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Ryan Knaus

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NBA News Roundup

Monday, July 23, 2018


Welcome to the NBA news roundup, where each week we'll highlight and analyze the most current information fantasy owners ought to know. For more offseason news you can check out our columns about draft grades and winners and losers, updated free agency signings, the LeBron James fallout, the DeMarcus Cousins fallout, and the Kawhi Leonard & DeMar DeRozan fallout. You can also stay tuned in with Rotoworld's podcasts hosted by Mike Gallagher -- here's a link to the archive!

 

Late July and August are typically the quietest parts of the year for hoops news. Is every center in the league morphing into a 3-point threat? Has every player gained 10 pounds in lean muscle? Their agents would like you to think so, but we're more concerned with salient, fantasy-relevant news about transactions, player development, roles, and more. The Kawhi/DeRozan deal could consume this entire column, so refer to the links above for insights into that spectacularly surprising episode. Let's look at what else has transpired over the past week.

 

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Dirk Nowitzki officially inked a one-year, $5 million deal with the Mavericks. This was a foregone conclusion and it makes Dirk the NBA's all-time leader in consecutive years with a single franchise. He's entering his 21st season with Dallas, which surpasses Kobe Bryant (20), Tim Duncan (19), John Stockton (19), Reggie Miller (18), Manu Ginobili (16), John Havlicek (16) and the unassuming Udonis Haslem (15).

 

The future Hall-of-Famer earned nearly all of his minutes at center last season (97% per Basketball-Reference), which demands the question -- will he start at PF this year, or come off the bench behind DeAndre Jordan? My money is on the latter scenario. Dallas understands that Dirk, at age 40, can't chase around guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Aaron Gordon, Marvin Bagley, Dario Saric, and even the player often compared to him -- Lauri Markkanen. That said, Dirk managed to carve out mid-round fantasy value (9-cat) in a mere 24.7 minutes per game last season, and if his surgically-repaired left ankle allows him to play 65+ games he'll be a solid final-round gamble for owners.

 

Tobias Harris turned down an $80 million extension offer from the Clippers. I wrote the blurb on Sunday about this decision, and don't have much more to add: "The sides had "amicable discussions" but it's no surprise that Harris turned it down. The 27-year-old forward is betting on himself as an unrestricted free agent in 2019, when he'll be eligible for a max $188 million deal with L.A. Other teams could offer him an estimated $145 million over four years, and even if he doesn't come close he should earn more long-term than this extension would have paid him. Doc Rivers loves him and he'll be a focal point of the rebuilding Clippers' offense, and currently projects as an undervalued fantasy asset on draft day."

 

The suggestion that Tobias will be "undervalued" in fantasy drafts is almost too conservative -- I guarantee he will be, especially in casual leagues. He's coming off an 82-game season after missing only six games in 2015-16, and has racked up top-50 roto value in three consecutive seasons. He won't offer many defensive stats or assists, which hurts more in points leagues and H2H, but roto owners should mind Doc Rivers' own words back in March. "[Tobias Harris] is better than I thought," Rivers said. "I knew he was a good player. We didn't know how good."

 

 

Carmelo Anthony "intends to sign with the Houston Rockets," according to ESPN's Marc Stein. This has been the expectation ever since he was traded to (and instantly waived by) the Hawks. The Rockets can use help at the forward spots since Trevor Ariza left in free agency, and perhaps Melo's arrival will shift P.J. Tucker to more SF minutes with Melo starting at PF. Either way, it's bad for Ryan Anderson, whose defensive issues and mounting injury history make him almost unmovable -- he's owed $20.4 million this year, with another guaranteed $21.3m coming in 2019-20. We'll have much more on Melo's role and fit with the Rockets in the coming days, assuming it comes to fruition.

 

The flipside of the Melo trade was Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala being dealt to the Thunder. Muscala was immediately flipped to the Sixers where his fantasy value is nil. It's not a good look for Schroder, either, for reality or fantasy. His trade value was deeply eroded and he wound up being part of a salary dump for the Thunder, where he slots in as Russell Westbrook's backup. Westbrook played 36.4 minutes per game last year, of course, which leaves little breathing room for Schroder -- even if they play together for stretches, it's hard to envision Schroder with more than 24-26 minutes per game. He barely cracked top-100 value in 31.0 minutes last year, so the math does itself.

 

 

Marcus Smart and the Celtics agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal to keep him in Boston. This is in line with Smart's salary expectations despite the tight market for free agents, and it speaks to how highly the front office values his defense and energy. As I've written and said before, the idea of Smart's 'intangible' value encapsulates his fantasy limitations -- most of what he does well isn't reflected in stats. Strong steals and assists are accompanied by moderate 3-pointers, lousy percentages and high turnovers. Add in the likely reduction in minutes and usage with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward both healthy, and there's no obvious upside here.

 

 

Montrezl Harrell signed a two-year, $12.0 million deal to stay with Clippers. In his third NBA season, Harrell broke out in a reserve role for L.A. with 11.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.5 steals in a mere 17.0 minutes per game. He changed multiple games with his efficient scoring and wound up 63.5% from the field, with 64.7% True Shooting. Among players who appeared in 50+ games last season, Harrell's TS% trailed only Stephen Curry, Anthony Tolliver, Jakob Poeltl, Rudy Gobert, Dwight Powell, Kyle Korver and his (now former) teammate DeAndre Jordan.

 

The Clippers head into the season with Marcin Gortat as their starting center, but that's obviously a short-term measure since he's 34 years old and headed into unrestricted free agency in 2019. Harrell's retention dents Gortat's outlook but the Polish Hammer still projects as a worthy late-round flier, and the biggest loser is Boban Marjanovic. His per-minute production is excellent and his incredible height/length makes him ludicrously fun to watch, but Doc Rivers hasn't shown a willingness to play Boban more than short stints.

 

As for Harrell, there's reason to suppose he could carve out late-round value. Gortat averaged 25.3 minutes last year and L.A. is unlikely to push him much further, so if Boban falls out of the rotation there's a path to 20+ minutes for Harrell. The bad news is that his scoring, efficiency and 23.5% usage rate were undermined, for fantasy, by a lack of supporting stats. On a per-36-minute basis, Harrell averaged just 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.0 steals last season. He's not a natural shot-blocker and will be a huge liability in non-points leagues, since he shot 62.6% from the line on high-volume attempts -- the 18th-highest FTA rate among qualifying players (40+ games, 15+ minutes).

 

 

Alex Len inked a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Hawks, where he should vie with Dewayne Dedmon and Miles Plumlee for minutes at center. Dedmon is a productive veteran with an expiring $7.2 million deal this season, so it's hard to avoid the conclusion that he'll be mentioned in trade talks. Plumlee is still earning a fully-guaranteed $12.5 million each of the next two years, so he'd be harder to move, but the rebuilding Hawks could be fine with a Len/Plumlee split in the middle, especially if they envision John Collins earning more C minutes this season.

 

Either way, this is bad for Dedmon's fantasy stock. He's either battling with multiple players for minutes in Atlanta, or facing an unknown fate with what would presumably be a mid-season trade elsewhere. Plumlee was already a poor fantasy option and the only real winner here is Len himself, who will attempt to show the Hawks that his troublesome ankles aren't a career-derailing issue. He's only 25 years old and Atlanta has enough incentive to turn him loose that he's worth remembering later in deep leagues -- he's proven before that in 22-25 minutes per game he can help owners with boards, blocks and FG%.

 

In a tangentially related deal, Richaun Holmes was traded from Philly to Phoenix for cash. It was essentially a three-way trade involving Jared Dudley (to Brooklyn) and Darrell Arthur (to Phoenix, but immediately bought out). Holmes' fantasy upside is intriguing but he's yet to land in a spot where he can truly showcase his ability -- even if he gets minutes ahead of Tyson Chandler, which should happen eventually, he's just a handcuff for Deandre Ayton.

 

 

Nemanja Bjelica backed out of a deal with Philly and instead inked a three-year, $20.5 million deal with the Kings. He said that Kings GM Vlade Divac sold him on returning to the NBA rather than heading overseas, but it's hard to ignore the salary-- nearly $7 million per year with Sacramento, compared to his initial one-year offer from Philly. In any case, Bjelica's immediate fantasy value hinges on whether the Kings want him to play SF, PF, or both. Justin Jackson was underwhelming as a rookie and his starting job could be usurped, whereas the PF spot is loaded with guys like Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles, Skal Labissiere and veteran Zach Randolph. Considering the Kings' sloppy rotations and tank-heavy lineups from last year, I'm likely avoiding Bjelica even if he does earn the starting nod on opening night.

 

Yogi Ferrell also backed out of a deal with the Mavericks to sign with the Kings, which apparently is Divac's new modus operandi as GM. It's a one-year deal for Ferrell and he's joining a backcourt that includes De'Aaron Fox and Frank Mason, so there's no reason for excitement in fantasy circles.

 

 

Michael Beasley signed with the Lakers on a one-year, $3.5 million deal. Fantasy owners should be rolling their eyes at this point, but to recap...the Lakers landed LeBron James and have since gone all-in on players willing to ink one-year deals. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope headlines the group and makes the most sense (to my mind), and he's joined by Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Beasley. LBJ is a fantasy monster but I'm not eagerly targeting any other Lakers this year, considering the sheer uncertainty of their hybrid-rebuilt roster.

 

 

Markelle Fultz has reportedly rebuilt his jump shot with trainer Drew Hanlen this summer, resulting in the effusive notion that he's "a completely different, vastly improved player." Let's wait until we've seen him in sustained competitive action before getting too excited. The former No. 1 pick obviously has immense potential and he looked good for stretches after returning from injury last season, but ultimately he was a disaster for fantasy purposes. It's interesting to note that Philly was upset with Fultz for changing his shooting form without their knowledge last summer, whereas this summer it's intentional, team-driven and viewed as a positive -- i.e. they realized his shot was busted. My personal reasons to avoid Fultz include his 47.6% shooting from the FT line last season, Ben Simmons being on-ball so often in Philly, the presence of usage-monster Joel Embiid, and a backcourt that includes J.J. Redick, T.J. McConnell and rookie Zhaire Smith. I'll let someone else roll the dice on draft day.

 

 

Zach LaVine wants to be the Bulls' No. 1 option offensively this season. This is a team that ranked 28th in Offensive Rating last season (101.3 points per 100 possessions), ahead of only the Kings and Suns. They were also third-worst in Defensive Rating (ahead of the Cavs and Suns), but with a young, rebuilding crew they'll take what they can get. Hopefully the increased usage (and subsequent defensive attention) won't impede LaVine from nearing his career-high, pre-injury averages from 2016-17 -- 18.9 points (46.0% FGs, 83.6% FTs), 2.6 triples, 3.4 boards, 3.0 assists, 0.9 steals and only 1.8 turnovers. If his offensive numbers reach those heights again, health is the only obstacle between LaVine and strong mid-round value.

 

 

Gordon Hayward continues to put in on-court work this summer. He's almost a forgotten man in fantasy and his draft position hinges primarily on his activity level during training camp and preseason.

 

Nicolas Batum wrote on Twitter that small forward is his "natural position." He noted that there's a new coaching staff in Charlotte, and the implication is that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist could be coming off the bench this season. After a disappointing 2017-18 campaign in which his numbers dropped across the board, it's probably safe to leave MKG undrafted no matter what.

 

Nuggets lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. had lumbar spine surgery earlier this month. The upside here is enormous, especially on offense, but there's a reason Porter Jr. fell in the draft. All signs point to him missing the entire 2018-19 season.

 

That concludes this week's NBA News Roundup! Check back each Monday this summer for more information and analysis.



Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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