The 2013-14 fantasy basketball season has officially arrived.
Owners are firmly entrenched in their war rooms as they attempt to prepare for the unpredictable. With stars like James Harden, Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose firmly in the mix to be taken in the first round, there has been plenty of variation early in the season.
Positional depth, upside and potential are just a few things to keep in mind as you put together a squad you think will compete for the crown this season.
Editor's Note: The mailbag will be a weekly feature on Bleacher Report through the season.
To open the new year, I polled readers on Twitter and asked for any question they may have.
Sleepers, busts and superstars: How will your team be defined?
@Mr_Norof will Olynyk start for the Celtics and will he be worth a spot as a starter on my team?— J_M_B (@PhogForce5) October 25, 2013
Depending on the size of your league (at least 12-14 teams), Boston Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk could be a guy you target at the back end of your draft. The problem in Boston is that Brad Stevens has a motley crew along the front line with no clear answer as to who should spend the majority of minutes in the middle.
Olynyk has struggled with foul trouble in the preseason at times, and there's nothing about his game that's going to jump off the page. Vitor Faverani, a Brazilian center who was signed to a three-year deal this offseason, could emerge as the starter after a strong preseason, but Olynyk is a guy who is going to get playing time on a consistent basis. It's not often a rebuilding team moves up in the draft to select a player, and it's telling that the Celtics did exactly that.
He's not going to blow you away from a statistical standpoint, and I'd rather take a late-round flier on a pick with far more upside than Olynyk. I don't think the Gonzaga product will contribute in a lot of categories.
@Mr_Norof: Top 5 fantasy Power Forwards? Sleeper PF's?— davesnothere (@davesnothere33) October 25, 2013
This is a tricky question due to eligibility that exists in fantasy basketball. For the sake of this question, we'll categorize the power forward position as true big men. Sorry, LeBron, you still fall in the small forward bucket here.
My top five power forwards in order: Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, Serge Ibaka, Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge. Some will read that and immediately think "Where's Blake Griffin? What about David Lee?" Those guys just miss the cut.
Out of the top five listed above, there are only three players I'd take on my team: Love, Unibrow and Dirk Diggler.
Aldridge is entering the season as a walking injury risk following a tumultuous offseason where trade rumors followed him in every direction, and Ibaka is simply drafted way too high for my liking. Yes, he's a difference-maker in the blocks category, but I need my early-round picks to be more than specialists. Ibaka has yet to prove to me he is a reliable contributor for where he needs to be taken to land on your team, and he's entering a year where there is a ton of pressure on him to produce.
The second portion of the question is far more interesting. I'm not going to define a "sleeper" with someone like Derrick Favors, because if you're still sleeping on this kid, I'm going to be honest: You have no prayer of winning your league. When someone is a sleeper pick for everyone, they're not a sleeper. That's where we are with Favors.
Some real sleeper picks to target in the later rounds: Tristan Thompson (CLE), Tobias Harris (ORL), Shawne Williams (LAL)
Thompson looks every bit like a different player since making the switch to use his right hand instead of his left, Harris is going to produce no matter what his role winds up being in Orlando, and let's remember that Mike D'Antoni made Earl Clark one of the hottest waiver-wire pickups of the season last year for his play as a stretch forward in Los Angeles.
If you have Raymond Felton on your fantasy team, you're in a world of hurt. I don't mean to sound so bleak, but Felton is one of my least favorite point guards anyone could draft in any league.
New York has an insanely crowded backcourt: Felton, Beno Udrih, Pablo Prigioni, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. and J.R. Smith. Not all of those guys can have meaningful minutes, and we already know both Shumpert and Smith are going to see plenty of time given their importance to the team on both ends of the floor.
It concerns me that the Knicks brought back Prigioni and signed Udrih despite Felton's presence on the roster, and while Raymond's starting spot appears secure, he's looked awful in the preseason. He can be replaced in a hurry because the Knicks have options.
Although Kyle Lowry is already dealing with a finger injury (surprise, surprise), he's arguably the most irreplaceable player on Toronto's roster. Just look at the Raptors' backup point guard situation (D.J. Augustin, Dwight Buycks) and you'll see why Lowry is key to making the Raptors' car go.
I wouldn't even think about trading for Felton, and I'd definitely own Lowry over him. It's not even close.
There is only one reason anyone would ever have Reggie Evans rostered on a fantasy basketball team: rebounds. Or is it the giant beard? Jokes aside, Evans is the definition of a one-category specialist.
With Kevin Garnett now in Brooklyn and Andray Blatche still on the roster, it's going to take an injury to a key guy for Evans to see consistent, meaningful playing time in order for him to amass any fantasy value. He's not someone I'd draft outside of an insanely deep league (20-plus teams), and he's a late-round pick at best in those formats.
@Mr_Norof what type of production do you expect for Brandon Knight in MIL? I'm tempted to hold Trey Burke or grab Alec Burke instead— Ben Reilly (@TheROCFiles) October 25, 2013
After the All-Star break last season, Brandon Knight averaged 13.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.7 three-pointers. In other words: You could do worse, but you could also do a lot better.
Knight's final season in Detroit was weird: He was experimented with at the shooting guard spot and never really seemed to find his comfort zone. Now in Milwaukee as part of the sign-and-trade deal that sent Brandon Jennings to the Pistons, the Bucks are counting on Knight to be their point guard moving forward.
At no point in his NBA career has he shown an ability to distribute on a consistent basis, and I don't think that suddenly changes. The good news for Knight is that he's clearly going to be the guy, so he should be able to play his way through some mistakes. He's not going to help you with percentages nor is he a lock to average more than five assists per game—not a guy I'm targeting in any format.
The timetable for Trey Burke's return has fluctuated a bit, but I'm only keeping him on the roster in a re-draft league if there is an IR spot. Otherwise, it's simply too early to waste a valuable roster spot on a rookie whose production will be all over the map when he does get back on the floor.
The rookie's backcourt mate—Alec Burks—is a great under-the-radar pick at the back end of a draft. Utah's other options at point guard with Burke out: Jamaal Tinsley, Scott Machado and John Lucas. Burks has spent time at point guard previously, and it's not exactly Murderer's Row he has to beat out to spend time there while Burke is sidelined.
@Mr_Norof What 5 mid round players are you targeting most?— Dave Derby (@davidaderby) October 25, 2013
Rounds 6 to 9 can make you or break you. It's the time of the draft where you're taking a few chances, and more often than not you have at least one owner in your league who makes the "panic pick'' during this time that is looked back on as a mistake once the selection process concludes.
In the middle rounds, I like to aim for guys who offer both production and upside. The idea is that you want to target as many difference-makers as possible. While you want your roster to produce, there's no reward without taking risk in these spots.
For five guys I love in the middle rounds, here is one at every position: PG, Eric Bledsoe (PHX); SG, Bradley Beal (WAS); SF, Gordon Hayward (UTA); PF, Ryan Anderson (NOP); C, JaVale McGee (DEN).
I have three second-year players I'm incredibly high on in both real life and fantasy: Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Beal. John Wall and Beal are the next dynamic backcourt in the NBA, and if you've watched Beal for even five minutes this preseason it's easy to see why he's becoming such a popular name among NBA fans.
Beal has a legitimate chance to finish the season with top-50 overall value.
The Suns traded for Bledsoe in order to make him their star, and he's going to get every chance to prove he's the mini-LeBron when it comes to amassing stats for owners. Hayward will have a full-fledged breakout season on a terrible Jazz team playing for the future, Ryan Anderson is a triples machine whose value is being prematurely deflated by some, and the Nuggets have made McGee a focal point of the offense under new head coach Brian Shaw.
@Mr_Norof Rose or DWill?— BigNetsFan16 (@BigNetsFan16) October 25, 2013
For me, this isn't even a question. I'm taking Derrick Rose 100 times out of 100. Yes, he missed the entire season last year, but have you seen him during the preseason? Rose looks better than ever before, while D-Will can't even get on the court because he's still dealing with the same ankle issues that hampered him last season.
Williams is critical to making Brooklyn's new superteam work, but I don't think the stats will be there every night, nor do I think he's worthy of a first-round pick in any format. Rose offers far more upside, and if it's a choice between the two there is really no choice at all.
@Mr_Norof what's your take on Rubio? Is he worth the hit to your fg% and TOs?— Tony Biasotti (@TonyBiasotti) October 25, 2013
With Ricky Rubio, you're either for or against—there is truly no middle ground. Personally, I fall in the "against" side when it comes to fantasy basketball.
Rubio shot 36 percent from the field last season after clocking in at 35.7 percent during his rookie year. While he's working on improving his outside game, his three-point shot just isn't there yet (and I'm not sold it ever will be on a consistent basis) and I have a lot of questions about just how good his Minnesota Timberwolves team actually is despite on-paper improvements during the offseason.
Is he going to steal the basketball? Yes. Will he rack up the assists? He should.
But if it's your turn to pick and you're looking at an assortment of guys like John Wall, Damian Lillard and Rubio as potential picks, Rubio is the first name I say no to in that situation. For where an owner would have to draft RR to have him on their team, it's just not worth the investment.
@Mr_Norof Who's the better sleeper? Henson or James Anderson?— Justin McLean (@justindmclean) October 25, 2013
This is a really interesting question on the surface.
Anderson has carved out a role on a terrible Philadelphia 76ers team and should see plenty of minutes in the backcourt, but this is the same James Anderson who flamed out of the league as a failed first-round pick previously.
Are we really supposed to believe he's suddenly going to become a player he's never proven to be? Once the regular season gets rolling and defenses realize just how bad the Sixers are, it's hard to imagine Anderson being a legitimate difference-maker despite the preseason hype.
I'm much, much more excited about John Henson. Ersan Ilyasova's ankle injury has lingered throughout the preseason, and no matter what Milwaukee says publicly, I'm inclined to believe the Bucks would happily move Ilyasova's bloated contract in the right deal. New coach Larry Drew has talked up Henson's defense, and Milwaukee's future front line is composed of Henson and Larry Sanders—not Ilyasova.
If Henson can carve out meaningful, consistent minutes (even if it takes some time to do so), he's going to be a legitimate difference-maker for fantasy owners smart enough to gamble on him in the latter rounds of their draft. I'm targeting him in every league.
@Mr_Norof which center for a h2h league bench spot, favarani or seraphin?— cole blumenfeld (@colebtweeten) October 25, 2013
Only a truly passionate fantasy basketball owner asks this type of question.
As discussed earlier in this column, Vitor Faverani could wind up having a very meaningful role for a bad Boston Celtics team. I think Faverani will surprise a lot of people by the end of the season with what he's able to do, but I also believe he's going to experience his fair share of bumps and bruises along the way in acclimating to the NBA.
Kevin Seraphin is an interesting case. He's flopped in extended chances to prove himself previously, but Washington really has no option but to rely on Seraphin entering the season. Emeka Okafor (neck) remains out indefinitely, Nene is a walking injury risk, and the Wizards just don't have much depth along the front line.
Right now, I'm rolling the dice on Seraphin finally putting it together if my choice is between him or Faverani, but neither is a guy you can put in the "definitely reliable" category as we prepare for the season to open. Think of each as a $2 dollar scratch ticket—it's a chance you're willing to take.
@Mr_Norof who would you target (1st and 2nd picks) at the turn of a 12 team draft— Jimmy Steinberg (@JimSteinberg) October 25, 2013
Admittedly, this is one of my least favorite places to be in any draft: at the very front or last in line. Either way, you're going to have to wind up reaching for a guy you really want on your team simply because of where you're drafting.
That being said, it also gives you the opportunity to take back-to-back guys before anyone else gets a crack at it. In this particular instance, there's no doubt to me that one of your picks in this particular position has to be Anthony Davis.
The sophomore is going to be a legitimate superstar sooner rather than later, and it looks like it could happen this season. He will contribute across the board and remind everyone why he was the consensus top overall pick in the 2012 draft.
For the other pick, there are a few routes to take: A guy like Paul George or Carmelo Anthony might be available, and if either is, he should be the one to take. Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving are also options depending upon how the rest of your draft has shaken out at this point, but the one thing I wouldn't do is pair Davis with another big man. I'd look to get a legitimate scorer, and preferably one who will help you with the three-point category. My ideal pairing at the back end of a 12-team draft: Anthony Davis and Carmelo Anthony.
Because the regular season is just days away from getting started, here are guys I absolutely love this season, as well as a list of players I would not draft under any circumstance.
LOVE: Stephen Curry, John Wall, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, Kawhi Leonard, Derrick Favors, Bradley Beal.
Do you still have questions? Want analysis of your team? Hit me up on Twitter and submit questions for next week's mailbag, where we'll have our first chance to analyze the options after the regular season has gotten underway.