Recognizing the behavior of the market based on average draft position is quite crucial to success in fantasy basketball. Finding players who you believe are being drafted too high or too low helps establish a game plan for when you are on the clock in a competitive draft environment.
With an eye on finding both players on both sides of the value spectrum, we discuss some of the more interesting assets based on average draft results in ESPN leagues.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors: The newly svelte Nova product is leading the league this preseason in scoring, thanks in large part to a massive usage rate of 31.1 and 7.5 free throws per game — good for sixth in the league. As John Cregan recently noted in his auction draft breakdown, point guard is a top-heavy market this season, with managers best served netting at least one elite option at the position. I consider Lowry to be a far closer fantasy peer to the Clippers’ Chris Paul and other upper-crust options at the position, rather than into the late third, where he’s found going in ESPN drafts on average this fall.
C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers: We’ve already endorsed McCollum as a sound shooting source for investors to consider, but we should expound a bit on his fantasy profile given his quietly hot finish last year. Over his final 14 games last season, McCollum posted a rich 23.4 usage rate with an efficient .568 effective field goal percentage — a metric that reflects the increased value 3-pointers offer. What potentially distinguishes the third-year guard from his one-tool peers could be a strong steal rate — McCollum averaged 1.4 steals in 25.2 minutes per game over that final 14-game stretch.
Paul George, Indiana Pacers: There isn’t much room to slide George up draft boards given that he’s already going 12th in average draft position, so we’ll keep this brief. George merits consideration after the top six players are off the board. Not only does he have eligibility at three positions, with shooting guard proving particularly shallow, George lofting the 11th-most 3-point attempts in the league this preseason. George’s breakout 2013-14 season was fueled by a robust 28.2 usage rate — an estimate of the percentage of team plays a player is involved while on the court. He’s currently fourth among players to have logged 20 minutes in the preseason with a vigorous usage rate of 34.1. With nearly two steals and arguably the upside for three 3-pointers made per night, there’s still a small window for profit as George returns to form.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: Tabbed by ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton on our helpful fantasy basketball cheat sheet as a likely first-time all-star candidate, Beal’s modest pricing — he’s going 59th overall in drafts on average — and burgeoning game — Beal reminds me of the breakout rewards the Warriors’ Klay Thompson‘s early investors reaped in 2012-13. Shooting guard is irrefutably shallow this season in a marketplace largely defined by high-usage point guards and dominant forwards. Injuries have held Beal from making a Klay-like leap so far, but I’m willing to bear the risks given the potential for a breakout season from one of the league’s more gifted natural shooters. Beal is enjoying a usage rate of 26.5 after consuming a 22.6 rate last season, meanwhile the Wizards’s pace (number of team possessions per 48 minutes) is up 10 possession per game from last year, a 10 percent jump. With more individual usage expected for Beal on a team looking to dramatically increase the pace, more opportunity is almost always a positive ingredient.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: ESPN’s Player Rater system is a standard deviation model that focuses on the relative statistical value of specific fantasy players. Even as he took just 10.6 field goals per game, the lowest clip of his 18-year career, Duncan finished 14th among NBA assets on the Player Rater index last season. Elite efficiency, the Wake Forrest legend converted his highest percentage of 2-point field goals since the 2006-2007 campaign, buoyed Duncan’s fantastic fantasy metrics last season. The presence of LaMarcus Aldridge should only serve to help Duncan’s rich true shooting rate (a measure of shooting efficiency that accounts for 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws), as Duncan watches the younger import regularly draw double teams. A safe bet for nearly two blocks per night and the rare big with healthy free-throw numbers, Duncan is currently going 69th on average in ESPN live drafts. Don’t let “21” fall too far in drafts for his 19th season, as safe and steady are the most coveted elements when investing in big men.
Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets: This one is all about pricing, as Faried does offer bankable rebound rates thanks to ranking 16th in rebounding opportunities per game last season, but is being over-drafted at 44th overall on average. More impressive and less expensive peers such as Utah’s Derrick Favors, Charlotte’s Al Jefferson and the aforesaid Duncan present greater value propositions with a good deal of overlap compared to what Faried offers.
Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic: Oladipo’s undeniable upside and diverse statistical offerings often read as valuable in a fantasy context, but there should be some concern over the Magic guard’s lofty ADP of 35th overall. Oladipo rated just 16th among shooting guard commodities on the market last season, and could again fight for the volume of work he’ll need to produce a positive return on his draft stock. It’s hard to imagine Oladipo seeing too much of an uptick in usage from last season’s 15.1 shots per game and middling 23.9 usage rate — below the rates of Lou Williams and Kevin Martin, for some context. On a roster with even more competition for meaningful perimeter opportunities, I’m fading Oladipo on draft boards due to the high asking price.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets: My foot hurts even typing this, but jokes aside, there is just far too much of a long-term injury history for Lopez’s brilliant second half last season to hold as much weight as it does on the current market. Lopez is a top-40 ADP commodity at the moment, which is fine if we trust his projections are played over 70-plus games. I’d much rather net more bankable volume-driven guards like Goran Dragic and Reggie Jackson in Lopez’s ADP tier.
Nicolas Batum, Charlotte Hornets: Wonky usage last season saw Batum’s fantasy output plummet, as he was a dramatically disappointing 17th on the Player Rater among small forwards. More offensive freedom awaits him Charlotte, and diverse defensive offerings have long been part of what made Batum a special statistical source, but much like Lopez, it’s difficult to trust Batum’s long injury history and waning offensive efficiency — he’s shooting just 29 percent from 3-point range and 39 percent from the field after shooting a career-low 40 percent from the field last season in Portland.