Team USA teammates Kevin Durant and LeBron James went one-two in countless fantasy basketball drafts this fall.
At the very, very top of draft orders, fantasy basketball owners got it right: Kevin Durant was—and should have been—the first player off the board, followed immediately by LeBron James and Chris Paul. Those three players have been the three most productive fantasy basketball stars thus far in leagues that count turnovers, but the correlation gets much cloudier after the hyper-elite.
Kobe Bryant (7.7 average draft position) and Russell Westbrook (5.9) are two more guys who were drafted in the first round of ESPN.com fantasy leagues (on average) and played like they should have been picked there. Deron Williams (5.3) and Dwyane Wade (5.5) have been on the fringe of being top-30 players this season, but have the pedigree to be selected within the first three rounds of 10-team leagues.
Andrew Bynum (11.1), however, hasn’t played a single minute in 2012-13. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all for him to be left off of draft boards entirely if fantasy hoops owners got a do-over.
Players selected in the first three rounds of a fantasy draft tend to be those of the superstar variety—guys who either excel at some skills like few others while having limited weaknesses, or guys who are a positive influence on all eight non-turnover categories.
All stats accurate prior to games played on Jan. 15, 2013.
2013 Season Rank: 1
2013 Average Rank: 1
LeBron James was my personal primary target on draft day, edging out Kevin Durant by virtue of his vast assists advantage. Durant’s free-throw marksmanship advantage (86.0 percent to 77.1 percent in 2012) could be blunted by adding other players who are proficient from the line to LeBron’s assists lead (6.2 to 3.5).
Assists—especially from a small forward—are harder to trade for than solid free-throw percentage, but LeBron and KD dismantled that logic with differing stat lines this season. LeBron is back up to 6.9 assists, but Durant followed suit by bumping his dimes to 4.2. Where their paths split was the free-throw line.
James’ free-throw percentage dropped from 77.1 to 73.1 over the course of a season. Durant’s, meanwhile, spiked from 86.0 to 90.2—on 8.9 attempts per game.
Round 2 (Pick 20): Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs (Season Rank: 16, Average Rank: 27, ADP 44.9).
Round 3 (Pick 21): Paul Pierce, SG/SF, Boston Celtics (Season Rank: 20, Average Rank: 23, ADP 33.7).
Tony Parker and Paul Pierce are nice bookend selections to supplement the selection of Durant. Neither has a pronounced weakness in terms of efficiency and, while Parker fails to record a ridiculous number of assists (7.1), steals (0.9) or threes (0.5), Pierce makes up for that with 2.0 threes, 3.8 dimes and 1.5 steals.
Team Strengths: FG%, FT%, 3PM, AST, PTS
2013 Season Rank: 2
2013 Average Rank: 2
LeBron James is still a pretty good consolation prize.
Round 2 (Pick 19): Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (Season Rank: 36, Average Rank: 15, ADP 13.4).
Round 3 (Pick 22): Dwight Howard, C, Los Angeles Lakers (Season Rank: 110, Average Rank: 93, ADP 10.5).
Kyrie Irving’s draft slot slipped since he has missed 11 games this season, but he’s healthy now and is expected to be himself going forward. Like Parker, Irving is good for field-goal (45.9) and free-throw (82.8) percentage—but also converts threes (2.0 3PM) and grabs steals (1.7) at a high rate.
With LeBron being a surprisingly bad free-throw influence (73.1 percent on 6.5 attempts per game) as it is, catching a free-falling Dwight Howard in the third round would be a shrewd move. Pairing LeBron and Dwight essentially translates into punting the free-throw percentage category—and effectively turns Dwight into a top-three fantasy player.
Team Strengths: FG%, REB, STL, PTS, BLK
Team Weaknesses: FT%
2013 Season Rank: 3
2013 Average Rank: 3
Only one player in the NBA averages north of 10 assists per game.
No, it isn’t Chris Paul—but CP3 is second to Rajon Rondo with 9.7 nightly dishes and a better assist-to-turnover ratio. Paul is also running away with the steals title, edging Mike Conley by 0.25 as he collects 2.62 swipes per game. There’s a lot to like about a point guard that shoots 48.1 percent from the field and 90.1 percent from the line.
Round 2 (Pick 18): Brandon Jennings, PG, Milwaukee Bucks (Season Rank: 21, Average Rank: 19, ADP 31.2).
Round 3 (Pick 23): Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers (Season Rank: 30, Average Rank: 42, ADP 77.4).
There’s nothing wrong with tripling up at the PG position in the first three rounds. Unfortunately, none of the selected options here are SG-eligible, but the triumvirate provides a reliable supply of assists. Brandon Jennings gets the nod over Kyrie Irving as he’s played every game this season; the two are comparable in threes, steals and assists.
Lillard vaulted up this draft board as a scoring PG shooting north of 42 percent and knocking down copious amounts of threes.
Team Strengths: FT%, 3PM, AST, STL, PTS
Team Weaknesses: FG%, REB, BLK
2013 Season Rank: 6
2013 Average Rank: 5
Kobe Bryant is averaging a ridiculous 38.7 minutes per game in his 17th NBA season. That hasn’t hampered the 34-year-old’s efficiency, though: He’s shooting a career-high 47.5 percent from the field and scoring 29.8 points per game. Add that to 5.0 boards, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 83.4 percent free-throw shooting on 8.3 attempts and you’ve got a well-rounded fantasy force at shooting guard: a position with few efficient studs.
Round 2 (Pick 17): David Lee, PF/C, Golden State Warriors (Season Rank: 17, Average Rank: 20, ADP 37.4).
Round 3 (Pick 24): Deron Williams, PG, Brooklyn Nets (Season Rank: 29, Average Rank: 35, ADP 5.3).
David Lee is a 20-10-type guy (19.9 PPG and 10.9 RPG) with limited weaknesses in the fantasy game—but he doesn’t block any shots. That’s why he fell to this spot, but a Kobe Bryant owner should have no problem scooping up the Golden State Warriors big man due to his above-average assists production. Blocks specialists can be found later in the draft to make up for him.
Deron Williams hasn’t played up to expectations in 2012-13, but he’s still a top-10 fantasy point guard. The Brooklyn Nets PG is also an interesting hedge for Bryant: Kobe’s minutes could decrease as the season wears on, but the Nets are certainly hoping Williams turns things around before the end of the year. If each happens, you’ve still got elite production in your fantasy backcourt with this combo.
Team Strengths: FG%, FT%, AST, PTS
Team Weaknesses: BLK, REB
2013 Season Rank: 9
2013 Average Rank: 10
Average Draft Position: 24.4
Serge Ibaka is simply the best big man in fantasy basketball. The only PF/C that has outperformed him overall on ESPN’s Player Rater this season is Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs—but Timmy has a tendency to miss games almost at random. There’s also no telling how much his minutes will be trimmed when the Spurs are satisfied with (or locked into) their playoff positioning.
Ibaka doesn’t bring double-digit boards (8.4 RPG) to the table, but he is a shot-swatting specialist (2.8 BPG) that has also taken steps in his offensive game. On a career-high 10.6 attempts nightly, Ibaka is shooting a personal-best 56.7 percent from the floor in addition to 79.3 percent from the free-throw line.
Round 2 (Pick 16): Paul George, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers (Season Rank: 18, Average Rank: 21, ADP 41.3).
Round 3 (Pick 25): Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat (Season Rank: 49, Average Rank: 32, ADP 5.5).
Paul George does a lot of things well, but he’s not a terribly efficient shooter. The Indiana Pacers swingman is a great glue guy, but pairing him with Serge Ibaka creates a scoring deficiency that must be addressed immediately. Dwyane Wade is the most dangerous bucket-maker left on the board.
Team Strengths: FG%, BLK, STL, TO
Team Weaknesses: PTS, 3PM
2013 Season Rank: 7
2013 Average Rank: 8
Average Draft Position: 42.8
Stephen Curry is a flat-out sniper; he’s knocking down 3.1 threes per game on 46.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc. That number is somewhat befuddling, considering his overall field-goal percentage is 43.7, but he makes up for that with a knockdown presence at the line: 89.3 percent of his free throws have found home.
Steph is also averaging a career-high 6.6 assists per game and hasn’t missed a single contest for the Golden State Warriors in 2012-13.
Round 2 (Pick 15): Al Jefferson, PF/C, Utah Jazz (Season Rank: 10, Average Rank: 14, ADP 13.7).
Round 3 (Pick 26): Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics (Season Rank: 49, Average Rank: 32, ADP 5.5).
Al Jefferson doesn’t really hurt you anywhere; his 17.4 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 1.1 BPG actually complement Steph Curry quite nicely. Rajon Rondo’s NBA-leading 11.2 dimes per game and triple-double potential give an obvious assists advantage—especially considering that Curry can man the fantasy 2-guard spot.
This is likely the most balanced fantasy team through the first three rounds, which would make the remainder of the draft more important in determining the identity of the team as a whole.
Team Strengths: AST, STL
2013 Season Rank: 5
2013 Average Rank: 4
Average Draft Position: 18.2
James Harden’s field-goal percentage (45.7) has recovered from a November lull that left him shooting 41.2 percent for the month. He’s an asset from the free-throw line, too (85.6 percent), while averaging a Kobe-esque 26.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG and 5.3 APG.
Harden’s top-tier steals (1.9 per game) give him a defensive fantasy presence as he adds 0.5 blocks per game. Unfortunately, his turnovers are quite high—the other team gets the basketball from him 3.7 times a night—but there are enough positives to warrant a first-round fantasy selection.
Round 2 (Pick 14): Joakim Noah, PF/C, Chicago Bulls (Season Rank: 19, Average Rank: 17, ADP 45).
Round 3 (Pick 27): Jrue Holiday, PG, Philadelphia 76ers (Season Rank: 47, Average Rank: 44, ADP 54).
Joakim Noah (4.1) and Jrue Holiday (8.8) each put up a respectable amount of assists for their position, joining Harden as fantasy players that possess that quality. All three turn the ball over at a ridiculous rate: at least 3.0 per game, while Holiday and Harden turn it over close to four times a night. The ancillary selections aren’t detrimental to many other categories: Noah’s not exactly a marksman and Holiday doesn’t patrol the paint, but the two make up for one another’s deficiencies.
Team Strengths: FT%, AST, BLK, PTS
Team Weaknesses: TO
2013 Season Rank: 15
2013 Average Rank: 7
Carmelo Anthony has missed his share of games (seven) this season. But when he plays, he’s been good enough to be a legitimate NBA MVP candidate: In 37.2 minutes per game, Melo has thrown up averages of 29.3 PPG (2.8 threes per game), 6.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2.5 TOPG, 1.0 SPG and 0.5 BPG on 46.1% FG and 82.1% FT.
His 29.3 points per game are a career best.
Round 2 (Pick 13): Chris Bosh, PF/C, Miami Heat (Season Rank: 11, Average Rank: 11, ADP 36.3).
Round 3 (Pick 28): LaMarcus Aldridge, PF/C, Portland Trail Blazers (Season Rank: 26, Average Rank: 24, ADP 14.4).
As soon as the third round is over, Team 8 is going to be scrambling to find assists. Its first three selections—all forwards—are a good foundation for a fantasy lineup centered around scoring efficiently and rebounding, but dimes will be harder to come by with Melo, Chris Bosh and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Team Strengths: FG%, FT%, REB, BLK, PTS
Team Weaknesses: AST, STL
2013 Season Rank: 8
2013 Average Rank: 9
Average Draft Position: 58.7
For the second consecutive season, Nicolas Batum has produced the coveted fantasy combination of at least one three-pointer, one steal and one block per game. He’s done it in spectacular fashion, with 2.6 threes, 1.5 SPG and 1.1 BPG in addition to 16.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 4.3 APG this year. Batum’s ridiculous versatility means his fantasy value is only limited by his field-goal shooting: a career-low 42.5 percent.
Round 2 (Pick 12): Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies (Season Rank: 13, Average Rank: 12, ADP 23.2).
Round 3 (Pick 29): Ryan Anderson, PF, Orlando Magic (Season Rank: 22, Average Rank: 25, ADP 44.3).
Marc Gasol’s numbers aren’t flashy, but there’s something to be said about a center that shoots 88.4 percent from the free-throw line. Gasol also supplies a combination of assists (3.8) and blocks (1.9) that few others do. Ryan Anderson still provides air support, knocking down more than three threee-balls a night (on 43.1 percent FG shooting) without turning the ball over 1.0 times per game.
Team Strengths: FT%, 3PM, REB, BLK, TO
Team Weaknesses: FG%
2013 Season Rank: 12
2013 Average Rank: 13
Russell Westbrook is—compared to previous iterations of himself—somewhat like Robin Hood in 2012-13: He’s thieving and sharing at career-best levels, racking up 2.1 steals and dishing out 8.4 assists nightly.
Westbrook’s fantasy game has become more complete this year. For the second consecutive season, his minutes have increased while his turnovers went in the opposite direction. He’s also rebounding at a career pace (5.3 RPG) and connecting on a personal-best 1.4 shots from long distance, which has taken a toll on his field-goal percentage (41.6; 42.8 career).
He has never missed a game, though—so you can count on Westbrook to produce stats from your fantasy PG slot.
Round 2 (Pick 11): Tim Duncan, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs (Season Rank: 4, Average Rank: 6, ADP 57.6).
Round 3 (Pick 30): O.J. Mayo, SG, Dallas Mavericks (Season Rank: 14, Average Rank: 26, ADP 83.1).
Westbrook’s ironman status is paired with Tim Duncan’s propensity to miss games to form a formidable fantasy duo at the top of the draft. Duncan has been the most productive fantasy big as the NBA season reaches its halfway point, making the risk of his resting later in the year worth it for a fantasy owner that expects to have Westbrook available every night.
O.J. Mayo is worth the third-round pick it would take to secure him as Team 10’s first fantasy swingman. His numbers haven’t fallen off since the return of Dirk Nowitzki to the Dallas Mavericks lineup—in fact, quite the opposite is true.
In January (eight games), Mayo is shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 95.2 percent from the line en route to 18.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 0.4 BPG, 1.6 SPG and just 1.5 TOPG. He had 4.0 turnovers per game to go with 4.3 assists in the month of December.
Team Strengths: FT%, 3PM, AST, STL, BLK, PTS
Team Weaknesses: TO
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