent numbers during the Wizards’ 10-game playoff run, averaging 23.4 points, 5.5 boards, 4.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.3 triples. Of course, he still shot 40 percent and some of that output came with John Wall on the sidelines.

The Wizards seem intent on securing Beal for the long-term, but they’ve been low-balling him during negotiations. Until a deal is signed, Beal will have every reason to boost his market value, and fantasy owners will be handsomely rewarded.

Other players in “prove-it” years:

Ersan Ilyasova: Can he stay healthy/consistent enough to prove his worth? He has the talent.

Brandon Jennings: Teams will be eager to see how he recovers from achilles surgery.

O.J. Mayo: He’s had to adapt to a smaller role. Will he capitalize on one last chance to strike it rich?

Rajon Rondo: Lack of respect for authority and decreased efficiency marred his 2014-15 season. He has all the tools to turn it around in Sacramento.

Eric Gordon: His 61 games played was the fourth-most of his career. Injuries have always been the culprit with Gordon. If he can prove his health, GMs will come knocking.

Al Jefferson: Now 30-years-old and coming off the worst season of his career, Big Al will look to boost his stats heading into free agency.

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