Fantasy-friendly squads in 2014-15
Which teams could provide plenty of value with revamped lineups next season?
I took my 5-year-old son to the Lakers-Wizards tilt Friday night.
I sprung for box seats. I bought him a $23 brownie. And I can say without reservation that it was the most oddly uninspired NBA game I've ever witnessed that involved multiple All-Stars and probable Hall of Famers.
I actually shielded my son's eyes on three separate occasions, all involving Nick Young.
The first two shieldings were due to Young's improbable yet impressionable shot selection; I don't want my son learning that shooting a 3-pointer from the top of the key with two men on you and a wide-open teammate on the wing is permissible. The third was when Young sort of half-contemplated fighting Drew Gooden and triggered the most uninspiring pseudo-brawl this side of a marching band fraternity.
I spent much of the game ruminating on the plethora of missed fantasy opportunities, especially on the Lakers' side.
This is a Mike D'Antoni team. High-paced fantasy production is an expected byproduct. But the Lakers laid another roto egg, with Young chipping in as empty a 21 points as you'll ever see while Pau Gasol sleepwalked through a double-double.
The Lakers are this season's biggest NBA fantasy disappointment.
The good news is that as long as D'Antoni is the coach of the Lakers, fantasy opportunity will always lurk just around the corner. Pending Kobe Bryant's return, a heap of cap space and a high lottery pick, the Lakers should be in position to field one of fantasy's most improved NBA lineups in 2014-15.
(And that's with Gasol's probable departure. One underrated aspect to a player's fantasy portfolio is the ability to remain ambulatory, and Gasol is on track for another 65- to 68-game campaign.)
With teams positioning themselves in Tankapalooza and this summer's deep free-agent class, there will be multiple new-look lineups in 2014-15. That means a lot of new variables bouncing off one another, which means new, fresh fantasy numbers.
Let's take a look at four teams that are positioned to improve on their fantasy production next season and project what the teams might look like.
Possible 2014-15 lineup (changes in bold):
PG: Michael Carter-Williams
SG: Andrew Wiggins
SF: Thaddeus Young
PF: Noah Vonleh
C: Nerlens Noel
The long-term benefits to megatanking in terms of wins and losses can be debated. But with a probable second lottery pick coming via the Pelicans, their own probable top-three selection, the return of Nerlens Noel and enough cap space to field three separate versions of the current 76ers roster, we can expect a Philadelphia fantasy turnaround.
The 76ers already have probable starters penciled in at point guard, small forward (or power forward; Thaddeus Young can shift) and center. Barring a wholesale change in basketball and organizational philosophy, the Sixers should continue to run one of the highest pace attacks in the NBA. (They lead the league with 101.9 possessions per game.) All that's missing is upside at the 2 and the 4 (or 3).
That's where the draft should come in real handy.
Andrew Wiggins has reassumed No. 1 overall status for now, but it still seems as if there's no definitive consensus at the top between him and Joel Embiid. His tournament flameout certainly couldn't have helped; maybe he's overtaken by Embiid again during workouts.
For now, let's project that Wiggins lands in Philadelphia. He would become an immediate starter at shooting guard, with little to no competition to push him for heavy minutes.
Say the Sixers end up with Jabari Parker instead. Then they just slide Young to power forward -- where he played large chunks of the past two seasons -- and pencil Parker (who is more NBA-ready) in at the 3. That's the scenario I would prefer fantasy-wise; Parker in the 76ers' low-conscience system would make him a near-mortal lock for Rookie of the Year.
Then there is the Pelicans' pick. It's top-five protected, but the odds are that the pick lands in Sam Hinkie's lap, most likely in the 9 to 13 range. Noah Vonleh interests me most long term, but I wonder if James Young, Gary Harris or even Doug McDermott could provide more instant gratification.
The other question for Philadelphia is what it decides to do in free agency. The 76ers have all of the cap space in the world but could (should) keep their powder dry for 2015. But with Philadelphia's system and lack of depth, even an under-the-radar signing (Channing Frye? P.J. Tucker?) could register a real fantasy impact.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Living in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, I get to listen to a lot of local sports talk radio. So let's look at this from your average Lakers fan's perspective.
First of all, David Stern screwed us on the Chris Paul thing. I still bring this up 18 to 20 times a day. Ask any of my Facebook friends.
Second of all, Kevin Love is absolutely coming in 2015. I know this because I just typed it. Which makes it true. Etched in stone with metaphysical certitude. Love went to UCLA, and his uncle sings lead for Beach Boys, even if he did fire Brian Wilson at the end of their most successful tour in 30 years and after recording their best album since "Beach Boys Love You." It's a done deal.
So the Lakers can't run out and throw a max deal at Chris Bosh or a near-max deal at Greg Monroe to replace Gasol, whom they are so done with. A more reasonably priced big man like Spencer Hawes (or Ed Davis, or Frye) can come in and get the Lakers through next season before coming off the bench behind Love in 2015-16.
Third of all, Russell Westbrook is absolutely coming in 2016. Again, I just typed it, so he's coming. Again, he went to UCLA. Have you ever had an ice cream sandwich at Diddy Riese in Westwood?
For now, let's assume Steve Nash doesn't retire, comes back, plays about 60 games and averages 25 minutes a night. That would make him nothing more than an endgame pick in deep leagues. Or maybe they waive Nash and sign a stopgap to keep Westbrook's seat warm. Patty Mills comes to mind. Or maybe they just ride it out with the Kendall Marshall/D-League plan. It's a D'Antoni system, so any point guard will be a good fantasy add. Or maybe Adam Silver will overrule Stern and finally give Paul to the Lakers.
Yes, this lineup could give up over 120 points a night, but it would be fun to watch until Love and Westbrook get here. Kobe would make them play good defense, since he was an All-NBA defender as recently as 2011.
Then there's the draft. There's a chance the Lakers won't pick where they're statistically supposed to (sixth). So they're not getting Wiggins, Dante Exum, Embiid or Parker. They may have to settle for the player who could actually come in and be the best fit from day one, and that would be Julius Randle.
Possible 2014-15 lineup (changes in bold):
PG: Jose Calderon
SG: Monta Ellis
SF: Lance Stephenson
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Chris Bosh
For the past couple of seasons, we've seen what I call The Cuban Effect boost the fantasy prospects of O.J. Mayo, Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis. You bring in a guy with a troubled rep, let Dirk Nowitzki, Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks' infrastructure go to work, and presto, you have a player who's about to rebound nicely from a fantasy perspective.
For a lineup like this to become reality, we have to assume Nowitzki takes a Tim Duncan-esque haircut to bring in some help. Chris Bosh or Monroe would be nice fits at center alongside Dirk.
I know that the popular feeling is that Lance Stephenson loses value the minute he leaves the Pacers. But Dallas might be able to field a competitive offer, and I happen to believe Stephenson would be a great fantasy fit. Why? Because the Mavericks play reliable NBA offense. It could be a nice change for Stephenson.
4. Utah Jazz
Possible 2014-15 lineup (changes in bold):
PG: Trey Burke
SG: Dante Exum
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Greg Monroe
When I submitted names of franchises that might field upgraded fantasy lineups in 2014-15 to Kevin Pelton, he suggested it would be a mistake to leave Utah off the list. His reasoning being that Utah is more prepared to use its cap room than teams like Philadelphia.
So let's assume that Utah gives up on the Derrick Favors/Enes Kanter experiment and finds another big via free agency or the draft. For now, let's give the Jazz Monroe, assume they re-sign Gordon Hayward and hope Exum slides to them at No. 4.
Exum excites me from a fantasy perspective more than any other rookie. I readily admit that half of Exum's appeal is based on the lack of available information. All we have are the inchoate praises and droolings of just about every responsible basketball person who's ever scouted him.
You know what? I'm still excited.
Other teams looking at a possible makeover: Milwaukee, Orlando, Cleveland, New York, Phoenix, Miami (if LeBron makes an unexpected Decision).