A few weeks back, before the RazzJam drafts started, Son and I were talking about strategies for the upcoming year. “Talking about strategies” is a generous way of describing my contributions to the discussion. Mostly I was bellyaching about the mistakes I made last year (double guard to start, no real center…ever) and committing to not doing that again. Son, who I’m sure was saying something brilliant and valuable and actionable, was mostly there as a witness to me turning over new leaves.
Draft season kicked off with the RazzJam (slow draft, four-hour timer. Mine took 13 days to complete), and I was enjoying it so much that I kept finding myself in more draft rooms. By the time my RCL draft wrapped up on Monday night, I had seven rosters to manage — a medley of H2H and roto, 10- and 12- teamers, weekly and daily — which is significantly more than I normally play.
An oddity of my draft season: I had really good luck (depending on your preference, I suppose) this year with snake draft positioning, as I never had a pick lower than five. I never got a crack at Joker, but my draft slots allowed me to build teams more or less how I wanted at the top. Coming into the RazzJam, I felt comfortable taking any of Joker, James Harden, Steph Curry, Karl-Anthony Towns or Kevin Durant in the first round, with Damian Lillard with the sixth pick if it came to it. Despite having no Jokic shares, I was able to construct teams around first-round anchors that I’m generally pretty excited about:
- Two teams with James Harden (picks 1.4; 1.5)
- Two teams with Kevin Durant (1.5; 1.4)
- Two teams with Karl-Anthony Towns (1.5; 1.2)
- One team with Steph Curry (1.2)
Because I exist with my own preferences and biases, and because I was routinely drafting within roughly the same range each draft, I ended up putting together squads with a ton of overlap. When looking at my rosters in total, it became clear that I have circled some players that will make or break my seasons. While I tried to diversify a bit so any one injury to a first-rounder won’t cripple my entire 21-22 basketball season (hence the Curry choice at 1.2 despite taking Towns there previously), I wasn’t able to help myself in some cases, and the same player (and then players, plural) ended up on roster after roster after roster. My Guys.
I like them, I think.
So here, for your scorn and adulation, arranged by where I was usually able to grab them in 10- or 12-team snake drafts, are My Guys for fantasy hoops this year.
First Rounders — Superstar Nets, KAT, and Curry
After having to lean on [checks notes] Mitchell Robinson and James Wiseman as the true centers on my 2020 RazzJam team, I had no issue going with Karl-Anthony Towns this time around. The production is so well-balanced, the big man stats (something coveted after last year’s debacle) are excellent, and the percentages rule. I was burned by his lack of availability for my other teams last year, but the skillset is dynamite in category leagues.
The Kyrie drama in Brooklyn, of which there is plenty, didn’t factor too much into my decisions to go with Kevin Durant and James Harden in the first round. Instead, my choices were much more predicated on the assist (and scoring, FT, 3s, and steals) value that Harden provides and the fact that I think that Giannis is right: whenever it is that this sentence passes through your eyes and enters your mind, Kevin Durant is probably the best basketball player on earth. KD’s my preseason pick for real-life MVP and is a stone-cold lock for top-10 fantasy value when he’s on the floor. If Kyrie’s absence is an extended one, even better. Both Brooklyn stars are generational talents with championship aspirations. A bet on them being great wasn’t hard for me to make.
Steph Curry was my change-of-pace pick and has turned in top-5 fantasy seasons recently and regularly. Getting to take myself off the hook with Buddy Hield’s bushel of threes later on in the draft also factored in here. Buddy shows up later on this list, though I’m not exactly thrilled about it.
Early — LaMelo Ball, Michael Porter Jr., OG Anunoby, Rudy Gobert, Deandre Ayton, Kristaps Porzingis
My affection for Michael Porter Jr. is well-documented, and it looks like the broader drafting public is coming around on him too. The back half of round two was a place I felt comfortable taking MPJ’s scoring upside, trips, boards and outstanding percentages, but oftentimes I was beaten to the punch — especially in leagues where I was near the top of round one. My consolation prize was a lot of LaMelo Ball, which definitely took some of the sting out of missing on Porter. Ball should be a counting stats machine in year two, and there’s plenty of room for improvement with the shot. If Lonzo can turn himself into a positive three-point shooter, there’s reason to believe the more talented brother can improve his efficiency too. Devonte’ Graham is out of the picture now, leaving LaMelo’s in full control in the Queen City. At the very least he’ll be a fun watch in year two.
OG Anunoby was rarely available, but I pounced where I could. A top-35 guy last year, he was a trendy pick to continue his breakout, and that was before his impressive preseason. Between OG and Scottie Barnes (more on him later), I’m fantasizing about a world where Pascal Siakam gets moved out of town and the young forwards run wild in Toronto. Be still my heart.
Rudy Gobert and Deandre Ayton were non-negotiable for me in round three in leagues where I didn’t take Towns. I learned about getting snowed under in rebounds and swats in roto leagues last year, so getting a real-ass center before it was too late was a high priority, and I’m ultimately glad I made that rule for myself. There might be some recency bias with me on Ayton, as his game was eventually distilled into something extremely useful in the Finals, but he’s also finished no worse than 44th over his three years as a pro. He’s only 23! I don’t know if we’ll see it next year, but I bet there’s another level here. Gobert solves whatever blocked shot problems I caused for myself by going Curry/Harden/Ball heavy. Both of these bigs will help buttress the FG%, though Rudy eats into the FT% with ferocity.
Kristaps Porzingis straddles the line in the early and middle rounds, and I was happy enough to take the discount on him and cross my fingers for health. Injuries are always a worry here, but he was my second center in both the leagues where I got him, so I feel like I’m not overly exposed if he goes down. And if he stays upright? Top-40 production with the potential for more.
Middle — Derrick White, Tyrese Haliburton, Darius Garland, Isaiah Stewart, Buddy Hield, Kelly Olynyk
Young guards on the come up! The Haliburton/White/Garland trio are the answers to a regular question I faced in the draft: Where do I get my assists plus…
Derrick White’s blocks from the guard position made him extremely attractive to me, especially in the leagues I didn’t get Gobert. I worry about his foot, but DeRozan’s DeParture in San Antonio opens up a ton of potential usage. He was a top-100 guy last year and the runway is clear for a big move up the rankings if he stays on the floor.
Tyrese Haliburton is…perfect. Sorry, that was the latent Kings fan in me jumping out. Haliburton’s rookie season was better than any year either of the other two players have had, so maybe he’s not perfect, but he’s definitely good. While White was assists plus blocks, Hali is assists plus steals, and I’m glad that I rarely had to choose between the two. I missed on Sacramento’s second-year guard in many of my early drafts, but feel comforted after collecting some shares later down the road.
Darius Garland strikes me as the most volatile player of the group, as I have a hard time fully embracing any product that’s come out of the Cavaliers developmental pipeline. I’ll really need his dimes in the RazzJam, where my lead guard is Chris Paul and not much else. Son’s projections are keen on Garland, but I guess what I’m saying is that not all upside is created equal.
Isaiah Stewart aka “Beef Stew” was my guy in leagues with a second center position and where I missed on KP. The total package here is somewhat wobbly — his minutes were curbed as a rookie, so there’s not a huge track record to bank on — but what he does well (FG%, swats, boards) were things I needed. Ditto that sentiment for Hield and his three-pointers. Beef, unlike Buddy, has the advantage of a clear starter’s role and allotment of minutes going forward. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hield starts to get squeezed in Sacramento, especially considering the things he does poorly and the things Davion Mitchell does well. Maybe Buddy’s benched, maybe the minutes dip, maybe he’s moved. There’s more uncertainty here than I’d like, tbh, especially considering I’m asking for one very specific, very important thing from Hield. Not great.
Kelly O was unbelievable in Houston last year and Dwane Casey has said that he’s going to be a featured player (alongside Stewart) in Detroit. His percentages were always really welcome, as I struggled to keep both of them above water at times.
Late — Mitchell Robinson, Scottie Barnes, Tyler Herro, De’Anthony Melton, Thomas Bryant
Where Mitchell Robinson was drafted in your league probably tells you a lot about the people you’re playing with. He was buried on draft boards after being limited by injuries and fouls last year, but it was just two seasons ago that he was a top-50 player. The more mainstream leagues — Yahoo!, ESPN — were places where you could get MRob at bargain-basement prices. In the RazzJam, however, I felt compelled to reach for him in the 7th round. The defensive stats here are the prize, though the FG% boost was a necessary shot in the arm for a lot of my teams (apologies to Kyrie for the pun.) Maybe this is the year he wrestles away the lion’s share of center minutes for the Knicks. Or maybe this is the year when Thibs runs Taj Gibson out there again and I’m left holding the bag. I, for one, could go for a change of pace, Tom.
Scottie Barnes might not stay on all these rosters of mine all year long, but I had a hard time not rolling the dice with him regularly in the late rounds just to see what happens. I initially got him late (209 overall) in the RazzJam, and as the preseason numbers rolled in, I was able to stay ahead of Johnny-come-latelys in most of my other leagues. The defensive stats from preseason definitely have helium in them, the blocks especially, but with Pascal down and Nick Nurse raving about the number four overall pick (ahead of Jalen Suggs), I’d rather start with Scottie on the roster rather than scramble to add him later. Barnes ended up as my most drafted player, along with…
De’Anthony Melton might begin the year as a starter in Memphis. Dillon Brooks recently broke his hand, and outside of Ja Morant, there isn’t a whole lot nailed down in the Memphis backcourt. Melt’s per-36 figures are gorgeous, and if he comes out of the gates firing, it could be tough to move him off the spot. He’s a lottery ticket I’m happy to hold.
Tyler Herro has put together a preseason that’s reminiscent of Bubble Herro. I don’t feel like I had to reach for him in the places I got him, and if he turns out to be the regular, non-Bubble Herro, it won’t pain me to move on. Thomas Bryant is coming off a knee injury, but he’s been a solid big in season’s past. He’ll have to win his job back from Daniel Gafford as he comes back off the injury, but I kind of like his chances. In leagues with IL spots, I took him in the last rounds and stashed him preemptively.
Should i do my Roco (or smart) and Porter JR for Ja and Collins?
I don’t think that’s a bad deal, but I’m always reluctant to make trades where I’m the one giving up the best player (Porter) in the package.