The ink on Giannis Antetokounmpo's new four-year, $100 million contract extension with Milwaukee hadn't even dried yet when the news came out on Sept. 21 that his teammate, Khris Middleton, had torn his left hamstring and would likely be out for six months.
What a crushing blow to the Bucks, losing one of the game's most underrated players for the majority of the 2016-17 NBA season.
To me, all this did is drive home how much every player's fantasy value is directly tied in with those around him. Losing Middleton, who quietly averaged 18.2 points and 1.8 3-pointers per game last season while shooting 88.8 percent from the free throw line, dishing out 4.2 assists and swiping 1.7 steals, means teammates like Antetokounmpo must step up to fill his void.
For a player like Antetokounmpo, who already set career highs in just about every statistical category last season, the expectations suddenly rise to a whole new level. He'll likely play more than the 35.3 minutes he averaged last season, and there's a good chance his 21.8 usage rate will also rise. That's why we have bumped the Greek Freak up two spots from No. 14 to No. 12 on our rankings. Keep in mind, too, that if Antetokounmpo adds a 3-point shot to his already impressive repertoire this season, he's a top 5 fantasy player for years to come.
The ripple effects from Middleton's injury don't stop there, however, as players like Michael Beasley -- acquired from Houston after Middleton went down -- and Mirza Teletovic, acquired as a free agent over the summer, now have a chance to see expanded roles with the Bucks. Beasley jumped from No. 173 to No. 141 and Teletovic from No. 134 to No. 118 in the rankings.
As we move ahead, with the NBA's regular season set to tip off on Oct. 25, here are some of the other big changes to the ESPN fantasy basketball rankings since our last update on Sept. 1.
Uncertainty with Chris Bosh: We already ranked Bosh fairly low in our previous rankings, putting him at No. 120, but he drops to No. 160 following the news of his failed physical with Miami. Heat president Pat Riley already came out and said that the team views Bosh's career with Miami as over. Whether Bosh ever plays again for another team remains to be seen, but at this point there's a very real chance that his recurring blood clot issues in recent years could keep the 32-year-old off the court for good.
Jrue Holiday's situation: Shortly after our last rankings came out, which pegged Holiday No. 53 overall, the New Orleans point guard announced that he would miss the start of the season to be with his wife, Lauren, who faces brain surgery. "My family comes before basketball," Holiday told The Times-Picayune. "I'm obviously blessed to play this game and be in the position I am in, but my wife is the most important thing in the world to me. She comes before anything else." Lauren has since given birth to a healthy baby girl, which is wonderful news, but now must prepare for surgery to remove a tumor. We wish her and the whole Holiday family well throughout this difficult time.
The rise of Myles Turner and D'Angelo Russell: In the dozens of mock drafts I took part in throughout September, no two players were consistently drafted well above their listed ranking than Turner and Russell. It's clear that both were listed too low in our earlier rankings, and therefore an adjustment is order for each of the talented second-year players. Turner moves up from No. 101 to No. 72, while Russell goes from No. 81 to No. 66.
Biggest fallers: Aside from Middleton, Bosh and Holiday, who each slid in the rankings for very separate reasons, several others moved down because they were simply ranked too high. Notables from that list include Klay Thompson (27 to 32), Andre Iguodala (93 to 122), Dwyane Wade (57 to 64) and Bradley Beal (59 to 75). These adjustments are more in line with where these players are being drafted in most ESPN drafts.
Harden's new position: You will find many players now qualify at multiple positions, but there is no bigger one to take note of than James Harden, who has moved to point guard. I've mentioned over the past few weeks how important it is to draft a point guard in the top 30 picks of the draft, and with Harden now qualifying at both point guard and shooting guard -- and Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni scheming to get the ball in Harden's hands more than ever before -- an argument can certainly be made for drafting Harden first overall ahead of Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook.