"Who do I pick at (insert round) slot?"
"Why do your player rankings put (Insert name) at this slot?"
At this time of year, just about all of my basketball correspondence could break down to the two questions above. People either want my opinion on who they should pick, or they're mad the player they want to pick isn't high enough in my projection-based rankings. And based on the question they're asking, I am considered anywhere from a genius to an idiot. Sometimes both, in the same e-mail.
But here's the thing. It's not that I either have all of the answers or none of them. It's not that I'm half-dolt, half-amazing, either. It's that making one ranking that fits every fantasy situation is frankly impossible. Not only is prognostication difficult enough, but every situation is going to be different based on everything from scoring system, league type, league-mates, changing landscapes, etc.
Take, for example, Blake Griffin. I mentioned him in the Hoops Lab last week, and bring him up again today because he seems to be this year's lightning rod player. He's a real-life NBA superstar but has a fatal flaw that makes him a bit of a fantasy pariah, following in the footsteps of Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal before him. Griffin's big flaw is that he shoots almost nine free throws per game, but makes less than 65 percent of them. In a rotisserie league, having one guy shoot that many free throws at a low clip could be enough on its own to keep teams from winning championships. Thus, despite having legit 25/13/4 potential on great field-goal percentage, Griffin barely projects out as a top-50 player in the roto standings on most days.
On the other hand, in the XM/Sirius Fantasy Sports Radio Experts draft on Wednesday afternoon, I drafted Griffin with my second round draft pick, No. 16 overall. And I'm very happy with the pick. So, what gives?
The thing is, my draft today was a roto head-to-head draft instead of straight rotisserie. Which means that a player struggling in any one category isn't a deal-breaker, as I only have to worry about winning five out of nine categories as opposed to doing well in all of them. That, plus the fact that Yahoo has Griffin center-eligible, moved him drastically up my draft board.
Similarly, if it were a points based league, I might have Griffin even higher still. Scoring system is so crucial when determining how to rank someone, but it isn't the only factor. You also have to consider who you are drafting with - what are their draft tendencies? What do they know? What do they value?
Again, back to the Sirius XM draft, I was picking directly before one of my Rotowire colleagues, Chris Liss. Liss is the guy that reads every Hoops Lab before you do. He is the one with whom I go on the radio and talk to about my articles each week. As such, I was an idiot for passing on players like Carmelo Anthony or Tyreke Evans, both of whom I really wanted (and have gushed about in my writings and rankings), with hopes that they would make it back to me. I was an idiot because I was drafting with someone that knew my value system, and clearly was not going to let value slide to me. And I should have accounted for that while drafting.
And this isn't limited to just expert drafts... knowing your draft-mates' tendencies should be a big part of your draft strategy in any league. If you're playing in a league with a bunch of Laker fans, know going in that Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are likely going to be valued by the league a bit higher than they would be in general while Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett may be slightly undervalued, so adjust your rankings accordingly. If you're playing in a keeper league or with owners that love to draft on upside, know that you are going to have to slide Kyrie Irving up a few slots if you want him but that you likely can get a more veteran player like Dirk Nowitzki a few slots later. If you're drafting with guys that consistently consult Rotowire and know their stuff, you're going to have to draft more on value, whereas if you're drafting with a bunch of casual fans you may be able to wait on a sleeper but need to draft the big-name players that you're higher on earlier. Your league will shape the way that players are taken.
Finally, you have to keep up with the changing landscape of a league during its free agency period and training camp at the same time. Last week I wrote that DeAndre Jordan was a bargain with an average draft slot of No. 132.9. On Wednesday, after everyone got a chance to see just how many dunks he's likely to get playing next to Chris Paul this year, Jordan was drafted with the second pick in the 6th round (No. 62 overall) in the Sirius XM draft, and most of the experts said "good pick!" in response. On the flip side, despite an average Yahoo draft slot of No. 98.1 (and falling), in the experts draft Mo Williams didn't go until the 10th pick of the 13th round. His landscape went in the other direction with the acquisitions of Paul and Chauncey Billups as teammates.
The moral to my story is, by all means, have your cheat sheet next to you when you draft. In fact, have a few of them: one that's purely numerical/projections based on your left, then balance that out with a more opinion-based ranking (like the Rotowire150 I'll be putting out tomorrow) on your right. Learn as much as you can about each player, and why they might be ranked where they are on different cheat sheets. But ultimately, in the end, you're the only one that knows exactly what kind of league you're drafting in and has the best idea about what may or may not be valuable in that league. So in the end, you're the one that is going to have to make your best picks to fill out your draft.
Around the League
• Kobe's wrist: Kobe Bryant has a torn ligament in his wrist, and is listed as day-to-day. While Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times tweeted that he spoke with a doctor who told him it typically took "several days to several weeks" to recover from this injury, Bryant continued to play after the injury and practiced the next day as well. This suggests that he'll play through it, though like the finger injuries of the past couple of seasons, the wrist could linger a bit and perhaps lower his FG percentage for awhile.
• Curry's ankle and Ellis' legal issues: Stephen Curry re-sprained his right ankle on Tuesday, which has to be worrisome considering he sprained it approximately 39 times last season and had a procedure in May that was supposed to fix the problem. The Warriors are going to re-evaluate Curry on Wednesday night, and though I usually don't worry about ankle sprains, this may be enough of a red flag to slide him a few slots down my draft board. Meanwhile, teammate Monta Ellis has been sued for sexual harassment after a "consensual relationship". As yet there are no ramifications expected for Ellis' playing availability, though it could be a minor distraction.
• Billups at SG: This time last week I was down on drafting Chauncey Billups, as I saw him stuck behind Chris Paul and battling with Mo Williams for minutes. Now, though, Billups has been named the starting shooting guard for the Clippers and shot back up my draft board. Billups likely loses some assists playing next to Paul, but playing off of Paul and Blake Griffin should be enough to get him a lot of open looks from deep this year.
• Pierce's foot: Paul Pierce has missed the preseason with a sore heel, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers has indicated that he's worried about Pierce's availability for the opener. Presumably the injury isn't a long term issue, but with Jeff Green gone for the season with a heart condition it puts more pressure on Pierce to play bigger minutes, and any injury is newsworthy.
• West's recovery: David West tore his ACL back in March, and the initial thought was he would miss most of this season. Instead, he has signed with a new team and played 15 minutes in his preseason debut Tuesday night. He isn't back to 100 percent yet, and in his absence Tyler Hansborough has been a preseason double-double machine, but it's encouraging that West is back on the court, and he should be good to go a lot sooner than I would have expected.
• Millsap's quads: Paul Millsap has quadriceps tendonitis, which has kept him out of the preseason games and team scrimmage this week. This sounds like a fairly minor issue, but in his absence second-year former lottery pick Derrick Favors has been getting extended minutes and looking impressive. If Millsap can't return to the court soon, he could leave the door open for a talented understudy to start cutting into his minutes.
• Baron in NY: Baron Davis was left on the trash heap after news of his back injury (initial estimate 8-10 weeks out) came out. Then, the Cavs amnestied him, and the Knicks signed him, and the estimate of his time out dropped to 4-8 weeks. There's a huge potential difference between 10 weeks (more than half of the season) and four weeks (back next month), and with Davis now the presumptive future starting PG in a Mike D'Antoni system, he's suddenly worthy of a late-round flyer as a potential lottery ticket addition to teams for the second half of the season.
• Dalembert to Houston: Samuel Dalembert has agreed on a two-year contract with the Rockets, which makes him once again draftable as a solid rebounding/blocked shots role player in roto leagues.
• Kardashian re-signed: Kris Humphries is apparently ready to step out of the tabloids and back onto the basketball court after signing a one-year deal with the Nets. Humphries turned into a double-double machine for the Nets last year, and with a point guard like Deron Williams and a suddenly weak rebounder like Brook Lopez as teammates, Humprhies still has room to continue his double-double ways this season.
Some (more) players that I like at their draft slots
• Tyreke Evans (avg Yahoo! draft slot of No. 54.6): Evans has top-10 player potential this season if he's healthy, and playing 35-plus minutes in each of the first two preseason games would suggest that he is. Evans had a monster rookie season, and in Year 3 on a team where he'll have the ball in his hands, he should post elite numbers. He is grossly undervalued in the fifth round.
• Andrew Bogut (No. 59.1): Bogut played all of last season with an injured elbow that required offseason surgery. This injury caused him to play essentially one handed on offense, but he was still an elite rebounder and shot-blocker. This season Bogut appears healthy, and has spoken openly about his desire to really ramp up his scoring into the 18-19 ppg range. If Bogut can add that type of scoring to his already strong big man stats, he's suddenly a top-tier starting center.
• Stephen Jackson (No. 81): Jackson has quietly been one of the more productive swingmen in the league in recent years, and he will be expected to carry a good chunk of the offensive load in Milwaukee this season.
• Michael Beasley (No. 88.9): Beasley began last season on an absolute tear, and was one of the major breakout players in the league before injuries slowed him for the second half of the year. While newcomer Derrick Williams has people worried about a potential minutes crunch, it appears Williams is going to play primarily the PF while Beasley is almost exclusively a SF these days. As such, there is plenty of opportunity for Beasley to pick up where he left off as a big-time scorer.
• Jarrett Jack (No. 92.1): Until New Orleans adds another point guard, Jack looks to be the starter. He has been consistently solid, and when given the chance to start last year showed that he has 15/6 potential. Jack scored 24 points with six assists in his preseason debut, and while those are too much to expect on a nightly basis, he is solid value this late.
• Kris Humphries (No. 97.7): Humphries averaged 14.1 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks after the All Star break last season and a solid double-double in 44 games as a starter overall.
• Jeff Teague (No. 128.9): Teague is a potential breakout candidate this season if he can stay healthy enough to put a stranglehold on the starting job.
• Ben Gordon (No. 129.8): Looks poised for a larger role in Detroit this year with Rip Hamilton gone, and could bounce back a bit to what he used to be in Chicago.
• Evan Turner (No. 135.7):Turner is still battling for a starting slot at shooting guard, but he's been out-playing presumptive starter Jodie Meeks and still has big upside as the No. 2 overall pick from last year's NBA draft.
• Carl Landry (No. 139.1): Has poor man's David West potential as the starting PF in New Orleans this season.
Keeping up with the Professor
If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.