The Butterfly Effect: Tuesday, November 8th, 2016
With that news that DraftKings had eliminated their late swap feature for the current NBA season, it became apparent that there needed to be a dramatic shift in lineup construction strategy. Instead of being reactive with respect to injury news—especially those involving players in later games—you now must be proactive in your approach, which means projecting the value of players who may or may not be seeing a role change. The easiest way to transition to this line of thinking is to embrace the Butterfly Effect theory, which looks at how small causes can have big effects. With respect to the NBA (and fantasy sports in general) it is the chain reaction caused by one event, with specific focus on looking several layers deeper than what is most obvious. The most impactful injury is generally those that involve point guards because they have the ball in their hands at the highest rate, are responsible for running the offense and dictate what pace their team plays at. They are the quarterbacks of the NBA and it is their responsibility to generate offense for their teammates as well as themselves. Each time an injury to a point guard occurs, I have a list of questions that I research that is the essence of the Butterfly Effect.
What is the skillset of the injured point guard? Is he a pass-first point guard, and if so, does he rely on penetration to set up teammates?
How do opposing teams guard him on the perimeter and in pick and roll scenarios?
Does he push the ball in transition, or does he rely on half court sets?
What the skillset of his backup? How does his skillset matchup with the injured player?
What changes will the offense see, and who is most likely to be affected—both positively and negatively—from the change? Will one player be counted to pick up the slack, or will there be a committee approach?
These questions can be tailored to fit any position, but the point guard and center positions are those that affect teams the most because they are the two positions where everyone else is moving in reaction to what they do.
In addition to injuries, The Butterfly Effect can also be applied to coaching changes and trades. Anytime a significant event or change occurs, this article will be your guide to finding how value has shifted, both positively and negatively.
New Orleans Pelicans
Key Losses: Lance Stephenson
Primary Beneficiaries: Solomon Hill, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore
Secondary Beneficiaries: Tim Frazier, Buddy Hield
Lance Stephenson’s groin injury could not have come at a worse time for a struggling Pelicans team that is winless in its first seven games of the season. The Pelicans are trying to find their identity without Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, and that goes much beyond just feeding the ball into Anthony Davis and standing around while he goes to work. If there was one player who complimented Davis well within their current team structure, it was Stephenson. He didn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective, because he plays with high intensity and makes contributions on the defensive end. Furthermore, Stephenson was one of the only players aside from Davis who was capable of creating his own shot. For all the criticism he gets as a me-first player, he certainly doesn’t play like one, averaging 8.3 points, 4.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 27 minutes per game coming off the bench. New Orleans released Stephenson to make room on their roster, and now they will be tasked with filling a gaping hole on their second unit. Luckily for them, they have something of a Stephenson clone in Solomon Hill, whom they signed to a 40 million contract this off-season. If you go back to the 2014-15 season, which is the last one that Hill had a prominent role with the Pacers, he averaged 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and .8 steals while playing 29 minutes per game with the Pacers. Hill may lack the playmaking ability of Stephenson, but he’s a better outside shooter, something that the Pelicans need badly, and he is the same type of difference maker on the defensive end. On the season, Hill is averaging 1.7 steals per game and should continue to improve upon that number. In his first action since Stephenson was released, Hill played 32 minutes, scoring two points to go along with five rebounds, four assists and three steals. Hill makes for a fantastic GPP flier on Tuesday against the Kings, because he is able to rack up peripheral stats, and in an up-tempo game his scoring should improve and help him reach a 4x multiple as a floor, with plenty of room to blow through that multiple. Langston Galloway and E’Twuan Moore also benefit from Stephenson’s release, although it was interesting that Galloway played less minutes on Monday than he had in the previous two games. That most likely had to do with both Moore and Hill playing effectively. Moore played 31 minutes, scoring 15 points to go along with three rebounds and five assists. It is worth noting that his usage rate gets a slight uptick without Stephenson (17% to 20%). He is locking down the shooting guard spot in the Pelicans starting lineup for now, and the New Orleans coaching staff seems ready to give him big minutes moving forward. He is priced very softly on both DraftKings and FanDuel and has returned at least a 5x multiple on his DraftKings salary in five of seven games this season. On a smaller scale, both Tim Frazier and Buddy Hield benefit from Stephenson’s departure. Frazier’s usage rate rises five percentage points with Stephenson off the floor (15% to 20%), which is significant, but his efficiency suffers without having another player capable of creating his own shot. He had a fantastic start to the season, but teams are now hip to his ability to penetrate off the pick and roll and have given him added defensive attention, which has stifled his production over the last several games. Frazier holds value as starting point guard for the Pelicans, but his price has risen to the point where you need him to produce a floor, that is more than likely closer to his ceiling. He is an interesting play against the Kings on Tuesday, but with Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and a host of value plays at the point guard position on the board, his salary has more than likely exceeded his value. Hield’s value in the short term looks to have increased, as he and Stephenson had never shared the court in the Pelicans first six games. In Monday’s game, Hield played 28 minutes, the second highest total of his short career. One of the biggest challenges for shooting guards upon entering the NBA is adjusting to the fact that NBA defenses expose the difference between shooters and scorers. Guards who are accustomed to being able to put the ball on the floor—despite the fact that they lack the requisite handle—find out real quick how fast NBA defenders can close out, disrupt a shot and recover to stop any dribble drives. Hield is a shooter, despite the fact that he is not shooting the ball very well (.329% from the floor, .211% from 3-point range) right now. He is in a perfect situation with Anthony Davis, but he needs to stop pressing from deep and start concentrating on making other contributions on the floor, which will help the game come to him and he will start knocking down more jumpers. At this point, Hield is not really in play as a GPP or cash option, and unless he can regain the form that made him National Player of the Year in college, he will see his time cut way down in favor of guys like Hill and Moore, who can play both ends of the floor and offer some value as a distributors.
Key Losses: Ricky Rubio
Primary Beneficiaries: Kris Dunn
Secondary Beneficiaries: Karl Anthony-Towns
The loss of Ricky Rubio to an elbow injury prompted Tom Thibodeau to start rookie lottery pick, Kris Dunn. Thibodeau is a very rigid coach, who demands structure and works his players very hard. In most situations, Thibodeau would never have turned to a rookie who had played all of two games to replace his court general Rubio, but Dunn is very much the exception. He was a four year collegiate player (although he was technically a junior after being granted a medical redshirt year), who had extensive experience running a half-court offense under Providence head coach Ed Cooley. Dunn’s skillset is much different than his other counterparts of this generation, as he is a mix of throw-back point guards whose main job was to distribute, while having elite athleticism that is the hallmark of today’s point guards. What Thibodeau really liked about Dunn was his ability to impact the game on the defensive end though. Rubio has improved drastically as an NBA defender, but he cannot play the passing lanes like Dunn, nor can he guard elite points guards one on one. Dunn is 6’4, with a 6’8 wingspan and has the quick twitch and bouncy athleticism to stick with any guard in the league. In his first three games starting, Dunn has scored 20 points, and collected 13 rebounds to go along with 18 assists and a whopping nine steals. He’s only shooting 28% from the floor, although that doesn’t come as a big surprise given the fact that shooting was not one of his elite skills. The good news in that area is that Thibodeau will work with Dunn to solve the inconsistencies in his shooting motion, and I expect him to make big progress over the course of his rookie year. Rubio was one of the more intelligent guards in the league, and that is something that Dunn will need to work on as well, as Rubio was very good at putting his teammates in the best position to score, a very important factor when you consider Karl Anthony-Towns, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins accounted for 78% of the shot attempts by Minnesota’s starters. Rubio will be further evaluated a week from now, but in the meantime, Dunn remains a great value who is capable of racking up peripheral stats. His matchup against Isiah Whitehead tonight is as good as it gets for Dunn. He should be able to dominate him on both ends of the floor, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have another 3+ steals in this game. Now although Dunn remains a very good value play, metrics suggest that the rest of the starting five suffers while he is on the floor due to his 15% usage rate, compared to that of Rickie Rubio’s 9% usage rate. Those metrics are somewhat skewed by a blowout loss to OKC, and at best it is a very small sample size of only three games. While Rubio was able to get all four of his starting teammates involved, Dunn has shown a propensity in the half court to clear out and go to Karl Anthony-Towns. Towns has responded by scoring 68 points in his last two games with Dunn, as opposed to 36 points in his first two games with Rubio. Additionally, Dunn and Towns run a pretty slick high pick and roll together, with Dunn using stutter steps and inside handshakes to freeze defenders before exploding into the lane and dropping a dime to Towns. Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins are both very good at creating their own shot, so their production shouldn’t drop off too much, but Towns is very much the beneficiary of the difference in play between Rubio and Dunn. Second year man Tyus Jones has seen his role grow since Rubio got hurt, piloting the second unit behind Dunn while playing 17.5 minutes per game. Jones has accumulated 10 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and two steals in 53 minutes of action, but he remains too timid as an offensive player to make a difference in his limited time. He is not in play as a DFS option.
Key Losses: Jeremy Lin
Primary Beneficiaries: Sean Kilpatrick, Brook Lopez
Secondary Beneficiaries: Isiah Whitehead
Jeremy Lin has had an amazing NBA career filled with ups and downs and everything in between. He has bounced around six teams in seven years, with the highlight being Linsanity and him single handily making Madison Square Garden fun again. He played very well for the Hornets in 2015, which made it very surprising when he left to sign with Brooklyn, even though Brooklyn was flush with cash and had made him a great offer. The reason why he left was twofold, first because he wanted the opportunity to be a starter at his natural position, point guard, and he also wanted to play for head coach Kenny Atkinson. Through five games, Lin had the highest averages of his career in both points (15.0 ppg) and assists (6.2) and had given fans reason for optimism by beating Eastern Conference stalwarts in the Pacers and the Pistons. Unfortunately for the Nets, Lin strained his hamstring and will be out for at least two weeks. The Nets do not have a lot of depth behind Lin at the point guard position, with Grieves Vasquez also being injured, it left only rookie Isiah Whitehead at the point. Atkinson’s solution was a very good one, start Whitehead at the point, but allow emerging shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick to slide over into point guard duties as the game progressed. This worked for two reasons, it allowed Whitehead to get Brook Lopez going early on in games, something he needs if he is going to be effective. The second reason was it allowed Kilpatrick to have the ball in his hands more as the game progressed. Kilpatrick is a pure scorer with very good range on his outside jump shot. He can score in a variety of ways, both in the pick and roll game, as well as isolation on the wing where he can get in the lane and make defenses pay with a clever mid-range game and a collection of floaters around the rim. Kilpatrick had the most to gain from Lin’s absence, as it thrusted him into the starting lineup when the Nets needed to make up the scoring gap left by Lin. For the long term benefits of the Nets, this may have been a blessing in disguise. Kilpatrick will now be given a huge workload (32% usage rate, compared to a 20% usage rate with Lin on the floor), and he can find his niche in the offense. He remains a fantastic value play with his salary being very soft on both FanDuel and DraftKings. Brook Lopez is the centerpiece of the offense regardless if Jeremy Lin is playing or not, but it is important to note that he shoulders even a bigger burden while Lin is not on the floor. His usage rate climbs from 26% to 32% and he actually becomes a more efficient player, scoring .2 more fantasy points per minute. Kilpatrick’s matchup against Minnesota tonight is a tough one, but he has the physical tools and the craftiness to score consistently on Zach LaVine. The rest of the offense has very tough matchups though, including Brook Lopez and Isiah Whitehead. Whitehead will be overmatched by Kris Dunn, and despite him offering good value at close to minimum salaries, I’m afraid he won’t be on the floor long if Dunn is able to make him turn the ball over. Lopez has to deal with Karl Anthony-Towns on both ends of the floor tonight, making him a very risky fantasy play. His salary is soft enough to take a chance on him, as he has the upside to pay off very well in GPP’s, but I’d rather pay up for Towns, or the combo of Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins going against each other in an up-tempo matchup.
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