After the recent news that the Chicago Bulls had traded Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for draft picks and salary relief, i.e., Andrew Bynum, fantasy basketball owners immediately began considering the fallout. How will Deng do with the Cavs? Who will step up in Chicago?
Here's how I view the second question.
Side note: Isn't it amazing that Bynum is now a trade-and-cut kind of player? This guy was moved for Dwight Howard last year!
Deng takes with him to Cleveland the most minutes and points of any Bulls player this season. While NBA analysts are yawning over this move from Chicago's perspective, fantasy basketball analysts see it as a real opportunity to pick up a former role player-turned-team stats leader off the waiver wire.
The most logical beneficiary of the Luol Deng trade is forward Mike Dunleavy.
The 11-year veteran has always been a good source of points (more evidence that you should never prioritize that stat in fantasy) and should start cracking the 13-14 points-per-game mark with increased playing time.
More important than the likely 30-plus minutes per game he'll see is the increased number of shots. Deng led the Bulls with over 15 shots per game before the trade, while Dunleavy currently sits at 8.7. Easily the most offense-minded guard/small forward left in Chicago, the Duke product could easily increase his shots per game by 50-60 percent.
Assuming his per minute averages maintain, here's what Dunleavy would do with Deng's minutes:
Jimmy Butler has the most upside of any Bulls player now that Derrick Rose is hurt and Luol Deng is in Cleveland.
After starting just 20 games in his first two seasons, Butler has already reached that total in the 2013-14 season. It's clear that he's going to become a real contributor in the years to come, but fantasy owners are more concerned about the current season.
In games without Deng thus far, the third-year guard out of Marquette's production is mixed:
It looks like Butler has focused more on scoring in games when Chicago was missing their points leader. His valuable defensive stats suffered over during these bouts.
With more than half of the season left, I expect Butler to find a new statistical norm of increased scoring without the drop-off of defensive stats.
Only in the deepest of leagues should rookie Tony Snell be given a passing glance. The 2013 first-round pick has seen action in 27 of the Bulls' 32 games this year, starting seven when both Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng were hurt.
Snell is shooting a poor 37 percent from the field and 30 percent from behind the arc, while he's averaging an acceptable 75 percent from the free-throw line. His 1.8 rebounds and one assist per game are just 1.8 rebounds and one assist more per game than Bill Russell's 2013-14 season.
In his final season at New Mexico, he averaged 13-3-3 and was most notable as a player with "a skill set that could translate quite well to the NBA." A lukewarm endorsement at best. What does all this mean?
Spend your waiver picks elsewhere. Snell's ceiling this year, even with more playing time, is basically Jimmy Butler.
The most intriguing player for fantasy owners to watch for post-Luol Deng is Taj Gibson.
The versatile USC grad has seen time at small forward, power forward and center in his career with Chicago, and his contribution has varied.
Gibson has never averaged more than 27 minutes per game in a season, yet he has always averaged more than a block per game. This is fantasy basketball's most coveted statistic, as it's dominated by an elite few.
If the Bulls start mixing their lineup more, especially now that we know forward Carlos Boozer will be amnestied, Gibson's value could see a huge swing upward.
Gibson has played more than 27 minutes 13 times this season. Take a look at how he stacks up against Tim Duncan, who averages 29 minutes per game:
I think Gibson could become a key to your fantasy championship without Deng on the Bulls.