Breaking Down Free Agency: The Atlantic Division

Everyone expected this free agency period to be crazy, and it sure didn’t disappoint. Teams had over $30 million extra to spend due to the new television deal, and roughly 36 percent of the NBA became free agents this off-season. We all waited with baited breath as Kevin Durant was courted by teams for his services, and he laid waste to the hopes of Oklahoma City fans for this season by taking his talents to the Bay Area. Dwyane Wade held Miami hostage, only to make his triumphant return to his hometown of Chicago. So what does all this mean for DFS? Which moves will matter this year and which won’t? It may be too soon to tell how things will shake out with lineups, but we can attempt to glean what each move will move for now.

As I mentioned above, there were a lot of moves made, so I will be going division by division every couple of days.

We will start our trek through NBA Free Agency with the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.

 

Toronto Raptors- While all the other teams were out courting big named free agents, Toronto chose to work on re-signing DeMar DeRozan and adding depth to their front-court with the signing of Jared Sullinger. I won’t talk about DeRozan here, because we already know what to expect out of him. There is a lot to talk about with Sullinger, but we will have to wait until closer to the start of the season to see what kind of impact he will have.

Because of Sullinger’s weight and conditioning, he struggled to find minutes in Boston last season. He wasn’t a good fit in their small ball lineups due to his inability to get out and defend on the pick-and-roll. His lack of foot speed and instincts created too much of a defensive liability in Boston, and that may end up being the case in Toronto as well. He averaged 10.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in just under 24 minutes last season. If the Raptors can find a way to improve Sullinger on the defensive end and make him their starting power forward, they can benefit greatly from having him on the offensive end.

Sullinger’s big body and excellent mid-range shot make him a great fit for the Raptors screen-and-roll offense. Sullinger shot around 42 percent last year from 16+ feet, as long as he stayed inside the three-point line. The best part of Sullinger’s game, and the part Raptor fans should be most excited about, is his passing in the half-court offense. Sullinger’s ability to pass effectively from the top of the key will be showcased in Toronto, as he should be able to hit Lowry and DeRozan on their backdoor cuts to the rim.

If Sullinger can find significant minutes this season, I expect most of his value to be generated from rebounds, as he has shown his adeptness on the glass. Sully averaged 27.1 DraftKings points per game last season, a number that will likely go down a bit, but he should still provide value for us this season if he doesn’t find himself in a reserve role.

 

Boston Celtics- Boston spent most of their efforts this off-season courting Kevin Durant, but they made a splash by adding Al Horford beforehand. Horford’s size and athleticism allow him to play both center and power forward, and will allow for Brad Stevens to roll out multiple small-ball lineups anchored by Horford. Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have built a team of guys in Boston that are all really good at everything on the court, but not elite, and Horford fits that bill perfectly.

Offensively, Horford can use his size and wingspan to play both with his back to the basket, and more of a modern role as a stretch-four. While Horford is really good at scoring with his back to the basket, scoring .89 points per possession, he is best utilized as an inside-outside passer to create space on the perimeter. Horford shot roughly 34 percent from three last season, and was over 35% without a defender within six feet. Possibly the most dangerous part of Horford’s game is the pick-and-roll. According to Synergy Sports, Horford finished last season with 1.29 points per possession as the roll man, which accounted for 24.3 percent of his offense.

Adding Horford and his defensive versatility to the already vaunted Boston defense will make it tough to roster players against, so we will have to keep an eye on that. Horford averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 blocks per game last season and amassed just under 34 DraftKings points per game. Horford should be a major part of the Boston offense this season, so increasing that fantasy total shouldn’t be too hard for him.

 

New York Knicks- The Knicks were extremely active this off-season, first trading for Derrick Rose, then they used their remaining cap space to sign Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, and Brandon Jennings. I already broke down my thoughts on Rose in my trade piece, so I will stick to the signings in free agency starting with Joakim Noah.

After trading away Robin Lopez, the Knicks desperately needed to add center depth. Adding Noah is a huge gamble, much like Rose was. Noah has struggled to stay healthy, but his high-energy style of play and locker room presence may pay off in the long run for the Knicks. Noah has averaged 9.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, three assists and 1.4 blocks per game, but the Knicks didn’t necessarily bring him in to be an elite stat stuffer. Much of Noah’s value this season will come from his rebounding and assists. Noah is still an elite passing center as he led all centers last season with a 24.2 percent assist rate. If he stays healthy this season and his price stays low, he could be a consistent value center in our DFS lineups.

After bringing in Rose and Noah, Phil Jackson turned his sights to filling the need at shooting guard. The Knicks brought in journeyman guard Courtney Lee to do that. Lee is on his 7th team in 9 years, but brings toughness and playoff experience to the Knicks roster.

Lee fits the coveted 3-and-D role that teams struggle to find in the new look NBA. He is a career 38.4 percent shooter from beyond the arc, improving to 40.3 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-point shots last season. He works well off the ball and he can create offense when he needs to, scoring 58.1 percent of the time at the rim last season. Lee fits the mold of a glue guy to go with Rose in the Knicks back-court, but I don’t expect him to put up massive numbers this season. He will most likely be used to knock down the occasional catch-and-shoot three, and as a lock-down defender on the opposite team’s best guard. Most of the offense here will still run through Carmelo, Rose, and Porzingis.

The Knicks also added Brandon Jennings in free agency, but there isn’t much point in breaking that signing down. Unless Rose gets hurt this year (let’s be honest, that should have said WHEN Rose gets injured this season), Jennings won’t see significant minutes on a nightly basis. He will be the backup PG in New York this season.

 

Brooklyn Nets- The Nets were one of the busiest teams this off-season as they traded away Thaddeus Young, then they signed Jeremy Lin, Greivis Vasquez, Luis Scola, Trevor Booker, Anthony Bennett, Joe Harris, Randy Foye and Justin Hamilton. Whew! Hope I didn’t miss anyone. Most of those names won’t mean much for DFS purposes but I think Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker should be talked about, as they should be the ones that offer value this season.

Jeremy Lin will get the starting nod at point guard this season, so Linsanity will be returning to the DFS world! Lin will take the reins of the Brooklyn’s offense this season under first year head coach Kenny Atkinson, who happened to coach under D’Antoni in 2011-12 when Linsanity burst on the scene in New York. Atkinson is widely credited with the development of Lin, and Lin excelled in the pick-and-roll heavy system under D’Antoni and Atkinson in New York. In 13 games last season as a starter, Lin averaged 17.4 points, 4.8 assists and 4 rebounds per game while shooting 45 percent from the field. He averaged 30.7 DraftKings fantasy points per game as well, and I expect that to be around his average this season.

Assuming that Booker gets the starting nod at power forward over Luis Scola, and he should, Booker will bring his high-energy play and rebounding skills to a Nets lineup that desperately needs a player like him. Booker is incredibly efficient when he is on the floor posting 11.5 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists per 36 minutes, while shooting 51.5 percent from the field. In the one game Booker started and played significant minutes last season, he pulled down 15 rebounds while scoring 13 points, swiping two steals and adding three blocks, good for 46.8 DraftKings fantasy points. Obviously we won’t see production like that from Booker every night, but that shows how high his ceiling can be when he starts. Booker averaged 16.8 DraftKings points in just under 21 minutes of play all of last season.

 

Philadelphia 76ers- The Sixers went in to this free agency period looking to add veteran depth to their backcourt, and they achieved that goal by signing both Gerald Henderson and Jerryd Bayless. They also signed Spanish PG Sean Rodriguez and are finally bringing over Dario Saric, but I won’t be breaking them down here. While most fans will probably overlook the importance of adding veteran guys like Bayless and Henderson, it is important to understand how young this team is and consider the value of having players like that on the court to help lead the young stars in Philly.

Bayless shot 43.7 percent from beyond the arc last season which is an area that the Sixers lacked last season, finishing 24th in the league in three-point percentage last season. His efficiency from beyond the arc and ability to shoot of the screen will open up the floor for Philly’s offense to work. Bayless generated more points off screens than any of the Sixer’s shooters last season, and shot over 54 percent coming off screens. Bayless’ fantasy this season will live and die by the three, so if he isn’t hitting his shots he won’t be worth using in your lineups. I do expect to see a lot of two-man game between Simmons and Bayless this season, as both player’s strengths work well together. We saw Bayless and Giannis play well off each other last year, and this should be what we see with Bayless and Simmons.

Gerald Henderson fills a huge weakness for the Sixers, and is possibly the best signing they have made this off-season. Henderson saw his role reduced last season in Portland, but he still shot 43.9 percent from the floor 35.3 percent from three. He in an able defender, doesn’t turn the ball over and he is a decent rebounder. Henderson averaged 19.9 minutes per game last season and racked up around 15 DraftKings points per game in that time, but he likely won’t excite us from a fantasy perspective, as most of the offense should flow through Simmons and the big men.

 

Check back in a few days as I will be breaking down the Central Division of the Eastern Conference.

Brent Heiden

Brent has been playing fantasy sports for over 10 years now and made the transition over to DFS about two years ago. He is an avid NBA fan and enjoys looking at the sport from an analytical point of view. He is a cash game grinder but has enjoyed a lot of success in GPPs over the past two seasons, including a top-10 finish in the RotoWire MLB Championship. He has been writing MLB, NBA, and game theory articles for dfsdatalytics.com since it was founded. You can find him on Twitter @BrentHeiden1 and find all his articles on dfsdatalytics.com.

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