Auction drafting: my favorite time of the year. You can keep your Sweetest Day and your Arbor Day. Give me liberty, or give me auction draft day, or death. It’s the only time where friends and strangers alike converge in one place and sweat it out uncomfortably all afternoon. Actually, it’s one of two such days. There is also the occasion in every man’s life where he takes a public steam with a gaggle of old men and the sauna door gets stuck. That hasn’t happened to you? Well, it happens to every man at some point, so go ahead and look forward to it happening in the future. Auction day produces the good sweat; the sweet sweat. At least it should be sweet. It can be if you are prepared and arrive with a game plan. It’s easy as long as you know how to do it. Oh, is that all? Here’s a fistful of strategy to think about for your auction drafts. And remember, if it takes you more than five minutes to spot the sucker in the room … you’re the sucker.
1. Know the maximum you’re willing to pay for the players you want.
Even if you find most fantasy basketball’s auction draft values to be mostly gobbledygook, it is still wise that you formulate a guide of your own with maximum values for each player. It’s difficult to remember the ultimate worth of a player’s contributions when you can’t see the big picture in front of you. Everyone wants Durant on their team, but not everyone will want to pay $90 for him. I suggest not being in the group that overpays for anyone other than elite players, as you can find cost-effective deals for most players except the elite ones. That’s why they call them elite.
2. Draw out other bidders by nominating the sleepers you’re luke warm on.
If you’re playing in a league that remains unfamiliar with the “nominate players you don’t want” auction standard, don’t bother reading the rest of this post. You’ll roll your league without reading any advice I have here. Every year, auction drafters are learning and evolving and you must evolve right along with them. The battle of wits has begun! And clearly, you cannot choose the goblet in front of you. The good old days of nominating red herrings to draw out bidding on players you don’t want are over. Now, everyone just sits on their funds and someone ends up getting Tristan Thompson for $5. So you clearly cannot choose the goblet in front of me either. I suggest nominating sleepers that you’re hoping to get for $5, but would be fine losing if they went for more. Most drafters start out timidly, nervous that they’re going to be forced straight into the LeBron or Kobe pool. While you’re waiting for the big guns, build your team from the bottom before a lot of drafters are paying attention. Either you’ll get your targeted sleepers cheap or someone else just spent $10 on Wesley Johnson. Never go in against a Sicilian when Wes is on the line.
3. With your first 5-7 players, account for every penny.
We just discussed having a maximum you’ll pay for your top guys (When? Just now. Now? No. Before that.) For every player you buy, be sure to keep track of how over or under you are from your projections. If you were willing to bid up to $44 for Josh Smith, but got him for $39, be sure to keep track that you are +$5 and understand that you have that much extra to push toward another player. So if Gallinari is on the block for $23 and your maximum is $24, but you’ve got a reserve of $5, it’s okay to go up to $29 without actually moving off your budget. In the short term this flies against strategy no.1, but in the long run, it’s just a way to ensure you get the most out of your entire cap.
4. Wait to bid on players you want.
There’s a psychological art to auction drafts. eBay has made billions converting emotions into profit. If there’s a two-way bidding war over, say, Kevin Garnett that you are not involved in but would like to be – a) um, why? and b) wait until the two bidders are within $5 of the maximum you’d be willing to pay for him. If two bidders identify only each other as their competition and suddenly a third bidder swoops in, a lot of the air is let out of that bidding war and you take immediate control over the momentum of that bid. This won’t always work, especially if you’re not willing to overpay and one of the other two guys is, but if you do it enough over the course of a draft, you’ll get a few players you otherwise wouldn’t have.
5. Early on, never have the lowest funds in a group unless you’re getting every player you want.
If you’re targeting Granger, Bosh and Iguodala in your draft above all others and they happen to be the first up for auction, don’t sit on your hands (or whatever you use to bid). Go for it. But anything short of that, make sure you have more money remaining in your cap than anyone else because you’ll need it. You may need it for the 15th player up for auction or the 30th or each of the last five, but you’ll need more money than the next guy. Most drafters don’t have the big picture in focus and forget who is still available to be auctioned.
6. Don’t pay for upside.
Especially in leagues of 12 teams or fewer, there will be plenty of upside to grab throughout the year. Plenty. Pay for the players you know are going to be accumulating stats for your team, not the ones you hope will. $5 for Kyrie Irving is fine. $20 for him is $15 wasted dollars.