- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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From a fantasy perspective, players are essentially a collection of variables. New player combinations inevitably lead to new formulas. So new lineups lead to new math.
If you crave fresh challenges with your fantasy hoops analysis, you should look to free agency as a means of reshuffling the statistical deck. After several rumored deals heading into NBA draft night fizzled, we're left with hoping the opening days of free agency can fill our fantasy interest for reckless, unrestrained player movement.
The first domino to fall was supposed to be Deron Williams' decision between Dallas and Brooklyn. Instead, it turned out to be the Hawks' decision to hire Danny Ferry as their new GM. One 48-hour period saw Ferry send Marvin Williams to the Jazz and Joe Johnson to the Nets for Devin Harris and enough cap space to construct his own "Big Three" in the near future.
On the other hand, one of Ferry's trading partners, Nets GM Billy King, has effectively been rolling the dice ever since he dealt for Williams. Having taken on the (admirable) risk in acquiring Williams, King was forced to make move after move in the hopes of persuading Williams to stay.
King shipped a lottery pick for Gerald Wallace, re-signed Wallace for $40 million, traded a truckload of cap space (and role players) for Joe Johnson, and has reportedly reached an agreement to bring in Euro phenom Mirza Teletovic.
As a fantasy enthusiast, you have to like this. You like this because this type of top-heavy concentration of cap space leads to good things in the fantasy world because it sacrifices roster-wide depth. A lack of depth means a higher number of minutes for fewer players and shorter rotations. And the 2012-13 Nets, as presently constructed, look to feature at least three, and possibly even four or five, 35-plus minutes per game players.
(For now, we'll resist the temptation to project a Dwight Howard signing scenario, which would lead to even less depth and reduce Brooklyn to a "Big Three" construction).
Thanks to the presence of the multi-positional Joe Johnson (SG/SF) and Gerald Wallace (SF/PF), the Nets have some flexibility in their starting five. Depending on whom the team settles on as its starting power forward, this lineup could shift to Wallace at the four, Johnson to the three and MarShon Brooks to the two.
For now, let's assume Brooklyn retains Kris Humphries, although various rumors peg Teletovic and maybe even free agent Ersan Ilyasova in that starting spot.
In Brooklyn, fantasy production will begin (and sometimes end) with Deron Williams. Williams was forced into more of a scoring role last year, which boosted his scoring average to 21.0 PPG, dropped his assists to a near career low (8.7 APG) and gave him a career-high Usage Rate of 30.1 percent. But Williams will now have an All-Star level scoring option next to him on offense, which means he won't be called upon to score as often. That will mean a boost in his efficiency and his field goal percentage (he shot a very un-Williams-like 40.7 percent from the field last season and under 40 percent from the floor since being traded from Utah), to go along with a likely rise in assists per game.
With Joe Johnson's playmaking ability in the fold, Williams' Usage Rate is sure to drop within range of his career norm (24.1 percent). For now, let's put Williams down for 20.5 PPG, 9.5 APG, 4.0 RPG and 1.2 steals per game, making him a solid first-round fantasy option.
A healthy Brook Lopez can be penciled in for 19 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. But if he's their starting center, the Nets must ask themselves this important question: Who's going to rebound the ball?
If Humphries stays, the answer is obvious. He'll resume his double-double ways and free up Lopez to continue to rebound the ball at a scandalously low rate. With a healthy Lopez and Joe Johnson taking away touches, Humphries should drop back to 11.0 PPG and 10.0 RPG territory. If Humphries goes elsewhere -- and it doesn't involve bringing back Dwight Howard -- the rebounding load will have to be spread out among the starting five.
The other power forwards projected as possibilities in Brooklyn tend to reside in the stretch-four category, a la Ryan Anderson and Ilyasova.
The reported deal between Brooklyn and European scorer Mirza Teletovic is tantalizing from a fantasy perspective because it gives the Nets a 3-point threat in the frontcourt (Ilyasova would, too). Rebounding would suffer, but a frontcourt of Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, and Ilyasova/Teletovic would throw up some interesting numbers. Shifting Wallace to power forward could help, but he'd be perpetually undersized and hard-pressed to notch more than 8.0 RPG (his career high is 8.8 RPG). Oh wait, the Nets also picked up Reggie Evans? Problem solved?
If you've ever owned Joe Johnson, you know Johnson is the kind of player who does a bit of everything. Over the past five seasons, he has been one of my most-owned players, someone who provides a great across-the-board statistical base for a fantasy lineup.
His overall numbers are in decline, but running alongside Deron Williams should help Johnson settle into a nice little autumnal numerical phase. Hmm, 18.5 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.8 3-pointers and a steal per game seems about right.
The Hawks are tougher to sort out because they currently sport a gaping hole at Johnson's old spot (starting shooting guard). The team has oodles of cap space. If they're thinking big -- long-term Big Three/Dwight Howard types of deals -- then logic would point toward them having a short-term placeholder at shooting guard, and there are plenty of stopgap options available in free agency, including Lou Williams, J.R. Smith, Courtney Lee, Nick Young and Jodie Meeks. Bigger deals would be needed for the likes of O.J. Mayo and Ray Allen, but something tells me Ferry might look for a cheaper, short-term contract.
Don't forget that Anthony Morrow also has produced in spurts, and rookie John Jenkins owns a nice 3-point stroke and could prove a dark horse candidate for extended minutes.
Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Zaza Pachulia should all project near their 2011-12 averages (or 2010-11 for Horford), with Horford trending upward and Pachulia downward. If the Hawks don't sign another center, Jordan Williams could provide some potential if given 25 minutes per game. He flashed some nice production in limited duty last season and could slot in nicely alongside Smith and Horford.
We're probably looking at a time share at point guard between Harris and Teague. Both players probably will end up in the 12-point, 5-assist range. Teague has youth on his side and finished strong this year, so I'd give him the edge heading into training camp.
The biggest change for the Jazz is that Mo Williams is now cemented as the starter at point guard.
He played out of position at shooting guard in Los Angeles but should now revert to his numbers from his Cleveland days (15 points and 6.5 assists, to go along with 1.8 3s and a steal per game). He'll be a sneaky-good second point guard and should be targeted in the middle rounds of upcoming drafts.
If Williams can stay on the court regularly, he could be in line for a slight uptick in his production. By "uptick," I'm still thinking only 13 points and 6 rebounds per game. So if he nails down the starting gig in training camp, you could probably bump him into endgame-pick territory, with some low-end sleeper potential.
John Cregan breaks down the Hawks' recent trades of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams, from a fantasy perspective.