WATCH: BREAKING DOWN THE THOMAS – IRVING TRADE
We finally thought we could move on to fantasy football, but potentially the craziest NBA offseason we’ve seen stole the spotlight back yet again on Tuesday evening when the Celtics and Cavaliers announced a blockbuster trade.
Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, 2018 Brooklyn Nets 1st-round pick
Aside from absolutely shocking all of us that this actually went down, the trade has several interesting layers of fantasy impact. Let’s fire through them.
1. Kyrie Irving’s Value Just Skyrocketed
Kyrie could not be in a better position, not only for his potential career and legacy but for his immediate fantasy value. We all know how good Irving is, but just what is he capable of after developing under the wing of LeBron James for the past three seasons?
Well, Kyrie actually had a career year scoring last season, even playing second fiddle to LeBron. Here’s Irving’s full line: 25.2 points (47.3% FG/40.1% 3PT FG) with 5.8 dimes and 3.2 boards in just over 35 minutes per game. Meanwhile, in Boston, IT was posting 28.9 points (46.3% FG/37.9% 3PT FG) with 5.9 helpers and 2.7 rebounds in a shade under 34 minutes.
The outlook? Kyrie is a more efficient player that’s going to be thrust into one of the most fantasy friendly roles in the NBA — the PG in Brad Stevens’ offense.
I predict Kyrie is going to have a career season, and a top-three finish in the MVP voting is in the cards. Yes, Gordon Hayward is around to help carry the offense, but something along the lines of 28-30 points with eight assists and five boards for Kyrie is completely plausible.
2. Isaiah Thomas’s Value is Shaky/On the Decline
The reason I say “shaky” is because we need to figure out Thomas’ health. The Cavs are anxious to get him in for his physical and see what they can find out about his hip, but while speaking to reporters on a conference call on Tuesday night, Danny Ainge revealed that he has doubt that IT will be ready to go on opening night (which happens to be Boston at Cleveland).
At his size, we need to realize there’s a possibility Thomas won’t be the same player after this injury. But healthy or not, I’m of the belief we’ve seen the best of IT, and that’s no slight. We just saw him have a dominant season in which he finished fifth in MVP voting. He was the lead dog in Boston, and is now going to share the floor with LeBron, and have another former MVP in Derrick Rose serving as his backup. Will those things create some more open looks for Thomas? Sure, but they will also take away some of his creative scoring/play making off the dribble.
I’m not saying Thomas will fall off a cliff and disappear here. I’m just saying something closer to his 2015-16 campaign seems like a realistic place for him to level out — 22.2 points, 6.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds. Even that seems a little high to me.
The bigger story will eventually be who is willing to “back up the Brinks truck” for IT and pay him next summer …
3. Minutes for Hayward and C’s Young Forwards
There was plenty of chatter about the log jam the Celtics had at SF after the Hayward signing. It was overblown, as guys like Jaylen Brown have experience at SG and in this small-ball NBA you can get away with multiple SFs on the floor.
But with Crowder out of the picture, the Celtics have made their plan clear. Not that Hayward’s job was in doubt at all, but now he won’t have to play any SG or worry about losing a couple minutes here and there to Crowder for defensive purposes.
The far bigger impact is what comes behind Hayward. Boston is committed to using their young wing combo, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, for real meaningful minutes off the bench (Brown could even wind up starting). The loss of Crowder without bringing back any wing from Cleveland leaves the Celtics with no other option. These kids will play, and that’s not a bad thing given the glimpses of talent we’ve already seen from both.
4. The Celtics New Rotations Post Overhaul
The Celtics are set to bring back just four players from the roster that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season (Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford). Kyrie will be in that featured IT role, while Horford will be the glue in the front court, but everything in-between is going to be different.
Part of this overlaps with the Hayward/Brown/Tatum minutes on the wing, but there are more rotation players worth mentioning. Marcus Morris likely starts at PF, while Aron Baynes will be responsible for helping the Celtics rebounding woes playing off the bench … and maybe even starting for Morris against bigger front lines.
Smart could wind up starting at SG, and even if he doesn’t, he’s going to have to play big minutes as the Celtics’ lone shutdown perimeter defender now that both Crowder and Avery Bradley have been shipped out.
The good news for fantasy players is that this team has sacrificed some depth. Boston played 12 players often last season, but will likely start this season with a nine-man rotation: Irving, Hayward, Horford, Morris, Smart, Brown, Tatum, Baynes and Terry Rozier. There could be room for a 10th eventually if impressive rookies Semi Ojeleye or Guerschon Yabiusele earn their way up, but for now, we finally have some clarity with where the minutes will be distributed in Boston.
5. Cavs to Unveil Small Ball Lineup
Aside from swapping PGs, Cleveland did gain a piece of value in Crowder. Although Tristan Thompson is the starting center, we all know you have to go small to match up with the Warriors (and yes, the Cavs should still be favored over the Celtics to go to the NBA Finals at this moment).
The Thomas, J.R. Smith, LeBron, Crowder, Kevin Love lineup is going to be a popular one next season in Cleveland. We’ll need to see how much the Cavs decide to go small, but they didn’t have the right pieces last season. For right now, both Thompson and Crowder likely take a dip in fantasy value.
6. The Draft Pick
The pick the Cavs get is worth mentioning because it’s likely going to serve one of two completely different purposes. Cleveland now owns one of the most valuable future assets in the league. If LeBron bounces again, they have an immediate reset button with what’s projected to be a high lottery pick in a stacked draft.
But what if the Cavs actually use this chip to keep LeBron in Cleveland? What stars will become available between now and February that LeBron would want to play with? Cleveland might not be done adding pieces.
7. We Have to Talk About LeBron
We have to at least address LeBron. Does this trade specifically affect his fantasy value in any way? Nope, LeBron is going to do what he does. It’s just extra motivation to him after not finishing in the top-three for MVP voting last year. I’d put him as the MVP favorite for this upcoming season, which means good things for his fantasy outlook.
After that … well, I don’t think LeBron will be wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey come the summer of 2018.
Hit me up on Twitter with any questions or comments: @julianedlow.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is jedlow) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.