- Josh Whitling, Fantasy Basketball
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Amid the ubiquitous tweets, blasts and updates in our digital society, it's been impossible to not be inundated with NBA news in this offseason of LeBron. But beyond the formation of the new triumvirate in South Beach, there have been minor moves all across the NBA landscape during the past several weeks, many of which will impact the strategies of shrewd fantasy owners. Most notably, a major four-team trade went down Wednesday that alters the value of fantasy mainstays such as Troy Murphy and Trevor Ariza, and created an opportunity for Darren Collison, who impressed in Chris Paul's absence last season, to grab the starting point guard job in Indiana and become perhaps the top sleeper point guard for the draft. Here are some players impacted by the recent offseason moves:
Darren Collison, PG, Indiana Pacers: The diminutive Collison is the big winner of Wednesday's mini-blockbuster, we're finally spelled of the Earl Watson/T.J. Ford dirty duo, and now we get a chance to see how legit Collison's 18.8 points, 9.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 3s per game in 37 starts last season truly were. His turnovers were horrendous (4.1 per game as a starter, 2.7 overall), as those of rookie point guards typically are, but his percentages are mind-blowing (.485 on field goals and .841 on free throws as a starter), perhaps even more impressive than the gaudy point and assist totals. The real question: How high is too high to draft Collison? It's insane to expect a replication of those numbers during the span of an entire season with a worse team at his disposal and defenses centering on both him and Danny Granger. In his starts in 2009-10, Collison was playing more than 40 minutes per game out of necessity, something the Pacers won't want to do with the centerpiece of their "three-year plan." He could easily finish as a top-10 point guard on the Player Rater, and the only point guards I would definitely draft ahead of him at this point are Paul, Steve Nash, Stephen Curry, Jason Kidd, Deron Williams, Chauncey Billups and Rajon Rondo. Collison will be a hot topic as the season draws nearer, as he went from potential-laden sleeper to fantasy starter.
Trevor Ariza, SF/SG, New Orleans Hornets: It seems like we've been thrown retread swingmen like Peja Stojakovic, James Posey and Desmond Mason for years in the Big Easy, and now the Hornets have let go of a prime talent at a position where they're covered to shore up an area in which they've desperately needed some sort of two-way threat. Swapping Collison for Ariza was also done undoubtedly to appease Chris Paul, but it makes sense for the Hornets this year if CP3 stays healthy, as Ariza will team with David West and Marcus Thornton to provide Paul with solid ammo. Ariza's worst fantasy traits are his inefficient percentages (.394 field goals, .649 free throws), which should improve with a better supporting cast, especially his field-goal shooting (which stands at a career 44.2 percent). Ariza should improve upon his overall numbers from last season, even if he takes and makes fewer 3-pointers, and should be considered an upgrade after the trade.
Courtney Lee, SG, Houston Rockets: He and Kevin Martin already have a close relationship, and despite the fact they play the same position, the departure of Ariza and lack of a top point guard will allow Lee to see more floor time than most bench players and to use his defensive skills to offset Martin's lack thereof. The key to the last sentence, however, is "bench player." While he likely had a starting role in New Jersey, he'll be the sixth man in Houston. Martin is still fragile, averaging just 52 games per season during the past three seasons, and the Rockets don't have the depth at swingman the Nets do, so if Martin misses time as usual, Lee will see big minutes. This move is basically a wash, and the real winners at the shooting guard position are Terrence Williams and Anthony Morrow in New Jersey.
Troy Murphy, PF/C, New Jersey Nets: With the versatile Williams and deadly efficient Morrow, the Nets seemed covered at the 2 and 3 positions, so Murphy's experience and versatility allows them to bring Derrick Favors along slowly, which will be necessary. Murphy will pair nicely with Brook Lopez and can backup at center at times so they don't have to rely upon the shaky Johan Petro. His numbers won't change much with the shift in scenery, namely his excellent rebounding/3-point combo, although playing with a better supporting cast should allow him to see more open looks and potentially improve his field goal shooting (47 percent in each of the past two seasons) a couple of ticks.
Shane Battier, SF, Rockets: With the arrival of Ariza, Battier's minutes per game last season were his lowest since the 2004-05 season, despite the fact he started 62 of his 67 games played. He remained a stud in the peripheral statistics, although his points, rebounds and 3s should increase with Ariza gone, which will bump up his overall fantasy value. Upgrade Battier -- who has consistently been a valuable glue player -- because he will hurt you less in the scoring categories and see his points get back into the double-digits like they were from 2005-07 with the Grizzlies.
Mike Dunleavy, SG/SF, Pacers: The Indiana frontcourt is terrible, which should spell success for Dunleavy, who is coming off an awful season in which he started just 15 of 67 games and saw his points average dip into single-digits. He'll be one of the focal points of the Pacers' attack, and even though it's wishful thinking to imagine him reclaiming the glory of his career year in 2007-08 (19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.0 3s, 1.0 steals per game), he'll undoubtedly see an uptick in minutes and production with Murphy out of the picture and Collison running the point with competency unheard of in Indiana this decade. He could eclipse the 15.1 points per game of two seasons ago, and without the hassle of handling the ball so much because of the lack of a decent point guard, his field goal percentage should also increase. Dunleavy is one of the quiet winners of this trade, as he should find himself once again in the realm of fantasy relevance, as the Pacers will rely upon his offensive versatility with limited options behind Collison and Granger.
Roy Hibbert, C, Pacers: Like Dunleavy, Hibbert will benefit from the absence of Murphy in the paint, and if he can stay out of foul trouble, he should average more than the 25 minutes per game he garnered in '09-10. That could push his averages toward 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per contest, with field goal shooting in the upper-40s and free throw percentages in the mid-70s. Those are solid numbers, worthy of a fantasy spot in most leagues and a starting gig in many, so Hibbert should definitely be on your radar after seeing an upgrade in value with the departure of Murphy.
Ronnie Brewer, SG, Chicago Bulls: We all love Kyle Korver's deadly shot and Justin Bieber locks (the Ashton Kutcher references are so 2006), and view him as a great complement to Derrick Rose perched out on the open wing as Rose drives to the rack. But we don't love Korver's defense or versatility, and that's where Brewer should come in. Throw in the fact that Luol Deng has averaged 54 games per season during the past three years, and the fact that Brewer can slide to the 3, and he should find himself in a more statistically lucrative situation than he was last year, when he shuffled from Utah to Memphis amid injuries. Steals specialists are hard to find, and Brewer is one of the best thieves in the game (1.5 steals per game for his career in 26 minutes per game), so consider him an upgrade after signing with the Bulls, a team with several top-tier players but not much depth.
Ramon Sessions, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers: It's easy to ignore the relatively minor trade that brought Sessions to Cleveland, although he has been atop people's preseason sleeper lists in the past after effective play in limited minutes and roles, and never had a situation as lucrative as what he will have in Cleveland. With the King gone, there are tons of assists to go around, and Sessions will also have to shoulder a significant scoring load. I could easily see him averaging 15 points and seven assists with more than a steal per game and decent percentages, as well as a solid turnover rate. That would make Sessions a nice sleeper once again come draft day. He doesn't provide 3s, but they're relatively easy to find elsewhere from guards, so don't avoid him for that simple fact, just bear it in mind when assessing his value. I see him pushing Mo Williams into more of a combo guard role and stealing away some of his value as well, which mostly lies in 3-pointers anyway.
Shaquille O'Neal, C, Boston Celtics: I'm avoiding the Big Leprechaun in the fantasy game as I have for the past several seasons, simply because the free throw percentage (.496 on 4.3 attempts per game in Cleveland in 2009-10) and unpredictability isn't worth having him as a team mascot. That being said, he'll likely assume a bigger role in Boston than he did in Cleveland, especially for the first chunk of the season while Kendrick Perkins is sidelined. I could see him hovering around 14 points and seven rebounds with 1.5 blocks per game, but his health is unpredictable and free-throw shooting predictably bad. Still, he's an upgrade from when he was in Cleveland, and in deeper two-center leagues he'll be an option for owners late in the draft.
Linas Kleiza, PF/SF, Toronto Raptors: Kleiza slides into the starting small forward job in Toronto after the trade that rid the Raptors of Hedo Turkoglu, which equals a big upgrade in Kleiza's stats, as he was mired behind Carmelo Anthony in Denver for a couple seasons before bouncing to Europe for the 2009-10 campaign. He made a name for himself in deep leagues as a source of 3s (0.9 per game for his career despite averaging just 19 minutes) before the move, and could easily flirt with 2.0 3s per game this season in a starting role for the Euro-looking Raptors. He averaged 17.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 3s and 0.7 steals per game in 30 Euroleague contests, and will be a decent source of points for the Raptors with a much larger role than ever before in the NBA. Don't count on him for peripherals, as his steals, assists and blocks are negligible, but he's a solid scorer with low turnovers who should fit in nicely with the Raps after a year across the pond.
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Josh Whitling breaks down the latest player movement, as it pertains to the 2010-11 fantasy basketball season.