Just a week remains in the regular season. The playoff field is more or less set. This seems a good time for a quick look back at the 2013-14 NBA season. Depending on how you've fared this year, you can either call this column "How to Dominate Fantasy NBA Leagues for Fun and Profit," or "Where Did I Go Wrong This Time?"
At the risk of over-simplification, there are two real keys to winning a fantasy NBA league.
- Get the value you expect from your top picks.
- Get players in the middle and late rounds - and on the waiver wire - that out-perform their draft position.
This is, of course, much easier said than done. For example, with the 10th overall pick in a draft, you might have been tempted to select the player ranked 11th in Yahoo's preseason rankings - Chicago's Derrick Rose. Or you could have stuck with the player ranked 10th - the unibrow himself, Anthony Davis. And that one decision might have sealed your fate for the year. Rose appeared in just 10 games before a knee injury cut his season short. Davis - though limited to 67 games due to a variety of injuries - finished his season ranked second in Yahoo's scoring - behind only Kevin Durant.
(Fun fact - stuck in a bad draft position, I grabbed Rose with an early-round pick in an expert dynasty league back in 2012, planning to sacrifice year one of the league for dividends down the road. That call effectively killed two seasons for me - and depending on Rose's rehab - maybe more. Good times.)
That in mind, let's take a look at some of the biggest variances between preseason rank and rank as of April 11th, and see what we can learn for next year and beyond. The methodology here is simple: take preseason rank, subtract current rank. A zero means the player performed as expected - Durant (1), LaMarcus Aldridge (13), and David Lee (48) were the only zeros. A negative number means the player was worse than expected, and a positive number means he out-performed the preseason projection. Yahoo rankings aren't a perfect metric - they tend to favor players who contribute across-the-board. And straight ranks aren't ideal either - there may be a much larger gap between the 5th and 6th players on a list, while the 7th and 8th might be near-identical. But for a quick look at who met or exceeded expectations, the imperfect numbers will suffice.
We'll start with the year's biggest disappointments. Here's a list of the players in the preseason top 50 with the biggest drops in rank:
Clearly, injuries are a big factor in the composition of this list. You can't necessarily anticipate those, but some caution is warranted with players coming back from major issues (Rose, Bryant) or who have a history of nagging/recurring problems (Deron Williams).
There's also evidence here to suggest that players adapting to new teams/systems/coaches carry a high risk of potential disappointment. Dwight Howard got off to a very slow start and dropped over 100 spots in rank in his first year as a Rocket, while the combination of Jennings and Smith really never came together.
Oh, and Larry Sanders is apparently an enormous knucklehead.
If we expand our "biggest disappointments" list beyond the preseason top 50, we get:
|Otto Porter Jr.||132||440||-308|
Once again, this list features several players that missed all or most of the season due to injury. It also includes quite a few rookies. That's not a huge surprise, given the fact that last year's draft class wasn't thought to be particularly strong. But even in a supposedly solid draft year - like 2014 - most of the rookies won't produce numbers to merit roster spots in most fantasy formats.
Now, for some of the league's bigger surprises:
Ryan Anderson's rank - 16th overall - spotlights one of the holes in Yahoo's methodology; Anderson put up some impressive numbers this season but appeared in just 22 games due to a back injury.
That aside, who were this year's biggest fantasy bargains? Younger players making the proverbial "leap" - Stephenson, Drummond, and DeRozan in particular - and veterans that had an opportunity to thrive, often in an expanded role. That could be an indication that the best strategy for selecting players is to look for steady production and not the "high risk/high reward" players that don't pan out.
Some potential pickups for the final week of the season:
Omer Asik (57%) - Asik is a good play for his rebounding ability alone for as long as Dwight Howard is hobbled by a sore ankle.
Avery Bradley (53%) - He returned from an Achilles' injury to post 24 points, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals in 35 minutes against the Hawks on Wednesday. He'll put up good numbers if he can stay in the lineup.
Ray Allen (52%) - We probably won't see much of Dwyane Wade until the playoffs tip off, which makes Allen a more integral part of Miami's offense. Toney Douglas (1%) is Wade's actual replacement in the lineup, but Allen is a much better option if available.
Ray McCallum (23%) - McCallum has started nine straight games - and logged heavy minutes - with Isaiah Thomas sidelined.
Timofey Mozgov (19%) - He deserves mention for Thursday night's stat line alone. Mozgov tied his career high with 23 points and grabbed 29 (not a typo) rebounds in a win over the Warriors. He's basically the only healthy big man on Denver's roster at this point, so expect lots of minutes from him.
Robbie Hummel (0%) - Hummel is expected to start the remainder of Minnesota's games at small forward. He doesn't shoot enough to be a great fantasy option, but he'll rebound a bit.