There are innumerable approaches to drafting a fantasy basketball team, and a successful GM will adapt their strategies according to circumstances.
Essential variables include your league's scoring format, type of draft, team size and positions, the depth of the league, your draft position, the presence or absence of an injured-reserve roster spot, and much more. Position eligibility is another crucial concern -- for example, if you fail to draft an elite point guard in the first few rounds you'll need to keep an eye on the dwindling market to ensure you grab a few PGs before it's too late.
Rotoworld’s 2014-15 NBA Draft Guide includes 'tiers' for every position, an enormously helpful tool which everyone should have handy on draft day. Thinking in terms of 'tiers' helps to focus your draft strategy without 'reaching' for players simply because they fill position-based needs.
In today's column I look at position eligibility across two sets of data from Yahoo! Sports: 1) the Original Rank (O-Rank) for each player, projecting values for the upcoming season, and 2) the Average Draft Position (ADP) for each player, based upon Yahoo!'s early draft results. The default settings on Yahoo! are for nine-cat leagues, whether they're H2H or Roto. No matter which site you use to play fantasy hoops, you should always be conscious of these two data sets.
Fantasy site's rankings determine where players appear in your draft lobby. With the clock ticking, owners who haven't adequately prepared often take an 'out of sight, out of mind' approach to valuable players who are (for whatever reason) buried in the site's rankings. Terrence Jones is a poster-child for this effect on Yahoo. His 'O-Rank' is No. 147, just behind Miles Plumlee, Nick Young and Marco Belinelli, and his ADP is only a bit higher at No. 134. T-Jones returned top-50 value over the final two months of the 2013-14 season, in just 26 minutes per game, and he's no longer battling Omer Asik for playing time. Identifying such undervalued players is essential, and I'll quickly list a few more at the end of this column.
Disclaimer: ADPs can be misleading since they're heavily weighted by the site's pre-determined O-Ranks. Tons of mock drafts proceed with a majority of auto-picking teams, which gives an unreliable view of where players are being valued. This doesn't negate the importance of rankings/ADPs, but it must be factored in – if you’re drafting with 11 other knowledgeable owners, you’re not going to get T-Jones in the final round.
Here is the distribution of players when they are assigned only one position. Many players straddle positions as combo guards (PG/SG), swingmen (SG/SF) or big men (PF/C) so this isn't an exact science -- I considered each player's history and outlook for the upcoming season before assigning them a single position. NOTE: I include the top-200 players, but a standard 12-team/13-player league would stop at pick No. 156.
The top 25 players (by ADP) include only one pure SG in James Harden. Notice that there are nine PGs in this group, and eight more in the 26-50 range. More than one-third of the top-50 picks are PGs, in other words, and they're conspicuously scarce later on in drafts (with the exception of the 176-200 range, but that's beyond the purview of standard leagues). You'd expect even more PGs in 8-cat leagues, where turnovers aren't a concern, and the early glut of PGs is a self-perpetuating situation -- most owners know that elite PGs will be gone early, which reinforces the desire to draft them.
Centers are the second-most common players drafted in the top-50. A standard Yahoo! league requires two Cs on each roster, and blocks are concentrated in a small group of big men, so it's not a surprising trend.
Early rounds feature few SGs (five) and SFs (seven). I attribute this primarily to the fact that there just aren't many top-50 values in these categories, but there's also the natural desire to pick up PGs and Cs early before filling in your roster as the draft progresses. That is in fact what happens -- SGs are the predominant group in the 51-100 range, while SFs and PFs are most common in the 101-175 range. When factoring in multiple-position eligibility, the picture changes in important ways.
The scarcity of SGs and SFs in the early rounds becomes even more pronounced from this vantage point, followed up by the same mid-round run on swingmen. The 200 players under consideration have a total of 326 'eligible' positions, so the mean per player is 1.63 positions (i.e. most players are eligible at multiple spots). You may have noticed on the 'single eligibility' chart that PG was the most common position with 45 players deemed 'pure PGs'. There were nearly as many SGs and PFs (43 each) but it was tougher to find SFs and Cs. Once we've factored in Yahoo!'s multi-position eligibility, however, PG becomes the scarcest position (57 eligible players). That is followed by SF (64), then SG and C (67), and the most-available position of PF (71).
The number of PGs would be even smaller if we lopped off the 176-200 range that featured 11 eligible PGs. Without even considering the specialist appeal of PGs (typically excelling in assists, 3-pointers, steals and FT%) this confirms the rule-of-thumb that you should target them early and often. Even if you end up with a few extra PGs who aren't essential to your team's chemistry, the odds are great that at least one owner in your league will need another PG -- it's a seller's market, so you might as well stock up on draft day.
While compiling the above charts, I couldn't help but notice some criminally under-valued players. I've already mentioned Terrence Jones, but here are another dozen players to keep a close eye on in the late rounds.
Amir Johnson - ADP 122.6, O-Rank 125
Markieff Morris - ADP 129.5, O-Rank 134
Josh McRoberts - ADP 133.8, O-Rank 130
Gorgui Dieng - ADP 137.2, O-Rank 135
Reggie Jackson - ADP 137.6, O-Rank 158
John Henson - ADP 137.8, O-Rank 177
Jodie Meeks - ADP 139.4, O-Rank 152
Draymond Green - ADP 139.8, O-Rank 166
Matt Barnes - ADP 139.9, O-Rank 165
Alec Burks - ADP 141.2, O-Rank 138
Avery Bradley - ADP 142.3, O-Rank 140
JaVale McGee - ADP 143.1, O-Rank 141
Rotoworld's customizable ranking system in the Draft Guide is a simple way to game the ranking systems on Yahoo!, CBS, ESPN and any other fantasy sports site. By comparing our projections with the often-erroneous ranks on other sites, you can identify the best value picks at any given stage of the draft. I'll be hosting a live chat exclusively for Draft Guide members later this week, and I hope to see you there. If you have an early draft (or mock draft) prior to the chat this week, and have a few burning questions, you can find me on Twitter @Knaus_RW. Good luck!