By Jeff Andriesse, Staff Writer
I realize not everyone is a Fantasy Hoops Head like myself. Let’s just say that if my house was burning down during a draft and I was being rushed to the hospital with smoke inhalation, I’d be texting in my picks from inside the ambulance. But I get it. For every 10 Fantasy Football enthusiasts, maybe one takes their basketball squad seriously. And even less do the necessary preparation prior to their draft. With most basketball drafts taking place in the middle of football season and during the baseball playoffs, it is understandable that people’s minds are elsewhere.
The good news is that just a pinch of preparation could go a long way toward separating you from your more casual league-mates. What follows are some tips and pointers that will help you approach your hoops draft with confidence. A Fantasy championship is just around the corner; good luck.
WHAT DO RANKINGS REALLY MEAN?
Not much. Wait, what? Yeah, that’s right. Most Fantasy web sites and magazines devote precious little time and resources to the NBA, and while you won’t have trouble finding ranked lists with projections, you should take into account the following:
1) When were they posted?
It almost doesn’t matter, but certainly anything written prior to October should be tossed aside without a second thought. If you print out a cheat sheet one week before your draft, even that is likely to be out of date as injuries strike and roles are established in the preseason. Use rankings only as a guide for your own – that’s right, your own – cheat sheet. Type it up on a spreadsheet or just write it out; and update it at least once a week leading up to your drafts.
2) What type of league format are they based on?
This drives me crazy about Fantasy rankings. In basketball, the type of format is HUGE. We’ll touch more on that later. Any site that doesn’t explicitly state what the league rules are for their rankings and projections is doing you a huge disservice. Tom Lorenzo and I posted our Top 125 Rankings on Oct. 7 and guess what? We both have significant changes. And while we based our rankings on an 8-category, head-to-head league that doesn’t count turnovers, I have yet to draft in a league with those specs. And I’ve done a ton of drafts. The lesson? Even your own lists have to change based on your league settings.
3) What does one do with their cheat sheets at draft time?
I say tear ’em up. Not literally. You still want to be able to read what’s on the paper. But don’t treat any set of rankings as gospel, even your own. After the first or second round, you should start adjusting based on positional needs and, crucially, categories. We’ll touch on this next.
Value. What does it mean? It doesn’t necessarily mean getting the best deal on a player based on where you had them ranked and where they were drafted. In other sports, maybe. Here, you need to have a plan based on category needs. Value means taking the best player for you, not necessarily for anyone. Keep the following in mind when drafting:
1) Your own personal rankings are important, but not as important as your friends’ rankings.
Let’s say you love Indiana center Roy Hibbert. You’ve been following the preseason, you’ve seen his huge lines and you can confidently state that he is going to break out this year. You want him very badly as one of your starting centers. You even rank him No. 45 overall on your cheatsheet. So do you take him in the fifth round? Of course not! You wait, because Hibbert’s no household name; because most rankings you’ve seen place him closer to No. 80. Because you are looking for value, and you want to use your picks on the best available players who A) help you in the categories you need and B) might not be there the next time you pick. Wait a few rounds on Hibbert, and when it looks like the pool is thinning and he’s one of the few strong centers left, then pounce. Make a special list of players you really want that most people in your league won’t touch until well after you would. And then beat them to the punch.
2) Cross names off your cheat sheet that you don’t feel comfortable with before the draft.
There are certain players I just don’t want this year. Tim Duncan is one. Paul Pierce is another. Andray Blatche as well. In some circumstances, these guys will fall far enough in the draft that you might actually want to take them. But don’t be afraid to let them fall well past your own ranking for them. When they are the highest-ranked player left on your list, search within the tiers you’ve created for a player you have a comfort level with. In the RotoExperts In-House League I did just that in the first and second rounds, taking Deron Williams and Brook Lopez because I could sleep easy knowing I was going to get solid, all-around value from both. The less red flags in the early rounds, the better. After you get a solid base of a team – namely a point guard and center – you can start taking more risks and attacking the categories you need, as well as reaching a bit for players you really think are going to overperform this year.
3) Did somebody say categories?
Nothing is more important in Fantasy Hoops, which differs so much from football or baseball in that each player is responsible for eight or nine stat categories. This can be daunting to anyone used to just rushing yards and touchdowns. Savvy Fantasy Hoops players know that categories are key. Stephen Curry or Derrick Rose? To the casual NBA fan, it’s a toss-up, even perhaps an edge to Rose; and in real life, give a strong edge to Rose. In Fantasy, Curry’s a multi-category stud and first-round pick, while Rose is an overrated roto performer who should be left for the sixth or even later.
Let’s delve a little deeper. Tug on Superman’s cape, if you will.
DWIGHT HOWARD: THE ULTIMATE TEST CASE
Fantasy Basketball geeks have a lot of opinions about where Dwight Howard will and should go in drafts. There isn’t a player in the game that requires more strategizing and managing. Is he worth the kvetching?
Howard’s a terrible free-throw shooter who gets to the line around 10 times a game and shoots under 60 percent. This will drag you down in the free-throw percentage category in a big way. The dilemma is that this makes it very difficult to win a rotisserie league. Many feel Howard is poison until at least the third round of a roto draft, and some wouldn’t touch him at all. My feeling? Us Fantasy analysts are playing in too many leagues with each other. In casual leagues, roto or not, Howard is going to go in the first round. Let him go; that team may win rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage, but winning roto categories outright isn’t as important as finishing near the top in as many as possible.
A lot of folks play in head-to-head leagues. I prefer roto myself as my motto is “May the best team win”, but H2H is a fun way to battle your buddies throughout the year. Howard is the No. 4 pick in the draft in this format, behind the automatic top three of Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and LeBron James.
Think about it. Do you care if you lose free-throw percentage and turnovers if you are guaranteed to win three categories each week? Right there, you are up 3-2. And those remaining four categories? That’s what the rest of the draft is for. Put your head down, don’t worry about free throws and turnovers, and go after assists, points, steals and threes.
Several other players are category killers, but you can use that to your advantage if you are prepared. Consider having a strategy should you need to take any of the following guys:
SCORING LIABILITIES IN THE EARLY ROUNDS
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE LIABILITIES (HIGH VOLUME, LOW PERCENTAGE)
FREE-THROW PERCENTAGE LIABILITIES (HIGH VOLUME, LOW PERCENTAGE)
STEALS LIABILITIES (PG, SG, SF ONLY)
BLOCKS LIABILITIES (PF & C ONLY)
ASSIST LIABILITIES (PG ONLY)
REBOUND LIABILITIES (PF & C ONLY)
3-POINT SHOOTING LIABILITIES (PG & SG ONLY)
I don’t recommend worrying too much about turnovers, as the best players with the ball all the time usually lead the league and are too good in other categories to not draft. Howard’s 3-4 TOs per game average is alarming for a center but he is already a special case. The worst turnover guys are consistently the top point guards and scorers in the league. Exceptions, like Jonny Flynn last year (2.9/game), might not be worth rostering if they hurt you too much.
It is one thing to know the players who are going to hurt you. You also need to be prepared to go after the types of players who can help alleviate the pain the above players can bring in specific categories. Just because you drafted someone who is terrible at a certain stat doesn’t mean all is lost. Even if you take Howard in a roto league. Build a balanced team if you can regardless. Here are some unique players to target who can help offset the liabilities above.
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE (PG, SG, SF ONLY)
Mike Miller, Steve Nash
FREE-THROW PERCENTAGE (PF, C ONLY)
HIGH-VOLUME, HIGH-PERCENTAGE FREE THROW SHOOTERS
Kevin Durant (90.0 FT%; 10.2 FTA)
Kevin Martin (87.6; 7.4)
Dirk Nowitzki (91.5; 7.2)
Chauncey Billups (91.0; 7.0)
Danny Granger (84.8; 6.9)
Paul Pierce (85.2, 6.1)
STEALS (PF & C ONLY)
BLOCKS (PG, SG & SF ONLY)
ASSISTS (PF & C ONLY)
REBOUNDS (PG & SG ONLY)
3-POINT SHOOTING (PF & C ONLY)
FOR THE HECK OF IT, TURNOVERS (LESS THAN 1.5/GAME, MORE THAN 30.0 MINUTES/GAME; POTENTIAL FANTASY STARTERS ONLY)
LaMarcus Aldridge (1.3/37.5)
Shane Battier (1.0; 32.4)
Marcus Camby (1.2; 31.3)
Vince Carter (1.4; 30.8)
Danilo Gallinari (1.4; 33.9)
Brendan Haywood (1.3; 30.6)
Antawn Jamison (1.4; 36.5)
Shawn Marion (1.3; 31.8)
Troy Murphy (1.4; 32.6)
Jason Richardson (1.2; 31.5)
Jason Terry (1.4/33.0)
Hopefully you can glean something useful out of the above tidbits. Besides being armed with confidence and your own malleable cheat sheets, read as much news as you can before your draft, participate in mocks and devour as much preseason info as possible.