Mike Barner, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The start of another NBA season is rapidly approaching. After a summer filled with big names changing teams, the league, as well as the landscape of Fantasy Basketball, has undergone a major overhaul.
Some players have gained fantasy value with their new teams, while others could see their numbers suffer in new situations. Can Russell Westbrook possibly average another triple-double with Paul George alongside him in Oklahoma City? Will James Harden’s assists numbers decrease with the addition of Chris Paul in Houston?
With so many unknowns entering the season, it’s important that you have a sound strategy when drafting your team. Your draft strategy can make or break your season before a single game is even played.
What follows is a breakdown of how to develop a winning strategy so you can bring home the championship in your league.
If you think you can sit down for your draft and hit a home run without doing your research, you will likely be severely disappointed. It’s important to dig into as much depth as you can, but most importantly you’ll want to be on top of which players have changed teams, who is coming off of a major injury and which players might be primed for a breakout campaign.
The first step is often to create tiers — lists of players to target broken down by position. Don’t put players like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry on your list — everyone wants the elite talent. Your list should include players who you want to target in the mid-to-late rounds of your drafts. That way, when you are in the heat of your draft and trying to keep track of your roster as well as your opponents’ rosters, you won’t lose sight of those key players who could pay dividends in later rounds.
We have started the work for you with tiers at point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center. Update your list as the draft progresses, eliminating players as they are selected. You’ll be thankful you created and worked off of this list when your draft is complete.
The Dreaded Turnover Stat
Turnovers are still a category in many leagues. You might not like it, but it’s a stat that matters nonetheless. With that being said, don’t draft players with the mindset of trying to keep your turnovers down. There were only four players who averaged more than four turnovers per game last season. Who were they, you ask? None other than Harden, Westbrook, John Wall and LeBron James.
The moral of the story: Good players have the ball in their hands a ton, which tends to lead to a lot of turnovers. Don’t even look at the column when drafting your team.
The Importance of Big Men
Drafting the correct centers can go a long way to helping you win your league. Generally, there isn’t as much depth at center as there is at the guard and forward positions. Therefore, it’s imperative to get at least two of these three key stats out of your centers: high field goal percentage, lots of rebounds, or lots of blocks. If you can also get a center who is an above-average scorer and can hit the occasional three-pointer, that’s a major bonus.
In Rotisserie leagues, consider staying away from centers who will drag down your free-throw percentage like Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan. Also, centers who rebound at a rate well-below positional expectations, like Brook Lopez, should be approached with caution.
Don’t Reach To Fill Positions
There is no need to fill all of your roster spots right away. If you pick in the middle of the first round and take Karl-Anthony Towns, don’t be afraid to take Rudy Gobert with your second round pick if you are lucky enough that he’s still available at that point.
You should be looking for the best available players, especially in the early rounds of your draft. A good player is a good player, regardless of what position he plays. As you start to get towards the middle to late rounds of your draft, then you can start worrying about filling position needs.
Remember, you can always make trades to help fill deficiencies that may have emerged in your draft. If you’re weak at shooting guard but deep point guard, you could try to trade with another owner who came out of the draft a little light in the assist department.
As you make your way to the middle and later rounds of your draft, this is when you want to start taking some chances. If you feel strongly about a particular player who you think is going to break out or a rookie who will excel in his first season, don’t be afraid to take him a round or two higher than his ranking or average draft position would dictate.
There is very little upside in taking someone like Taj Gibson or Marvin Williams toward the end of your draft. Instead, take a chance on a young player like Willie Cauley-Stein or Justise Winslow who could take their game to the next level. Your last few picks will likely be fringe players who you would drop for the hot waiver wire add during the season anyway.
Once the season rolls around, the real fun begins. Checking your lineup daily, scouring the waiver wire for valuable additions, and making key trades to help solidify your roster are all vital components to a successful campaign.
You generally won’t win your league based solely on the results of your draft, but having a sound strategy heading into it can prevent you from putting yourself in a hole before the season even begins.