The NBA’s wild summer got a little crazier on Tuesday night as the Cavaliers and Celtics swapped star point guards, with Kyrie Irving heading to Boston and Isaiah Thomas joining LeBron James in Cleveland. For those keeping track at home, that’s the top overall pick from the 2011 NBA draft being traded for the final pick of the same draft. Thomas and Irving weren’t the only significant fantasy pieces to switch uniforms, either, as Jae Crowder joins Thomas on his way to Cleveland.
Prior to the trade, we ranked Thomas at No. 17 on ESPN’s fantasy basketball top 150 rankings, with Irving coming in one spot behind him and Crowder at No. 86.
Thomas is coming off a career year and had quickly turned himself into a Boston legend, finishing third in the scoring race (28.9 PPG), behind only Russell Westbrook and James Harden. His 3.2 3-pointers per game also marked a career high, as he flourished in Brad Stevens’ offense, in which he earned the freedom to let it fly from deep.
Irving also notched career bests in terms of scoring (25.2 PPG), field goal percentage (47.3) and field goal attempts per game (19.7) while serving as a secondary distributor (5.8 APG) and adding a respectable 1.2 steals per contest.
This deal does change things, but probably not as drastically as some might think.
Thomas won’t have to distribute or score as much while playing alongside James, and it’s reasonable to expect his numbers to slide a bit in both those areas. Given how many 3-pointers the Cavs hoisted last season, Thomas will likely have the green light from beyond the arc in Cleveland just as he did under Stevens; his 8.5 3-point attempts per game last season was a career high.
Meanwhile, Irving managed to attempt 0.3 more field goals per game than Thomas in 2016-17, even while sharing the ball with James. That number stands to rise as he now shares it with Gordon Hayward, who seemed like a one-man offense at times during his time in Utah but never managed more than 15.8 FGA per game in seven seasons. Irving hasn’t reached his peak as a scorer, and in Boston he’ll have a chance to make this his team and have an even bigger role in the offense than he did with the Cavs.
Thomas and Irving will remain very closely ranked in fantasy drafts and are expected to be chosen within a few picks of one another in most leagues.
Crowder is a top-60 fantasy player who moved down in the rankings only when it looked like he might be included in Boston’s acquisition of Hayward, a rumor which never materialized. As a scorer, rebounder and 3-point shooter who also contributes more than a steal a game on the defensive end, Crowder played big minutes in his two-plus season in Boston, more than 31 per game in each. It remains to be seen whether that will continue in Cleveland, since he plays the same position as King James, but even if he comes off the bench and plays 25 minutes a night, he’s a top-80 player because of his well-rounded game.
The departure of Crowder also has a direct impact on prized Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum. The third overall pick in June impressed during summer league, showing a smooth offensive game and star potential, and without Crowder on the roster, the 19-year-old should have a chance to play 20-25 minutes a night right out of the gate. He’ll have to prove he can do more than score and rebound to be a worthwhile fantasy option in his first year in the league, though.