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Auction Draft Strategy Guide

by Jared Johnson
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

If you’ve never participated in an auction draft before, let me just put it this way, if your traditional snake draft is a cheeseburger off the dollar menu at Burger King, then an auction draft is a homemade, cheese-stuffed, double-pattied burger on the grill; wrapped in bacon. It’s basic cable to HBO, Taco Bell to your local taqueria, Lil B to Kendrick Lamar, Stephen A. Smith to Zach Lowe, it’s The Real Deal Holyfield and I guarantee that once you’ve gone through an auction draft, you’ll feel like all those years spent hoping for the No. 1 overall pick were years wasted relying on a primitive and outdated system. Want to build your team around Karl-Anthony Towns? He’s yours at around $70. Are you more of a Russell Westbrook kind of guy? That’ll be roughly $75. In an auction format you can pick and choose your team, putting the success or failure of your fantasy season entirely on the strategy you utilize on draft day. But before we get into team building, I’d like to just go over a few basic tenets of drafting in an auction format.


1) Until the dollar rounds, you should never nominate the person you’d like to draft. Why? The longer your targets sits on the board, the lower the money pool gets, and conversely, the price point of this individual will continue to decline. Early on you should be nominating either the obvious big-money guys (Russell WestbrookJames HardenGiannis Antetokounmpo) or the players that are carrying a ton of hype going into the draft, but are not necessarily one of your primary targets (think guys like Joel Embiid, Devin Booker, etc.). You can also nominate low-money, high-profile targets (Andrew WigginsLaMarcus Aldridge, Serge Ibaka) in order to get people to overspend on lower-tier guys whose name may be a bit bigger than their game. The object here is to try and get people to spend their budget on guys you’re either not very high on, or simply do not fit with your strategy.


2) Be willing to adapt to the draft. You should go into the draft with a general idea of the team you’d like to construct and have some predetermined price points for those players. However, you shouldn’t be afraid to go a couple bucks over that evaluation if this player is integral to your team’s strategy. At the same time, you don’t want to be stubborn. If one of your favorite targets starts to go into a price range that you’re not comfortable paying, move on to Plan B. And definitely have a Plan B.


3) If you’re playing in a traditional 9-cat or 8-cat league, try and secure a solid first and second option at each position. This is something that is very important, as overspending on a single position can really hurt your overall team. Say you’ve already drafted Chris Paul and Kemba Walker for a total of $90; at that point, it wouldn’t make much sense to spend another $20 on someone like Goran Dragic. Use your money wisely, and be aware of how much money the other guys in your league have already spent.


4) Up-bidding is just what it sounds like: if you see the clock winding down on someone that perhaps isn’t your target but remains a high-upside guy (and his going price is well below the average) don’t hesitate to bid him up. It also helps if you know the guys in your league because you can basically force them to overspend on their targets, but just make sure you’re only up-bidding on guys you’re comfortable being stuck with.


5) Spend all your money. You can’t use any of it after the draft, so you might as well try and assemble the most competitive team possible by utilizing every dollar in your budget.


6) There are two general strategies: Stars-and-scrubs, a high-risk strategy involving building your team around a top-5 talent. Or a balanced approach, in which you forgo the high-money guys in an effort to pick up steals on high-upside, mid-tier talent. If you're in a 10 team league or smaller, I'd highly recommend pursuing a stars-and-scrubs strategy as there will be plenty of talent during the dollar rounds. However, if you're in a 12-team setting or above, it could be advantageous to go with a more balanced approach.


 Stars & Scrubs


Again, if you’re in a shallow league (10 teams or fewer) I’d highly recommend using this sort of strategy due to the quality of the dollar targets. A general cost structure that I like to follow for a stars-and-scrubs squad would be as follows:
















It’s important to note that these numbers are just a general guideline, and as previously stated, you shouldn’t be afraid to go a bit over your target price if this player is integral to your strategy. Now, if you’re able to get one of your targets at less than you initially budgeted, then I throw that money towards the next highest price point. For example, if you’re targeting Karl-Anthony Towns and you’re able to snag him at $70, then I’d drop another $5 into the $35 price point thus giving me more money to spend on the next best player on my squad.


As for roster construction, I personally prefer targeting Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns or Giannis Anteotkounmpo over guys like Russell Westbrook or James Harden this year and that’s because I think they have higher upside at a lesser price. The Brow, KAT and The Greek Freak were better than The Beard and Mr. Triple Double in 9-cat leagues last season, and both Harden and Westbrook stand to potentially lose some touches with the new guys around them, whereas the situation for Davis, Towns and Antetokounmpo has only improved or stayed the same. Davis certainly has his health concerns, but on paper, the Pelicans should be good enough to be competing for a playoff spot out West and that should give AD some extra incentive to fight through the various nicks and bruises throughout the season (also much less risk of a late-season shutdown if New Orleans can stay competitive). As for Towns/Antetokounmpo, I think those guys will be neck and neck for the No. 1 spot in 9-cat leagues this season, so to get them at anything less than $75 (something that seems to happen quite regularly) should be considered an absolute steal.


Examples of Stars-and-Scrubs


$65 – Anthony Davis

$43 – Damian Lillard

$27 – Khris Middleton

$20 – Brook Lopez

$16 – D’Angelo Russell

$10 – Trevor Ariza

$9 – Marquese Chriss

$3 – Willie Cauley-Stein

$2 – Seth Curry

$1 – Jamal Murray

$1 – Josh Richardson

$1 – Zach LaVine


I really like the idea of combining AD/Towns with Damian Lillard, that’s a hell of a 1-2 punch, and Russell is an incredible PG2 and a perfect fit for this squad. This is basically a punt-assists team with the scoring point guards, and the combo of Davis, Lopez, Chriss and Cauley-Stein should make this team nearly unbeatable in blocks. I love getting Ariza in that $8-$10 range, his floor is top-75 and his ceiling is top-30, and I think he’ll be closer to his ceiling constantly receiving kickouts from Harden and Chris Paul this season. You’ll see Richardson and LaVine as $1 fliers on a lot of these squads, love the upside there and zero risk at just $1.


$69 – Giannis Antetokounmpo

$25 – Khris Middleton

$24 – Otto Porter

$23 – Paul Millsap

$21 – Jeff Teague

$19 – Jusuf Nurkic

$8 – D’Angelo Russell

$5 – Dwight Howard

$2 – Clint Capela

$1 – T.J. Warren

$1 – Rodney Hood

$1 – Joe Ingles

$1 – Josh Richardson


When I was building this team I was trying to pair Giannis with either Hassan Whiteside, Jimmy Butler or Draymond Green, but I got outbid on all those guys and needed to re-evaluate my strategy. However, if you could get Giannis at around the price I got him, and one of the other aforementioned guys in the 35-40 range, I think that could be a pretty monstrous team. I still like this team I assembled, I’m basically banking on Millsap having a bounce-back year and I’m confident that Middleton is about to have an incredible season (he’s a popular target on all these squads, and that’s because I feel he’s one of the highest upside guys you can get in the 20s). Hood, Ingles, Warren and Richardson are all incredible $1 fliers.


Balanced Approach


If you’re in a deeper league (12 teams or more), it might be advantageous to employ a more balanced approach. The risk of a stars-and-scrubs strategy is that if your top dollar target suffers a major injury that pretty much ruins your fantasy season. However, with a balanced approach, you try and have around 3 top-tier guys so your squad will be more equipped to handle a major injury. The general cost structure I like to follow for a balanced approach is as follows:
















Examples of balanced approach


$51 – Rudy Gobert

$42 – Damian Lillard

$26 – Khris Middleton

$19 – Victor Oladipo

$18 – Ricky Rubio

$17 – DeAndre Jordan

$9 – Dwight Howard

$7 – Nerlens Noel

$5 – Avery Bradley

$2 – Lou Williams

$2 – James Johnson

$1 – Josh Richardson

$1 – Marquese Chriss


As you can see, a balanced approach increases your margin for error and forgoing the big money guys early on gives you first dibs on the discount buys towards the middle rounds (Victor Oladipo, Nerlens Noel, Ricky Rubio). This particular construct also employs a free throw punting strategy (which makes sense with Gobert as my No. 1 option), and this punting strategy allows you to secure top-20 prospects (Jordan and Howard) at a fracture of the cost. This is definitely one of my favorite team builds, sure you’re throwing away one category (free throw percentage), but this team will be dominant everywhere else. The Gobert-Jordan-Howard pairing gives this team a huge boost in field goal percentage and is nearly unbeatable in rebounds and blocks. Middleton, Oladipo and Rubio should make this squad ultra competitive in steals, and it’s a team that will also be fairly competitive in both assists and turnovers.


$52 – John Wall

$38 – Myles Turner

$27 – Joel Embiid

$24 – Ricky Rubio

$22 – Victor Oladipo

$12 – Tobias Harris

$8 – Nerlens Noel

$8 – Dennis Smith Jr.

$3 – Markelle Fultz

$2 – Marquese Chriss

$2 – Derrick Favors

$1 – Zach LaVine

$1 – Terrence Ross


I have to say I really like the idea of going with some sort of Wall-Turner-Rubio trio this year. The Wall-Rubio combo will make your team nearly unbeatable in assists/super competitive in steals, and Turner is a guy that can almost single-handedly win you the blocks category in any given week. I acknowledge that Embiid is a huge risk, but I liked the idea of pairing him with Turner to take this team’s shot-blocking prowess to another level. I want to be clear, I created these faux squads through mock drafts with the intention of giving various examples of potential team builds, but these mock teams should not be treated as some sort of holy grail. Feel free to tweak them as you see fit.


$48 – Jimmy Butler

$35 – Myles Turner

$35 – C.J. McCollum

$24 – Kevin Love

$21 – Ricky Rubio

$15 – Nikola Vucevic

$10 – D’Angelo Russell

$5 – Nerlens Noel

$2 – Donovan Mitchell

$2 – Lou Williams

$1 – Josh Richardson

$1 – Zach LaVine

$1 – Josh Jackson


Jimmy Buckets might be one of my favorite guys to go after with this strategy, I’m confident that he’ll be putting up first-round value under Tom Thibodeau, yet for some reason, he has an average cost in Yahoo of just $43.9. You’ll notice that Noel, Rubio and Turner tend to be a common theme on most my teams, and that’s because I think they’re some of the best value plays out there this year. I do acknowledge that this team could have been better in the shot blocking department, and if I were to do it again, I’d probably use the money spent on Love to go after someone like Brook Lopez.


Bargain Bin


Some of my favorite lower-money, high-upside targets this year would be:


Blake Griffin – average cost $22.8

Brook Lopez – average cost $22.4

Khris Middleton – average cost $21.5 (I’d go as high as $30 for him)

Goran Dragic – average cost $21.5

Jusuf Nurkic – average cost $20.1

Ricky Rubio – average cost $17.3

Nicolas Batum – average cost $16.5

Victor Oladipo – average cost $10.6 (will be closer to $20 in competitive leagues)

Nikola Vucevic – average cost $12.9 (will be in the $15-$20 range in competitive leagues)

D’Angelo Russell – average cost $10.9 (preseason hype will likely have him drifting into the $20s)

Trevor Ariza – average cost $8.4

Lou Williams – average cost $6.6

Elfrid Payton – average cost $6.5

Markelle Fultz – average cost $6.3

Nerlens Noel – average cost $6.1 (will be in the $12-$15 range in competitive leagues)


Avery Bradley – average cost $5.3

Dennis Smith Jr. – average cost $4.0 (he’ll be in the $15-$20 range in competitive leagues)

Rajon Rondo – average cost $3.3

Willie Cauley-Stein – average cost $3.4

Gary Harris – average cost $2.8 (closer to $12 in competitive leagues)

Aaron Gordon – average cost $2.8

Brandon Ingram – average cost $2.8

Zach LaVine – average cost $2.8

Derrick Favors – average cost $2.6

Tim Hardaway Jr. – average cost $2.6

Buddy Hield – average cost $1.9

Robin Lopez – average cost $1.9

Marquese Chriss – average cost $1.6 (you should set aside closer to $8 if other guys in your draft are Rotoworld readers)

Jamal Murray – average cost $1.5


Favorite $1 targets


Rodney Hood

Josh Jackson

Josh Richardson

Joe Ingles

Kent Bazemore

Donovan Mitchell

T.J. Warren

Reggie Jackson

Allen Crabbe

Jarrett Allen

Terrence Ross

Seth Curry

Thaddeus Young

Dion Waiters

Stanley Johnson

Denzel Valentine

John Collins

Tyler Johnson

Milos Teodosic

Chandler Parsons

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Taurean Prince

Kris Dunn

Jared Johnson

A hoops fanatic, Jared Johnson has been a member of the NBC Sports Edge team since 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Jae_Tha_Truth, and feel free to send him your questions regarding trades, draft strategies and all things fantasy basketball.