With all the sports action going on in October (MLB playoffs/NFL/NCAA football), it’s often easy to forget that the NBA season is rapidly approaching and in fact, the season begins Tuesday. For true fantasy geeks like myself, it’s time to start drafting our hoops teams, and for those who are new to fantasy NBA, this article will provide my personal top 50 list and a few strategy hints.
My top 50 is going to be different than the lists you might find on ESPN, Yahoo or any of the other big sports sites. The reasoning behind this is I put my list together based on players I actually want to draft as opposed to where they fall on a player rater or a statistically driven rankings set. I follow the NBA all year, and I know which players are due to break out and can be drafted in rounds much later than where you might find a guy who has done well before but has issues for this year.
As we go down my top 50 pick by pick, I’ll explain my drafting strategy and why I do things the way I do.
1.LeBron James, SF, Cleveland — A no-brainer as the No. 1. He can literally do it all.
2.Kobe Bryant, SG, LA Lakers — Is probably the best offensive player in the game.
3.Dwyane Wade, PG-SG, Miami — Has worked on 3-point shooting over the summer, which was his only drawback fantasy-wise.
4.Kevin Garnett, PF, Minnesota — Has been No. 1 or 2 for the last few years, but the first three are just too good.
5.Dirk Nowizki, PF, Dallas — Does it all and gives you great FG/FT% because he shoots so much.
6.Gilbert Arenas, PG, Washington — Could challenge for the scoring title if Kobe passes more often.
7.Shawn Marion, SF-PF, Phoenix — Defensive stats (rebounds/blocks/steals) are nice, but Amare is back to steal some of his offensive thunder.
8.Elton Brand, PF, LA Clippers — Probably the safest big guy, will give you 23 pts, 10 rebounds and 2-3 blocks every night.
9.Chris Bosh, PF-C, Toronto — I have him higher than most, but Toronto is going to play Phoenix-style ball this year, so Bosh goes up to 24-25 points and 10 rebounds per game. You can probably get him in the second round but he’s a first-round talent.
10.Chris Paul, PG, New Orleans — Scoring is the only thing he isn’t great at yet. He will score more this year than last, however.
So that’s my top 10. When you compare my list to others, I have Garnett and Marion lower for the reasons given, and Kobe, Wade and Bosh higher. A lot of my drafting strategy depends on whom I get in the first round. If I get one of the top 3 guys, then I’m looking to get a big guy soon. If I get Brand, Bosh, Dirk or Marion, then I’m looking small in round 2. On to picks 11-20:
11.Yao Ming, C, Houston — If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a top-5 fantasy performer. He has yet to make it through a whole season, however. Regardless, he’s the top C available.
12.Paul Pierce, SF, Boston — He’s going to give you the same things LeBron, Kobe and Wade do, just a little bit less of each of them.
13.Steve Nash, PG, Phoenix — He’s been playing run and gun ball for years now. I worry this is the year he gets injured, but he’s great when playing.
14.Ray Allen, SG, Seattle — The king of the three-pointer. He’s a great guy to get if you got a big guy in the 1st round.
15.Tim Duncan, PF-C, San Antonio — Now on the downside of his career, but will still give you 20 pts, 11 reb, and 2 blocks.
16.Amare Stoudemire, PF, Phoenix — Amare could either be a top-5 guy or a complete bust. No one has come back from his type of injury to be as strong as they were before, but this athletic freak could be the first. I’m not drafting him because I don’t take a lot of risks, but if you’re a gambler, he could be the ultimate payoff.
17.Vince Carter, SG, New Jersey — Same comment as Pierce applies here. VC is a bit flaky, though, so I could see a down-tick in value.
18.Jermaine O’Neal, PF-C, Indiana — This is yet another guy who has had many injury issues. He’ll give you similar numbers to Duncan when healthy.
19.Dwight Howard, PF, Orlando — The best young big man to hit the league since Shaq and Duncan. I am targeting Howard in every draft, and I have him one round earlier than most.
20.Josh Smith, SF, Atlanta — This is the other guy I’m trying to get in every single league. Smith is going to average 1.5 3’s and 3 blocks per game, which is just a ridiculous combination to have in one player.
OK, so here is my overall strategy. When I’m drafting I’m trying to find a balance between all the categories, and I want players who are going to give me stellar stats in at least two categories. If I’m drafting a guard I want them to give me a lot of assists, steals and 3’s. If I’m drafting a big guy, I want big rebounds and big blocks. I’ll then try to fill in the gaps later. In a standard league, you are going to have 8 categories — field goal and free throw percentage, 3-pointers made, rebounds, blocks, steals, assists and points scored.
Now, it’s hard to guess who is going to have a good field goal percentage from year to year, but in general big guys have better FG% because they are closer to the basket. When you draft your top-scoring guys you want to make sure they aren’t guys who are taking a ton of shots to score their points (Allen Iverson being a perfect example). I avoid Iverson like the plague because he will kill you in FG%, not to mention he’s bound to get hurt one of these years because of the way he plays. I also avoid Shaq in any league with FT% because he will single-handedly kill you in that category.
What you want to do is try to get guys who give you great numbers in the counting categories (rebounds, blocks, points, assists, steals, 3-pointers) and don’t kill you in the percentage ones. If you can find the right mix of guys who give you great numbers in at least two categories and are decent-to-good shooters (45% or better in FG%, 75% or better FT%), you should win your league. Don’t tank (give up on) on any category because you’ll have no chance to win if you do. So far, through Rounds 1-2, I’m very happy if I have a combo of someone in the top 3 (LeBron, Kobe, Wade) and then Bosh, Howard, Jermaine O’Neal or Yao. If I got Brand, Marion or Dirk in the 1st round, then I’m hoping I have Chris Paul, Pierce or Ray Allen.
Round 3 is where you are going to get the sleeper guy to help win you the league. Most likely you are going to be able to get Dwight Howard or Josh Smith in the 3rd round, and I believe both of those guys are going to give you first-round numbers. There are two other players I’m trying to get in the 3rd round if I don’t get Howard or Smith, so let’s go through picks 21-30 and see who they are:
21.Joe Johnson, PG-SG, Atlanta — This is one of the big sleepers I’m looking at. Now that he has been freed up from point-guard duties, look for JJ to make a big jump in his scoring. Between him and Josh Smith, I really like the Hawks’ future. Johnson should give you similar numbers to the Round 2 shooting guards (Allen, Carter, and Pierce).
22.Gerald Wallace, SF, Charlotte — And this is the other guy. Wallace is probably the most underrated player in the NBA, and is just a complete defensive freak. He is going to be the only player in the league to give you at least two blocks and two steals per game, and is also going to score about 17 or so. I’ve actually been able to pick G-Wall in the 4th round so if you can get him there, it’s a total steal.
23.Andrei Kirilenko, SF, Utah — Kirilenko and Wallace are virtual clones of each other statistically, with some extra blocks for AK47, and more steals for Wallace. The only problem with Kiri is he always seems to be injured. If he could ever put a full year together he’d be fantastic.
24.Jason Kidd, PG, New Jersey — Kidd is probably going to go higher than this in your draft, but there is a ton of PG value later in the draft so I’d pass on Kidd unless you could get him in the late third or early fourth round.
25.Allen Iverson, PG-SG, Philadelphia — As I said above, I avoid Iverson every year. He’s never going to fall this far so don’t worry about it.
26.Chauncey Billups, PG, Detroit — Billups is great at what he does (3’s and assists), but as I said with Kidd, there are a ton of good PGs still left that you can get at least 2-3 rounds later that can give you close to the same production. He’s still not bad if you ended up with big guys for your first two picks.
27.Tracy McGrady, SF, Houston — Obviously a healthy T-Mac belongs in the first round, but I’m afraid we’ll never see that again. Avoid!
28.Jason Richardson, SG-SF, Golden State — There are 3 teams that are planning to play a much quicker style this year (Toronto, Golden State, New York), so I’m targeting these guys as often as I can.
Richardson can probably be had in the 4th round, so don’t go nuts picking him early. I look for a 2-3 point increase in his scoring and maybe 1 more reb per game as there will be more shots taken.
29.Lamar Odom, PF, LA Lakers — When Odom is on his game he’s a very unique player. There aren’t many players who can give you 15 rebounds one game and then 3 3-pointers the next. Odom does have baggage and of course plays with Kobe, so he’s never going to be the alpha dog, but he’s not a bad risk late in the 3rd round.
30.Ron Artest, SF, Sacramento — There is a list of about 10-15 players that I won’t take under any circumstances, and Artest is No. 1 on that list. He completely destroyed my season two years ago after the brawl, so I vowed never to take him again. Here is the rest of the list: A. Stoudemire (until proven healthy), Kirilenko, Iverson, McGrady, Shaq, Marcus Camby, Chris Webber, Kenyon Martin, Corey Maggette, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Manu Ginobili. That’s not to say these aren’t talented players. All of them obviously are, but I have had too many seasons killed by having them on my team that I vowed to only take guys I thought were going to be around all season. I may miss out on monster seasons from any of those guys, but I’ll sleep better at night not having to worry about them.
The fourth round is a bit of a tricky widget. Most likely, I’ll be able to get one of the guys I’m targeting in the top 30 in the fourth, so this next group of 10 is guys I would actually try to get in the fifth round instead of the fourth. If all of my top 30 were gone, then I’d just see which stats I hadn’t addressed yet and fill my need.
31.Baron Davis, PG, Golden State — People forget how good Baron was two years ago, and while he’s not the most reliable player, he has first-round talent. Baron’s FG% is normally pretty bad, but there aren’t many guys who can give you 10 assists, 2 3’s and 2 steals a game. With the up-tempo style new coach Don Nelson wants to implement, I’ll live with the bad FG% to get the numbers Baron’s going to put up.
32.Emeka Okafor, PF-C, Charlotte — Okafor was out most of last year with various injuries, so people forget he won the rookie of the year over Howard the year before. Emeka looks healthy this year and should return to the 17 ppg/10 reb/2 blocks potential he showed in 2004-2005.
33.Carlos Boozer, PF, Utah — Boozer could be great or could be a dud, but he has 20 ppg/11 reb potential. He just needs to stay on the court.
34.Raymond Felton, PG, Charlotte — The Bobcats could actually be a competitive team this year with their young nucleus of Felton, Okafor, Wallace and rookie Adam Morrison. Felton’s year was a bit overshadowed by Chris Paul’s rookie year, but he’s going to be a rock-solid guy in all three categories I’m looking for in a PG (assists, steals, 3’s).
35.Jameer Nelson, PG, Orlando — Baron, Felton, and Nelson are the reason I’m not reaching to draft Nash, Kidd, and Billups early in the draft. All three guys are going to be very solid.
36.Richard Jefferson, SF, New Jersey — Jefferson is the quiet man in the Nets’ star-scape, but he’s a very effective offensive player and will give you 7 rebounds to boot. This is about where he’ll go in your draft, but if you have nothing but PG and big guys, he’s a nice middle-ground.
37.Carmelo Anthony, SF, Denver — Inevitably, someone is going to take Melo way too early simply because of the star appeal. Anthony is a great scorer but is still developing a defensive game (rebounds, steals, blocks) to go with it. I won’t be taking him this year because he’s only helping in one category.
38.Rashard Lewis, SF, Seattle — Lewis is a nice pick here if you don’t have many 3-pointers yet. He doesn’t do anything other than score and shoot 3-pointers, though, so don’t go nuts trying to get him.
39.Mike Bibby, PG, Sacramento — He’d be a few spots higher, but he just sprained his thumb and is going to miss the first couple of weeks. Bibby is pretty good but doesn’t get many assists for a PG. If you already have those covered then go ahead and take a flyer on Bibby.
40.Brad Miller, C, Sacramento — The best passing big man in the game, Miller is a nice guy to pair up with Bibby. They’ll play off each other, Bibby giving you points and 3’s, and Miller giving you rebounds and assists. The center position is hard to fill other than Yao, so if you hit Round 5 and don’t have a center yet, Miller is a perfect guy to take.
OK, so now you should have at least two scorers and/or point guards and at least two big guys. The fifth round is where you want to find your gap-filler or simply the best guy available. Hopefully someone in the top 40 has fallen to you in the fifth and you can just go ahead and take him.
41.Boris Diaw, SF-PF, Phoenix — Diaw is kind of like Odom in that he gives unique stats for his position. Boris put up over 6 assists per game in that school-yard Suns offense, so he’s another guy that’s nice to pair up with a low-assist point guard like Bibby, or if you only have one PG so far, Diaw fills that assists need without taking another one. Diaw probably won’t fall this far, and I don’t think he should be drafted higher than this because assists are really the only place he’s stellar for a forward. He doesn’t score a lot, doesn’t shoot 3’s, is a pretty good rebounder and will give you a block per game.
42.Stephon Marbury, PG, New York — Well, this is definitely the lowest Starbury has ever been ranked, and coming off the disastrous year the Knicks had, I can see why. Isiah Thomas has taken over coaching duties and he loves Marbs, so look for a return to the old, selfish, point-scoring Marbury we knew and loved.
43.Kirk Hinrich, PG-SG, Chicago — Hinrich is going to give you similar but lesser numbers than Baron Davis: good assists, steals, and 3’s, but with a horrible FG%.
44.Antawn Jamison, PF, Washington — Jamison will give you 1.5 3’s at PF, which is very unique, but only about 8 rebounds per game at a position where you want to have at least 10. He also doesn’t give you any steals or blocks. Jamison should also score about 20 ppg, so he’ll definitely help you there, but you’re going to need to fill those rebound and block holes somewhere else.
45.Marcus Camby, C, Denver — If Camby ever played a full season he’d be a huge fantasy star. The guy is capable of 15 points/12 reb/3 blocks per game, but he simply can’t stay on the court. Only draft him if you don’t mind having your soul ripped out.
46/47.Michael Redd, SG, Milwaukee/Peja Stojakvoic, SF, New Orleans — I have these guys ranked together for two reasons: 1. They are never going to fall this far and 2. They only do two things — score and shoot 3’s. As you know, I want guys who do at least two things other than score so there will be no Redd or Peja on my teams this year.
These next four guys are the ones I want to get in Rounds 6-9. They aren’t going to be ranked anywhere near the top 50 on the site you play on, but trust the Sensei, they are going to be top-50 players at the end of the year.
48.Chris Kaman, C, LA Clippers — Would 15 points/11 reb/1.5 blocks/best hair in the league interest you? Yes, he’s goofy-looking, but the Kamanator can play and will get better this year.
49.Mo Williams, PG, Milwaukee — Mo takes over the starting PG role from T.J. Ford, and is actually an upgrade. Expect 15 ppg, 7-8 assists, 1.5 3’s, and 1.5 steals.
50.Chris Wilcox, PF, Seattle — If you look at Wilcox’s numbers for the entire year last year, you’ll see nothing, but when he got starter’s minutes in April, he averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds for Seattle. He’s getting huge minutes this year so get him!
51.Deron Williams, PG, Utah — Similar to Wilcox, really turned it on at the end of the year and will be ranked up there with all the other good PG at the end of the year.
OK, there’s my top 50 with one bonus thrown in. Next week I’ll get you the rest of the top 100 and the rest of my season preview, but if you draft between now and then, here are the rest of the guys you want to try to target after the top 50, in order of preference:
Steve Francis, SG, New York
Nenad Krstic, C, New Jersey
Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio
Channing Frye, PF-C, New York
Troy Murphy, PF-C, Golden State
Charlie Villanueva, PF, Milwaukee
Tyson Chandler, C, New Orleans
Speedy Claxton, PG, Atlanta
Jamaal Tinsley, PG, Indiana
Mike Dunleavy, SF-PF, Golden State
Mo Peterson, SG, Toronto
Mike Miller, SF, Memphis
Danny Granger, SF, Indiana
Darko Milicic, PF-C, Orlando
Stromile Swift, PF-C, Memphis
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston
Jarrett Jack, PG, Portland
Fred Jones, SG, Toronto
Sean May, PF, Charlotte
Earl Watson, PG, Seattle
Nick Collison, PF-C, Seattle
J.R. Smith, SG, Denver
Dajuan Wagner, SG, Golden State
Until next week, good luck and good drafting!