Fantasy hoops: Top faces in new places

Will we see a dramatic change in fantasy production from Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James in their new digs? AP Photo/Darren Abate

The NBA's wild summer of 2017 was especially dramatic in regards to star players changing jerseys -- Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Jimmy Butler and even Marco Belinelli (we kid) among them. This set the stage for a more subtle 2018 offseason that saw only two of the best players in the world -- LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard -- change teams.

While Twitter and website traffic might not agree with this premise, it wasn't just James and Leonard who defined the summer of transactions in the Association; rebounding savants DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard, All-Star wing DeMar DeRozan, point forward Tyreke Evans, emergent forward Julius Randle and healing superstar DeMarcus Cousins all made significant shifts this summer.

One could even make the argument that a coaching shift could be the most important statistical transition this past offseason, as Mike Budenholzer could add Spursian efficiency to a fantasy-friendly roster in Milwaukee.

With a focus on the top faces in new places this season (not including rookies), let's discuss the fantasy-relevant players from each position who've landed in new and potentially meaningful roles.


Elfrid Payton, New Orleans Pelicans

The modern NBA doesn't appear to be the friendliest fit for Payton's throwback game. The key being Payton's lacking of shooting prowess -- a career 29.8 percent clip from beyond the arc confirms this. Although, after splitting his fourth season between Orlando and Phoenix, Payton might have landed in one of the few situations that supports a relevant role for him, as the Pelicans afforded Rajon Rondo 69.3 touches (tied with Karl-Anthony Towns) and the 16th-most passes per game (56.4) as their lead distributor last season.

I wouldn't want to aim for Payton in a category format, given his very clear limitations as a shooter and scorer, but I believe that even a 90 percent approximation of Rondo's workload last season could fuel fantasy upside in points leagues -- he just went in the early eighth round of our recent points league mock draft.

Dennis Schroder, Oklahoma City Thunder

I was once a big fan of Schroder's potential to consume a Westbrookian usage rate in Atlanta, but I'm far less enthused with his new role as Westbrook's understudy in OKC. Schroder's isolation-driven game isn't exactly efficient (a modest career true shooting rate of 51.6) or exciting (he claims sluggish steal and 3-point rates).

The team will find time to deploy Schroder as a complementary playmaker and even as the second-team general, but I just don't think he'll be able to provide a profit for fantasy managers in this new role, given Westbrook's indomitable presence.

Isaiah Thomas, Denver Nuggets

Is it possible for Thomas to have found a better landing spot than Denver? Orlando might have afforded Thomas more touches and richer usage, but the fit with the Nuggets jumps off the page for me. Thomas thrived on direct handoffs and in the pick-and-roll with Al Horford in Boston and now somehow joins an even better passer from the post in Nikola Jokic.

Don't get me wrong, there is no way Thomas enjoys the Iversonian usage he enjoyed at his apex with the Celtics, but I do believe he could be a savvy late-round sleeper if both health and role align for him in a Lou Williams-like gig for Denver.


LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

Offseason talk of James seeking more off-ball usage in this new destination is intriguing, especially with another gifted passer in Lonzo Ball on the Lakers, but I'll believe James relinquishes lead playmaking duties when we see it.

As ESPN Fantasy's Andre Snellings capably covered in our free agency roundup this past July, it's likely Cleveland's Kevin Love who earns the greatest statistical leap in James' transition to the Western Conference, with James continuing to consume his trademark batch of touches, shots and passes in his new destination.

With another season flirting with triple-doubles ahead, in a traditional head-to-head category format, I'd only want Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden ahead of James in drafts this year.

Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors

Much like with James, the Raptors will adapt to Leonard's demanding usage rate and important defensive role rather than the inverse. It doesn't appear investors will net much of a discount on Leonard in drafts this fall despite last season's nine-game calamity, as he just went in the middle of the second round of our recent staff mock draft.

There are many projectable and arguably safer alternatives to Leonard at his draft price (Butler, Victor Oladipo, George etc.), but few players claim the elite statistical diversity on both offense and defense that Leonard does, thus the risk becomes more palatable.

I'm of the belief Leonard is a fun second-round selection laden with upside for those who are drafting multiple teams this season, but managers should also appropriately weigh his risk, given the bankability of some of his ADP peers.

DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs

I wasn't expecting to be optimistic about DeRozan's transition to San Antonio, but this is a system that has long supported efficient production. I'm of the belief the Spurs might find more from DeRozan defensively than we saw in Toronto, as an uptick in steal and rebounding rates could actually vault him into a new tier of fantasy value.

While the sample was small, Leonard was among the league leaders in usage rate in his nine games with the Spurs last season. This suggests that DeRozan might not lose much in terms of opportunity rates while shifting to a Spurs system that often demands a level of sacrifice from a statistical perspective.

Tyreke Evans, Indiana Pacers

Roster erosion in Memphis saw Evans inherit awesome usage last season. To his credit, Evans delivered one his most efficient and effective offensive efforts as a result. Evans joins a better roster in Indiana, which could mean fewer touches, but there is still a rewarding role as a key distributor on a team that really doesn't have a top-end option at point guard.

In somewhat of a theme for this offseason, Evans' role and fantasy valuation isn't augmented much by the move to Indiana.

Jabari Parker, Chicago Bulls

I'm not sold on Parker in category leagues that demand a degree of statistical diversity, as Parker's career line reveals a volume scorer with little in the way of passing or defensive utility. Parker's price in the middle of the ninth round in our recent staff mock is agreeable, given it is a points league; the Duke product could step into a rewarding, high-usage role for Chicago, albeit driven mostly by scoring.

Carmelo Anthony, Houston Rockets

It will be interesting to see if Melo can thrive in a role as a high-volume catch-and-shoot threat for Houston. It's worth noting the team vacated some 974 3-point attempts between just Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Luc Mbah a Moute this past offseason.

I'm guessing Anthony's reputation will drive his average draft position too high to really provide a profit as a shooting maven, but I can see the fit for him as a rotisserie or category league specialist, given Houston's extreme reliance on outside shooting.


DeAndre Jordan, Dallas Mavericks

After years of pursuit, the Mavs finally landed Jordan to hopefully solve their long-running rebounding woes. Jordan was second in the NBA with 23.9 potential rebounds (within 3.5 of an available rebound) last season and could again prove efficient on offense in the stretch pick-and-roll with two talented facilitators in Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. at the helm of the offense.

Found at 13th on the Player Rater last season among centers -- an index of player value that rewards statistical balance and dominance at each category -- Jordan could very likely become a reach in drafts this season. While he'll almost surely challenge for the league lead in rebounds, nothing about this move to Dallas will change his uniquely negative impact from the free throw line.

Jordan was also just 35th in blocks per game last season. To provide some positional context, I'd rather have Steven Adams, Myles Turner and Love ahead of Jordan in drafts, among the dozen obvious names (Davis through Horford) at the position in category leagues this season.

Julius Randle, New Orleans Pelicans

The market proved softer for Randle than his talent might suggest, but like Payton, he landed in a relatively ideal spot with the Pelicans. From Cousins we learned it's possible to consume a robust usage rate next to Davis in the New Orleans' frontcourt.

Randle has pretty much produced bankable fantasy results whenever afforded healthy minutes with the Lakers the past two seasons, and his role should prove more consistent and rewarding on a team with seemingly clearer intentions for his role as a banger from the power forward spot with some occasional small-ball center work to spell Davis.

The Pelicans can afford Randle a heavy workload, which in turn, could result in a career-best statistical campaign.

Dwight Howard, Washington Wizards

The move to Washington shouldn't change Howard's opportunity rates (rebounding chances and potential blocks) very much. Similar to Jordan, Howard is much more valuable in points leagues that are agnostic to his clear offensive woes that surface in category-driven formats.

If you are willing to assume a free throw anchor on your roster, Howard is arguably the better value than Jordan if he can mimic last season's quietly stellar blend of rebounding and blocks (seventh in swats per game).

DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State Warriors

Unless you can afford to stash Cousins for quite some time in an IR spot without much opportunity cost, it's difficult for me to see how fantasy managers will profit from drafting him this season. For the uproar his signing created, it's simply difficult to wait so long (almost certainly into 2019) for a player returning from a serious injury on the rare roster that can afford to ease him back.

Let someone else select Boogie in the middle rounds while you instead select the likes of Randle or Evans at a similar price with far more potential for utility this season.