NBA Fantasy: Implications of Summer 2023 coaching changes

Six teams enter the 2023-24 season with new head coaches. How will they impact the fantasy basketball landscape?

Nick Nurse, 2019-20 NBA Coach of the Year, steps in as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Six teams have new head coaches in 2023-24. Let’s take an in-depth look at the changes and see how they impact the fantasy basketball landscape.

Detroit Pistons 

Troy Weaver explains how 'one last effort' allowed Pistons to convince Monty Williams.

The Pistons scored the second-fewest points per game last year (110.3) and were near the bottom in basically every other team category, but they were without their star player, Cade Cunningham, for most of the season. Either way, it was a disappointing campaign in Detroit, but the future remains bright given the young, talented core in place.

OUT: Dwane Casey

Casey will be transitioning to a front-office role this season after five years as head coach. Overall, his tenure as head coach wasn’t stellar, posting a 121-263 record (.315), but there were some bright spots. In his first season, he led the Pistons to a 41-41 record, their best mark since 2015-16, and they set a franchise record with 993 made 3-pointers and went to the playoffs before being swept in the first round. 

IN: Monty Williams 

After a run to the Finals, Williams and the Suns had back-to-back disappointing postseason finishes, resulting in his departure. He quickly found a new home with the Pistons, who handed him the largest head coaching contract in NBA history — $78.5 million over six years. The contract is well deserved, as Williams, who inherited a 19-win team in Phoenix, won the 2021-22 NBA Coach of the Year award and posted a 194-115 record over four seasons with the Suns, including three straight postseason runs. During the past three years, the Suns won 160 times, the most in the NBA during that span.

Pistons general manager Troy Weaver has a familiarity with Williams; the two spent the 2015-16 season in Oklahoma City. Weaver surely is hoping the latter can work his magic again by getting the most out of Detroit’s promising squad. 

Fantasy Impact

Cade Cunningham

When Monty Williams took over in Phoenix, Devin Booker was the only known commodity on the squad and was just reaching his potential. Williams is often regarded as a key variable for Booker’s ascension, and Detroit hopes Williams can be a similar factor in Cunningham’s development. Cunningham isn’t quite the lethal scorer that Booker is, or even was, but that doesn’t mean he lacks superstar potential. Cunningham showed off his all-around skill set during practice with Team USA ahead of the FIBA World Cup this summer and appears poised to take the NBA by storm now that he’s back to full strength. 

Jalen Duren

Deandre Ayton was a walking double-double for the Suns, but the quarrels between the talented big man and Monty Williams were well-documented. It was often a question of effort on the part of Ayton, as he’s one of the more skilled big men in the league, but that shouldn’t be an issue for Duren, who’s lauded as a hustle player. Williams will presumably be extremely pleased with Duren’s effort on a nightly basis, which should help the second-year center solidify a starting spot. With Duren, Marvin Bagley III, James Wiseman and Isaiah Stewart all healthy, the Pistons clearly have a crowded frontcourt, but given his style of play, Duren is the most likely of that group to have a standout campaign in 2023-24. 

Jaden Ivey, Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser

Monty Williams’ most successful teams have always been stout defensively, so he’ll presumably prioritize players who can consistently get stops. Given their athleticism, Ivey, Thompson and Sasser all profile to be elite defenders in the NBA, but they’ll need to develop those skills quickly to carve out a major role in 2023-24. The Pistons added veteran guards Joe Harris and Monte Morris while retaining Alec Burks this offseason, so the youngsters won’t have much leeway if Detroit is serious about contending right away. However, there’s a clear path for Ivey and Thompson, and to a lesser extent Sasser, to carve out a role in Williams’ first season in charge.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets spent several seasons amassing young talent, which they're now complementing with dogged veterans. Could a quick rise follow?

There exist a few foundational pieces to get excited about with the Rockets. Jabari Smith and Alperen Sengun have the ability to form one of the better young frontcourts in the league, while Jalen Green and Amen Thompson also wield immense upside. 

OUT: Stephen Silas

In three seasons with Houston, Silas posted a 59-177 record. The Rockets were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA during Silas’ tenure, and after a 22-60 finish last year, Houston opted to part ways. 

IN: Ime Udoka

After leading the Celtics to the NBA Finals in his only season in Boston, Udoka was suspended for the 2022-23 campaign due to a personal matter. Strictly in basketball terms, this is an ideal fit for both parties. Udoka gets a fresh start in a place with lowered expectations, while the Rockets get a guy who could quickly turn Houston back into a contender. Houston’s roster is one of the youngest in the league, so Udoka will presumably have some leeway before he’s put under the microscope. 

Fantasy Impact

Fred VanVleet

VanVleet was playing 35-plus minutes per game under Nick Nurse, but that may not be the case with Ime Udoka, which would presumably have a major impact on the point guard’s fantasy value. The veteran will certainly be a key piece for the Rockets, but his usage may be limited compared to previous seasons.

Dillon Brooks

After a tumultuous end to his Grizzlies tenure, Brooks gets a fresh start in Houston. The defensive-minded wing showed what he’s capable of during the FIBA World Cup this summer and is presumably a perfect fit in Ime Udoka’s scheme. Brooks will likely be prioritized in the rotation due to his defensive abilities, so his fantasy value may actually be better than it was in Memphis. 

Jabari Smith and Amen Thompson

Under Ime Udoka, the Celtics allowed a league-low 104.5 points per game during the 2021-22 season. If the Rockets are going to make it back to the playoffs anytime soon, they’ll have to go from being one of the worst defensive teams to one of the best. Enter Smith and Thompson, who are both freak athletes and can excel defensively in Udoka’s scheme. Smith and Thompson are also skilled offensively and will be able to put up strong fantasy numbers when on the court, but their respective playing time will depend on whether they can get it done defensively or not. 

Milwaukee Bucks

The Starting Lineup: Adrian Griffin Interview

The Bucks were one of the best regular-season teams under Mike Budenholzer, but aside from a championship run in 2020-21, Milwaukee struggled in the playoffs, including two extremely disappointing losses to the Heat. The core remains intact, so the coaching change isn’t a rebuild or a retool. It’s a shift in focus, as the Bucks hope to retain two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo long term. 

OUT: Mike Budenholzer 

Budenholzer has been named the NBA Coach of the Year two times, including with Milwaukee during the 2019-20 campaign, and helped win the organization’s first NBA championship since 1971. Under Budenholzer, Milwaukee finished with the league’s best regular-season record three times, ending with a 271-120 overall regular-season mark. However, the Bucks failed to reach the NBA Finals during any of the three seasons they held the No. 1 seed. Milwaukee was ousted by Miami 4-1 last postseason, marking just the sixth No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 8 seed in the opening round. The Bucks were also the only No. 1 seed in NBA history that failed to win more than one playoff game. 

IN: Adrian Griffin 

The Bucks took an unconventional route this offseason, replacing their veteran head coach who had a winning track record with a relatively unknown assistant. Griffin began his coaching career in Milwaukee under Scott Skiles in 2008 and has been an assistant for 15 years, most recently with Toronto. Griffin won a championship with the Raptors in 2019-20, but his coaching trajectory was hindered the following season by a personal matter.  Non-basketball issues aside, Griffin has large shoes to fill in Milwaukee and likely won’t have much leeway, as the Bucks are expected to contend for a championship as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo is healthy. 

Fantasy Impact

Brook Lopez

It’s hard to know what Griffin’s squad will look like, as he was always overshadowed by Nick Nurse in Toronto. What we do know is that Mike Budenholzer was very stubborn when it came to making adjustments, while the Raptors were never afraid to mix things up. Most notably, Budenholzer lived (and died) by drop coverage on pick and rolls. This allowed Lopez to spend most of the possession hunkered down in the paint, allowing his block numbers to surge. If Milwaukee goes away from this strategy, Lopez’s fantasy value could take a hit. 

Pat Connaughton

Connaughton has been on the fringes of fantasy relevancy in recent years, but his stock could take a hit with Budenholzer out of town. The Notre Dame product was a favorite of the former head coach and played more than 22.0 minutes per game in three straight seasons. That’s a lot of playing time for a reserve, and it’s possible Griffin opts to give some of those minutes to guys like Malik Beasley, MarJon Beauchamp and/or AJ Green next season. 

Philadelphia 76ers

Nick Nurse says he 'doesn't vibrate on the frequency of the past' and is excited for a clean slate coaching the Philadelphia 76ers.

Joel Embiid finally got his MVP last year, but the 76ers didn’t get any closer to their first championship since 1983. James Harden’s status is in limbo, but this roster still has plenty of talent and will look for a jolt from a new leader.

OUT: Doc Rivers

Rivers coached the Big 3 in Boston, Lob City and multiple star-studded teams in Philadelphia, including squads that had Joel Embiid, James Harden and Ben Simmons. However, he’s fallen short in the postseason more times than not, especially in recent years. In 2022-23, the 76ers lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals for the third straight season, including another Game 7 loss. In three years with Philadelphia, Rivers held a 154-82 record, and he had two years remaining on his deal. 

IN: Nick Nurse

Nurse led Toronto to its first NBA title in 2019, his first season with the franchise, but that effort was spearheaded by Kawhi Leonard’s arrival. Since then, the Raptors have struggled to contend for championships. However, Nurse did win NBA Coach of the Year in 2019-20, and Toronto was always in the top half of the league. In five years, Nurse held a 227-163 record. His fit in Philadelphia is interesting. Joel Embiid has had choice words for the way Nurse-led Toronto squads compete in the past, so the dynamic between the two should be something to monitor in 2023-24. 

Fantasy Impact

Paul Reed

There’s a lot of offseason hype surrounding Reed, who’s reportedly developed a jumper that could elevate his game to the next level. Nick Nurse has also gushed about the 2020 second-round pick, but he’s a new coach talking about a young player, so those comments should be taken with a grain of salt. Regardless, there’s ample reason to get stock in Reed before it’s too late. His per-36 minutes are outstanding, plus Nurse had success developing players of his skill set in Toronto, namely Pascal Siakam, Yuta Watanabe and Chris Boucher. One red flag that’s held down Reed’s fantasy profile is his fit next to Joel Embiid, but his improved floor spacing capabilities could rectify that issue. 

Tyrese Maxey

Regardless of James Harden’s situation, Maxey is set up for another leap in Year 4. The 23-year-old will likely be one of the players Nick Nurse relies on most, and when you’re in Nurse’s circle of trust, you tend to play 35-plus minutes per game. Fred VanVleet played at least 35 minutes per game in each of his final four seasons and saw his production really take off under Nurse. Maxey has already established himself, but he could ascend into star status with more usage, especially if Harden leaves. 

Phoenix Suns

Suns coach Frank Vogel says Devin Booker is 'knocking on the door' to becoming a champion.

Back-to-back disappointing postseason finishes left the star-studded Suns searching for answers. They made a splash this offseason, changing coaches while flipping Chris Paul for Bradley Beal. With Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Beal in front, Phoenix should have a championship-or-bust mindset again in 2023-24. 

OUT: Monty Williams

Williams, who inherited a 19-win team, won the 2021-22 NBA Coach of the Year, led Phoenix to its third NBA Finals appearance and posted a 194-115 record over four seasons with the Suns, including three straight postseason runs. During the past three years, the Suns won 160 times, the most in the NBA during that span. However, Williams’ chemistry with Deandre Ayton seemed to fray and boiled over at points in the postseason, resulting in an inconsistent rotation in the biggest moments of the campaign. 

IN: Frank Vogel

Vogel has coached three teams that have finished a season with the top-rated defense in the league. One of those teams was the 2019-20 Lakers, who won the NBA Finals. The Suns were a great defensive team under Monty Williams, and Vogel will preach similar sentiments. However, the biggest difference is one coach has raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season, which is what the Suns hope to do. Vogel also has experience coaching multiple superstar personalities, which could come in handy when trying to manage the egos of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and Deandre Ayton. 

Fantasy Impact

Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks

Nurkic and Eubanks, who were teammates in Portland over the last two seasons, were reunited in Phoenix after the Suns flipped Deandre Ayton for Nurkic in a blockbuster trade that also sent Damian Lillard to Milwaukee. Vogel’s defensive scheme relies on a stout defensive center, which Nurkic is not, so it’ll be interesting to see how playing time is split up between the two. Eubanks is an active defender, but he’s a bit undersized for the position. Nurkic will presumably open the campaign as a starter given his offensive prowess, but Eubanks could be on the floor in key defensive moments. Eubanks averaged a career-high 20.3 minutes per game across 78 appearances with Portland last year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that number grow in 2023-24.

Eric Gordon, Damion Lee and Keita Bates-Diop

Vogel’s championship team was carried by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but it had a plethora of veterans who played key roles, including Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso. The Suns aren’t that deep, but they do have a handful of guys who could fill similar roles for Vogel, including Gordon, Lee and Bates-Diop. Those three are also sound defensively, which should help them carve out playing time early in 2023-24. 

Toronto Raptors

Prior to coaching in the NBA, Darko Rajakovic spent 17 years as a head coach in Europe.

The Raptors moved on from Fred VanVleet and Nick Nurse this offseason. They haven’t made a significant addition yet, so they’ll be led by Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes with a first-time head coach. It doesn’t appear like this team is championship-or-bust, but team president Masai Ujiri always thinks his squad has a shot. 

OUT: Nick Nurse 

In his first season with Toronto (2018-19), Nurse won a championship coaching a Kawhi Leonard-led team. The following year, Nurse won NBA Coach of the Year, but the Raptors were never able to replicate their playoff success. In five years, Nurse held a 227-163 record.

IN: Darko Rajakovic

Rajakovic is a first-time head coach who spent time as an assistant with Oklahoma City, Phoenix and Memphis. We don’t know much about how his team will run, but we do know that the Grizzlies, his most recent team, were very capable of developing and maximizing the potential of young players. 

Fantasy Impact

Scottie Barnes

Rajakovic’s ability to develop Barnes will likely be his key to success. With Fred VanVleet out of town, Barnes will likely play a lot of point guard. He took a step forward in the playmaking department last year, but his shooting efficiency dipped. If the 22-year-old can stay effective with a bigger workload, he could have a major Year 3 leap.