By Nick Whalen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Week 5 of the fantasy basketball season kicked off with a busy Monday slate that featured the Clippers taking down the Warriors, the Kings topping the Spurs, and the shorthanded Sixers holding on to beat the Heat.
But the biggest story headlining the week actually transpired over the weekend. The Timberwolves shipped Jimmy Butler out to Philadelphia for a package centered around Dario Saric and Robert Covington.
While none of the players involved have suited up for their new teams yet, they’ll make their respective debuts later on in Week 5. For the Sixers, the trade adds another big-time talent to one of the best two-man duos in the league, while Minnesota hits the reset button and avoids bottoming out in the process.
Let’s take a look at how the trade will impact the fantasy basketball landscape:
Philadelphia adds Jimmy Butler
The Sixers netted the best player in Saturday’s unexpected blockbuster deal, but they sent out two starters to acquire Butler’s services. Philly was already shallower than last year after losing midseason buyout acquisitions Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova in free agency and getting little to no progression out of Markelle Fultz. Doing a two-for-one swap won’t alleviate those issues, but the Sixers figure to again be active on the buyout market once the time comes.
For now, though, Philadelphia will go forth with arguably the best starting five in the East. Wilson Chandler is still working back from the hamstring injury that kept him out the first three-plus weeks of the season. He’ll be set to benefit more than any other Sixer when he does. Chandler was limited to 23 minutes in Monday’s game against Miami, but as he gets his wind back he’ll likely trend closer to 30 minutes on most nights as the seemingly-permanent starter at power forward.
Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Butler, himself, likely won’t see significant changes in minutes, though Butler’s move to a team with two All-Star-caliber players could be met with a dip in usage rate. If that’s the case, it likely won’t be by much though, as Butler was used in 22.6% of on-court possessions in Minnesota, his lowest number since 2014-15.
The trade is the obvious headliner, but the elephant in the rotation — that’s a phrase now — has nothing to do with Butler’s arrival. Brett Brown continues to stick with Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup, but the struggling guard has failed to demonstrate tangible progress. If anything, his jumper is in a markedly worse place now than it was a month ago.
Fultz appeared to hit rock-bottom Monday night when he introduced the basketball equivalent of Charles Barkley’s golf swing into his free throw routine. He’s reportedly not on speaking terms with the high-profile shooting coach with whom he spent most of the summer. Monday also marked Fultz’s seventh straight game without a three-point attempt.
A season ago, Philly’s five-man Simmons/Redick/Covington/Saric/Embiid lineup was the best starting unit in the league, holding a net rating of plus-21.0 points per 100 possessions. Before Saturday’s trade, the Sixers’ starting five — the same as last year, with Redick swapped for Fultz — had a minus-1.4 net rating.
Even with his glaring deficiencies, Fultz can still be a reasonably effective player, but his skill set was already clashing with that of Simmons. That was before the Sixers swapped two floor-spacing forwards for a ball-dominant wing. The clock is ticking on Fultz’s time in the starting lineup and, perhaps, his time in Philadelphia.
Minnesota adds Dario Saric and Robert Covington
On the other side of the deal, the Timberwolves gave up the better player but brought in a pair of wings who can help immediately, while also fitting into the franchise’s long-term plan. Saric is only 24 and is under contract next season at a wildly affordable $3.48 million before hitting restricted free agency in the summer of 2020. Covington may be on an even more team-friendly deal, which will pay him roughly $36 million over the next three seasons. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent in 2022 at age 31.
Fantasy-wise, Covington and Saric owners can be nervous about the sudden change of scenery, but neither player projects to see a drastic downturn in minutes. Covington will immediately fill the starting spot vacated by Butler, and Saric should take over at power forward for Taj Gibson. Tom Thibodeau loves rangy, three-and-D wings, so Covington’s workload of just under 34 minutes per night in Philadelphia should remain safe. Even if his career-best three-point efficiency (39% 3PT) begins to wane, Covington has complemented his offensive contributions with elite steals (1.8 per game) and blocks (1.8 per game) numbers for his position, which help to offset a near-complete lack of assists.
Saric was off to a very shaky start in Philadelphia, so there’s a chance the move to Minnesota could kick-start a progression back toward the mean. Entering Wednesday, when he’ll likely debut for Minnesota, Saric is shooting just 36.4% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc, both well below last season’s numbers. Even if he ends up splitting time with Gibson more than he should, Saric really has nowhere to go but up after his first 13 games.
The arrival of Saric and Covington may mean the end of Josh Okogie’s run as a borderline-viable option in deeper leagues. Okogie broke into the rotation early in the season and has topped 20 minutes in all but one game since Oct. 19, but with two players coming in and Jeff Teague and Andrew Wiggins back healthy, Okogie will likely sink back into a lesser role. The rookie should still carve out some minutes at shooting guard behind Wiggins and Derrick Rose, but he’s unlikely to be fantasy-relevant in nearly any format when the Wolves are healthy.
Brooklyn loses Caris LeVert
Late Monday night, it certainly looked like we wouldn’t be seeing Caris LeVert on an NBA basketball court until next season. I went out of my way to avoid watching the play after it happened and don’t have any plans to check it out anytime soon/ever. But judging from the reaction, I don’t think anyone was expecting to hear 12 hours later that LeVert could be back around the All-Star break. The Nets announced Tuesday that LeVert won’t need surgery — not sure how that’s even possible — and while it’s extremely encouraging news, Brooklyn will still be without its best player for at least a couple of months.
The Nets have employed a relatively deep wing rotation thus far, with LeVert, Joe Harris, Jared Dudley and Allen Crabbe each averaging at least 23 minutes per game. The vast majority of LeVert’s minutes have come at small forward, according to Basketball-Reference, but he can also slide down to shooting guard or even up to power forward in smaller lineups. In LeVert’s absence, Crabbe could pick up a few extra minutes on the wing, while DeMarre Carroll, who recently returned from injury, may end up as the primary beneficiary from a fantasy perspective. Carroll played a season-high 24 minutes Tuesday night in his third game back, and that number could push closer to 30 for the next several weeks.
LeVert ranks second on the team in usage rate (26.8%) behind only Russell, meaning roughly one in four possessions, when LeVert would theoretically be on the court, will now be up for grabs. Russell’s usage rate figures to climb a bit — he finished last season at 30.8% — while Dinwiddie and Carroll, who averaged a career-best 2.0 assists per game last season, could also see slight bumps.
With LeVert healthy, Carroll was likely going to take a backseat as the Nets — owners of their own pick for the first time in years — prioritize youth and development. But given the circumstances, he’ll be pushed into a more significant role. Carroll is currently owned in just 15% of Yahoo leagues and will be worth rostering if he can regain the form that saw him average career-bests in points (13.5 PPG), rebounds (6.6 RPG), assists and made threes (2.0 3PM/G) a season ago (29.9 MPG).
Westbrook, Curry remain day-to-day
Steph Curry will miss a third consecutive game Tuesday night as the Warriors face the Hawks in their second game of a five-game week. Golden State hasn’t said much about Curry’s injury since it happened midway through Thursday’s blowout loss to Milwaukee. The hope is that he’ll be back sometime in Week 5, perhaps as early as Thursday in Houston.
Quinn Cook has entered the starting five in Curry’s place and remains a viable streaming option in leagues with daily lineups. He’s coming off of a disappointing game Monday night — 7 PTS, 2 AST in 22 minutes — but he had 27 points and five assists in Saturday’s win over the Nets. Prior to that he had scored in double-figures in three straight games, even with Curry in the lineup.
For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook missed his fourth straight game Monday night, but OKC was able to cruise to an easy win over the Suns. Westbrook took part in practice Tuesday, but it was only a light, non-contact session. His availability for Wednesday’s game against the Knicks remains very much up in the air. Considering the opponent and the fact that it’s at home, the Thunder may play it safe and wait until Saturday’s rematch with the Suns in Phoenix to bring Westbrook back. All things considered, a four or five-game absence should feel like a win for the Thunder and Westbrook’s fantasy owners, considering how severe the ankle injury initially appeared to be.