Empire Building Part III: Preparing for Battle

Just like any big project, preparedness is key. And if you want to be more prepared than those competitors who are just going to bring some random fantasy magazine to the draft, you need to create your own set of guidelines, targets and goals.

 

The first step is to categorize players in terms of value. Especially in basketball, some may prefer to do overall rankings, listing the 200 most valuable players from the most valuable on down.

 

Although this makes sense for basketball more than other sports, I still prefer to rank players position-by-position. Doing this, however makes it crucial that you fully understand which positions have the most depth entering the season and which are thin talent-wise.

 

Discerning the value of a player is tricky business. As with all things, value is relative. You may not think very highly of Dwight Howard, for instance, but if you use your first few draft picks on guards, you’ll start to drool over his ability to rebound and shoot and a high percentage.

 

One thing you never want to do is mentally over- or undervalue a player simply because you love/hate his personality/team/haircut/tattoos/sneakers, etc. Operate in a bubble where all you evaluate is a player’s ability to contribute to your team. There is no chemistry in fantasy basketball.

 

Every one should devise rankings system that works for them and it may take a few tries before you have one you feel comfortable list. The LAST thing you want to do is just print out Yahoo! or ESPN’s rankings and go from there. That’s somewhat OK for the early rounds, but you’ll be at their mercy during the later rounds, when the real season-changing picks get made.

 

Personally, in a standard category league, I assign one point to a player for each category he contributes in. How do I definite contribute? That depends on the size of the league and the size of the rosters.

 

In a basic 12-team league with 10 player spots, I assess “contribute” to be a .470 FG%, .775 FT%, 1.0 3s, 16.0 pts, 7.0 rpg, 3.5, apg, 1.0 stls and 1.0 blks. Reaching any of those numbers in a category would give a player one point per category in my rankings.

 

Certain players reside right on the border line statistically (like a player who averages 15.9 points). In cases like this, his career body of work as well as his trends (is he getting better or getting worse/older?) help me decide if a point is warranted.

 

Of course, added leverage in given to players that perform exceptionally in a particular category. After all, there is a big difference between Mike Miller’s 16.4 points per game and Lebron James’ 30 points per game.

 

So players in the upper echelon of certain categories (think Top 10-12) would be given an extra point. I leave turnovers totally out of the equation, although I am always aware of which players are turnover-prone for league that use that category.

 

(Note: The problem with turnovers is players who have the ball more are inherently worse than players who rarely get the ball. And in those cases, the players with more turnovers generally perform well enough in other area to offset the difference.)

 

In a standard nine-category league, the ultimate player would have a 16-point rating (two points in each category, no including turnovers).

 

Based on last season’s stats, there four players tied for the highest point rating. Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire, Kevin Garnett and Yao Ming.

 

Paul gets two points in FT% (85.1%), points (21.1), assists (11.6), steals (2.7) and also helps in FG% (48.8%) and 3-pointers (1.2).

 

I would love to be able to tell you this is a foolproof system and that sorting all NBA players by their previous season’s “point rating” would be all you need. But never is drafting that simple.

 

You probably noticed that by the four players I mentioned above, because those will not be the top four picks in ANY drafts. Paul may very well by the top pick and Amare close behind, but Garnett will likely fall because his numbers/minutes dropped last season.

 

That brings us to Yao, who is perennially hurt and gives us a window into one of the factors you must consider when ranking players. There are plenty of issues that can affect a players’ ranking that go beyond his ability.

 

A crucial factor, as with Yao, is health. Any injuries suffered late last season, or in the offseason, need to be factored in as well as the player’s history. Certain players (Yao, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill) can never stay healthy for a whole season.

 

Players whose previous seasons’ were cut short or altered due to injury also need to be factored in to any rankings. Elton Brand finished last season with a 5-point rating, but he’s better than that because he played only eight games late last season after recovering from knee surgery. I’ll use his stats from two seasons ago to give a more accurate reflection: that he is more of an 8-point player.

 

Changes in personnel are another factor that looms largest in basketball because there is only one ball and only one player can take a shot/grab a rebound at one time. If Marcus Camby somehow gets paired with Dwight Howard in Orlando, guess what? Less rebounds for Camby. This is distinctly different than baseball, where a player’s ability to produce is only marginally affected by his teammates.

 

Two quick examples of a personnel changes effecting a player’s stock this season:

 

Kevin Martin, Sacramento: With Mike Bibby and Ron Artest gone and Brad Miller aging and injury-prone, Martin will be the number one option for the Kings on every single play. He may never match his FG% from two seasons ago, but he is a lethal scorer and will now have more chances than ever. I doubt he’ll be undervalued this year, but he could perform like a first rounder.

 

Richard Jefferson, Bucks: After being the number two option (and last season, seemingly number one) option withthe Nets, Jefferson has been moved to the Bucks where he will share the court with Michael Redd, Mo Williams and Andrew Bogut, among others. That may still leave Jefferson as the number two option. But he’s not great at getting his own shot and when points need to be scored, the ball will be in Redd’s hands. He may be overvalued because he is coming off a career season that was mostly smoke and mirrors (see his turnovers and lack of rebounds).

 

How much weight you give to personnel changes and injury history are entirely up to you.  I’ve seen owners gamble and draft a number of injury risk players and have it payoff. I’ve also seen the same strategy backfire horrendously. Minimizing risk and maximizing value is what the draft in any fantasy sport is about.

 

No one really has a crystal ball to predict how any player will react to a new team, new teammates, new city, new coach, etc. It’s all just an educated guess, especially when dealing with non-superstars and role players. So the goal is to be the most educated person in the draft room.

 

One you have your rankings and know what spot in the draft you will pick, it’s time to start targeting players. Guys who you suspect, based on all the knowledge you have obtained, will be up for grabs when it is your turn.

 

Using your rankings in addition the average draft position (ADP) of players provided by the fantasy league site, you can come up with a concise, useful plan.

 

It’s is important never to lock yourself in to a draft strategy. You need to be flexible. If you mentally pigeonhole yourself into thinking you MUST get a point guard in the first round, you’re setting a trap.

 

It’s fine to target a point guard, but you don’t want to over-reach for a player because you’re panicking. Desperation is the enemy. Knowing your rankings and the general value of each player is crucial to changing your strategy on the fly.

 

Draft strategy can vary wildly based on the owner. Any strategy can be effective if the owner is smart and a little but lucky. Some one who finished third in one of my league’s last year slept through the draft and didn’t even pre-rank his players and wound up with what seemed like a shaky team full of guys that had surprisingly great years (Richardson, Turkoglu, A. Parker, etc).

 

Your strategy could be to always get the best scorer on the board, regardless of other categories and trade for rebounders, etc later. That could work, but if you’re the 10th pick and the top eight scorers in the league are all gone, you might need to go another direction.

 

My usual philosophy is pretty basic. I always want to draft the player that can help me in the most categories. If two players are about equal, I want the point guard. Assists are at a premium and always a tradable commodity.

 

It is also always useful to draft a lot of scoring. This seems obvious, but it’s not. It is near impossible to gain scorers during the season because a) rarely to any 20 ppg scorers just pop up on the waiver wire and b) owners, especially inexperienced once, over value points as a whole.

 

Points is just another category but to most owners, a guy who scores 20 points per game and does nothing else is WAY more valuable than a guy who makes two 3’s per game and does nothing else. Not really….same guy.

 

Rebounds are very common and a ton of guys his 3s. Even crappy players can help you with your percentages. Points and assists are categories that owners are always looking for and, consequently, the hardest categories in which to gain ground.

 

Whatever system you decide to use and however your rankings turn out, they will be the crucial to the success of your draft and, consequently, your season. Think of them the night before the draft, during breakfast and study then leading up to the first pick.

 

Then, hold on to them tight and hang on.

 

Episode IV early next week as I am in Montreal for the weekend.

 

 

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