We’re ready to start previewing the 2021-22 season! We still have a lot of huge news with trades, free agency, and other news that’ll impact rosters, but getting an idea of where the high-end rookies landed certainly changes things.
Before we get to some breakdown, I did want to point out that I’m hardly a draft pundit, and I’ll have more on-court analysis of players in Summer League next month. This column will focus more on role, fit, and potential position battles from now until the season starts.
OK, let’s take a superficial look at some rookies who will be fantasy-relevant this upcoming season, and some impact from the trades we saw on Thursday. For the people who don’t want to read all this, here’s a quick list of winners and losers.
Trade Winners (in terms of fantasy, for now)
Isaiah Stewart – Beef Stew SZN about to be CostCo size. He’ll potentially be a mid-round target, assuming the Pistons don’t roadblock him with someone like Daniel Theis.
Bradley Beal – Heavy favorite to lead league in scoring with plenty of other stats.
Mason Plumlee – The Hornets have been seeking a center for years, and Plumlee’s contract should get him minutes.
Aaron Holiday – New opportunity and defensive prowess could put him in good graces.
Kyle Kuzma – A new spot has to be a positive given his on/off stats without AD and Bron.
Deni Avdija – The Wizards really want to develop him.
Anthony Edwards, D’Angelo Russell, and Malik Beasley – Low-key winners here, but their on-ball chances all go up a bit with Rubio headed to the Mistake by the MiLake.
Trade Losers (in terms of fantasy)
LeBron James and Russell Westbrook – Only one basketball to go around.
Ricky Rubio – He likely won’t see many non-Garland minutes in Cleveland.
Daniel Gafford – On top of Thomas Bryant coming back, he’ll have to battle Montrezl Harrell. Harrell is another loser here, too.
Top 10 Fantasy Impact
Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons
*The Pistons will likely get their MotorCade in their first unit right off the bat to cause some major excitement in fantasy. Cade’s game translates very well to the NBA and fantasy with strong FT% (84.6%), solid rebounding (6.2 per game), productive output in dimes (3.5), and favorable outside shooting at 40.0% from deep. Cunningham was assisted on just 45.2% of his 3-point makes last year, so he’s certainly capable of getting his shot and he should get opportunity with teams likely going under on him in on-ball stuff. He’s #good, but you knew that.
Fit-wise, it’s definitely a wheels-up situation. We learned last year that not only is coach Dwane Casey willing to play his young guys extended minutes, but he’ll also give them plenty of leash. On top of that, Cory Joseph only has a $2.4 million guarantee if he’s on the roster past Aug. 1, and you’d imagine the Pistons really don’t want to pay him $12.6 million. CoJo going away would add a big ceiling to Cade on a nightly basis.
Killian Hayes did make some major strides late in the season, averaging a 10/4/7 line in 31.6 minutes over his eight May games. Casey was willing to play him in multiple-PG lineups, and of course Killian could still be the starting PG with Cade next to him.
Usage-wise, the only real usage hog on the team is Jerami Grant, who somehow put up a 30.5 usage rate in his 21 games after the All-Star break last year. Cade’s 29.1 usage rate from last year suggests he can take on a big scoring role, and the Pistons aren’t quite ready to go for it just yet. That means they could be dialing back the vets later in the season again, especially after you could make a case the tank in 2021 is part of the reason they got Cade.
We could see him get into the $7K-8K range at some point in DFS to make him a 40-ish DFS points scorer per game. His nine-cat game should also be pretty solid with across-the-board output. The demand is going to be very high and some people might reach to take him in the 45-50 range, especially after we saw what LaMelo did with people having some major FOMO. I don’t think he’ll be worth that price, but 55-65 is certainly doable, especially if you’re looking for late-season upside. He said he’s playing in Summer League, so that’ll be appointment viewing.
Jalen Green, Houston Rockets
*A top-two prospect coming out of high school, Green opted to go to the G League over NCAA action to make some money with shoe deals and G League salary. He was promising out of the gate with the Ignite at a 19/4/2 line with 1.8 steals on a 47/36/79 shooting line to showcase his scoring ability and athleticism.
Unlike Cade, Green doesn’t exactly get the pocket-aces spot because of two ball-dominant guys. He’ll have to compete with John Wall and Kevin Porter Jr. for on-ball work. Green is really going to have to grow as an off-ball guy after being a tough-shot, on-ball guy in the G League last year. Wall has almost no chance of staying healthy, so Green’s value will be tied to him. Although, he’s certainly not someone to disregard in fantasy just because of his upside.
Best case with regards to his role and assuming no injuries, he kind of reminds me of Donovan Mitchell. A player who is stepping into major competition without much multiple-category upside to his fantasy value. That’s still a bit unlikely given how we saw KPJ develop last year. I wouldn’t be too into Green in fantasy unless we find out early Wall is limited to start the year.
Evan Mobley, Cleveland Cavaliers
*His stat profile is very attractive after averaging 16/9/2 with 2.0 blocks on a 58/30/69 line at USC. Mobley was able to get his own shot with just 48.5% of his at-rim makes coming off an assist and he was an above-average finisher at 76.3% at the rim. He also has a little bit of a jumper at 46.4% on his two-point jumpers to go with that 30% on treys — his treys were 11.0% of his shot volume. He also didn’t start playing basketball until eighth grade, so to trend up so quickly and be easily the best big in this class bodes extremely well. The shot-blocking upside alone puts him on the board.
Obviously, his role may not be entirely clear with Jarrett Allen in the mix. On the plus side, we’ve seen coach J.B. Bickerstaff go insanely big with his lineups, so we certainly could see just 2-5 minutes of overlap to get him a low-20s floor on minutes. Plus, despite his size, he does have some PF skill a la Christian Wood — the Wood-Olynyk stuff that worked for the Rockets, could work with Allen. The Cavs still have a lot of questions with trades and likely won’t be a finished product yet before we’re at camp.
Mobley offers arguably a higher ceiling for nine-category fantasy leagues than Cade, and his floor should be fairly safe despite a crowded frontcourt right now. He might not get the high demand of Cade, and he certainly warrants a pick in the 80-100 range right now with room to move up.
Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
*Masai shocked us here with Barnes over Suggs, which could be an indication that Pascal Siakam could be a goner. Barnes is hardly a guy that should have your attention from a fantasy perspective with subpar scoring and mediocre defensive stats at FSU. He’s likely one of the “better in reality” guys despite how he’s a plus passer at his size.
It’s not really a great fit for him unless the Raptors just jettison their depth. On the plus side, coach Nick Nurse talked up his position flexibility. “He’s a multi-faceted, multi-positional player,” Nurse said. He’s not a guy I’ll be targeting in drafts at this point.
Jalen Suggs, Orlando Magic
*What a come-up for the Magic since the deadline to land Suggs and get R.J. Hampton in the Aaron Gordon deal (more later, too!). The 20-year-old guard almost led his Gonzaga team to an undefeated season before losing to Baylor in the final, averaging a 14/5/5 line on 50/34/76 shooting.
Fit-wise, man, we have some competition brewing here. The Magic suddenly have some young depth at guard with Markelle Fultz (23), Cole Anthony (21), R.J. Hampton (20) and now Suggs (20). The good news is Hampton may have grown based on some social media buzz on dunks, and he’s certainly long enough to play some three. Fultz probably won’t be a full go in camp after ACL surgery on Jan. 20, but Cole Anthony did improve after a brutal start to his career.
The logjam is a major issue to lower Suggs’ floor/ceiling combo, so he’s a really tough sell as a late-round target unless we see him absolutely maul guys in Vegas.
Josh Giddey, Oklahoma City Thunder
*Giddey up! He’s one of the fun prospects with some major play-making ability and size to go with it. He led the NBL in assists as a PNR guy, which is certainly going to translate to the NBA. He also said he’s “absolutely” going to play in Summer League.
Role-wise, he’s obviously not touching Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s role as the the league’s most drive-happy player, and Giddey does feel like a bit of a long-game play. On the bright side, we know OKC will probably tank it up again, so there should be minutes for him at some point. We’ll keep an eye on him.
Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State Warriors
*The Warriors were reportedly shopping this pick, and they’ll likely continue to do so with Kuminga and Moses Moody falling to them as upside plays. Kuminga is the classic mystery box guy, and his current situation isn’t an attractive spot from a fantasy perspective.
Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic
*The Magic get another perceived steal. Wagner does offer a little floor as a potential fantasy option with a 13/7/3 line on 48/34/84. His path isn’t clear with Chuma Okeke earning minutes while the Magic may try to find minutes for Otto Porter and Gary Harris. He’s not on the radar in 12-team leagues yet.
Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings
*The Kings go for another guard, and it’s a pretty bad landing spot for Mitchell. The Kings likely tried a quick fix on his defense, but his offensive game will likely be a low priority in maximizing his game. Mitchell has some upside in steals and dimes, but it’s just not going to translate.
Ziaire Williams, Memphis Grizzlies
*Total wild card here, and the Grizzlies had one of the deepest rotations in the league. Pretty hard pass here.
Outside Top 10 Positive Spots
James Bouknight, Charlotte Hornets
*The Hornets may not bring back Devonte’ Graham, and the Book Knight could compete with Malik Monk. It took a while for LaMelo to win over James Borrego, so I doubt Book finds a quick path to time.
Chris Duarte, Indiana Pacers
*Coach Rick Carlisle said he’s an NBA-ready guy and he might be more open to young guys after what he saw from his recent young crop in Dallas (yes, I know he’s not Luka). CD is old enough to actually play CDs, and his game isn’t all that attractive from a fantasy perspective.
Corey Kispert, Washington Wizards
*Rui Hachimura’s teammate can shoot it, and that’s about it. We’ll see what the Wizards do, but he’s a guy to watch.
Lakers get Russell Westbrook, Wizards get Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, 22nd pick
The Lakers swapping out some of their best shooting for Westbrook is certainly a choice, and it definitely adds some questions about how their halfcourt offense performs. The Wizards’ halfcourt offense was below average overall, and that was with Bradley Beal, who was a 93rd-percentile player in on/off halfcourt O (per CTG) being a usage monster. Plus, this certainly isn’t a finished product yet, but we can draw some conclusions overall.
The biggest takeaway to me is LeBron possibly getting a lighter load. His minutes and games may take a hit after things fell apart for the Lakers in the second half of the 2021 season. Obviously, Westbrook’s 29.5 usage rate is probably going to come down a bit more, but that’ll certainly take away from LeBron. I’ll certainly be fading LeBron in all formats.
As for Westbrook himself, that 29.5 usage rate will be tough to meet and his assist numbers should also take a hit. After the break last year, Westbrook had an absurd 24.1 potential assists per game with nobody even close (18.2 Harden, 17.0 Trae). LeBron was at 14.4 on the season and he’s obviously going to want to touch the ball when he’s out there. Excluding his transition game, Westbrook really doesn’t play off other guys. His jumpers are assisted on just 25.1% of makes, so it’s not even like LeBron’s play-making can really help. Westbrook also really cooked in his minutes without Beal, and he’d likely have to share his non-Bron minutes with AD to put a little cap on his usage rate. Plus, Westbrook has a downward trend in his layup making over the last three years. He’ll still get his boards, but without an efficiency boost, he should see a sizable hit. When LeBron is playing, the days of playing Westbrook at $12K are done, and he’s another really easy fade in season-long leagues.
AD doesn’t really get a big hit compared to the other two All-Stars. Yeah, we know his usage will fall, but Westbrook has undeniably made life easier for his teammates as a scorer. AD’s efficiency should see a little boost, and I’d expect him to make more 3-pointers. Plus, AD has also been more effective per minute as a five, so that also adds a little more upside to his defensive stats and FG%. Of course, his rebounding upside does take a hit because Westbrook is so good at collecting defensive boards.
The Wizards obviously have some work to do. The headlines so far are that Beal wants to stay, and we’re likely going to see more reports on adding Spencer Dinwiddie. Of course, Beal would be in a massive spot with his 37/5/6 per-36 line in his 766 minutes without Westbrook (29/5/4 with). He’d be the favorite to lead the NBA in scoring, and he’ll add plenty to his stat line. Even if the Wizards are not great, they’ll still likely battle for a play-in spot, which should cut down the risk of a Beal shutdown. He’s a fairly obvious target in the first round for most formats.
Besides Beal, we know the Wizards really want to develop Deni Avdija to give him additional on-ball opportunities and they’re really high on Rui Hachimura as a defender, but adding Kuzma does severely cap the upside for these guys. Plus, they almost certainly want to get off that Davis Bertans deal. I’m not really going to be in on any of the current Wizards for nine-cat leagues until we find out if Thomas Bryant can play (had surgery for his partially-torn ACL on Feb. 2).
Suns get Landry Shamet, Nets get Jevon Carter and 29th pick
Not too much fallout here. The Suns get a second-unit guard to get some spacing with a little ball-handling chops, and Shamet will not have enough shots to provide value.
The Nets get a point guard to prepare for Spencer Dinwiddie’s departure, and they get some ammo with that 29th pick.
Cavs get Ricky Rubio and a 2022 second, Wolves get Taurean Prince
We knew the Wolves wanted to get off Rubio’s contract, but they got the worse player and are able to create $4.8 million in cap space and get a trade exception. Prince will likely get combo forward minutes, but of course there aren’t many minutes available with Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards likely to handle most of the F minutes, assuming Malik Beasley starts. Even if Beasley comes off the bench, the minutes are pretty tight.
The Cavs were dying for a backup PG, so they were willing to eat the salary. Plus, you could make a case that putting Mobley with someone like Rubio is good for the rookie’s growth. There still won’t be much value to be had for Rubio as Darius Garland’s backup.
Pistons give up Mason Plumlee and 37, Hornets get 57
It’s a salary dump here and Plumlee does find himself in a pretty decent spot for the Hornets. He has some solid play-making skills to help out LaMelo on doubles a la Nurk helping Dame, and he should be on the radar in drafts.
As mentioned up top, Isaiah Stewart is arguably the biggest winner of the night. The Pistons might look to add someone else, but this is a move that clearly shows their confidence in Beef Stew.
Pacers get Isaiah Jackson, Wizards get Aaron Holiday and Isaiah Todd
It’s a pretty good spot for Aaron Holiday here, but we’ll see if the Wizards are able to add someone like Spencer Dinwiddie.