In-season opportunity in fantasy is often born of attrition in reality.
At the moment we draft and assemble our fantasy teams, the real NBA teams have their plan pretty well mapped out. Lineups. Rotations. Our fantasy teams are put together based off of well-documented plans.
Then the games start to count. And the best-laid plans are often ripped apart. Which is why it’s so important to follow the daily NBA news for developing signs of potential future fissures.
Deeper study of the intricacies of day-to-day NBA activity will teach you that everything is connected. This is the greater lesson that is offered to us by basketball.
When I teach my kids how to watch a basketball game, I force them to stop looking at who has the ball. To instead focus on what’s happening away from the ball. How a single pass from one player to another will force an instant, radical reconstitution of assignment for the other eight players on the court.
That biologically speaking? We are observing two meticulously developed organisms momentarily connect for 48 minutes, and act upon one another. And that these are actually two sub-organisms powering a larger, 30-team organism.
(Agreed. I am not a fun dad.)
In fantasy basketball, the NBA’s heightened in-season intensity of team-to-team connection is extremely consequential.
In the NBA, each individual news item creates little aftershocks across a larger network of lineups. Any promotion, trade or injury in one NBA city will percolate, then generate ripple effects felt in multiple cities.
The result: sudden shifts in playing time across various locales. Reconstituted rotations. New statistical combinations. Fresh dynamics that can radically alter an individual NBA player’s in-season fantasy trajectory.
A lot of winning fantasy basketball is detective work. Having the wherewithal to follow how one story creates two or three follow-up stories. Trades exhaust a lot of media oxygen. But it is often said deal’s subtle ripple effects that register the deepest long-term fantasy impact.
Let’s examine one recent in-season development from a fantasy POV. On the surface, it appears as a trade rumor… with possible Woj-Bomb potential.
So, at the five in Cleveland, Drummond is no longer even a short-term fit. He’s still on the team. But he’s already lost his job. Why? Because James Harden went to Brooklyn. (Why? Because… you can see how this just goes on and on.)
Drummond is the next big NBA name on the move, but the article mentions one of the main obstacles for a deal: making Drummond’s $28.7 million dollar expiring deal work under the suitor’s cap and Cleveland’s.
The Adrian Wojnarowski-Brian Windhorst article generates a link to an in-depth analysis by Kevin Pelton, and as savvy fantasy managers, we click on this link, knowing it will secretly contain myriad fantasy angles.
Here, Pelton correctly identifies another roadblock that directly correlates to fantasy: the acknowledgment that Drummond’s eye-popping box score stats “don’t translate to value.”
As fantasy mavens? Yes. We are aware. We’ve been tracking this split in Drummond’s value since he entered the league. And we like it like that. Because for us, those inflated box score stats are Drummond’s value. We care about Drummond’s free throw percentage more than his team’s winning percentage.
But again, there’s a connection.
Because we want Drummond to be on a team where he is enabled to gobble up all the counting stats he can handle… even if it doesn’t beget winning NBA basketball. We are steadfastly against Drummond going to somewhere like Brooklyn, where he will have a diminished role, and diminished counting stats.
Both of the overall above factors — salary, statistical/actual NBA worth — will affect Drummond’s ultimate destination.
But here’s where we arrive at my eventual destination: the fantasy connection. It’s mentioned in Pelton’s piece:
What Pelton underscores is that the actual odds of Drummond going to the Raptors are slim. To make the salaries work, the Raptors would have to shed a big name (Kyle Lowry) and one of their promising young players (say, OG Anunoby). And it’s tough to envision Masai Ujiri shipping out such promising young upside for Drummond, whose aforementioned inflated statistical portfolio seems to be at odds with Ujiri’s team-building ethos.
But let’s move past that. Why is this even a rumor?
Because the Baynes signing cratered.
Ujiri seems to have made an ultra-rare miscalculation. Baynes’ gonzo per-game run in Phoenix last season (11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.4 3s in just 22.3 minutes) has failed to translate into dividends for Toronto (5.6 points, 5.4 rebounds 0.5 3s in 18.8 minutes). That best-laid offseason plan has gone bust.
Look back at Toronto’s starting five in their 132-121 loss to the Hawks on Feb. 6:
PG: Lowry (9 points, 5 assists, 1-of-7 3s, zero defensive stats)
SG: Fred VanVleet (25 points, but only 6-of-18 FGA, 10 assists, 3 3s, 2 steals)
SF: Norman Powell (20 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals)
PF: Pascal Siakam (15 points, 6-of-15 FGA, 6 rebounds, 5 steals+blocks)
C: Baynes (2 points, 0 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal)
Yes, the Raptors got to 121 points. But their starting five wasn’t the reason. Supersub Chris Boucher’s 29 points on 10-for-13 shooting was the reason. The starting five was the reason why Toronto only shot 42.3% from the floor. And why Atlanta ran up 132 points.
Look closer and you’ll see other telling stats. The most alarming box score: Siakam’s. The frontcourt star has labored mightily to justify his number-one-option status. Not to mention his 29.0 ADP in fantasy.
The irony of this game? It was one of Siakam’s better 2020-21 efforts. The five steals+blocks were a huge boon, especially in ESPN’s points-based leagues, but it just seemed like a blip in an otherwise disappointing campaign.
The most concerning stat: Siakam’s 19.7% Usage Rate. For Siakam to come close to getting the amount of touches he needs to reach top-30 value? His Usage has to push 25.0%. That’s the entry-level rate of possession for a frontline NBA star.
I have historically warned you to stay away from Siakam… at least over the past couple of seasons since his breakout. He just doesn’t pack enough supporting stats to justify what has been a top-25ish ADP. But the points scored, and NBA title, fooled a lot of managers.
To my fantasy-attuned eye, Siakam is sort of the opposite of Drummond. I’ve always believed he would be far more productive in fantasy in a different role. Not as a starting power forward on a title team. But as a starting center on a mediocre team.
Put Siakam in Drummond’s place on one of Drummond’s Piston teams. Or the Cavaliers lineup pre-Allen trade. For us? Siakam would thrive. As in his fantasy box scores would thrive.
Toronto, just one season removed from a title, below .500, the future direction of the franchise in doubt…has to scramble. But they may not want to expend the assets needed to bring in Drummond. Which means Toronto needs to scramble for a radical in-house solution.
And as fantasy mangers, this scramble has — for now — led us right into the best possible fantasy outcome.
The Raptors have benched Baynes and are starting a small-ball lineup. Moving Siakam to center (coupled with Anunoby’s return from a calf strain) resulted in this starting five in Tuesday’s 124-113 win against the Bucks:
PG: Lowry (18 points, 6 assists, 3-of-5 3s, 2 steals)
SG: VanVleet (33 points, 12-of-22 FGA, 7 assists, 5 3s, 2 steals)
SF: Powell (11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists)
PF: Anunoby (13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 3s, 2 steals+blocks)
C: Siakam (23 points, 13 rebounds, 2 3s, 6 assists)
In this game — against a better defense — Toronto won, shooting 50.5% from the floor. And the positive benefits of the small-ball lineup reverberate up and down the box score.
Siakam still only shot 8-for-23 from the floor. But more importantly longterm, he logged a 29.5% Usage Rate. Which is where he needs to live to turn his season around. Siakam is a streaky shooter who requires possession to play at his full potential.
Siakam is not a top-level player in terms of offensive efficiency. That’s why I’ve always warned you off of rostering him. That’s why he thrived beside Kawhi Leonard: Siakam was an ideal complimentary option.
But within the Raptors as presently constructed? If you took Siakam in the top-30, you are lighting candles, hoping Drummond only comes to Toronto on road trips. If you roster any of the Raptors? You’d rather have Toronto starting Siakam at center for the duration of the season.
Over the past two weeks? Siakam has been at his fantasy best: 24.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.0 3s, 2.3 steals+ blocks.
The best news of all? Toronto is 3-2 over its past five games. So, barring a trade? This lineup could stick. A rare positive fantasy reversal due to a miscalculated offseason signing.
And if a trade happens, start getting ready for the aftershocks in the next deal.
One of these shifts that can have the biggest fantasy effect? A positional switch. A point guard suddenly playing shooting guard. A power forward starting at center.