The first round of any fantasy hoops draft is simultaneously the most important and least important round. Make the right pick, and you move on, the later rounds holding your fate. Make the wrong decision, and your season could come to a halt before a single game is played. While it is impossible to predict injury outside of Tracy McGrady, Marcus Camby and anyone I draft every year, you still want to be damn sure your first-round pick is sturdy. Tom Lorenzo and I sat down to compile our own first-round guides (here’s Tom’s), and after the first three picks I found the exercise a little disconcerting. After, say, the seventh pick, the question marks start piling up and I have trouble differentiating between the end of round one, and, say, anyone in rounds two or three. One thing’s for sure: this is going to be one tough year to draft. Let’s get through the first 12, then Tom and I will compare posts to see where he went wrong.
The rules: Standard 12-team roto draft with eight categories: Points, Rebounds, Assists, Steals, Blocks, Three-Pointers Made, Field Goal Percentage, Free Throw Percentage.
JEFF ANDRIESSE’S FIRST ROUND ’09-10 FANTASY BASKETBALL MOCK
1. LeBron James, CLE
This is a tough choice, as Chris Paul makes a air-tight case to go here, but really, can it be anyone else? I’m not passing up on The King if I should wander into the top pick, and here’s why: there isn’t a category he doesn’t help you in. Did you notice his career-high FT% of 78.0 last year? He no longer has a weakness, and remains motivated to both win a title and earn the top seed in an Eastern Conference with a tough top tier that will keep him out there hustling for 82 games.
2. Chris Paul, NO
His 2008-09 was a season for the ages, and while I did take James first, I won’t look at you funny if you chose this diminutive dominator ahead of everyone else. First, that stat line: 22.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 11.0 APG, 2.8 SPG, 50.3 FG%, 86.8 FT%. Stupendous. You are nearly guaranteed to win assists and steals if you take him, and while he rarely hits threes, few guards offer such tantalyzing percentages.
3. Dwyane Wade, MIA
Wait, is it time to rethink this whole thing? James and Paul are the clear 1 and 1A, but isn’t Wade 1B? What’s holding us back? The injury history? He played 79 games last year and averaged 30.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 7.5 APG, 2.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG and a career-best 1.1 3FG. Wow. Throw in 49.1 percent from the field for a two-guard and third is looking like the best place to pick because you can nab this guy and not have to wait as long for your next selection as those picking first or second.
4. Kevin Durant, OKC
In just his second season, Durant made a leap of ridiculous proportions. He’s arrived, and will not be stopped as he bestows further fantasy rewards upon his owners. Where can he improve? Certainly in blocks (just 0.7 per game last year) and maybe steals (1.3), but we love the 2.2 rebounds more per game he grabbed (4.3 to 6.5) and the improvement of his shooting percentage from a red-flagged 43.0% as a rookie to 47.6% (not to mention a major leap in three-point shooting from 28.8 to 42.2 percent). I shudder to think of what his statistical ceiling will be.
5. Kobe Bryant, LAL
I’m a little leery of Mr. Bryant this year, and most of that has to do with how many games he has played the last couple of seasons and offseasons. He’s not getting any younger, and his dips in points, rebounds and threes are just enough to knock him down to fifth. He will still fight his way to awesome stat lines more often than not – its Kobe, after all – but combined with the depth on the Lakers and his odometer, I’m knocking him down to fifth, his lowest draft spot in many a year.
6. Danny Granger, IND
Granger blew up last year, but injuries limited him to 67 games. Gotta love the threes (2.7) and blocks (1.4) but here’s one scribe wishing he stole the ball more (just 1.0 per game in ’08-09) and shot a little more efficiently (44.7%). Still, a year of full health will pay off for anyone picking in this spot.
7. Dirk Nowitzki, DAL
A very safe selection in the second half of the first round, Nowitzki will be a tremendous boon in the percentage categories, score the ball and rebound adequately. He doesn’t do enough of the other stuff to warrant a higher pick, but there are fewer bets out there more solid.
8. Dwight Howard, ORL
A few reasons for sticking Howard this high: One, he is clearly the top center in a year in which his only competition for that honor – Yao Ming – may not play. Howard also went from being a good shot blocker to a frightening one, averaging 2.9 per game to lead the league by a wide margin. Howard will kill you at the line, yes, but maybe he can shoot closer to his playoff percentage of 63.6 to make it not sting so bad.
9. Amare Stoudemire, PHX
Yes, he’s wearing goggles, but I trust modern medicine to have him humming along just fine this season. With Shaq out of Phoenix and the Suns likely to revisit their up-tempo, pre-Terry Porter ways, Amare could end up returning the best value so far from this spot, especially if he is center-eligible.
10. Deron Williams, UTA
Draft him for a full season of production and you won’t be sorry. We can nitpick D-Will’s game – average in threes and steals, poor rebounder compared to the guards above – but its not often you can find a challenger to Paul’s 20 points and 10 assists per-game numbers. Williams raised his free throw percentage to 84.9 percent last year as well, a clear career-high.
11. Brandon Roy, POR
It’s hard to find too much fault in Roy’s game, and his 2008-09 season was exceptional in every way. Career highs nearly across the board only begin to tell the story of his ascent. This is one of the very best players in the NBA, one who will have the ball in his hands often, yet is extremely efficient. There aren’t many players left who offer such dynamic production.
12. Al Jefferson, MIN
I’m definitely skittish about Jefferson’s ACL surgery recovery period of just nine months, but he should be fine after a gingerly start. When you realize what he did last year, 12th seems way too low for what you’d be getting out of this workhorse center. If he can pick up where he left off – dominating to the tune of 23.1 PPG, 11.0 RPG and 1.7 BPG before the injury – this is a steal.
Just Missing the Cut: Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Devin Harris, Joe Johnson, Steve Nash