Under normal circumstances, I’d be dosing about the action from Wednesday night. Needless to say, James Harden changed my plans. The fallout from the blockbuster trade on Wednesday had an astronomical effect on the fantasy landscape, so let’s break it all down with an update on every player involved. For NBA news and fantasy advice, you can find me on Twitter here!
And If you missed the details of the trade, here’s a summary:
Rockets: Victor Oladipo, Rodions Kurucs, Dante Exum, three Brooklyn 1st-rounders (2022, 2024, 2026), one Milwaukee 1st-rounder (2022, unprotected), four Brooklyn 1st-round swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027)
Nets: James Harden
Pacers: Caris LeVert, second-rounder
James Harden- How could we not start here? After announcing his intentions to join Brooklyn before the season even began, Harden had an interesting strategy to expedite the process. He showed up late to training camp, broke the COVID-19 protocols to go to a club, threw a basketball at a rookie, barely spoke to his head coach, threatened to shave his beard and went through the motions of every game while looking like a goal-line running back. OK, so I made up the beard part, but you get my point.
If you have Harden in a fantasy league, there’s two ways to look at this. The bad news is that Harden’s usage rate is going to drop in Brooklyn alongside Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. That’s just a fact -- among active NBA players, all three of these guys are in the top seven for usage rate for their careers. Harden was able to survive the Russell Westbrook days though with a 36.5% usage rate last season, and I still think he could be north of 30% in Brooklyn. Plus, Kyrie is elite off the ball, and I’m expecting the Nets to stagger the three studs whenever possible.
Will he be the No. 1 player in fantasy like he’s been the last few years? Probably not, but I also think he’s still a lock to be inside the top-5 and we can’t overstate how much his morale is going to improve in Brooklyn having got exactly what he wanted. And yes, that means we can expect him to actually get in shape again and show some effort on the floor unlike his last five games with Houston when he averaged 17.8 points on 38% shooting.
Brooklyn Nets- Before the season started I threw some money on the Nets to win the title at +1100 odds. Now the odds are set at +300. Say what you want about Harden, but he’s still one of the most dominant players in the NBA when he’s locked in and is going to form one of the most formidable big 3’s in NBA history, at least on paper -- who knows how these personalities will mesh. Durant is 9th in 9-cat for per-game value and Kyrie is 3rd, and assuming Kyrie returns from whatever he’s going through in the near future, Harden’s arrival will probably push them to the end of the first round and perhaps early second. Coach Steve Nash did not have an update on Kyrie when asked Wednesday, but it sounds like Brooklyn is expecting him back next week. We'll see.
With Harden, Durant and Kyrie soaking up so many touches, it’s going to be hard for players like Joe Harris, Bruce Brown or Landry Shamet to gain any traction, but Jarrett Allen’s absence in the frontcourt does make things interesting for DeAndre Jordan again. DJ had nine points, 12 rebounds, two dimes and two blocks in 29 minutes on Wednesday, a realistic expectation for his rest-of-season output. Jeff Green also strikes me as someone who could be interesting in deeper leagues, as he had 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and three triples in 32 minutes Wednesday. Green has played 6% of his minutes as a small-ball center but I’m expecting that number to double or even triple.
One final thought on Brooklyn, for all you dynasty league lovers. Nicolas Claxton is a player to watch, and I think he’s the reason the Nets felt confident including Jarrett Allen in the deal. He’s injured right now with knee tendonitis, but Claxton is a 6-11 big who moves like a wing, was the de facto point guard for his college team and has a career per-36 line of 12.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.1 dimes and 1.5 blocks. Jordan has lost a step, maybe two, so there’s a non-zero chance that Claxton overtakes Jordan late into the season. But no, he’s not worth stashing right now in re-draft leagues.
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Victor Oladipo- A trade for Oladipo was always in the cards ever since contract negotiations fell apart because the two sides were “far apart.” Oladipo thought he was a max-worthy player, but the Pacers saw a player who struggled to regain his form since his devastating quad injury from a couple years ago. The report from the Indianapolis Star about Oladipo asking opposing teams to trade for him during games was the final nail in the coffin of his Indiana career. Whether or not you think this was a good trade for Houston (I think they got robbed), they are going to get a long look at how Oladipo fares in this system before making a decision regarding his free agency during the offseason.
He was showing some very positive signs in Indiana before this trade, scoring 20.0 points with 5.7 rebounds, 4.2 dimes, 1.7 blocks and 2.8 triples with a 42/36/73 shooting line, numbers not too far off from his career best season in 2017-18. He’s probably not going to be “the man” in Houston with Christian Wood and John Wall running the show, but should hang around a 26% usage rate like he had in Indiana. I think he gets a slight bump in Houston, as he’ll be playing for a head coach in Stephen Silas who ran the best offense in NBA history with Dallas last season (offensive rating). I view him as a top-40 player in 9-cat going forward.
Rodions Kurucs- He hasn’t shown much since his rookie season, but still has some mystery box upside as a 22-year-old stretch four. Plus, Kelly Iko of The Athletic believes the Rockets are going to move P.J. Tucker in the near future. Kurucs has a career per-36 line of 13.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.9 dimes, 1.2 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.7 triples, so if the Rockets want to give Kurucs an opportunity there’s some potential here. Bruno Caboclo is in the mix too if Tucker moves on, and offers even more per-minute upside than Kurucs.
Dante Exum- He’s out for 1-2 months with a calf injury and hasn’t been able to stay on the floor since entering the league. A smooth 6-6 ball-handler with elite defensive upside, Exum could maybe make some noise later in the season but he’s not worth stashing right now.
Houston- I have to say it. I understand wanting to acquire picks OKC-style, but this return for Houston leaves a lot to be desired. Shams Charania reported that the 76ers offered a package centered around Ben Simmons, a player with considerably more upside than Oladipo. Oh well. Harden’s departure and Oladipo’s arrival is a welcome sight for John Wall and Christian Wood, though that should be obvious. Wood, who is 28th in 9-cat right now, could catapult into first-round territory. Wall gets a 12% usage rate bump with Harden off the floor and is a big winner as well, so he has a lot of room to go up from his current ranking of 56th in 9-cat. He’s out on Thursday with knee soreness, but I haven’t seen any indication that it’s more than a day-to-day issue.
Jarrett Allen- In a way, you have to feel for the guy. He had just won the starting job over Jordan in Brooklyn, but now heads to Cleveland where he’s going to compete with Andre Drummond. My prediction is that Drummond will keep the starting job with a 28-20 minutes split -- this is a sneaky way for Cleveland to keep Allen’s demands in check when he hits restricted free agency this offseason. We’ve seen this strategy several times in the past.
This doesn’t mean Allen is someone you should drop, as I actually think he’ll close the gap on Drummond as the season progresses and force a timeshare. Plus, we can’t rule out the possibility of a Drummond trade as he’s playing on an expiring deal and contract negotiations between him and the Cavaliers weren’t remotely close before the season. Allen ranks 57th in 9-cat in 26 minutes per game this season, so he can survive a reduced role and still stay inside the top-100. If I had Drummond in fantasy, I’d be a little uneasy.
Taurean Prince- He has played 59% of his career minutes as a SF and 39% as a PF. It may not matter though, as the Cavaliers are well-stocked at both positions, especially when Kevin Love comes back. I don’t see a path to fantasy value in Cleveland for Prince.
Caris LeVert- He is perhaps the biggest winner of the night, as he’s no longer in Kyrie’s and Durant’s shadow and will slide right into the role that Oladipo had in Indiana -- Dipo had a 26% usage rate with the Pacers. He showed his upside over his last five games for the shorthanded Nets, averaging 26.0 points, 6.6 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 2.8 triples. He’s never going to be the most efficient player, but his counting stat upside is insane as he’s recently shown.