Well, other than LeBron James returning to Cleveland (and bringing Kevin Love with him), Andrew Wiggins becoming the first No. 1 pick to be dealt before the start of the season since Chris Webber in ‘93, Paul George shattering his leg, Melo re-upping with the Knicks (and cutting back on gluten?!), Chandler Parsons landing a bigger deal than Dirk Nowitzki, Lance Stephenson ditching Indy for Charlotte and the bizarre Suns-Eric Bledsoe impasse, there really weren’t many notable injuries or transactions at all since the last edition of Roundball Stew in June. With the season quickly approaching, here’s a look at some of the big fantasy takeaways from the summer:
The Cavs have a Big Three… and then a big zero.
Despite his change of address, and a possible change to his hair situation?, there’s really not much suspense when it comes to LeBron’s fantasy value in his new/old city. The last four years, he has averaged between 26.7 and 27.1 ppg, between 6.9 and 8.0 rpg and between 6.4 and 7.3 apg. And other than blocks (last year he plummeted to a career-low 0.3 bpg), you basically know exactly what you’re going to get from the soon-to-be 30-year-old LeBron.
After that, we can easily project Kevin Love into the Chris Bosh role, but as an upgraded version (a dip in scoring from last year’s 26.1 is pretty much inevitable, so I roughly project Love around 19-20 ppg, 12 rpg and 2.0 3s). Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving becomes Perimeter Sidekick No. 1 – in other words, the Dwyane Wade role. And in that role, Wade averaged 22.2 ppg playing alongside LeBron, so the opportunity is certainly there for Kyrie to approach or surpass 20 ppg.
Beyond those three, however, I really wouldn’t draft anyone in Cleveland. Dion Waiters is a volume scorer who isn’t likely to get nearly enough volume – and doesn’t do enough other than score anyway (one double-double in 131 career games). Anderson Varejao can’t stay healthy (he has played an average of 37 games the last four years), and Tristan Thompson, in what should have been a breakout season last year, was wildly maddening due to poor defensive stats (0.5 spg, 0.4 bpg). And if you’re buying into a Brendan Haywood renaissance at age 34 when he just missed an entire season and hasn’t averaged better than 5.2 ppg since 2009-10, I wish you well in all your future endeavors.
Bottom line: LeBron has obviously vaulted the Cavs to a whole new level as a real-life team, but don’t go looking for fantasy beneficiaries of his return to Cleveland, because there really aren’t any.
Unless, of course, you count the beneficiaries in the 305 area code, of which there are many.
You probably still remember (or have been reminded) that Bosh put up dominant stats as the go-to player in Toronto (including a final season of 24.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 51.8 percent from the field and 79.7 percent from the line in 2009-10). It’s also worth noting that he has since added the 3-pointer to his arsenal (a career-high 0.9 3s per game last year), and even if he does shoot less 3s this year, I wouldn’t hesitate to use a late first-round pick on Bosh. Meanwhile, I expect Wade, if healthy, to at least approach the numbers he posted in 2011-12 (22.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.6 apg), with a chance for even more. Clearly I’ll draft him expecting some missed games, but if Wade has one big-time statement season left in him, at age 32, this is probably it.
Also: Don’t overlook Mario Chalmers. In the four games he played without LeBron last year, Chalmers posted 8.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 8.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 0.5 3s. Yes, it’s a small sample size, and we can’t really expect him to reach those assist totals on a full-time basis (his career average is 4.9), but something like 11 and 6 with good steals and 3s is well within reach, making Chalmers a nice player to target in the later rounds.
Elsewhere in Florida, Orlando probably won’t be good in real life (and gave a $9 million deal to Ben Gordon?!), but I love this team for fantasy leagues – and my enthusiasm begins with Victor Oladipo.
Last season, only five* players posted at least 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists: LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Michael Carter-Williams and Chandler Parsons (while Eric Bledsoe, Blake Griffin, Dwyane Wade and Lance Stephenson were all close). This year, Oladipo (14.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.9 spg, 0.9 3s as a starter last year) has a strong chance to join this relatively elite club, with 17-5-5 easily within reach. When you factor in plenty of steals and some 3s, that’s a player I want on my squads wherever possible.
(*Note: It has been pointed out that I omitted the likes of Gordon Hayward, James Harden and Kemba Walker, and they all averaged better than 15-5-4. That's why there is an asterisk and some italicized words here. My bad on the oversight. Moving on...)
As for the rest of the Magic: Tobias Harris (ankle) played at less than 100 percent last year, but still averaged 14.6 ppg and 7.0 rpg. He may not hit the lofty numbers he posted for Orlando in 2012-13 (17.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 0.9 spg, 1.4 bpg, 1.0 3s in 27 games), but Harris, still just 22 years old, is a nice candidate to bounce back this season. Meanwhile, Nikola Vucevic didn’t quite break out like I expected last year, but he still posted 14.2 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 spg and 1.1 bpg, and doesn’t turn 24 until late October. And lastly, there’s a lot to like about rookie PG Elfrid Payton, who only has to fight 33-year-old Luke Ridnour for minutes, and has legit potential to be a versatile contributor right away – the No. 10 overall pick averaged 19.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.9 apg, 2.3 spg and 0.6 bpg at Louisiana-Lafayette last year.
And while we're considering all the LeBron fallout, what about the Wolves in the post-Kevin Love era?
I have three main thoughts on this team, which I will share in list format because I haven’t done one of those yet:
1) As tempting as it may be, I’m going to avoid drafting Andrew Wiggins this year – or at least try to. Right after the draft, when I thought he was going to be playing on a bad Cavs team, I guessed that Wiggins might post numbers similar to a rookie-year Bradley Beal (13.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.6 3s). And after an exciting but uneven Summer League performance (15.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.3 apg, 40.5 percent shooting), I think the Beal comparison is at least in the right ballpark. With that said, I know that a tiny little gnome in my brain is going to start saying “Upside, upside, upside” once the middle rounds arrive, so I’m going to try to stay disciplined when that happens. Must. Stay. Disciplined.
2) I will be drafting Thaddeus Young wherever I can. Filling Kevin Love's vacated lineup spot, coming off career-highs in points (17.9), steals (2.1) and 3s (1.1) and now gets to play with pass-first PG Ricky Rubio? Yes please.
3) Speaking of Rubio, as much as I want to believe he can fix his busted jumper, I accept that it may not happen this year (or ever). With that said, Rubio is still just 23 years old, and if you can stomach his bad shooting (easier to do in a head-to-head league), there’s really nothing upsetting about 8.6 apg, 4.2 rpg and 2.3 spg, with the upside for more.
I will be mostly avoiding the Pistons this season… except for one Andre Jamal Drummond.
First, a quick rundown of the prominent players on the team not named Drummond: Brandon Jennings is plenty valuable in some areas (15.5 ppg, 7.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.9 3s last year), but has topped 40 percent shooting just once in his five years in the league (including 37.3 percent last season). Drafting him guarantees some good production, but also a solid amount of frustration. Meanwhile, Josh Smith shot a career-low 41.9 percent from the field and 53.2 from the line with a career-worst 1.4 bpg, and I’ll be letting someone else gamble on him bouncing back. Greg Monroe saw his numbers dip in points (16.0 --> 15.2), rebounds (9.6 --> 9.3), assists (3.5 --> 2.1), steals (1.3 --> 1.1) and blocks (0.7 --> 0.6) with the arrival of Smith last year, and while I’m not writing him off at age 24, I’ll gladly let someone else draft him in all my leagues. Free agent addition Jodie Meeks (15.7 ppg, 1.4 spg, 2.1 3s for the Lakers last year) could end up on some of my fantasy teams, but essentially brings nothing in rebounds (2.5) and assists (1.8), so I won’t exactly be drafting him aggressively.
But as for Drummond, well, I like him. Yes, his free throw percentage is awful (41.8 percent), but he attempted just 4.0 FTs per game last year. And still, even with those free throw issues, he was the No. 30 player on Basketball Monster’s 9-category leaderboard, thanks to averages of 13.5 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.6 bpg on 62.3 percent from the field (and just 1.4 turnovers, if you care about those). Furthermore, Drummond closed out the season in monstrous fashion (18.4 ppg, 17.4 rpg, 1.4 spg, 1.1 bpg in eight April games), and just turned 21 in August. The upside here is borderline silly.
Other Random Thoughts: I’m all for drafting Kawhi Leonard in theory, but personally I’m not willing to use a first-round pick on a player who isn’t guaranteed to be a major asset in points (12.8), rebounds (6.2) or assists (2.0), and has missed an average of 20 games the last two seasons. To be clear, I completely understand the appeal and understand there's a lot of upside, and would gladly consider him even in the second round, but I don’t think you have a championship squad if he’s the No. 1 player on your fantasy team. … From March 1 onward (25 games), Kenneth Faried posted 19.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 1.1 spg and 0.8 bpg. I don’t think those numbers are really reachable, but I do expect an improvement on last year’s 13.7 ppg and 8.6 rpg. … If K.J. McDaniels isn’t already circled in crayon on your list of sleepers, make that happen immediately. The only players he’s really fighting for minutes at SG/SF are Tony Wroten, Hollis Thompson, Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved, and the ACC Defensive Player of the Year brings some very intriguing potential after averaging 17.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.1 spg and 2.8 bpg for Clemson last season.