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Fantasy basketball free-agent analysis | Gordon Hayward to the Celtics

Bryan Toporek



Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward arrives for Game 6 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers Friday, April 28, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

After a roller-coaster day, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward announced his decision Tuesday evening to sign with the Boston Celtics in an article on the The Players’ Tribune. While Hayward’s departure is a devastating blow to Utah Jazz fans and should have the Celtics faithful elated, fantasy basketball owners may understandably have mixed feelings about his arrival in Boston.

Hayward put up career-best numbers with the Jazz last season, averaging 21.9 points on 47.1 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.0 triples in 34.5 minutes en route to his first All-Star berth. He finished as the 33rd-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues, one spot ahead of his new teammate, Al Horford. Hayward didn’t play alongside a scorer of Isaiah Thomas’ caliber, however, begging the question of whether he can maintain his 20-points-per-game pace in Boston.

Even if Hayward’s scoring output dips slightly alongside Thomas, Horford and Boston’s other talented guards and wings, he could make up for it with increased efficiency and ancillary production. The Jazz ranked last in terms of pace last season, averaging just 93.6 possessions per 48 minutes, whereas the Celtics were 12th with 99.7 per 48. Escaping Utah’s glacial offensive tempo should be a boon to Hayward’s fantasy value, even if he isn’t pouring in the same number of points on a nightly basis.

On my way-too-early big board in April, Thomas was my 22nd-ranked player overall and eighth-ranked point guard, while Hayward ranked 31st overall and seventh among small forwards. Though each may tumble a few spots in the next update, Thomas remains a strong third-round pick while owners should still consider Hayward beginning in the fourth round. Horford, meanwhile, who ranked 32nd on my big board, may be the biggest loser of Boston’s new Big Three, as he’ll fall to third in the Celtics’ offensive pecking order. With Hayward in the fold, take Horford with a fourth-round pick at your own peril.

Hayward’s arrival in Boston will have mammoth fantasy implications for many of the other incumbent Celtics, too. Of immediate concern: The Celtics don’t have the cap space to sign Hayward to the four-year, $128 million contract he agreed upon (via Turner Sports’ David Aldridge), so they’ll need to make moves between now and July 6 to free additional room. They began that process immediately, renouncing their qualifying offer to restricted free agent Kelly Olynyk, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, to wipe his $7.7 million cap hold off their books. That won’t be enough on its own, however.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the Celtics must now renounce all their remaining free agents (Jonas Jerebko, James Young and Gerald Green) and waive and/or trade Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson without taking any salary in return, and that still won’t be enough room to sign Hayward outright. They’ll also need to trade either Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley, according to Marks.

With 2016 No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown and 2017 No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum waiting in the wings, it appears Crowder may be the odd man out, according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, with Atlanta or Utah emerging as possible landing spots. Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript reported the Celtics have “already begun contacting teams” about acquiring Smart as well. Those who’ve enjoyed Crowder’s sneaky strong fantasy production should root for Boston to trade him because with Hayward in the fold, there’s little chance of him replicating the top-50 finish he posted last season. Smart could likewise break out if he moves to a team bereft of young talent, although Hayward’s arrival will have less of an adverse effect on him compared with the Crowder-staying-in-Boston scenario.

Tatum, meanwhile, should go plunging down the board in rookie drafts because he won’t get many minutes behind Hayward and Brown. The Celtics could opt to use Brown primarily as a small-ball 4 between Hayward and Horford, opening some reserve minutes for Tatum, but there’s little chance that he’ll make enough of an impact to justify drafting him. Brown’s fantasy value likewise takes a hit. The summer league standout could see his minutes limited if he doesn’t slide into Boston’s starting lineup at the 4.

In Utah, meanwhile, it’s time to prepare for the Rodney Hood takeover. The Duke product was a fantasy disappointment this past season, as injuries limited his per-game output to 12.7 points on 40.8 percent shooting, 3.4 rebounds, 1.9 triples and 1.6 steals in just 27.0 minutes. After his stellar sophomore campaign the previous year, he finished as the 183rd-ranked player on a per-game basis in nine-category leagues, turning into a draft-day bust for anyone who used a mid-round pick on him. (I regrettably ranked him as my No. 82 player heading into the season, but his consensus ranking was only four spots lower. He duped the entire fantasy community.)

Assuming he stays healthy in 2017-18, Hood should make good on the promise he touted a year ago because Utah now needs a primary wing scorer to emerge in Hayward’s absence. With new arrival Ricky Rubio preferring to operate as a pass-first point guard, Hood should be on the receiving end of endless drive-and-kicks. If he cashes in on those 3-point looks, he’ll reward owners brave enough to dip back into the mid-round well with him on draft day.

Alec Burks and rookie Donovan Mitchell could likewise receive an uptick in fantasy value following Hayward’s departure because Hood can’t shoulder the scoring load on the wing by himself. Burks has missed 146 of a possible 246 games over the past three seasons, making him an extremely risky pick even in later rounds. But he’s a career 36 percent shooter from deep who averaged 13.8 points per game from 2013-14 through 2015-16. Mitchell, meanwhile, banged home 35.4 percent of his 226 3-point attempts this past season at Louisville, so he could emerge as a late-round specialist for those in need of triples. 

All rankings via Basketball Monster are based on nine-category leaguesAll average draft position info via FantasyPros.

Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) is a Philadelphia native who's just talkin' about practice. You can also find him at Bleacher Report, BBALLBREAKDOWN, Vantage Sports, Hardwood Paroxysm and Hoop 76 of the TrueHoop Network.