How to Win Your Head-to-Head Fantasy Basketball League

Ari KramerSenior Analyst IISeptember 19, 2008

ESPN has begun their fantasy basketball registration, and Yahoo is soon to follow. The NBA season starts in just over a month, so leagues will presumably be drafting within the upcoming weeks. 

I am here to provide a little bit of strategy for novice fantasy players. 

In ESPN's head-to-head leagues, there are eight stat categories—points, rebounds, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage, steals, assists, three pointers made, and blocks. 

Yahoo leagues add turnovers to the mix.

Of these nine categories, there are five that I think are the most valuable when drafting.

Compared to the number of players who average twenty points per game or average at least eight rebounds per contest, the amount of players who collect assists, steals, blocks, three pointers made, or field-goal percentage are minimal.

There is no doubt in my mind that LeBron James should be the first pick in every fantasy basketball draft. 

Last season, James averaged 30 points per game on .484 shooting and grabbed 7.9 boards, but he also dished out 7.2 dimes, collected 1.84 steals, hit 1.5 threes, and blocked a shot every night. 

He is number-one caliber, no matter what people say. Sure, he turns the ball over almost 3.5 times per game and shoots .712 from the line, but look at the other seven categories that LeBron will boost for your team.

If you have the number-one pick, there is no reason for you to settle for anyone other than LeBron. 

With your first pick, look for someone like Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, or Baron Davis. 

All of these players, excluding Nash, averaged at least 20 ppg in ’07-‘08, but they also pick up at least one of the rare categories. 

Paul dropped 21.1 points on .488 shooting, dished out 11.6 assists, and intercepted 2.7 passes last season. The Hornets point-guard also hit one three-pointer per game. Paul is the most valuable fantasy player next to Lebron James.

Stoudemire is one of four players to shoot over .500 and average 20 points per contest. The Suns power-forward averaged 25.2 points last season on .590 shooting. He also blocked two shots and collected one steal per game. 

Nash, who gets the majority of his 11.1 assists of off Stoudemire's baskets, averaged 16.9 ppg on .504 shooting last season. The former MVP also connected on 47 percent of his three-point shots, knocking down two treys per night. Don't let me forget, his free-throw percentage is near the top of the league at .906. 

Iverson ranked third in scoring last season, with 26.4 ppg. He also averaged 7.1 assists and 1.95 steals. There is a chance that Iverson will be running the point in Denver—and if he is the point guard, you can expect his assists to increase. 

Davis will be making his debut in Los Angeles as a Clipper this season, but you can expect his numbers to stay the same despite not being in the run-n-gun Warriors offense. He will still be able to pop a jump shot in transition—and with the addition of Marcus Camby, he will have another body to pass to down low. Last season, Davis averaged 21.8 points, 7.6 assists, 2.3 steals, and two treys per game. 

Paul, Iverson, and Davis were the only three players last season to score 20 ppg, dish out seven assists, and steal two passes per game. 

Davis is the only one of the five who will be available in the second round. If any of the other four are available at your pick, take them. If not, go for a scorer or rebounder, such as Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh, or Carlos Boozer.

Dwight Howard, Stoudemire, Boozer, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, Yao Ming, Deron Williams, Nash, Mike Miller, and Al Jefferson were the only 13 players who shot .500 and scored at least 15 points per game last season. Chances are that these players will all be drafted by the third round, if not sooner.

However, Lamar Odom, who missed the cutoff for points by 0.8 points per game, shot .525 last season, and also averaged 10.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, a block, and a steal. Odom may be available later in the draft, and is definitely worth the pick if he is still around in the fourth or fifth round of a 12-team league.

The best three-point shooters will be available after the first round. Jason Richardson, Peja Stojakovic, and Rashard Lewis all made more than 200 three pointers last season. All three averaged at least 16 ppg and could be obtainable in round two or three.

Danny Granger, who ranked 10th in three pointers with 171 made last season, also averaged 19.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, one steal, and one block per game. Granger also shot a respectable .446 from the field. He will be a valuable fourth- or fifth-round pick in this year's draft. 

There are plenty of guards who averaged at least five assists, but only ten averaged seven or more per game. Paul, Nash, Williams, Jason Kidd, Jose Calderon, Davis, Raymond Felton, James, Iverson, and Andre Miller will all be valuable to a team looking for dimes.

While Paul, Nash, James, and Iverson will likely be first-round picks, the rest will be available later. Calderon is also really special because of his outstanding 5.38 assist-to-turnovers ratio. 

Other than Paul, Davis, and Iverson, Ron Artest, Caron Butler, Gerald Wallace, Andre Iguodala, and Shawn Marion also averaged two steals per game. Butler had a breakout season last year, and everyone knows about the rest of the players on this list, but they will all provide production in multiple categories for you and are worth the pick. 

Finally, we have blocks. Two of the top three shot blockers from last season are now on the Los Angeles Clippers. Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman will need to share the paint this year, but they are each superb shot blockers and will probably not see their average falter much. 

Josh Smith will most likely be taken early because he averaged 2.8 blocks per game last year to go along with 17.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.5 spg, 3.4 apg, and a respectable .456 shooting percentage. 

Josh Smith is my type of fantasy player, and certainly proved his ability last season. He will be a good second-round pick. If he is available, snatch him if you don't see a better option.

Along with drafting players who will provide you with stats in the rare categories, I always like getting duos of players on the same team. This is sometimes hard to do, but if there is a way to land a guard/forward duo, go for it. The best duos are Chris Paul with either Peja Stojakovic or Tyson Chandler, Dwayne Wade and Shawn Marion, and Steve Nash with Amare Stoudemire. If you can trade to get one of these packages, you will be able to benefit twofold on one play. 

Don't think that this whole article is saying that you should avoid drafting points and rebounds. They are categories too, but my point is that there are more players who score and board than there are who assist, steal, etc.

By applying these strategies to my drafting, I have put together top-notch fantasy basketball teams over the last five years. I've won two championships, lost in the championship twice, and lost in the semis last year. All the leagues have been with at least eight teams. 

These strategies work for head to head. Think about it, if you can dominate in five of the nine categories, you will win every week. There is still a chance that you will be able to win other categories as well.

If you don’t know what you are doing, or are looking for a new strategy, give my strategy a try. I’m telling you—it will not let you down.