Fantasy Basketball 2014-15: Offseason Signings and Analysis
This offseason has been eclipsed by the LeBron James decision to return home to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers and Carmelo Anthony taking a tour of the league but in the end deciding to stay where his family was most comfortable and he could also get the most straight cash homie, New York, and lastly the Kevin Love trade sweepstakes which is on-going. While a lot of names have agreed to join teams, there are still two studs in Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe waiting for contracts. There’s also a good bit of legit role players like Shawn Marion, Ramon Sessions, Jordan Crawford, Andray Blatche and Emeka Okafor — if healthy — who are all unsigned and can really help teams. While we already know LeBron will still be LeBeast and Melo will continue to dominate the stat sheets in New York, there are some faces that changed places that are worthy of discussion and a look into not only their new fantasy outlook but also what their ex-teams did to replace them and how it may be relevant in fantasy terms.
Lance Stephenson – from Pacers to Hornets: The guy who has been in more blow memes than Tony Montana opted to leave Indiana and sign a three year deal with the Charlotte Hornets. Stephenson had a real breakout in 2013-14 as he improved his points (from 8.8 to 13.8 ppg), rebounds (from 3.9 to 7.2 rpg), and assists (from 2.9 to 4.6 apg) while also improving his field-goal percentage for the fourth straight season (33% to 37% to 46% to an impressive 49%) and upping his treys to 1.1 a game. Stephenson can credit his improved FG% mostly to his attacking the basket where he had 368 FGA at the basket this past season, over 120 more than the previous season. Those 368 attempts at the rim accounted for 42 percent of his total shot attempts. Lance loves pushing the rock on the fast break and taking it to the rim as seen here where he zooms past John Henson and then gives a quick shoulder fake before the big time finish over everyone’s favorite fantasy sleeper Giannis Antetokounmpo:
In Indy Stephenson was usually the third or fourth option on offense. In Charlotte he should be the no doubt third option behind Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson. The overall team/depth of Charlotte is weaker than it was in Indy as well so he’ll definitely be looked at for more offensive production than he was for the Pacers. Most will believe “born ready” will have a decline in points but personally I think he’ll sit about the same or see a slight increase if anything. He should still get nice boards and dimes for a wing which all adds up to him being a nice fantasy contributor again. In 8-category leagues Lance finished 57th on ESPN’s player rater, which isn’t something I normally go by but just needed a non-personal ranking to show. I think Stephenson should stay in that 60 range in Charlotte. and if he can improve his steals and/or threes — which I believe he can if the money doesn’t make him lazy — he could improve a decent bit on last year.
Backspin: Before knowing Stephenson would leave, the Indiana Pacers came to terms with shooting guard C.J. Miles as an off the bench scorer. After they lost out on Stephenson they went out and signed Rodney Stuckey. That couldn’t have helped the bleeding of the loss much. Stuckey can put up points and is good at getting himself to the free throw line, but he just isn’t a threat from 3-point land or even close to a defensive stopper. It’s too early to say who will start at SG for the Pacers, but most would think Stuckey would get the nod over Miles at least to start with. I don’t view Stuckey or Miles as ideal standard league options. Maybe whoever gets the starting job can be a super late round grab followed by praying, but I don’t think either hold up fantasy-wise besides maybe Miles as a 3-point specialist if he gets the time. The Pacers are going to feel the pain right away with no Stephenson and these two as his replacements, but they still have a reasonably solid team (for the Eastern Conference) if they can get/keep their heads on straight.
Chandler Parsons – from Rockets to Mavericks: This modeling pretty boy didn’t feel wanted by his ex-team the Houston Rockets — but he is by your girlfriend/wife — and signed a three-year max offer sheet with in-state rival Dallas, which the Rockets chose not to match. Parsons’ fantasy value on the Mavs is a tough one to predict, honestly. He was the third offensive option in Houston behind James Harden and Dwight Howard, and in Dallas he’ll be behind Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki who took more shots last season than D12 and Harden by a good margin. Obviously Dirk took a huge pay cut and Dallas did what it had to do to bring in Parsons, so they’ll want him to have a key role. Even if Parsons were to go from 13 shots a game to 11.5, he’d still be able to put up more than fine fantasy numbers. He will still end up with similar rebounds, assists and steals and I could see him improving from 1.8 three-pointers a game to 2.3 or so. In the end, if I had to guess right now, I would say Chandler will decline just slightly in points but his boost in treys should help him meet similar results in where he lands through the season as far as fantasy value. The Mavs are a vastly improved team after this off-season and it’s really difficult to pin-point how it will go for all of their core players from a fantasy perspective.
Backspin: The Rockets took their three days allowed to make a final decision on Parsons and they decided to let him go and instead inked Trevor Ariza to a four year deal at $8MM per, which, to me, was the smart decision. I like the Rockets locking up Ariza at half the price of Parsons and getting at least similar results. Ariza is a great defender which the Rockets were in need of, and he’s also a very capable long range shooter (hit 2.3 trey balls a game at 40% last season), although until last season he had never shot better than 36% from deep. That said, Ariza has improved his accuracy from trifecta four straight seasons. He should see plenty of open looks from beyond the arc, much as he did last season in Washington. I believe Ariza’s numbers will be eerily similar to what he put up last season but with an uptick in the assist department now that he’s on a team that doesn’t have an elite passer like John Wall running the point. He has an even better shooter (Harden) and big man (Dwight) to kick it to than he did previously.
Luol Deng – from Cavs to Heat: Dennnnnng (Joe Dirt voice) basically got traded from Cleveland to Miami in exchange for LeBron James. The Heat are the losers of this swap, but they still get a very capable small forward back in Luol Deng. Deng got off to one of his typical good starts in 2013-14 through 32 games with the Chicago Bulls despite him missing nine of those contests before being traded to the Cavaliers. Deng’s numbers dropped across the board in Cleveland as he really didn’t seem to ever settle in comfortably. The Cavs were playing Luol about 34 minutes a night which was down from the sweat shop Tom Thibbideau ran in Chicago where Deng played 38-39 minutes over the last five seasons.
I expect to see Deng back to his Chicago numbers with potential upside to his rebound and assist numbers in Miami due to their lack of legit big men (aside from Bosh) and passing point guards. Deng will be relied on a lot on offense but wont feel as singled out as he did in Cleveland since Wade and Bosh will be there to draw attention away from him. I believe Deng will fall a bit in drafts this season due to his finish to last season and that in my book could make him a nice bargain. Drafting him isn’t a “sexy” pick so don’t expect ooohs and ahhhs, but he’ll be a very nice contributor for your fantasy squad.
Backspin: The Cavs didn’t put up any fight to keep Deng so they didn’t lose out on anything and they lucked out by gaining LeBron via free agency. Safe to say they improved by a large margin and wont be missing Deng at all.
Pau Gasol – from Lakers to Bulls: The two-time NBA champion was lured to the windy city of Chicago to join the Bulls who he felt gave him a great shot at winning another title. Gasol passed up more lucrative options to instead join Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose and company over in the much weaker Eastern Conference. With all of the off-season changes thus far the Bulls seem to be the favorites to win the East, but that all hinges on the very scary knees of Derrick Rose. Despite their size and defensive prowess, the Bulls simply aren’t going to win a title if Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks are their top point guards in the playoffs. Rose’s health is everything.
Pau’s fantasy value is doubtful to meet his ridiculously, ridiculously good looking career numbers. The Bulls still have Noah, Taj Gibson and newly imported Euro sensation Nikola Mirotic as their big man corps, and while Pau will certainly start for the Bulls — and Thibbs has a rep for overusing his starters — with the quality depth the Bulls have there, I’d expect them to not run Pau into the ground by any means. After playing 37 minutes a game from 2007 to 2012, the Lakers cut Pau to 34 minutes in 2012-13 and even lower to 31 in 2013-14. Carlos Boozer only played 28 minutes a night last season as the Bulls starting PF, but that’s mainly due to Thibbs preferring to go with Taj in the key 4th quarter minutes rather than Booz. Pau is much more reliable in the 4th than Booz, so he’ll get more crunch time minutes. I’d guess Pau will play around 33 minutes a night in Chicago and put up numbers that aren’t his best but still make him a real solid own in fantasy leagues. My projected averages as of now for Pau sit at: 15 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block.
Backspin: The Lakers put out an offer to Pau, but he chose to take another path leaving the Lakers in desperate need of big men. All they had at the start of free agency was newly drafted rookie Julius Randle and Robert Sacre. They since agreed to
overpay re-sign Jordan Hill to a 2yr-$18MM deal, and then they found an incredible deal locking in Ed Davis for 2yrs-$2MM. Just recently the Lakers “won” Carlos Boozer from waivers after he was amnestied by the Bulls. I really feel for Kobe Bryant who will have a very frustrating year ahead of him, one that will almost make him wish he were injured rather than having to play alongside this mess. The Lakers starting lineup will likely start out as Jeremy Lin – Kobe Bryant – Nick Young – Carlos Boozer – Jordan Hill with a bench full of more mediocrity. Look for Kobe to make the most of this cruddy situation and try to make up for the lost previous season as he piles up the stats on his career numbers for his Hall of Fame career. Boozer, Hill, Randle and Davis will likely all hurt each others fantasy values at least until one of them gets injured or the Lakers say screw it and begin to just let Randle takeover and develop. Newly traded-for Lin should put up numbers like he did starting in Houston 2012-13 which were decent, not terrific at all, but a safe later round starting point guard if you need it for some averages around 12 points, 6 dimes, 1 trey and 1.5 steals. The dimes could have some upside as well since he has two guys who have never not felt open for a jumper as his wings.
Isaiah Thomas – from Kings to Suns: Zeke was who my colleague Sam gave his “Fixies” sleeper of the year award to in 2013-14, and he was on my short list for the award as well. There were rumors that the Kings were shopping him and not willing to pay him big money in the offseason, but I always assumed that was just made up stories and in the end they’d pay the kid his deserved cash. Guess not. The Kings balked at IT’s contract demands, and he went out and found a buyer in the Phoenix Suns. The Suns — who have still yet to re-sign or be forced to make a decision on matching or letting Eric Bledsoe leave — swooped up the undersized but very talented Zeke as a safety net. The Suns have said that they are still willing to bring back Bledsoe and even run some lineups out that have Dragic, Zeke and Bledsoe on the floor at once. Bledsoe and Isaiah may be undersized, but they’re both tenacious on defense where they could still pester most wings on the defensive end for spurts. Isaiah’s fantasy value hangs at the mercy of what happens with Bledsoe. If EB returns it creates a log-jam between Dragic, Isaiah, Bledsoe and Gerald Green, that would put at least a minor dent in each of their fantasy production. With Dragic a free agent after the 2014-15 season, locking up IT and matching an offer on Bledsoe makes more sense for the Suns long term. If they do go into this season with all three of them and don’t plan to re-sign Dragic next off-season, then trading Dragic during the upcoming season could be very possible if they get a good offer and/or their team isn’t doing even better than they expected with the loaded guard lineups. If the Suns don’t match a Bledsoe offer, then expect the Suns to sign Dragic to an extension this season and Isaiah to play the same 32 minutes per game role that Bledsoe did the previous but put up less boards and more threes.
Update: There are a lot of reports that the issues between Eric Bledsoe and the Suns are irreversible and that it’s highly unlikely he’ll be re-signing with them. This is great news to Dragic and Zeke fantasy owners in dynasties and keeps them as very attractive options in redraft leagues. This is also almost assuredly good news for Eric Bledsoe who should find himself a starting job somewhere soon. Bledsoe has immense upside and could easily finish this season a top 15 — or dare I say top 10? — player and nobody would be surprised at all. I am really pulling for him to end up in Milwaukee to team up with Jabari Parker and Giannis to bring some major excitement to the Bucks organization.
Backspin: I find it amazing that the Kings didn’t want to pay Isaiah $7MM a year but went out and signed Darren Collison at over $5MM a year. The Kings constantly tried to pin their woes on Thomas who they said didn’t facilitate enough for their liking. Last season Collison started 35 games for the injured Chris Paul on the Clippers and played 33.8 minutes a night with averages of 14.8 points, 5.3 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 treys. While Collison is no Isaiah, he has already been declared the Kings opening night starter and should put up similar numbers to the above posted averages leaving him as a fine later round starting PG to add to your roster. I would draft Collison ahead of other starting PG names like Jeremy Lin, George Hill, Trey Burke or either of the Dallas PGs (Jameer Nelson or Raymond Felton). While a popular take will be that Ray McCallum will push DC for minutes this season, in the end they will both get their fair share but DC will stay ahead at around 33 minutes and McCallum will land around 25 minutes. I don’t see McCallum as a standard league fantasy option unless DC were to go down to injury in which case Ray would be a must add in all formats.
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