Fantasy basketball can be very different from other fantasy sports, in that there is not one proven draft strategy. The “Running Back-Running Back” fantasy football strategy is timeless, along with the standard mantra of “Wait on Tight End, Kicker, and Defense,” to which “Wait on Quarterback” is being added more frequently. In fantasy basketball, the position is not as important as the player.
The best players in basketball play all different positions, so targeting specific positions early in drafts is not a reliable strategy. Some people plan to “punt” categories, which means they intentionally draft players who do not excel in a certain category (free-throw percentage is a popular one), but that is a strategy that presents itself out of desperation as the draft progresses. The lack of a specific, proven strategy is why you will hear a lot of experts tell you that the best fantasy basketball draft strategy is no strategy. But I disagree.
At the risk of sounding overly simplistic, my strategy is this: target and draft only well-rounded players who contribute across the board. Sounds obvious right? Did you mutter, “Duh?”
Most people probably go into their draft thinking that this is what they want to do, but somewhere between rounds one and four they abandon ship. Hey, stuff happens. The internet connection cuts out or that third cocktail hits and, next thing you know, you have three centers after only four rounds. These crazy moments notwithstanding, I believe the most common reason for bailing on the well-rounded strategy is: name recognition and recency-bias. Drafters get tempted by a well-known player when they have fallen below their perceived value and the deal seems too good to pass up on or they grab a player too early because they finished last season strong or were in a better position to succeed than they are this coming season.
Oh, you want examples?
Tyreke Evans: All the other good players on Memphis were hurt last season and Tyreke was able to break-out and carry fantasy teams to the top of their league. This year he is on a team with usage-hog Victor Oladipo. Tyreke may even up the third or fourth option behind Myles Turner and Darren Collison. He should still be on fantasy teams, but be careful not to reach for him.
Jarren Jackson Jr.: There is a lot to like about JJJ’s fantasy future, but there is lot to be wary of in the fantasy present. Jackson has the name recognition because we all just watched the NBA draft, but Memphis is healthy again and Jackson is still super young and raw. One-and-done college players rarely make the jump to NBA fantasy star, but JJJ is being drafted ahead of more proven guys. Drafting rookies is just asking for heartbreak.
Donovan Mitchell: The rare rookie who became an almost immediate fantasy superstar. Donovan Mitchell was not a one-and-done college player, so it was not a complete shock that he was able to help fantasy teams right away. However, the way he helped teams has his stock sky high this season. I expect big things from Mitchell this season, but he is now on a team that is expected to make the playoffs and compete at a high level. The Jazz may not be as willing to ride Mitchell into the ground this year to keep him fresh for a playoff run. He will help fantasy teams this season; just do not take him higher than he is worth because of name value alone.
The key to the well-rounded draft strategy is: forget about names and look at situations. If a star player is on a team with no other star players, then there is a good chance that even though their point totals may be great, their Field Goal percentage and Turnovers will most likely be higher than normal. A team devoid of star players is a great place to find the next sleeper fantasy star. The system a team runs is also critical to the fantasy success of most players. I say “most players” because there are some players that are fantasy studs no matter the team or the system. But those players will be drafted in the first two rounds and leagues are won and lost in the mid to later rounds of a fantasy draft.
My definition of a “well-rounded” fantasy basketball player is: someone who will contribute in most categories without hurting you in any categories. Most experts will tell you that the “well-rounded strategy” is most effective in season-long roto leagues and is not quite as important in head-to-head formats. Once again, I disagree. Modern basketball is quickly becoming position-less basketball. Centers are contributing Assists and Three Pointers and guards are racking up Rebounds and Blocks. There are enough players at every position contributing across the board that there should never be a reason to “have” to draft a player who is a known category-killer.
The following players will not be on any of my fantasy basketball teams this season and you should avoid them as well if you agree with my strategy:
Ben Simmons: The rare 3-category killer. Unless something miraculous happened to his jump shot over the summer, Simmons is going to hurt you in Free Throw Percentage, Threes, and Turnovers. Even in non-turnover leagues I would avoid Ben Simmons like James Harden avoids razors. Yes, I know this one hurts a lot because of how amazing he is in every other category, but you need to move on to someone who will treat you nice all the time, not just some of the time. Pass on the Junior Process.
Russell Westbrook: Unlike with Simmons, I would consider drafting Russ in non-turnover leagues, but the first round is so stacked with talent this season that there are safer alternatives to the walking triple-double. Let another team deal with making up for his awful Field Goal Percentage (which is made even worse by the volume of shots he takes). Like KD, I don’t want to play with Russ either.
Andre Drummond: I am proud of Andre for the major improvement he made to his free throw shooting. The scary part is that even with major improvement he is still only a 50 percent free throw shooter who shoots a TON of free throws. Outta the way ‘Dre.
Klay Thompson: One of the greatest shooters in NBA history, but that does not guarantee that someone will be a good fit on a fantasy basketball team. Three Pointers are maybe the easiest category to find later in drafts, so I would rather spend a high draft pick on multi-category contributor. No way Klay.
DeAndre Jordan: See Andre Drummond. There are too many other boards and blocks guys who can also shoot at least 70 percent from the charity stripe. I love him in Dallas with Luka and DSJ, but I do not want him anywhere near my fantasy team. Air-ball Jordan.
John Wall: Another high-volume Field Goal Percentage killer and Turnover machine. Yet another Wall I want no part of.
J.J. Redick: The sharpshooter does not exactly kill you in any one category, but he is not helping enough in the non-shooting stats to make him worthy of a spot on a well-rounded team’s roster. J.J. Redirect.
Dwight Howard: The poster boy for the punt-Free Throw movement. This superman is fantasy Kryptonite.
At the risk of revealing too much ahead of all of my fantasy basketball drafts, I will list a few players I would be happy to have on my well-rounded fantasy team:
Kevin Durant: Durant not only contributes across the board, but he is elite in every category. KD is the perfect first pick for a well-rounded team.
LeBron James: If Dwight Howard is the poster boy for punting, LeBron is the poster boy for the dominance that is being well-rounded. I rank Durant ahead of him because Durant is much better with Free Throw Percentage and beats LeBron in Blocks.
Nikola Jokic: If I walk away from the first round with one of these last three guys then I am well on my way to having the type of team I want. We have not even seen The Joker’s ceiling yet, he could end up being the top fantasy player by the end of the season.
Victor Oladipo: If VO can keep his Field Goal Percentage at 46 percent or higher, then I can see him making the jump to mid-first round talent.
Jimmy Butler: I would like to see some more blocks out of JB, but he can fill a box-score as well as anyone in the league.
Joel Embiid: The Process needs to get the Turnovers down a bit, but that should come with maturity. Pairing Embiid with either Durant or Jokic from the first round would be a pretty awesome start to a draft.
Al Horford: Puts up Assists like a point guard without the gaudy Turnover numbers most point guards bring to a fantasy team. I would like to see some more scoring, but that is about it.
Tobias Harris: He is going to have a huge year and can be had in the third or fourth round in most leagues. The blocks are a little low compared to other well-rounded guys on this list, but you have to be a little more flexible as the draft moves on.
Kawhi Leonard: He could be drafted anywhere from third to twentieth this year. A big pre-season will put Leonard back on the map as a perfect first pick for a well-rounded team. A great choice if you are picking at the end of the first round.
Draymond Green: He is a multi-cat monster. The low point total is a little hard to stomach at his draft position, so I rarely end up with him, but he is someone to target if you missed out on early round Assists.
John Collins: Collins is where the NBA is headed: big men who can pass, shoot, and block. Keep reading Razzball to learn about more guys like him that you will want to target later in drafts to build the perfect team.
Nicolas Batum: Back and healthy after an injury plague season. Batum can be paired on a team with Al Horford and you can avoid having to load up on Field Goal Percentage and Turnover killing point guards.
I hope that these examples help to illustrate my draft strategy and what I mean by putting together a team of well-rounded players. Do not be seduced by the sexy, popular names and stick strictly to the numbers and the situation. Happy drafting!