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Fantasy Basketball Instant Reaction: Damian Lillard Trade

Well, it finally happened. For the first time in 11 years, Damian Lillard is no longer a Trailblazer.

On Wednesday, the nearly three-month saga that held NBA news hostage all summer came to an abrupt halt after Lillard was astonishingly acquired by the Milwaukee Bucks. It was a blockbuster three-team deal that included the Phoenix Suns, nine total players, one first-round pick, and one pick swap.

Here is the full breakdown of the trade and my analysis of how it will affect the NBA in 2023-2024 and fantasy basketball.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including NBA Writer of the Year, Best NFL Series, MLB Series, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

The Trade

The Bucks receive - Damian Lillard

The Blazers receive - Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, Bucks' 2029 first-round pick, Bucks' pick swap

The Suns receive - Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Keon Johnson, Grayson Allen

Now that the dust has settled and the emotions have worn off (I am a Heat fan, so yes, lots of emotions), it's time to analyze what this trade means for the fantasy basketball landscape. First up is the current title favorite, the Milwaukee Bucks.

 

Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo -  Antetokounmpo led the entire NBA in usage last season (38.4%) and will now share the court with last year's fourth-highest usage player, Lillard (33.7%). While their fit should be real-life cheddar from day one, it's unlikely Giannis will reach last year's total. That said, a small dip in usage likely won't have much effect on his fantasy value. If anything, fewer shots per game could absolutely mean a higher field goal percentage and cleaner looks at the basket with defenses honing in on Lillard. This is still his team and he's going to get his. As of now, I'm still confident in selecting him towards the back end of the first round in category leagues and inside the top three in points leagues.

Damian Lillard - As previously mentioned, Lillard finished last season with the league's fourth-highest usage percentage on a 'secretly tanking' Trailblazers team with Jerami Grant serving as the main competition for shots. That will not be the case in Milwaukee. While he should certainly get his, he now shares the floor with Giannis and Khris Middleton, meaning it will be a tough task to get back to last year's career-high of 20.7 shots per game.

As a result, I wouldn't be surprised to see his points average drop down to the 25-27 range. Still great, but not the elite 32.7 points per game we saw from him last season. If this is the case, it would certainly drop him a few spots. On the flip side, playing alongside the best talent of his career could take his assists back up to the 7.5-8 range that he's capable of reaching. He's still a fringe round-one guy for me at the moment but I would prefer to grab him in the second.

Khris Middleton - Middleton is coming off of a disappointing season in which injuries led to subpar play. He's now 32 years old and coming off knee surgery in June. His current ADP (Average Draft Position) of 78 suggests that the consensus is still not convinced he can turn back the clock this season. And considering his value was essentially below average in every stat category outside of free throw percentage last year, it's tough to envision him drastically improving across the board with Dame in town.

He's now the third option on offense and that's not a great sign for a guy whose main value is centered around his scoring and shot-making ability. I don't think it would be surprising to see him land near last season's averages of 15.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.5 threes with fewer assists. An increase in efficiency would lift him far from his 149th categories ranking from last season, but he's more of a 6th/7th-round guy for me now as opposed to his usual 4th/5th-round price tag from previous years.

Malik Beasley - Beasley has bounced around over the last couple of seasons but finds himself in the best opportunity for fantasy success with the Bucks. Grayson Allen was sent to Phoenix in the deal, so Beasley should immediately step into the role that gave him 27.4 minutes a night last season. He'll either start or serve as the sixth man, and with defenses honing in on the big three, he'll be rewarded with some of the best looks of his career. Beasley isn't someone that I'm necessarily drafting at this juncture, but he's a fine late-round pick if you're looking for a boost in threes.

 

Portland Trailblazers

Jrue Holiday - I'll start with Holiday and keep it brief as it's likely he'll be playing elsewhere before the season begins. If he does somehow remain in Portland, he should get a slight value bump with an uptick in offensive production. No one on the Blazers' current roster saw more than a 25.1% usage rate last season, and Holiday could easily walk into a couple of extra shot attempts per game with his peripherals (AST, REB, STL, FG%, FT%) staying the same. Outside of Portland would be a different story, though it's a waste of time to speculate until we know what situation he finds himself in. Ultimately, Holiday's fantasy value has always been built on solid assist/steal numbers and above-average efficiency for a guard, meaning he'll likely be able to flirt with top-50 numbers regardless of where he winds up.

Deandre Ayton - Ayton in Portland is truly a fascinating development for his fantasy prospects. He was primed to be the fourth fiddle on offense in Phoenix and now has a real shot at being the second option, at worst, with the Blazers. He's walking into a big opportunity with more shots but the real question will be whether or not he can keep up the solid efficiency (career 59.7%). There's also room for him to build upon his career average of 10.4 rebounds per game, as no one on the Blazers' current roster averaged more than 4.5 rebounds last year (excluding Holiday, of course). All of this has the makings of a great landing spot for his fantasy value and we could be looking at career numbers across the board. It would be a disappointment if he's not a top-50 guy in fantasy this season.

Jerami Grant - Grant is fresh off a wild $160 million extension this offseason and given the direction of the Blazers, we can't entirely rule out the possibility of him being traded sometime down the line. As of now, he'll be given the green light on offense and we could be looking at similar production to his time with the Pistons, where he averaged 20.7 points and 16.1 shots across two seasons. If that's the case, we've seen his efficiency nose dive with more work, and he doesn't give you a whole lot else in the peripherals. He gets a slight value bump based solely on the usage up for grabs, but it's not anything to make me reach for him in drafts. I'm comfortable looking his way in the 7th/8th rounds.

Anfernee Simons - Simons' outlook is very similar to that of Grant's, but I'm not projecting a substantial value boost. After all, Scoot Henderson is now in town and will be a fixture in Portland's guard rotation. Not to mention a likely year-two offensive leap from Shaedon Sharpe on the horizon. Much like Grant, he gets a boost due to the usage up for grabs and maybe a couple of extra shots per game, but Simons is better suited for points leagues given his lack of production outside of scoring.

Scoot Henderson - Scoot is the future of this ball club and should start at point guard if (when) the Blazers trade Holiday. There is absolutely zero incentive for the team to bring him along slowly, so he will be involved early and often. It's tough to give Scoot a big value boost because it felt like his price was already factoring in Lillard's departure, but there's substantial room for him to operate as a playmaker. With Simons and Grant becoming terrific off-ball shooters and Ayton a reliable midrange pick and pop partner, Scoot should provide a solid amount of assists with above-average rebounding and decent scoring. His ceiling is the highest of this group based on talent alone, but his skill set is probably better suited for points leagues for now. And of course, all of this relies on Holiday actually being traded.

Shaedon Sharpe - Sharpe came on for the Blazers to cap off an impressive finish to his rookie campaign. Now in year two, we're all hoping for a leap. As of now, he's in a similar boat to that of Simons and Scoot. He should be given every opportunity to succeed right out of the gate and has the upside to do some nice things in fantasy. Just like Simons, however, the real test lies in his ability to contribute outside of scoring.

 

Phoenix Suns

Jusuf Nurkic - Nurkic has been fine when healthy, but hasn't played more than 56 games since 2018-19. He's never been a high-usage guy and that's good because he's joining a team with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal on the roster. Ultimately, I expect him to land somewhere near last season's numbers of 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds.

This is more of a lateral move for Nurkic than anything else. It's also worth mentioning that Drew Eubanks, Bismack Biyombo, and Bol Bol are capable backups and the former will have some sort of role.

Grayson Allen - Allen finds himself in Phoenix after spending the last two seasons as the starting wing in Milwaukee. That will not be the case here, with Devin Booker and Bradley Beal ahead of him. The Suns also have Eric Gordon and Damion Lee as wing reserves. Allen has never had a tremendous amount of fantasy appeal and it's only gone down with his new landing spot.

Nassir Little - Little is a much-needed front-court depth piece for the Suns, but there's not too much to get excited about in fantasy. Keita Bates-Diop was an offseason addition and it's likely that one of them gets the role that Torrey Craig left behind. At this juncture, neither guy is worth drafting in 12-team leagues.

 



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