Fantasy Basketball Draft Strategies
Fantasy Basketball is in that limbo of Fantasy Sports when Baseball has just ended and Football is in full throttle. Before you know it, your buddies are texting you about your annual hoops league and you’re stuck at square one. Opening night is less than two weeks away but it’s not too late to pick up on some quick tips and trends that will ultimately lead to success. Continue reading and that will be the reason you perform like the Fantasy Steve Kerr this season. Stop now and you might end up like Derek Fisher.
Fantasy Basketball is a lot like Fantasy Baseball in that there are three main formats in seasonal leagues: Head-to-head categories, rotisserie, and head-to-head points. While drafting, owners need to be cognizant of both the positions and the categories they need. Standard hoops leagues usually have AT LEAST nine categories to fill, so there’s a lot going on throughout the draft. Generally, there are three main types of strategies when approaching a draft.
[caption id="attachment_99505" align="alignright" width="409"] Stephen Curry is among the Top 3 players in Fantasy Basketball. Photo Credit: Keith Allison[/caption]
The first type is a balanced approach. A balanced draft is best-suited for the rotisserie format in which owners can’t really afford to be near the bottom of multiple categories. With this strategy, owners are looking for players who contribute the most positive stats while limiting the negatives. I know what you’re thinking - obviously that’s the point of any draft. Yes, but basketball is a different beast. With so many percentages involved, plus the use of the turnover statistic, there are an extremely large number of players who can destroy certain categories.
Dwight Howard is a perfect example. In Howard’s prime he was a four-category player who could contribute in points, rebounds, field goal percentage and blocks. In three of those categories he would contribute at an elite level. The only problem was his career free-throw percentage, which stands at a pitiful 57 percent. The league average last season was 75 percent. A mark in the 57 percent range will single-handedly bring you down in the category. Ultimately, you want to find the players who will perform well across the board, while minimizing the damage. This strategy could very well be used in head-to-head categories as well.
The second strategy is one a more established drafter might try, as it includes punting one or two categories during the draft process. The logic here is that if there are nine categories, you realistically only need to win five every week all season long in order to be successful. For example, punting the free-throw percentage and three-point categories will allow you to stock up on players who perform at a higher rate in all of the other categories. Yes, you’re almost guaranteed to lose free throws and threes each week, BUT you have a much better chance of winning the remaining categories. It’s a risky strategy, but if it’s executed correctly, the result will be success. This strategy is one that should only be performed in head-to-head category formats.
The third strategy is one that involves simply taking the best player available in every round of the draft, regardless of what or who you might need. It’s likely the way to go for points leagues, in which you need to garner as many stat stuffers as possible. This might sound like a cop-out strategy, but we’ve all heard a story similar to this before. You know. The one about the person who doesn’t show up to his draft; so his team gets auto drafted. Little did the computer know it simply selected the best available player each round, and that guy/girl ends up winning the entire league. It happens. All. The. Time.
So, before your draft, study your league’s settings and decide on a strategy, one that best suits you and your league. Now, this is where the research comes in. We get it. Most people are already managing multiple Fantasy Football teams, as well as trying to cash out in DFS. How can you possibly study for Fantasy Basketball!? It’s not that hard. Print out a rankings sheet from yours truly, the RotoExperts, and don’t show up to your draft without it. At the very least, you have a guide to work from while selecting players. If you find yourself sitting around at home or work with nothing to do, check out a few depth charts, even if it isn’t every team. You’ll be surprised to find out how many players were on the move this offseason. It also might stop you from being the guy to draft Steve Nash thinking he’s still playing. When it comes down to it, you play to win the game! Don’t play Fantasy sports unless you’re in it to win it. Give yourself a legitimate chance at this.
On to the draft! Really, early on in the draft like in any sport, you want to minimize risk as much as possible. The early rounds should be reserved for players who are the closest thing to a guarantee. As the draft rolls on, the amount risk should be gradually increased, and by the mid-to-late picks, you want players with as much upside as you can possibly get. Before getting started with your draft, please note that shooting guard is the thinnest position this season, while power forward is the most stacked
Regardless of how many years you’ve been playing, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are not the first and second picks in drafts anymore. Heck, they aren’t even third. Those reservations go to Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, and James Harden. Don’t get me wrong. LBJ and Durant are still productive, but remember what we said about minimizing risk? The pair missed a combined 68 games last season, and both have a bit more mileage on them than the first three players. Once those five are off the board, you can look to the usual stat stuffers to round out Round 1 - Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul, Damien Lillard, John Wall, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Now, George does present a risk since he’s coming off a freak leg injury, but he’s rehabbed for over a year now and is still at the ripe age of 25. His versatility is unmatched since he will be eligible at shooting guard, small forward, and power forward. His field-goal percentage will be a drag at power forward, but his three-pointers made and steals will be elite there. He should also see a spike in rebounds playing in the paint that much.
Early in the second round, look for a swingman in the mold of Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, or Carmelo Anthony. Following those three, there’s a large group of big men that should be considered to fill either your power forward or center position. Names to consider here are Blake Griffin, Rudy Gobert, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. Let’s get back to minimizing the negative, however. Unless you plan on punting free-throw percentage, Gobert isn’t your guy. This mammoth of a man broke out last year for the Jazz, and he will contribute elite numbers in the rebounds and blocks categories, but his sub-65 percent free-throw percentage will sting at times. To close Round 2 consider a few reliable guards who have really come into their own the past few seasons: Kyle Lowry, Eric Bledsoe, and Gordon Hayward. All three can contribute across the board without much downside.
Round 3 and later becomes dicey. Finding players who don’t hurt one or more categories becomes harder and harder. For Round 3, however, the safest players to consider are Nikola Vucevic, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, Jeff Teague, Chris Bosh, and Victor Oladipo. The high-upside plays who are just a tad riskier are Draymond Green, Nerlens Noel, Hassan Whiteside, Andre Drummond, and Kyrie Irving. Aside from Irving, each of these players will hurt your free-throw percentage (shout out to Drummond’s 39.7-percent free-throw percentage). With that being said, the lot of them provide hustle stats and can deliver them at an elite rate. It just depends on whether you want to punt free throws or not. Irving is a different story, as he’s coming off a knee injury that required surgery. Personally, I never use early picks on players that are already injured, and especially not one with a knee issue.
TIME OUT: At this point, make sure to keep track of the positions you own. A lot of players have multiple position versatility. So once you pick a player, figure out which position you want them to play for your squad. Now you’ll know which positions you need moving forward.
Rounds 4 and 5 are still filled to the brim with players that can contribute in three or four categories. The safest guards at this point in the draft include Reggie Jackson, Monta Ellis, Ty Lawson, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Nic Batum and Brandon Knight. The safest big players to consider are Al Horford, Al Jefferson, Greg Monroe, Derrick Favors, Kenneth Faried, and Zach Randolph. Much like the riskier options from early on, two names stick out at this point in the draft: DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard. When these two are on their game, they could win you the rebounds and blocks categories by themselves. Jordan has surpassed Howard in that sense, however, they will destroy your free-throw percentage. If you’ve decided to start with two reliable guards who will rack up points, assists, and steals, you can grab two or three of these risky big men who are elite in the hustle stats. It isn’t suggested in rotisserie formats, but it is definitely in play for head-to-head categories.
As you approach the middle and later rounds, you will come to realize there are fewer players who can contribute across the board. Instead, you will have to look to the “specialists” as we like to call them. These are players who will help specifically in one or two categories, and they are vital pieces towards building a complete roster. Think of it in terms of real basketball teams. The most successful teams have role players who deliver much-needed aspects of the game, whether it be long-range shooting or defense. Below are lists of 10 specialists in each category that you can consider later on in drafts, once you have your stud.
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