The regular season is less than a week away, meaning this will be the final preseason installment of Category Strategy before we start breaking down real action. As you most likely have a draft or two remaining on your schedule, I just wanted to pass on a couple last minute thoughts about a couple players whose perceived value in drafts is inaccurate.
Isaiah Thomasí average draft position on a certain fantasy basketball website is 79.0, while Damian Lillardís ADP on the same site is 81.6. On the one hand, Thomas is at best involved in a time-share with Aaron Brooks in Sacramento, while in Portland, Lillard has locked up the vast majority of the minutes at point guard and also has a much more valuable skill set than Thomas to begin with. Even if we want to assume that Thomas wins the starting job, his averages last season of 14.8 points, 5.4 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.6 three-pointers per game as a starter look like a conservative estimate of what Lillard will do in his rookie season. Now that Brooks is looming, it is increasingly doubtful that Thomas will approach the 31.6 minutes per game he averaged as a starter last season. Thomas shouldnít be going in the top 100 of snake drafts because itís incredibly difficult to extract value out of a time-share in fantasy hoops. This is a clear opportunity to take advantage of a flaw in the market right now. Shy away from Thomas and pounce on Lillard in your remaining drafts.
Dion Waiters and Bradley Beal are each averaging a 12th round price tag in drafts on a certain fantasy hoops website. On the surface this makes sense because they were drafted back-to-back in June, Beal going third to the Wizards and Waiters going fourth to the Cavaliers. But when looking at their specific situations, Beal offers much more value and upside. Waiters has failed to impress coach Byron Scott and is in jeopardy of coming off the bench behind Alonzo Gee and C.J. Miles. Beal on the other hand has been as advertised and figures to start over Jordan Crawford once the season starts. He also offers a specific category advantage over Waiters with his stellar three-point shooting, and with John Wall out for at least a month, Bealís stock is even higher in the short term. The 12th round is a bargain for Beal, while itís quite a reach for Waiters.
Now, letís move on to the Category Strategy
In last weekís column we looked at The All-Drainer Team, guys who kill your standing in specific categories. This week weíre going to pair up ideal first and second round players who best complement each other, whether to lock up a few specific categories early on or to get broad, high-quality coverage over every category. These pairings are intended for 10-team leagues that use a snake draft, but could easily be applied to an auction if youíre looking for a couple high-priced players to invest in.
Early First Round: Kevin Durant and Marc Gasol
If you take Durant with the first or second pick, thereís a pretty decent chance Gasol will be there at 19 or 20. Itís impossible to find a weakness in Durantís game at this point, but there are a couple areas where heís not all-world. Last season, Durant averaged 3.5 assists per game, which isnít bad for a perennial scoring champion. Gasol also is an impressive passer, dishing out 3.1 assists per game last season, which is elite for a center. Pair Durantís 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game last year with Gasolís 1.0 steals and 1.9 blocks, and you should be well ahead of the curve for production from the three and the five, with room to bolster assists and three-pointers with your guard selections without worrying too much about field-goal percentage since Durant and Gasol both shoot over 50 percent from the field.
Middle First Round: Josh Smith and DeMarcus Cousins
If youíre picking in the middle-to-late part of the first round, Smith should be there and Cousins should be there on the come-back. Why secure two players who have very similar strengths and weaknesses? Because their strengths (averaging 20 and 10 while also offering elite steals and blocks tallies for frontcourt players) are hard to find, while their weaknesses (three-point shooting and free-throw shooting) are easy to pick up from point guards after the first couple rounds. Youíll be dominant in rebounds, blocks and steals, while being above average in scoring and middle of the pack in field-goal percentage. Grab a Brandon Jennings or Goran Dragic with your next pick and everything will be looking up.
Late First Round: Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard
If you find yourself picking late in the first round with the 10/11 or 9/12 combo, pairing these two players on opposite ends of the statistical spectrum is a very real possibility. Howardís greatest weakness is free-throw shooting, and Irving just happens to have shot 87.2 percent from the line last season. Irvingís two greatest weaknesses are rebounds and blocks, areas that Howard has made a hall of fame career out of dominating. There will be a little work to do in assists, steals and three-pointers, but it wonít be a tall order, not with players like Stephen Curry and Kyle Lowry still available.