Fantasy Basketball Trade Analyzer: Is dealing LeBron James now the right move?

Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks
It's been a rough start to the fantasy season for Trae Young. (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images) (David Jensen via Getty Images)

By Henry Weinberg, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

Welcome to a very Atlanta Hawks-themed article. There was no initial intent to feature three Hawks, but they’re a squad ushering in a new rotation — making for a pivotal juncture. Quin Snyder’s scheme is beginning to emerge, and the transformation occurring in Atlanta is a unique circumstance given that the majority of other franchises are simply working to settle into their grooves.

Overall, players are still settling into rhythms, so making overreactions and hasty trades is ill-advised. Nonetheless, there are a few cases where proactivity could be warranted, as windows to buy and sell can be short at times:

Trade For: Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

Anytime a superstar is struggling this mightily, it’s worth investigating if you can capitalize. Young’s volume is still supreme. He led the league in pick-and-roll possessions in each of the past four seasons — including 2019-20 when he only played 60 games. Last season, Young led the way with 1,916 possessions, while Jalen Brunson was second with 1,383 possessions. Even if Quin Snyder drastically alters the offense, Young might still lead the league again.

This creates a great fantasy floor, which is important because there are problems to address in Young’s poor start. It’s a poor start that’s magnified by coming off a career-worst 2022-23 season. Young notched a season-best 24 points on Monday, but he’s still posted 7-for-29 shooting from beyond the arc through four games. Assists are an ultimate commodity in fantasy, but if Young can be obtained without parting with a member of your core three or four players, acquiring the 25-year-old would be a coup.

Target For: Jalen Johnson, Atlanta Hawks

Sticking with the Hawks, I’m buying stock that Jalen Johnson’s breakout is very real and will be sustainable. The 21-year-old is rostered in 49% of Yahoo Leagues, and he’s far from a household name. Poaching Johnson as a component of a bigger package feels realistic, and he’s worth an add in all formats where available.

Including the preseason, Johnson has accumulated a 25:12 AST:TO ratio. His connectivity creates an advantage over De’Andre Hunter and Saddiq Bey. He’s a more versatile version of the athletic, power-forward threat that John Collins was at his peak in Atlanta’s pick-and-roll. Johnson’s three-point shooting has been incrementally on the rise, and if he remains a league-average shooter over a larger sample, there’s no reason he can’t garner Most Improved Player consideration.

Target For: Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Vucevic manhandling the Pacers en route to 24 points and 17 rebounds Monday subtracts from his buy-low viability. Prior to that outing, Vucevic was averaging a modest 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds.

The appeal is that his usage is extremely consistent, his rebounding is overwhelmingly defensive (which is far easier to account for than offensive rebounds), and he's a multidimensional scoring threat on a Bulls team that is shockingly shallow on scorers. Coby White and Patrick Williams started Saturday’s game against the Pistons and combined for zero points in 49 minutes.

Circling back on Vucevic’s strengths, his 26.4% rebounding rate ranked in the 95th percentile among centers last season, and he’s currently taking a career-high 68% of his shots either at the rim or from beyond the arc, per CleaningTheGlass. That is a shot diet conducive to efficiency, and even if he re-introduces a strong dose of midrange, the silver lining is that his usage would likely be on the rise.

Trade Away: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers

To be clear, I wouldn’t advise pushing to trade James, but I would explore the market and gauge interest. Lebron’s value is simply at an epic sell-high point right now. I can’t imagine the Lakers would publicly share intentions to cap him around 30 minutes per game, only to promptly disregard that plan entirely. At some point, Los Angeles will more strictly monitor his workload or commence some load management games. In the meantime, James looks spry and is playing well. The Lakers desperately need him, so the short-term future of James’ fantasy stock is excellent.

Trying to pry Devin Booker or Domantas Sabonis away from incumbent fantasy managers in exchange for a James package would be the goal, while Donovan Mitchell and LaMelo Ball are preferred targets that could be leveraged by James’ superstardom.

James is averaging 23.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists while shooting 57.1% from the field and 76.3% at the rim at slightly above-average frequency.

Trade Away: Wendell Carter Jr., Orlando Magic

I’m fading Carter’s role in Orlando’s offense. In his sixth NBA season last year, the 24-year-old continued his gradual climb of annual improvement, notching a career-high 15.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while shooting 52.5% from the field. That is quality production, but I feel that it’s also symbolic of his ceiling as a player.

Carter hit just 32.6% of his guarded catch-and-shoot three-point attempts last season. He compensated for mediocre shooting by posting an excellent 73.8% clip at the rim. However, until one of Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero or Carter blossoms into an above-average shooter, spacing will be subpar in Orlando.

Additionally, allowing healthy volume to gauge the growth of Jalen Suggs in the final year of his rookie deal will be paramount. I’d also expect lineups with Paolo Banchero at center to be experimented with throughout the season. Orlando is a deep team. Moritz Wagner is on the rise. He’s been on the court for 72 possessions compared to Carter’s 105 thus far.

Carter is a fantasy asset with a decent floor and a decent ceiling, but there’s a fine line where he’s merely uninspiring. His 1.7 stock rate (steal rate plus block rate) ranked in the 23rd percentile among all bigs last season. He’s still a nightly double-double threat, and his efficiency around the basket should not be overlooked, but if that underwhelms, looking for a sell-high point is logical.

Carter is averaging 8.6 points and 8.3 rebounds in 29.3 minutes through Orlando's first three contests. He exceeded 20 points just six times in 2022-23 while exceeding 12 rebounds just three times across 57 appearances.

Trade Away: Clint Capela, Atlanta Hawks

In Atlanta’s comeback victory over Minnesota on Monday, Onyeka Okongwu and Jalen Johnson were the duo anchoring the Hawks’ frontcourt in the second half. I’ve proclaimed my admiration for Johnson already, but his ability to process defenses as a roll man partially takes over one of Capela’s key uses in the offense.

The bigger issue for Capela is the positive impact that Okongwu brings to the floor. More capable than Capela at guarding opponents away from the basket, Okongwu’s tendency to get into foul trouble is the main obstacle holding back a breakout. The 22-year-old committed 4.9 fouls per-36 minutes last season, and he's averaging 7.5 fouls per-36 minutes thus far in 2023-24.

For that reason, Capela is important to Atlanta’s rotation and depth, but his ceiling is in serious danger if Okongwu progresses. Down the stretch, needing to rely on Capela for consistent fantasy production could be difficult. He posted just two points and five rebounds Monday, but he’s still averaging 10.5 points and 10.8 rebounds through four games in total. He’s a sell-candidate now or after a bounce-back performance in the coming week.