Free Agency Fantasy Grades

Ryan Knaus
·13 min read



A whirlwind of player movement has torn across the NBA in the past week, with dozens of players changing locales. The fantasy fallout has been wide-ranging, from subtle improvements to big downgrades, and they don't just impact the players who switched teams. Incumbent starters have been displaced, bench players' roles have changed, and it’s all due to other players shifting around them. You can't strictly divide what happened in the 2020 NBA Draft from what's happened mere days later in free agency, either. Nevertheless, today's column affixes letter grades to some of the past week's key fantasy takeaways. I'll reiterate that these are purely fantasy grades which don't consider actual contracts or real-world implications from trades/signings/etc.

A

Christian Wood – Just like every fantasy manager who has been paying attention, the entire Rotoworld crew loves Wood. It's easy to root for a guy who went undrafted and played for four teams before fully clicking with the Pistons last season. Even in Detroit last year, it was a slow burn for Wood before he ignited as an early-round value in nearly any fantasy format. Here are his splits before and after the All-Star break (albeit only nine games post-break):

Pre All-Star: 11.2 points, 0.8 triples, 5.7 boards, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks in 19.1 minutes

Post All-Star: 24.0 points, 1.6 triples, 9.6 boards, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks in 34.6 minutes

I'm unclear as to why the Pistons seemingly didn't try to retain him. When free agency opened they immediately started signing big man after big man, including lavishing $60 million over three years on Jerami Grant, only to watch Wood sign a reasonable deal with Houston (three years, $41 million). Houston subsequently signed DeMarcus Cousins on a one-year deal, but that's not too troubling for Wood's outlook. Cousins is coming off multiple major lower-body injuries and he's likely to have his minutes carefully monitored, in addition to sporadic DNP-Rest days. With Wood's ability to plausibly play a stretch-four, too, his minutes should be safely insulated. Even if the roster is eventually turned inside-out due to trade requests from James Harden and Russell Westbrook, I'm comfortable burning a third-round pick on Wood. And in leagues with some (all?) of my Rotoworld colleagues, he may not even last that long.

Coby White – White has benefited by default this offseason. The Bulls' second-year guard was surging when play halted in March, and had just made the first start of his NBA career. He committed nine turnovers and still needs to prove he can be a table-setter at this level, but the Bulls appear ready to let him try. The first positive sign was Chicago drafting Patrick Williams at No. 4 overall, rather than a point guard. Things got even better in free agency with defensive-specialist Kris Dunn signing in Detroit, after the Bulls (somewhat mystifyingly) declined to make Dunn a qualifying offer. White shot below 40% as a rookie, including 43.0% on 2-pointers, and he had a lousy 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. There are numerous causes for concern, but the Bulls' offseason moves aren't one of them.

Gordon Hayward – I love Charlotte as a landing spot for Hayward. The Hornets are nowhere near competing with the East's powerhouse teams, and they must value Hayward for his veteran leadership as much as his formidable on-court skills. Why would they give him a whopping $120 million, four-year deal? Fantasy GMs don't care if that proves to be an overpay. It sets up Hayward for a huge season as the No. 1 option offensively, whereas he really had to pick his spots with the stacked Celtics last season. After five straight years in Utah with usage north of 22%, he dipped in Boston to 19.0% and 21.1%. His scoring, 3-pointers and assists should all rise as the go-to scorer for Charlotte, and he'll have pass-first PG LaMelo Ball setting him up for plenty of easy buckets (in addition to Devonte' Graham and Terry Rozier). Concerns about Hayward's durability or lack of defensive stats are understandable, but I'm optimistic that his floor this year is top-40 value.

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B

Chris Boucher – The Raptors' center position was in flux this offseason, but it's finally crystallized around Boucher and Aron Baynes. Boucher signed a two-year, $13.5 million deal, while Baynes signed for two years at $14.3 million. It's not immediately obvious which guy will start, but I'm guessing the veteran Baynes gets the nod on opening night. After all, he has 137 career starts vs. zero for Boucher (this grade would have been an 'A' if Toronto had signed a clear-cut backup).

A minute-split at center should still be fine for Boucher's fantasy managers, because he only needs 20-26 minutes per game to have a fantasy impact. In a mere 13.2 minutes per game last year, he averaged 4.5 boards, 1.0 blocks, 0.6 triples and 0.4 steals. The key here is that Baynes' arrival only fills part of the outgoing duo of Serge Ibaka (Clippers) and Marc Gasol (Lakers). Those two combined for 53.4 minutes per game, a large share of which will fall to the 27-year-old Boucher this season. His fantasy stock has spiked since the Raptors bowed out of the playoffs, and he'll be a popular target around the century mark of most drafts.

Chris Paul – This could easily be an 'A' grade in both reality and fantasy. Suns GM James Jones has raved about the unrelenting, winning mentality CP3 will instill in his younger teammates. That's true, of course, and we just witnessed a powerful example of Paul's impact in OKC – the Thunder shocked almost everyone by going 44-29 in the regular season, tied with Houston for the fourth-best record in the West. The Suns missed the postseason cut despite going 8-0 in the bubble, and Phoenix proved their serious intent on making the playoffs by focusing on productive veterans in free agency. In addition to Paul, they re-signed Dario Saric and brought in Jae Crowder and Langston Galloway. The Suns project as a fringe playoff team with something to prove, which mitigates the risk of a last-season shutdown for Paul. He had top-25 fantasy value (9-cat) in a modest 31.5 minutes last season, a number he should reach in a Suns uniform. Fantasy GMs can hardly ask for more.

Jeff Teague – We've probably seen the last of the Teague as the No. 1 point guard for any team, and he quickly accepted a one-year deal to serve as Kemba Walker's backup in Boston. A durable starter for the Hawks in the early 2010s, at age 32 it seems Teague has settled into a sixth-man niche. The Celtics' starting five is formidable but coach Brad Stevens has by necessity taken a kitchen-sink approach with the second unit, so Teague should walk into sufficient minutes and touches for top-120 value. The real key here, and the reason Teague-in-Boston gets a 'B' for fantasy value, is that he's playing behind Kemba Walker. Celts' GM Danny Ainge said in October that Walker was "never right" in the Orlando bubble, and we've heard nothing about the state of his chronically sore left knee during the offseason. Walker's knees have been a lingering concern throughout his career, and he'll undoubtedly have his minutes managed all season long. Boston owes him roughly $108 million through 2022-23, so his long-term healthy will always take priority over a regular-season win. Expect plenty of fill-in starts for Teague throughout the year.

C

Danilo Gallinari – The Hawks targeted and quickly signed Gallinari, giving the 32-year-old a three-year deal worth $61.5 million. This was an excellent landing spot in reality, giving Atlanta a veteran who can play either forward position, shoot lights-out from the perimeter (2.9 triples on 40.5% from deep last year), and create his own shot if Atlanta's offense stalls. The addition of Rajon Rondo also ensures that Gallo will have an elite playmaker looking for him no matter how his minutes are staggered. The bad news, and the reason I don't view Gallo's change of scenery more favorably for fantasy owners, is that he's unlikely to reach the career-high 24.6% usage he enjoyed in OKC last season. The Hawks have Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and De'Andre Hunter on the wings, and could even get Tony Snell in the mix. The PF spot is also set with John Collins and Onyeka Okongwu, so I'm expecting Gallo's minutes per game to dip for the fifth consecutive season (24.7, 33.9, 32.0, 30.3 and last year's 29.6).

Dwight Howard – Howard only started two games last regular season, but he stepped up as a starter when it mattered most in the postseason. Due to some bewildering miscommunication between Howard's camp and the Lakers, though, he wound up leaving the defending champs to sign a one-year deal with Philly. The downside is obvious, as a reserve role behind Joel Embiid means Dwight should average 15-20 minutes per game. The reason he gets a passing grade is that Embiid is not durable. It's that simple. He's yet to play more than 64 games in four NBA seasons, and is all but certain to rest during back-to-back sets this year. That at least gives Dwight some appeal as a streaming or DFS play for opportunistic managers.

Marc Gasol to Lakers on a two-year deal, presumably ahead of Montrezl Harrell. The Lakers lost Dwight Howard in free agency and they traded JaVale McGee to facilitate the Gasol deal, so he was clearly their primary target in the middle. It's a perfect landing spot for Gasol in reality, giving L.A. a vocal team defender who won't have any pressure to be a focal-point offensively. For fantasy purposes, though, he's likely to dip outside the top-120 with minutes hovering around 24 per game. After all, there are only 48 minutes to divide amongst Gasol, Harrell (the reigning Sixth-Man of the Year) and Anthony Davis (when matchups dictate). But at least he's not playing in Spain, which was rumored to be a real possibility.

D

Bruce Brown – Brown is a hard-nosed defender with intriguing skills offensively, and the Pistons gave him extended run as a point guard last year. The results were decidedly mixed. Rather than sticking around a rebuilding Pistons roster where everyone under the age of 25 gets an automatic fantasy boost (Brown is 24), he was traded to the championship-contending Nets. Instead of earning minutes in a backcourt with Derrick Rose, Killian Hayes and Delon Wright, he'll pick up scraps behind Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and even Landry Shamet. It'll take an injury or two for Brown to be more than an afterthought in fantasy leagues.

The Knicks' backcourt – This encompasses one year deals for Elfrid Payton, Austin Rivers and Alec Burks. The Knicks appear unwilling to offer any new contracts that would inhibit maximum cap space during the 2021 offseason, loaded with marquee free agents, so this season feels like a placeholder for the franchise. Most of the excitement for fantasy purposes surrounds the frontcourt and new coach Tom Thibodeau. Will Julius Randle limit his turnovers and contribute more defensive stats? Will Obi Toppin look like a natural scorer out of the gates? Will Mitchell Robinson seize the bulk of playing time ahead of Nerlens Noel? Will coach Thibs choose favorites and ride them for massive minutes as he's done in Chicago and Minnesota? There are fun angles to the Knicks in fantasy leagues, but beyond RJ Barrett there's no reason to target New York's guards. Payton, Rivers and Burks join a crew that already has Barrett, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. If anyone is going to force his way into big minutes for Thibs, it feels like it will be Ntilikina rather than any of the guys who arrived via free agency. Even Barrett has massive question marks about efficiency (40.2% FGs, 61.4% FTs as a rookie), and I won't be going anywhere near the NYK backcourt in drafts.

F

Blake Griffin – Going into the 2020-21 season, Griffin's fantasy value is about as shaky as his surgery-repaired knees. He had arthroscopic debridement on his left knee in April, addressing an issue that plagued him during the abbreviated 2019-20 campaign in which he shot an abysmal 35.2% from the field and averaged a mere 28.5 minutes. That erased any goodwill from his All-Star play in 2018-19, when he averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists, while making a career-high 2.5 threes on 36.2% from deep. Concerns about Blake's durability are a given, and they're not the reason he gets an 'F' grade here – it's due to factors largely beyond his control.

The Pistons shuffled their front office this offseason and new GM Troy Weaver wasted no time on a complete overhaul. That included restocking the center position (Mason Plumlee, Jahlil Okafor) and the SF spot (rookie Saddiq Bey, Josh Jackson, Dzanan Musa). Most damning was the pricey acquisition of free agent Jerami Grant, who inked a three-year, $60 million deal with Detroit. The Nuggets matched the offer but Grant reportedly preferred the larger offensive role he'd enjoy with the Pistons. The team's most impactful and expensive offseason move was to sign a guy who plays the same position as Blake...enough said. Meanwhile, no teams appear interested in trading for an oft-injured veteran owed $36.8 million this year with a $38.9 million player option in 2021-22. Blake may still rack up points-league and DFS value if his knee is fully recovered, but I won't go anywhere near him in fantasy drafts.

Al Horford, Trevor Ariza and George Hill – Veterans are not going to fare well on the raze-and-burn Thunder this season – I do not expect any Chris Paul/Danilo Gallinari type surprises. This could be a pointless take if the Thunder flip any or all of their veterans, which seems likely given GM Sam Presti's maniacal focus on acquiring draft picks this offseason. For now, I'm avoiding Horford/Ariza/Hill in every scenario, even though in theory Horford should benefit as a starter for OKC.

Pop-Quiz Grades

Steven Adams/Pelicans: A

Eric Bledsoe/Pelicans: C

Enes Kanter/Blazers: B

Serge Ibaka/Clippers: B

Danny Green/Sixers: D

Wes Matthews/Lakers: C

Dennis Schroder/Lakers: B

Josh Richardson/Mavs: C

Malik Beasley/Wolves: D

Juancho Hernangomez/Wolves: A

D.J. Augustin/Bucks: D

That's all for today's column! If you're curious about Rotoworld's fantasy take on a player I did not mention in this column, check out their latest player news blurbs and dive into the 2020-21 NBA Draft Guide, with hundreds of player profiles, position ranks and much more!