Fantasy Basketball: Draft Tips to Help You Win Your League
As we edge closer towards the basketball season, owners want to prepare for their upcoming draft. Most of the time, everyone wants to draft the right player and usually has a strategy. However, things may not go as planned come draft night. In fact, things are surely not going to go as planned. You are most likely not the only one targeting Karl-Anthony Towns at #2, nor are you the only one thinking LeBron James is going to have a monster bounce back season. The draft is obviously the most important day of the season. Think of it like a test, you want to go in the draft prepared.
Other owners in your league may be targeting the same player you have been eyeing all along in your mock drafts, or you’ve just been unlucky with certain picks because other owners have picked ahead of you. Things don't go your way. So, how exactly do you overcome and prepare for these unfortunate situations?
Research and Mock Drafts – I can’t stress this enough. If you are not up to date on NBA basketball during fantasy season, you might as well not play. In order to prepare for your draft, you need to set aside time to participate in mock drafts. Mock drafts are basically practice drafts and give you an idea of where the players are being picked on average. It also gives you an advantage to be able to practice if you already know what number you are picking before the draft. Some leagues reveal this information before your draft. In most leagues, you won't know your draft position until an hour of prior to the draft, which is why practice is crucial.
Practice also gives you different perspectives on which other players owners may be targeting. Personally, I also take some time to read forums, Twitter blurbs, and fantasy basketball websites for any revealing information that might help me come draft day. Obviously, keeping track of the NBA during the summer months will help tremendously. But even in this day and age, social media like Instagram helps in revealing some resourceful information. Which player has been working out all summer? Who’s been truly working on improving their game? Shout out to @cbrickley603 and @blackops.basketball
Side note: I think C.J. McCollum is going to have a HUGE year.
I also use BasketballMonster.com as a reference for player values.(They have memberships special every year with Fanduel and Draftkings, in which you may get a seasons worth subscription when you load $20 on your FanDuel or DraftKings account)
For instance, if I was to gauge John Wall’s fantasy value this season, I can look to see how high he finished the previous season. During the 2016-2017 season, Wall finished the season ranked #18 in 9-categories leagues. It demonstrates what kind of upside Wall has, and it's telling it's probably capped because of his inability to shoot 3-pointers at a high rate like his point guard peers. The turnovers will also be a huge problem for Wall too, averaging 3.8 turnovers throughout his career, where he averaged over 4 last season.
But it doesn’t mean you don’t select John Wall in the 1st round. If you truly feel John Wall can improve as he is hitting his prime at the age of 27, there’s nothing wrong with selecting Wall in the top 12 selection. Just know, Wall won’t become a 3-point shooter overnight and you’re picking John Wall there at his ceiling, not for upside, for instance, Kyrie Irving. Perhaps you have a strategy in mind with picking Chris Paul and John Wall to lock in your assists and steals early. It’s very situational, depending on format, preference, strategies and league settings.
Q: How do you know which Twitter users to follow for fantasy basketball-related info?
A: Every team usually has a beat writer/insider working for them. The Twitter handles of the beat writers are very easy to find. For example, @SerenaWinters of Lakernation works very closely with the Lakers and has insider information on everything Lakers. Another example I can think of is Ira Winderman, @IraHeatBeat, covering the Miami Heat. It’s very easy to google and add them on your Twitter as a resource. Breaking news such as trades, signings are also huge, which is why having alerts for @WojESPN or @ShamsCharania of The Vertical is useful.
Q: I have the 7th pick in my upcoming draft next week, should I practice on being #7 pick in my Mock drafts?
A: Yes, Yes, and YES. Practice makes perfect and gives you a perfect idea on what your draft might look like.
Knowing value and usage – You see all the names on the draft list? You realize most of the best players are on the top 10 or 15 off that list. Not only are they some of the best players in the NBA, but they also receive most of the playing time. Most are them are franchise players on their teams so they demand the ball in their hands and use it to maximize their statistics output. Russell Westbrook comes to mind when it comes to usage. Usage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by the player while he is on the floor. Westbrook’s usage last year was at an astronomical 40.8, which was highest in the league. Here's a look at the top 15 players of the NBA which lead in usage during the 2016-2017 season. Based on at least 30 games played:
(Stats courtesy of NBA.com)
While usage is not everything, it’s best to select players who you know will have the ball in their hands. Fantasy basketball is based on production. The more time a player has with the ball, the more chances at consistent production.
Value is another criteria I also follow in selecting my players. I weigh in the risks in selecting a player if they are able to at least match or exceed the value depending on which round or pick I selected them in. I call matching their production, their "floor", where I call exceeding the value, "upside". It is critical to spend your first 2 or 3 picks on someone who is going to have high usage and return equal or higher value.
Q: Carmelo Anthony had a higher usage than Karl-Anthony Towns last year, does that mean he is a better player to select?
A: No, usage can be misleading at times because an injured-riddled team can cause a certain player’s usage to sky rocket. It could also be a case where a player on a bad team is forced to take upon a role he may not excel at. In this case, Carmelo Anthony had the green light on a bad team last year with the Knicks, where Karl-Anthony Towns had an amazing season last year despite of having a lower usage rate, finishing at #6 overall.
Playing ADP and target discounts – Yahoo!, CBS, and ESPN all have their Average Draft Positions (ADP) rankings differently. It is up to you to determine if you feel like they are correct. More or less, they are mere projections. Players have shown in the past to shatter expectations and projections. Many owners come draft night will follow down the list and draft players that appear on the list. It’s a rookie mistake and this is where mock drafts and practice makes perfect. However, targeting a player who has more upside than their ADP are the hidden gems that can win your league. Every year there are potential break-out players who come cheap on draft day but become extremely valuable as the season goes on. I remember winning a league in which I gambled on Damian Lillard in his rookie season, in which he exceeded all projections and eventually won Rookie of the Year honors. Taking the time to scout for players with upside on the list is a good way to stay ahead of your opponents who are too busy drafting. I will have another piece on potential break-out players soon.
Q: Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double last season, does that mean I select him if I have the 1st pick?
A: No, while Russell Westbrook is a beast, both real life and fantasy, his big weakness in turnovers and mediocre FG% puts a slight dent in his fantasy value. When selecting RWB, you almost automatically punt turnovers because he averages close to 5.5 turnovers a game. It sounds ludicrous to say Russell Westbrook is not a top 5 selection in fantasy, but the first top 7-8 players off the board this year all make a strong case to be in that argument.
Q: What if you’re wrong?
A: I believe Westbrook is still a top 6th pick because his efficiency will most likely improve with Paul George in OKC. I won’t fault anyone for picking RWB at #1 because he is still a monster in counting stats. It’s very hard to ignore a potential 30/10/10 line almost every night. I just believe this year’s #1 overall player is still Kevin Durant because of his strong efficiency with contributions across the board, without hurting you in any category.
Knowing when to gamble on UPSIDE – To win, sometimes you need a bit of luck. Perhaps sometimes you need to gamble and risk drafting a player that you might not like at all. For example, there will come a situation when you are faced in drafting a safe player like Klay Thompson (#27 ADP) or a player who has upside in Myles Turner (#28 ADP). Knowing what you are getting into, Klay gives you security with his scoring and 3-pointers. On the other hand, picking Turner, who now has the Indiana Pacers all by himself. You have a younger stud who's able to pick up more minutes and contribute being the #1 guy on his team. Not to mention, Myles Turner finished #25 in 9-cat leagues last year. He's 21 years old, improving each season, and has just been given the franchise. That's what upside is.
Q: Lonzo Ball is receiving a lot of hype this off season. He’s had a strong summer league and won the NBA Summer League MVP. How do you feel about him this season?
A: I love Lonzo Ball, and I’m actually not thrilled with him receiving this much hype coming in the season. I want him on my fantasy league because I know he has the ability to rack up assists, which is rare in fantasy basketball. The potential to be a fantasy stud is there with Lonzo and I see him averaging close to 12 PPG 4 RPG 8 APG with a trickle of steals and 3-pointers. The problem will most likely turnovers and percentages, and that’s where his value will have the biggest problem. I see him being picked very early in mock drafts this year, anywhere from 35th to the 55th pick. I just don’t pick rookies that early, and this is a case where hype over weighs upside. Never draft a player based on emotions and likability. I don’t want to draft Lonzo Ball at his ceiling or his floor. I want to target Ball at a slight discount with a chance at upside.
Q: Who are you gambling on this year? Any noticeable names that we keep our eye on?
A: I love me some Brandon Ingram this year, he’s going to beast and improve big time. His current ADP at around the 130 range makes him a huge bargain with a lot of upside. Jamal Murray and Marquese Chriss are other names to keep an eye on. I will have more on that in my Breakout Candidates piece coming out soon.
Training Camp and Preseason – Do your homework. Training camp and preseason are great ways to see what a team’s rotation will or may look like. There are going to be guys who are going to work hard and make the team. And if the right opportunity and chance arrives, he may have significant fantasy implications. Think Robert Covington, a player who was waived by the Houston Rockets and played in the D-League (now known as the G League), became a full-time starter with the 76ers because of his defensive capabilities and 3-point prowess. Covington finished #36 in last year’s BBM rankings, good for 3rd round value.
Preseason will be helpful to gauge on what rotations will look like for some teams, but keep in mind there will be a lot of garbage time with players who are trying to make their team, meaning some box scores should be taken with a grain of salt. After all, preseason is a mere practice for NBA players to get back into NBA shape and to form chemistry on the floor together for the up and coming season.
Keep in mind, everyone has their own philosophy on drafting certain players. Not everyone is entitled to follow values and usage. I just learned from past experience this is what works for me and this is what helped me win, numerous of times. I like to hear about your drafting strategies and approach!
If you're new or interested in playing fantasy hoops, look into my guide!
Follow and tweet me @fungo24 for everything basketball and fantasy!