The biggest winner in free agency in the NBA is the Los Angeles Lakers, for bringing the best player in the NBA out west to wear purple and gold. But who are the biggest winners of free agency from a fantasy perspective?
As we’ve seen multiple times now, changing teams doesn’t have a huge impact on LeBron James‘ individual fantasy value … but how does it change the value of the team that he left behind? Or the team that he’s joining?
And, as hard as it may be to believe, James wasn’t the only free agent to change teams this year. What impact do the decisions of these free agents have on the fantasy landscape?
Let’s take a look at several notable players whose fantasy values stand to increase (“winners”) or decrease (“losers”) based upon the results of free agency to date.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers — Love is quite possibly the biggest fantasy winner of this offseason because LeBron chose to leave Cleveland. While LeBron’s departure cripples the Cleveland Cavaliers’ chances to win, it opens up a huge number of shots for those left behind. And presumably, Love should be the biggest recipient as the lone All NBA player left on the team. In the 2013-14 season, Love’s last campaign before joining LeBron in Cleveland, he averaged 26.1 points (45.7 FG%, 82.1 FT%) with 12.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.5 3-pointers, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. While Love has been playing a modified style of play next to LeBron for the last four years, more of a stretch-four than an offensive engine, that talent should still be in there somewhere. With LeBron in LA, Love has the chance to show that he still has it.
DeAndre Jordan, Dallas Mavericks — Jordan’s move to the Dallas Mavericks seems, on the surface, like it should be awkward after he seemingly reneged on his pledge to go their during his last tenure as a free agent. That said, the Dallas Mavericks look like a perfect spot for him. They are a young, perimeter driven offense without expectations to contend this season. This should allow Jordan to maximize his rebounding, defense and garbageman-like offense without having to worry about any sort of Hack-a-Jordan strategy that he used to encounter in LA. Plus, with the Mavericks potentially starting two floor generals in Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic, Jordan should always have people out there making his life easier by creating easy offense for him.
Elfrid Payton, New Orleans Pelicans — Payton has shown flashes of triple-double ability when healthy in the last couple of seasons, both as a member of the Orlando Magic and also as a member of the Phoenix Suns. However, neither team really wanted to build around his lack of a consistent shot, and thus his opportunities dried up. However, the New Orleans Pelicans are already used to having a do-everything-but-score point guard in Rajon Rondo, and Payton’s skillset should fit in and fill those shoes nicely. Plus, having finally cut his hair, there’s a non-zero probability that Payton’s shot gets better now that he can see the rim.
DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State Warriors — Cousins was already a long shot to be an impact performer this season because he had to recover from tearing his Achilles tendon so late in the season, an extremely difficult recovery for any big man to make. However, with his decision to join the Golden State Warriors, Cousins ensures that even if he does get healthy later in the season, he now has nowhere near the upside that he had as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans. While Cousins has always been a primary cog in every professional offense that he’s participated in, he now looks to slot in as the fifth option for the Warriors, which dramatically cuts down his fantasy-producing opportunities.
Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers — On the other side of the LeBron transaction, the Los Angeles Lakers now find themselves needing to accommodate one of the highest usage players in the NBA. LeBron has traditionally played a point guard-type role, though there is speculation that the Lakers would like to use him more as a finisher than an initiator. This encroaches upon Ingram’s territory, as he used to be the scoring/offense-initiating wing on the team. Now he falls clearly into the secondary role, and also will face challenges from Kyle Kuzma, whose 3-point shooting may fit better next to LeBron.
Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers — Ball is another Laker whose fantasy numbers could be negatively impacted by their free agency moves. For one thing, even “off ball/finisher” LeBron is still likely to do his fair share of setting the table, which would cut into Ball’s primacy as a table setter and force him to be more of a shooter/finisher himself more regularly…which has never been his forte. But, in addition to LeBron, the Lakers also signed Rajon Rondo. He is a championship-tested veteran that, by all accounts, LeBron wanted on the team. Rondo is thus going to get a reasonable share of minutes, even if he comes off the bench, which further eats into Ball’s minutes and opportunities.
Nikola Mirotic, New Orleans Pelicans — Mirotic joined the Pelicans late in the season, and was a perfect fit as a sixth man big because Cousins was out. However, with the Pelicans signing Julius Randle to presumably fill the second starting big man role, it leaves Mirotic with fewer minutes and opportunities. Mirotic showed as a member of the Chicago Bulls last season that he could still perform well in a crowded frontcourt, but with the Pelicans looking to get to the next level as playoff contenders it is more likely that Mirotic will become more of a role player this season.
Tyreke Evans, Indiana Pacers — Evans had a throwback season during the first half of the 2017-18 campaign, proving that he could still be a volume all-around producer as the primary perimeter option on a team. However, he only got that opportunity because the Memphis Grizzlies were ravaged by injury, including to starting point guard Mike Conley. However, with Evans going to the Indiana Pacers, he now finds himself on a team that already has Victor Oladipo in that primary perimeter-player role. Evans can still be effective, but nothing like what he showed last season.