2011-12 Fantasy Draft Guide
Amidst the frenzy of player movement and trade rumors, fantasy drafts must go on!
by Charles Peach / @Charles_Peach
The NBA is back. (Feels great typing that.) Fantasy leagues are reuniting. (Feels greater typing that.) The circumstances are a bit different, but it’s finally time to pick up where the improbable Mavs left off in June. It’s time for a 66 game season. It’s time for back-to-back-to-backs. It’s time for Shaq and Chuck to put Ernie Johnson in awkward situations. It’s time for Mark Jackson to coach Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis. It’s time for Marv Albert to say “Metta World Peace… for three!” Apparently, it’s time for Eddy Curry. Most importantly, it’s time that we absolutely nail every single pick in our fantasy draft.
What makes the draft so exciting is its sheer importance. You will live with the choices you make on draft night for months. And, it’ll be a long six months if you make the wrong choices. (I’ve had a lot of recent exposure to this sensation thanks to my playoff-free fantasy football teams.)
I love all the hot stove news going on, but it makes preparing for a draft somewhat infuriating. I tried to hold out as long as I could, hoping to have a good idea of what most rosters would look like, but I’m just going to have to go for it since Christmas is just 13 days away.
Three things you’ll see in this draft guide:
- Ranking of the Top 24 players
- Suggestions of players to target
- Suggestions of players to avoid
As always, these suggestions are based upon standard 12-team, nine-category leagues (FG%, FT%, Threes Made, Points, Assists, Rebounds, Blocks, Steals, and Turnovers).
During the season, check back here on Mondays for the latest and best advice I can muster. And if you fancy the Twitter, follow me @Charles_Peach, where I instantly pass along any news that could lead you to that prized free agent quicker than your foes.
THE TOP 24
You have to stick the landing with your first two picks. The decisions will get progressively less important as the draft goes on, so you’ve got to come out firing and head into the third round with two studs at two different positions. One major thing that stands out: Snatching an elite point guard is extra important this year as the talent level seems to fall off a cliff after about round four. You don’t want to be stuck drafting your first point guard in round five this year. Here’s the order I’d follow in rounds 1-2:
1. Kevin Durant – First of all, the top three guys are pretty much interchangeable. Durant is here because A) he’s the man, and B) he shoots a lot of free throws and makes them about 90 percent of the time. Having him on your squad all but guarantees you to win free throw percentage every week.
2. LeBron James – If you take LeBron first, I can’t hate. It’s LeBron. He’s incredible. Every time I’m matched against the guy who has LeBron, I cringe. He’ll get about five more assists each game than Durant, shoot a higher field goal percentage, and get more steals. However, he turns the ball over more than Durant, makes less threes, and blocks less shots. Then you throw in the free throw discrepancy. James shot 75.9 percent last season. (Side note: He shot only 20 free throws in six Finals games and made just 12 of them. He had 24 turnovers.) When one player takes such a large amount of your team’s free throws, you live by their percentage. All I’m saying is I’d rather live by Durant’s. (I know things may seem a little free throw-intensive right now, but I focus heavily on it because we need to remind ourselves that, in fantasy, it’s just as important as anything else. So, I plead to you, the next time someone asks you how LeBron played last night, don’t say “He almost had a triple-double; 25, 10, and seven.” Instead, answer like this: “He shot 11 of 18 from the free throw line, didn’t make a three-pointer, and turned the ball over three times.” I admit, the second answer doesn’t really tell the story of the game like the first answer does, but it does tell the fantasy story just as well. And that’s the only story we care about. No?)
3. Chris Paul – The confusion surrounding his trade rumors caused me the most grief this week. When Paul is at his best, he’s the best fantasy player out there. May I also add, he’s my favorite player in the league to watch. He’s led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio the past two seasons. He rebounds well for a point guard. He hits a three per game. His shooting percentages are outstanding. He regularly leads the league in steals. ***If, before your draft he somehow ends up on the Knicks, in Mike D’Antoni’s system, you must draft him first overall. ***
4. Kevin Love – Just going to let his stats from last season do the explaining: 20.2 points, 15.2 rebounds, 1.2 threes, 47 FG%, 85 FT%.
5. Dirk Nowitzki – Dirk the Champion is such a solid fantasy producer. He’s in that handful of elite free throw shooters who can win you the category every week. He doesn’t do anything that hurts you. Ideally, he would rebound a little more (and maybe he will with Tyson Chandler gone) and would do a little more for your defensive stats, but that’s just nitpicking. I would happily take Herr Nowitzki with pick number fuenf.
6. Dwyane Wade – You’ll love reading the Heat box scores to see how Wade filled it up. The steals and blocks he puts up are huge, especially the blocks, as it is so unusual to get that sort of production from your shooting guard. He turns the ball over too much and shoots a lot of free throws at a mediocre percentage. On the other hand, his field goal shooting is outstanding for a shooting guard, hovering at about 50 percent.
7. Derrick Rose – He made major fantasy strides last season as he introduced his newfound three-point range. In fact, he fell in love with it, taking 4.8 threes per game. Expect more of that and a general improvement in all facets of his game. He’s also among the handful of elite free throw shooters.
8. Stephen Curry – I’d have him higher but I’m a little worried about his numbers taking a dip with Mark Jackson at the helm. Hopefully, he’s over the ankle woes that plagued him last season. He had offseason surgery on his right ankle. Last season, it seemed like he was rolling an ankle every other game. Though, they didn’t cause him to miss many games, it seemed like he was being extra careful at times. He still had a great season statistically, and I’d love to see what he could do when he isn’t troubled by the constant concern of rolling an ankle.
9. Carmelo Anthony – He played like a superhero in 27 games for the Knicks last year. Most surprising was his three-point shooting. He made two per game during that stretch, sinking 42.4 percent of his attempts. I’m expecting big things in his first full season in NY.
10. Deron Williams – Now, exactly where would you put him if he had Dwight Howard on his team? Quite a difference when you have Superman around to catch your lobs. Regardless, Williams is the only legitimate 20 & 10 guy at the point guard position. Plus, he strokes the three on the reg. A low field goal percentage, high turnover rate, and minimal defensive stats hamper his value.
11. Russell Westbrook – Definitely one of the most fun players to own. Of course, you’ll appreciate having a fantasy attachment to all of his dunks, dimes, rebounds, steals, and blocks, but don’t forget you’ll also be married to his league-leading turnover rate and lackluster three-point shooting. As noted with CP3 earlier, this is another player who I absolutely love watching. He makes some questionable decisions that hurt his team, no doubt, but in terms of hustle, he’s always busting his ass. He flies in for offensive rebounds, contests shots, and attacks the basket ferociously. Despite his maximum-level effort, he hasn’t missed a single game in his career. He’s the type of player that’s easy to take irrationally high in your draft.
12. Pau Gasol – You know what Pau is going to give you: 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.5 blocks, 53 FG%, 80 FT%, and 1.5 turnovers. Pencil him in for that. Fantasy players often prefer to explore the unknown. And, we often tend to take sexier picks instead of solid (some say “boring”) picks like Pau. I guess it’s because we want that potential “breakout” season. There won’t be a breakout from Pau, but he will be a very sound, smart investment. I’d have Pau higher if it weren’t for these two concerns: 1) He might get traded to a less talented team, and 2) If he remains in LA, what effect will switching from Phil Jackson-style to Mike Brown-style have on his production? I’m thinking a not-very-good effect.
13. Al Jefferson – After the All-Star break last season, Jefferson averaged 21.5 points, 11 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and shot 51.8 percent from the field (sans Deron Williams). He became the focus of the offense when DWill took off and there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case this season. Unless, you know, he gets traded or something. I expect him to be around though. He turned the ball over only 1.3 times per game last season. That’s the reason I have him ahead of Amar’e.
14. LaMarcus Aldridge – What a season from LA last year. He finished with career-highs all over the place – 21.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 50 FG%, 79.1 FT%, 1.2 blocks, 1 steal, and an economical 1.9 turnovers. He deserved to be an All-Star but couldn’t find room in the crowded frontcourt of the Western Conference.
15. Amar’e Stoudemire – If he remains with the Knicks, you’re safe drafting him here. Otherwise, I’d move him back a few picks. He brings a great scoring average, almost two blocks a game, and a terrific free throw percentage for a power forward/center. His biggest flaw is turnovers, averaging a career-high 3.2 last season. That’s tough a tough rate to tolerate from PF/C position.
16. Blake Griffin – Absolutely love him. He’s been so much better than I imagined. It’s so amazing when a player blows (lofty) expectations out of the water. Averaging 22.5 and 12.1 in your rookie season? What?! Not to mention a sneaky 3.8 assists per game. The thing that keeps him from being much higher is his free throw percentage. Last season, he got to the line as often as Durant and LeBron did but he shot only 64.7 percent. The encouraging part is, over the last 25 games of the season he shot 70 percent. So, I think he’ll be just over 70 percent this season, which doesn’t make him quite as much of a liability.
17. Josh Smith – Not many players give you a combination of steals and blocks, and to have one of the few that do, is a luxury. We’ve yet to see any semblance of consistency from Smoove. His stats fluctuate more often than any other fantasy star. For example, two seasons ago, he stopped shooting threes pretty much cold turkey. He shot 50.5 percent from the field that year. Last year, he was back to attempting two threes a game and he finished the year with a 47.7 field goal percentage. Then, take a look at the inconsistency in his free throw percentages the last four seasons: 72.5, 61.9, 58.8, and 71. At 26 years old, maybe this is the year he “puts it all together.” He was the first one to show up at voluntary workouts, and looked “slimmer.” I like to believe that to be a harbinger of Smith’s return to first-round value this season.
18. Monta Ellis – It’s all about the steals and the threes, baby. As with Curry, I’m not sure what kind of an impact coach Mark Jackson will have on his production. I can only assume he will hinder it. There’s another lingering question mark here, and that’s Ellis’ future with the Warriors. Personally, I don’t think that a Curry/Ellis backcourt makes much sense. The Warriors definitely haven’t made it clear that they’re comfortable going forward with it. I think Ellis will be traded.
19. Brook Lopez – I’m willing to call last year an aberration. Call me forgiving, but it was one of the strangest things I can remember. Headed into last season, he was a fantasy first rounder, who appeared to be ready to join the exclusive 20 & 10 club. Then his rebounding completely disappeared. He went from averaging over eight rebounds in each of his first two seasons down to only six per game last season. His scoring, however, improved, as he finished the year averaging 20.4 ppg. He seems to be a tough dude. He hasn’t missed a single game through three seasons. He didn’t give excuses for the poor rebounding, even though he had mono, which caused him to lose 25 pounds at one point. If he’s able to get back to above seven boards per game, he’ll certainly be worth taking at this point in your draft. He’ll slip because people will certainly be tentative to draft him after last season. But I think there are good reasons to give him another chance and you could end up with first-round quality.
20. Chris Bosh – An efficient fantasy player. His superstar days are behind him, when he used to average 22 points and 10 rebounds in Toronto. Now, as the third option, he’s down to 18 points and eight boards. But he shoots 50 percent from the field, and over 80 percent at the stripe. He kept his turnovers low last season, but, unfortunately, so were his steals and blocks.
21. Dwight Howard – I write the same thing about him every year; I’d rather let someone else draft him. If you enjoy punting categories, then Dwight’s your man. You’ll basically be conceding free throw percentage and turnovers on a weekly basis. I don’t like to punt because, well… 9-0 victories are just a little sweeter than other victories, okay! Actually, I’ve never won a matchup 9-0 before, but I did lose 0-9 once and that guy seemed to really enjoy it. Maybe I should try punting.
22. Al Horford – Probably the most quietly effective player in fantasy. Last season, he finished with 15.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and a block per game. It’s not those numbers that make him a second-round value, it’s these: 55.7 FG%, 1.5 turnovers, 3.4 assists, and 79.8 FT%. Like Gasol, he doesn’t hurt you in any category (other than threes, but not too many centers are going to help you there anyhow).
23. Rudy Gay – This positioning is a bit on the optimistic side. However, if he’s able to have a return to form from before the shoulder injury, this will be a great place to draft him. Through those 54 games last season, he averaged 19.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists. Good numbers, but it was the combination of 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 1.1 threes that set him apart. The more I think about it; Rudy might be gone when pick 23 comes around.
24. John Wall – (EMOTIONAL/IRRATIONAL DECISION ALERT!) I’m aware that this is probably too early to draft him. I’m a bit overanxious to see him flourish. Remember when Derrick Rose’s scoring average jumped from 16.8 to 20.8 between his first two seasons? I’m ready to watch Wall make a similarly significant leap in his sophomore season. Not so much in scoring as in assists and steals. You might recall him recording nine steals in a single game last year. It was just his third game as a pro. He’s going to be branded “superstar” very soon.
(The number in parentheses is the approximate round the player will typically be drafted. Try to target the players as closely to that round as possible.)
Serge Ibaka (3) – Be ready to grab him as early as round two because he won’t be around long. It’s no secret anymore. He averaged just 27 minutes per game last season but still managed to be ranked 40th by Basketball Monster. He’ll be one of my major targets. When he has the first 10-swat game of his career this season, I don’t want to be the guy playing against him that week.
Kyle Lowry (4) – Through the final 24 games of last season, Lowry outranked Chris Paul. No, it’s not a very large sample size, and he won’t be better than CP3 this season, but anytime you rank ahead of Chris Paul, it’s worth noting. Check out Lowry’s numbers from that outstanding 24-game stretch: 17.2 points, 7.3 assists, 4.6 rebounds, 2.5 threes, one steal, and 2.2 turnovers.
Jason Kidd (4) – Often overlooked because of his age, lack of scoring, and field goal percentage. Don’t let it happen to you. Despite his age (38), he averaged 8.2 assists and only 2.2 turnovers per game (Russell Westbrook averaged the same number of assists with 3.9 turnovers). Even though he shot 36.1% last season, he only attempted 7.5 shots per game, so it doesn’t really matter. He averaged only 7.9 ppg but most of that comes from behind the arc (where it matters most). He’s still an elite rebounder amongst guards, and it’s also worth noting that the old man averaged more steals per game than LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Stephen Curry. Your fellow leaguemates will doubt him, inevitably, but with the short season I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put together another solid season as the Mavs defend their title.
Marcin Gortat (5) – In the Polish Hammer’s final 28 games last season, he averaged 15.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 1.3 turnovers, while shooting 56.3 percent from the field. He’s a tremendous value at where he’s currently projected.
Ray Allen (5) – Constantly overlooked because people expect him to fall off due to age. Last year, he was older than he’s ever been before and shot the best field goal percentage of his career (49.1%). He also shot a career-high percentage from three (44.4%), sinking 2.1 per game.
Greg Monroe (6) – You have to land Monroe in your draft. It’s a must. If he’s still sitting around in round six, don’t think twice. But, you’ll be lucky to get him in round five. In his final 25 games last season, he averaged 13.7 points, 10 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 1.1 turnovers, while shooting 58 percent (!) from the field. Mind you, he was a rookie. New Pistons coach Lawrence Frank intends to make Monroe an integral part of the offense, so expect a strong season from the big lefty out of G’Town.
Roy Hibbert (6) – I like his durability. He’s missed only 14 games in three seasons. That’s unusual for a 7-footer. And, I like that he worked out with Tim Duncan in the offseason. There are a lot of things that NBA players could do with their free time, especially during a lockout. Just the fact that he chose to seek guidance from the greatest power forward of all-time tells me he’s dedicated to improving his game. If he happened to pick up some tips on sinking bank shots, that’s great too. He needs to trim his turnover rate and limit his fouls so he can stay on the floor longer and become a reliable provider of double-doubles.
Jared Dudley (8) – Expected to be a starter this season. In 15 games in the starting lineup last season, he was outstanding: 16.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.7 threes, 2.1 steals, 51.8 FG%, and just 1.2 turnovers.
Arron Afflalo (8) – One of my favorites. I love his work ethic. He’s a terrific three-point shooter. He led all guards in John Hollinger’s beloved true shooting percentage (62.0). With JR Smith and Wilson Chandler out of the picture (for now) he should have extra opportunity to produce. He is a restricted free agent but it appears he’ll be staying in Denver.
Toney Douglas (9) – Hard to be sure, but it looks like he’ll be the Knicks starting point guard come Christmas day. If that’s the case, Douglas should be a fine supplier of threes, steals, points, and assists.
Corey Maggette (10) – Reports say that the Bobcats will rely on him to carry them offensively. That tells us a couple of things: One, the Bobcats are going to be bad. Two, we should try to steal Corey late in our draft. His free throw shooting makes him a far more important fantasy player than in actuality. (Dear Bobcats, Look, you’re not going to be very good this season. I know it. You know it. Since this is obvious to everyone, how about rolling out a Kemba/Gerald Henderson/Derrick Brown/Tyrus/Biyombo lineup once in a while? You know, with the intention of flying up and down the court and forcing teams to keep up? Yeah, I know, you won’t get any stops. That’s okay. You’re going to finish 18-48 anyway. Just be exciting. Sincerely, Anyone Who Will Be Subjected To Watching A Bobcats Game This Year.)
Drew Gooden (13) – Brandon Jennings: 39%. Carlos Delfino: 39%. Stephen Jackson: 41.1%. “Clank” is going to be the most common sound in Milwaukee this season. Gooden is often slept on but is a solid pick in the last round or two. Sometimes it’s more beneficial to go with a safer option like him with one of your final picks rather than taking a chance on a rookie.
(I want to emphasize that these players should be avoided in their respective projected round, not altogether.)
Kobe Bryant (2) – He’s the greatest player in the game today but his production is no longer amongst the elite. Because of his loyal following, he’s perennially drafted too high. Ray Allen, Kevin Martin, Manu Ginobili, and Eric Gordon are all of similar value but come at a more modest price.
Rajon Rondo (3) – His astronomic assists and steals are sort of fools’ gold. While he’s helping you win those two categories, he’s quietly destroying you in turnovers, free throw percentage, and threes.
Kevin Garnett (3) – Still puts up incredibly efficient numbers, but when people talk about older players struggling with the back-to-back-to-backs and the condensed schedule, he’s the first guy that comes to mind. He’ll continue to be great when he’s out there, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he sits out more than 10 games this season. Also, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass will need to get their minutes too.
David West (5) – You can find other options to give you what West provides who aren’t coming off of a major knee injury. He signed with the Pacers, where he’ll be without Chris Paul for the first time in the last seven seasons. The last full season he played without Chris Paul, he averaged 6.2 points per game. Just sayin’.
Ty Lawson (6) – He is truly one of my favorite players to watch, a smooth operator with a lot of toughness and smarts, who always steps up his game in the most important moments. Also, he did this last season. All that said, I’m going to have to hold off on drafting him because the Nuggets thought it would be a good idea to trade for Andre Miller. Do you see the need to bring in a point guard of that caliber to battle Lawson for minutes? Me neither. I really wish we could see more of Lawson as a starter. In 31 starts last season, he averaged 14.7 points on 50.9 percent shooting, along with 1.2 threes (44.2%), 6.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and just 2.1 turnovers.
Darren Collison (7) – After seeing him light it up while filling in for the injured Chris Paul two seasons ago, it was widely expected that he would become a stud as the starter in Indiana. Well, he didn’t turn out to be very studly. He had a decent season, but the numbers were nothing like that stint in New Orleans. Now George Hill is in Indiana and he’s quite capable of wrestling minutes from Collison, or even, dare I say, take his job. It’s possible we’ll see the two of them together in the backcourt, but I think Paul George needs to be a starter. We’ll see how this plays out, but for now I’m backing away from him.
Shawn Marion (8) / Lamar Odom (7) – Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how the Mavs can play Marion together with Lamar Odom without drastically shaking things up. I imagine Odom will come off the bench to spell Marion. That’s a backup who will demand a hefty amount of playing time. However it happens, it looks like the production of these two guys will suffer from a good ol’ classic timeshare.