Fantasy basketball free agency fallout: Dejounte Murray to New Orelans, Paul George to Philly and more

Change is necessary for life to improve and progress. There was once a time when we’d have to find a public pay phone on a random street corner to get in contact with someone when out driving. Now we have Bluetooth that allows us to hear the soothing voice of our significant others through the car speakers. If that voice isn’t so soothing, praise the gods for the controls on the steering wheel to lower the volume. 

But not all change is good.

What if the Fat Boys got skinny? Remember Jordan Poole last season?

As Ken Blanchard said, “But in a world that is constantly changing, it is to our advantage to learn how to adapt and enjoy something better.” Over the past week, we have seen NBA player movement from trades and free agency, which have altered the fantasy landscape. I will break down the significant moves and shed light on how best to approach them. 

I am writing this on July 4, so there are still plenty of free agents available and teams haven’t finished making adjustments to their depth charts and rosters, so there will be incomplete analysis. In addition, acquisition cost is very important when it comes to fantasy, so don’t forget that part of the equation.

Dejounte Murray traded to the Pelicans 

The pairing of Murray with Trae Young in Atlanta has been severed after two seasons. Young saw his usage rate go from 34% down to 30% over the two seasons playing alongside Murray. That number should go back up. As of now, I’d expect Bogdan Bogdanovic to start at shooting guard. He started 33 games last season and is a career 38% shooter from downtown. He averaged 30 minutes a game last season with 16.9 points, 3.0 treys, 3.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.2 steals — good for a top 65 finish on a per-game basis. Towards the end of the season, he was playing 33 minutes per game. The shooting efficiency isn’t good but, if he starts and plays over 30 minutes a game, he makes for a decent fantasy option. 

Zion Williamson is the franchise in New Orleans and will likely garner the highest usage rate — around 30%. Murray should step right in at point guard and do what he’s done for most of his career, though, which is average 20 points and rack up over 1.5 steals per game. When he arrived in Atlanta, the rebounding and assist numbers plummeted, which makes sense playing with Young and having Clint Capela soak up all the rebounds. With the Pelicans parting with Jonas Valanciunas and having limited options at center, Murray’s rebound numbers could increase. So could the assist numbers. CJ McCollum will likely be most adversely affected by the arrival of Murray. Per Cleaning the Glass, he played 88% of his minutes at point guard. He should now be more of a spot-up shooter, which is excellent for the Pelicans, as he was ninth in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage on at least 4.0 attempts per game, but poor for fantasy because the assists and points could decrease. The wild card is Brandon Ingram, as he garnered a 27% usage rate last season. There has been chatter that he could be on the move, which would affect the usage pie. Regardless, I still think McCollum would be the one most affected.

Paul George signs with the 76ers

A massive get for Philadelphia, as they now possess a “Big Three” of Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and George. When Embiid is healthy, he is the 76ers, and the offense will flow through him. Maxey had a 27% usage rate last season and I think that ticks down to the 25 percent range. George has shown that he can still produce with a lower usage rate, as it went from over 30% down to 26% after James Harden was acquired by the Clippers, yet he still put up top 25 numbers. George had the third-highest conversion rate on catch-and-shoot treys on at least 4.0 attempts per game last season and should continue getting plenty of open looks playing alongside Embiid and Maxey. George will also have his moments of being the guy when the other two are on the bench.

With George taking his talents to Philadelphia, that should benefit James Harden tremendously. The usage rate was only 20% for Harden last season, after being 25%, 27% and 28%, respectively, the prior three seasons. Harden averaged fewer than 20 points for the first time since 2011! There is some concern with Harden since he’s 34 years old and he can’t break down and get by defenders like he used to. The 4.8 free throw attempts per game are worrisome, but I think some of that had to do with lack of aggression due to role change. We won’t see vintage Harden, but a version better than last season seems probable since the Clippers replaced George with Derrick Jones Jr.

Mikal Bridges traded to Knicks

It’s been an interesting year and a half for Bridges. Once known as the ultimate role player, he was traded from Phoenix to Brooklyn at the deadline two seasons ago and donned the cape, going from a usage rate of 15% to a “bow wow wow yippee yo yippee yah” 25%. And he thrived, averaging 26 points per game in 27 games. But there were warning signs, as the shooting efficiency decreased while the defensive stats subsided. During the next full season, the concerns manifested and he was barely a top 100 player after consistently being in the top 50 range. Now he’s a member of the Knicks, as the Nets received quite the haul for Bridges. With Jalen Brunson proving himself as an alpha and Julius Randle returning from injury, Bridges can revert back to a complementary role and should thrive. The defensive stats should return as well as the stellar efficiency. Tom Thibodeau also plays his guys, so Bridges should get all the run he can handle. Bridges should return to top 50 status.

With Bridges gone, Cam Thomas should continue being the man for the Nets. The question is how much higher can he go? The usage rate was already 30% last season and he doesn’t contribute much outside of scoring. He did show some signs of playmaking, so there’s a chance the assists increase, but I doubt there will be improvements in the rebounding and defensive stats. Looking at the depth chart, Cameron Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dennis Shroder and Ben Simmons aren’t significant threats to taking away usage from Thomas, but I’d be vigilant of the acquisition cost for Thomas, as he could get elevated to an uncomfortable price due to the Bridges news. Thomas finished outside the top 100 last season.

Andre Drummond signs with the 76ers

Joel Embiid has played over 60 games in only four of the eight seasons he’s played in. He missed the first two seasons of his career. He played in 39 games last season, so it’s highly likely that there will be plenty of “Dre Days” this upcoming season. With the Bulls last year, Drummond started 10 games and averaged 14.1 points, 17.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.8 blocks. 

The Bulls replaced Drummond with Jalen Smith, who is #Not-so-good. That said, Smith is slated for the backup center minutes and, if Chicago trades Nikola Vucevic and doesn’t replace him with anyone significant, then Lloyd Christmas will be grinning from ear to ear. 

Eric Gordon signs with the 76ers

It sickens me to write up Gordon, but the 76ers have left me no choice because he’s currently slated to start at shooting guard. Gordon is 35 years old and won’t provide much outside of points and treys, but he’s averaged double-digit points in every season and is a career 37% shooter from downtown. 

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope signs with the Magic

The Magic were desperate for shooters to space the floor, and KCP was the perfect get, as he converted 40% of his 4.1 three-point attempts last season and has been in that range for the past four seasons. While he doesn’t possess the length that the Magic yearn for, KCP is a rugged defender and will rack up his share of steals. He should play over 30 minutes a game and be around a top 100 player for fantasy. Just understand that you won’t be getting many rebounds, assists or blocks. 

KCP’s departure has left a massive chasm in Denver. Christian Braun seems to be the likely candidate to replace him. This will be Braun’s third year in the league and he received five more minutes per game from his rookie season (15 to 20) while improving the efficiency from downtown (35% to 38%). Braun has good size at 6-foot-6 and 218 pounds. 

Chris Paul signs with the Spurs

Paul truly is a marvel. Early in his career, he was the Speedy Gonzales of the league, running circles around defenders. As he aged, he became the midrange assassin while still carrying the “Point God” card. Last season was the first time Paul averaged fewer than 30 minutes and 10 points per game, as he started only 18 of 58 games. He signed a one-year deal with the Spurs and should be the starter for most of it. The Spurs lacked a true facilitator last season and Paul should do wonders for the offense, especially setting up Victor Wembanyama for plenty of good looks. Two seasons ago, Paul averaged 32 minutes, 13.9 points, 8.9 assists and 1.5 steals — good for a top 30 finish. Underdog best ball drafts are the only game in town right now. In early drafts, Paul wasn’t being drafted. As of this writing, his ADP is 155. The risk/reward seems pretty favorable to me. 

De’Anthony Melton was signed by the Warriors and he will likely be the backup point guard. Brandin Podziemski could also fill that role. Much depends on if Podziemski, Melton, Moses Moody or Buddy Hield start at shooting guard in place of Klay Thompson. Out of the four, Melton has the most fantasy-friendly game because of his contributions in the defensive categories. The shooting efficiency is rough, though. 

Jonas Valanciunas signs with the Wizards

The depth chart at center for the Wizards consists of Valanciunas, Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley. Alex Sarr could be in there as well, but this could also be an indication that Sarr will play at power forward. But, but, but… Kyle Kuzma is currently the starting power forward. Or maybe Sarr will start at center with Valanciunas backing him up? I have no idea how to interpret this situation. It would seem likely that Kuzma would be traded since his age doesn’t fit the current rebuilding timeline of the Wizards, letting Sarr get valuable reps. That said, we cannot assume that Kuzma gets traded, which causes me to have some apprehension in drafting Sarr, and I already hesitate to invest in rookies. As with most things in life, it will come down to cost.

With Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr. no longer in New Orleans, the center depth chart consists of rookie Yves Missi and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Zion Williamson played 14% of his minutes last season as a small-ball center, but that doesn’t seem like a long-term solution. It would seem likely that the Pelicans acquire a center but, if things remain the way that they are, Missi would seem to be a likely target. Missi is uber-athletic and could grab boards, get blocks and flush oops, but he’s a rookie. 

Isaiah Hartenstein signs with the Thunder

This will be Hartenstein’s sixth team in his seven-year career, but he’s not a journeyman and has been an object of fascination for us fantasy nerds for some time. He’s got skills, and he can now pay the bills as the Thunder signed him for $87 million over three years. After languishing in the shadows for much of his career, Hartenstein was finally given the opportunity to shine last season with the Knicks and flourished. He grabs rebounds, has a nice floater in the paint, racks up steals, blocks and is an excellent passer. The only thing he doesn’t do is stretch the floor. I think he starts at center, moving Chet Holmgren to power forward, but there may be times when the Thunder want to play five-out, which would relegate Hartenstein to the bench. He was a top 75 player last season and a similar finish seems likely.

With Hartenstein no longer in NYC, Mitchell Robinson and Jericho Sims man the center position. Robinson will rack up steals and blocks like Hartenstein, and is an excellent lob threat, but he doesn’t have the passing acumen or the float game. In addition, Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood has been open for only 31 and 59 games, respectively, over the past two seasons. This will be Sims’ fourth season, and he’s a bouncy athlete, but there are reasons Thibs has played him less than 15 minutes per game, as the awareness on the defensive end is sometimes lacking. Robinson put up top 80 numbers in the three seasons prior to last, with one of those flirting with top 50. Boards, blocks and excellent field goal percentage would be offered. The free throw percentage would be poor, though, and there’s a health risk. Comes down to cost.

Tobias Harris signs with the Pistons

Drafting Harris will never cause one to rip off their shirt and fist pump like Tiger Woods. That said, he’s been a solid fantasy asset, posting top 60 numbers in each of the past four seasons. Granted, a lot of his value comes from the low turnovers, but Harris always provides excellent percentages, rebounds, double-digit points,  some treys and a smidge of defensive stats. After taking a back seat to Embiid and Maxey, Harris could be second in the offensive hierarchy in Detroit behind Cade Cunningham. Harris provides exactly what Detroit needs — shooting to space the floor for Cunningham. For fantasy, though, he will never be an alpha, but provides utility because he provides a little something, something everywhere. 

Delon Wright signs with the Bucks

More often than not, I will lean towards players who get minutes, because minutes are half the battle. Yo, Joe! Sometimes, though, the distinction has to be made between a barrage of Scud missiles and GPS-guided munitions. A player like Wright can provide fantasy value without playing over 30 minutes because of the contributions in the defensive categories while being proficient in playmaking and cleaning the glass. He will likely back up Damian Lillard but could provide across-the-board fantasy goodies in the limited time he’s on the court. There will also likely be games that Lillard misses due to injury or rest. Two seasons ago, Wright averaged 24.2 minutes, 7.4 points, 0.8 treys, 3.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals — good for a top 60 finish. 

Klay Thompson signs with the Mavericks

Thompson is 33 years old and missed back-to-back seasons with significant knee and Achilles injuries (2019-20 and 2020-21). He’s lost more than a step, which is more pronounced on the defensive end, but messages of his death have been greatly exaggerated. He will never be as potent as his “Splash Brothers” days, but he still converted 38% of his looks from downtown last season and averaged 17.9 points per game. Playing alongside Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, he is going to get plenty of open looks. Can he be a top 60 player like in the past? Probably not, but somewhere around the top 100 range is feasible and could be viable if you want/need points and treys. On Underdog, his ADP is 117.

Kyle Anderson signs with the Warriors

“Slo Mo” only averaged 22.6 minutes per game last season with Minnesota and shot 22% from downtown. In the prior three seasons, he converted 41%, 33% and 36% of his attempts, respectively, from beyond the arc. He’s intriguing in Golden State because he can get minutes at both small forward and power forward, which could mean closer to 28 minutes than 20. In addition, he’s averaged over four assists per game before, which fits well with the movement offense of the Warriors. 

Naz Reid and recently signed Joe Ingles should soak up the vacated Anderson minutes in Minnesota. 

(Top photo of Paul George, Dejounte Murray: Alex Slitz/Getty Images)