Empire Building Part III: Preparing for Battle

Just like any project, preparedness is key for a fantasy draft. 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 determine players’ values. Although I use position-by-position rankings in baseball, I find an overall list more useful in basketball leagues. A fantasy basketball roster is fluid. Each player you draft dramatically alters how the rest of the draft will proceed since each fantasy category essentially exists independent of the others.

In baseball, for example, a player who hits a lot of home runs will also score and drive in a lot of runs. Pitchers with low ERA’s will also have a low WHIP and theoretically win more games. Those categories are intrinsically connected. Similar connections don’t necessarily exist in basketball.

A player who scores a lot of points may be poor in every other category. A great 3-point shooter may do nothing else to contribute to your team, which is like a living thing as the draft moves along, constantly growing and changing as strengths become weaknesses and vice versa.

Due to the unique nature of a fantasy basketball draft, I prefer to have a list of every player I have projected (usually around 250) sorted in order of their value with a listing of that stat projections. 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 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.
I;m also dramatically against using a list of player’s Average Draft Positions in other fantasy drafts. Frankly, in most things in life I prefer to operate under the assumption that most people are idiots. So the last thing I want to do is base my draft strategy on how others are valuing players.

Aside from using my own set of projected stats, 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 17.0 and 30.0 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, not including turnovers).
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 drafting is never that simple.
Beyond projections and any kind of system you may devise, there are plenty of issues that can affect a players’ ranking that go beyond his ability.
A crucial factor 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 Ming, Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill) never seem to 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.

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 from baseball, where a player’s ability to produce is only marginally affected by his teammates.
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.
It 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.
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 do any 20 ppg scorers just pop up on the waiver wire and b) owners, especially inexperienced ones, 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. But the perception is there which makes points harder to acquire via trades. Points are sexy.
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.


1 Comment

Filed under Draft Strategy

One response to “Empire Building Part III: Preparing for Battle

  1. Great post. The value of being flexible is often overlooked in fantasy basketball.

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