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Fantasy basketball: Top faces in new places

The first day of school introduces plenty of variables to consider, but the first day at an entirely new school? That rare moment delivers these variables plus an increased potential for reinvention. Sure, you have to adapt to the new school and social climate, but they must also adapt to you.

A ton of high-impact NBA players switched "schools" this past summer, as the carousel of star players saw transformative transactions become commonplace. The star players will be asked in many ways to conform to their new team's culture and climate, while these new destinations must also acclimate and integrate these important imports.

Are fantasy managers underestimating the statistical potential we could see from Chris Paul in Houston? Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
The ascension of the Golden State Warriors to their dynastic perch has inspired a new level of boldness among NBA front offices, thus the hyper-shuffle of star and even superstar players over the past several months. It's the duty of fantasy basketball investors to consider these sizable talent and roster shifts around the league in order to appraise the marketplace. With an eye on potential shifts in fantasy value, let's assess the top faces in new places around the NBA for the new season.

The summer of Paul

With no offense to the deluge of blockbuster deals that emanated from Boston, I consider this past NBA offseason the "Summer of Paul." When accounting for Chris Paul, Paul George and Paul Millsap -- well, that's a lot of Paul. It's also a lot of All-NBA caliber pedigree on the move. How do these respective shifts influence the fantasy stock for each Paul in question?

As ESPN Fantasy's Joe Kaiser deftly discussed the busy NBA offseason back in July, "Point god" Chris Paul enters an entirely fantasy-friendly situation, given the Houston Rockets were third in pace and 4.4 percent "faster" in regards to possessions per 48 minutes than the Clippers last season. The space-and-pace driven scheme plus plenty of minutes running the show in Houston can offset any sacrifices next to the bearded one, James Harden.

Paul is accustomed to playing with high-usage peers, as Blake Griffin has ranked as high as 10th in the league in usage rate and never worse than 25th over the past three seasons. In fact, Griffin might be the biggest beneficiary of the entire offseason in fantasy terms. If you are willing to assume the inherent risks of his injury profile, I think Griffin has league-winning potential as the all-everything forward for the Clippers.

The market is already taxing Paul for both his age and pairing with Harden, so the risks appear baked into his average draft position at 15th overall. I'd gladly take Paul at the first turn in most formats, as it's not just possible, but entirely likely he sets a significant new career high in 3-point production. Consider Patrick Beverley has averaged 4.8 3-point attempts per game over the past three seasons, while Paul just set a career best with five per game in 2016-17. My guess is that Paul's line could look increasingly Curry-ish this season, albeit with far more assists.

As an aside, I'm loving shares of Clint Capela this season. Just imagine the alley-oop efficiency Paul can help foster.

As for Paul George, I diverge a bit with Kaiser's midsummer take that George's fantasy stock takes a sizable hit with the transition to Oklahoma City. I think he'll be just fine playing next to Russell Westbrook, if not a bit better than last season.

Using Kevin Durant's precedent for usage and production alongside Westbrook as a crude facsimile for George's new role; Durant saw 53.5 half-court touches per game in 2015-16 with the Thunder, while Westbrook had 77.7 that season. This past season, Westbrook touched the ball 84.1 times per game in the half-court offense, most in the NBA.

George has averaged 50.5 touches the past two seasons, slightly lower than the share Durant consumed. Given that Westbrook has already led the league in usage and shots per game alongside Durant, it's reasonable to figure there are enough touches and shots for George to match his offensive opportunity rates in Indiana. It's possible for George to earn better looks with a superstar point guard who ranked third in assist-to-pass rate last year.

With real precedent for accommodating a wing of his caliber, we should expect George to sustain the second-round production level that saw him finish 14th on the Player Rater last season.

I'm less enthused by Paul Millsap's fantasy prospects, as he was quietly disappointing last season, finishing 47th on the Player Rater, even while playing nearly 70 games last season. With Millsap nearly setting a career best in minutes and averaging the most shots of his career, his efficiency waned in the face of increased volume.

It's possible to believe Denver is an ideal landing spot for Millsap's skill set; it was a top-five offense last season (Atlanta was 27th in offensive rating), and there should be a glut of rebounding chances next to a space-savvy big like Nikola Jokic. It's also possible to wonder if Millsap is on the clear descent, given last season's results.

If Millsap is available late into the fourth round, that's appropriate value, but I prefer the sheer upside of Griffin sans Paul in L.A. or even Kevin Love, both found later in drafts on average and in younger segments of their career arcs. I'm not running away from Millsap, but I'm not chasing shares either.

Boston blockbusters

It was an intriguing offseason for Danny Ainge, as he dealt the No. 1 overall pick, traded away Avery Bradley, signed Gordon Hayward and dealt for Kyrie Irving. Ainge must be fun in a fantasy league.

I'm excited about the offensive upside Irving can deliver in this shift to Boston. The Celtics were just marginally faster in pace than the Cavs last season and conversely worse in offensive rating. The specter of LeBron James hangs over this analysis, as well, as Irving should now enjoy newfound freedom to touch the ball and create isolation offense. James was fourth in the NBA last season in potential assists with 16.7, while Irving was 23rd with 11.3.

Isaiah Thomas averaged 11.7 more half-court touches than Irving last season. I think it's likely Irving sees a sizable swell in potential assists; a metric tied to ball dominance, as well as career highs in touches and drives. Speaking of drives, we found James (9.5) just ahead of Irving (9.3) in drives per game last season. Who led the NBA in drives last year? Thomas (12.7). Drives directly correlate to free throw volume, so in a scheme that affords it's lead ball-handler a league-best drive rate, I'm buying Irving as an emergent fantasy star even as he approaches the top of the second round by ADP.

As for Hayward, I'm not going to have heavy shares of him this season. With an ADP of 22nd overall, ahead of the likes of Draymond Green, Kristaps Porzingis and Myles Turner, I think we're seeing Hayward cost close to what his production ceiling might be. In a stellar final season in Utah, Hayward still topped out at 33rd on the Player Rater, behind the likes of Green and Turner.

The positive I'm missing out on potentially is the bankability of Hayward's game; he's a high-floor player amid his playing prime. That said, my concern remains -- even if Hayward scores more this season, is there a realistic surge in assist rate, rebounding or defensive metrics based on this shift to the Celtics? Like Millsap, I prefer Hayward's ADP peers more.

New to the land

In exchange for Irving, we find Thomas and Jae Crowder joining James in Cleveland. It's not as is Irving wasn't a high-volume scorer last season, so there is plenty of shooting volume for Thomas to consume, whenever and to whatever degree he's health this season. The elephant in evaluating Thomas remains his hip ailment. At some point in the middle rounds, the price is right for Thomas.

Even in a vacuum, with the gains in drives and touches per game Irving nets in Boston, we can assume Thomas foregoes such opportunity rates alongside James. I suppose I'm fading Thomas.

I do, however, appreciate the shift in value for Jae Crowder, as he joins a Cavs scheme that was second in 3-point freqeuncy last season and will rely on him for heavy minutes as a key defensive stopper. Crowder has top-50 potential, thanks to his 3-and-D skill set.

Minnesota movement

The real prospects of combining Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague with a core of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are exciting. For fantasy? I'm less enthused, as Butler was a genuine usage hog from the wing for Chicago, finishing ahead of Curry and Damian Lillard in usage rate last season. Which is to say: Can he sustain such usage with far superior peers on his new team? I think Butler can closely approximate his scoring numbers, but a dip in assist and/or rebounding rates would cost fantasy managers.

There is an argument that Butler's finish at 12th on the Player Rater last season is his ceiling, and we are now drafting him as if it's his new floor. Teague is in a nice spot to set a career high in minutes, but I'm fairly lateral on Butler given the expected usage constraints on a better team.

Delving deeper

Maybe we can delve "Dipo," as Victor Oladipo is an entirely interesting new face in Indiana. As the ancillary factor in the George trade, Oladipo's ADP is now ripe for value at 68th overall. With the potential for nearly two steals per game and sizable leaps in assist potential and free throw rate, I'm buying Oladipo as the offensive centerpiece of whatever they are building in Indianapolis.

Sticking with the complementary names from the big moves this summer, Beverley could easily outplay his ADP of 101st overall. Few players enjoy his steal rate, and the minutes should be there in L.A.

I find Ricky Rubio and George Hill assuming somewhat lateral destinations for their respective values. With Rubio, there is at least a rare ceiling with regards to assists and steals, so he could outpace his draft position in a best-case scenario. I'm not sure Hill ever replicates his per-game peak with the Jazz.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope goes from a slow-down system that fed its point guard a glut of drives and shots to a scheme with the Lakers where he'll get fed looks from a pass-first point guard on a team that could challenge for the lead in pace this season. In a "show me" season with the Lakers, KCP is an awesome mid-round value at a thin shooting guard position.

Does Dwight Howard still sway fantasy fortunes? I think Cody Zeller is the best center on the Hornets, but Howard could still be a steal in points leagues that won't dock his inefficiency at the stripe.

Author: Jim McCormick , ESPN
Source: http://www.espn.com/fantasy/basketball/story/_/id/20765529/fantasy-basketball-top-faces-new-places

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