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Go with your gut when drafting
I ran into one of the hazards of giving fantasy basketball advice this week. During one of my drafts, I ran into this dilemma: it was the ninth round, and I wanted Al Horford. I also wanted Andrew Bynum, but I wanted Horford more. But I was greedy…I thought that I could maybe get both. Bynum was ranked in the top few remaining players on the draft applet, while Horford was still way down the list. I decided that nobody was really thinking about Horford yet, so I took Bynum and planned to get Horford the next round. Horford was chosen with the very next pick. Then, after I screamed at my computer, the person that picked Horford gave me this gem…

“I was surprised you didn’t pick Horford. I knew that you liked him because I read your sleeper fantasy article the other day.”

That was just rubbing salt in the wound. This guy used my own advice to steal my own sleeper away from me. He then proceeded to do that on 3 of the next 4 picks, gleefully pointing it out each time he did it.

Now, outside of this being an offense worth fighting over, it also nails home a valuable lesson. In roto drafts, when you have a player that you really want, TAKE him right then. Don’t get too cute or too greedy, as most of the people in your league are probably looking at the same sleeper lists and fantasy advice sites that you are. This is especially true in the mid-to-late part of the draft, as rankings lists get a lot less precise the further in you go. No one can say with any certainty that the player ranked 90th is necessarily better than the player ranked 110th. At that point you should be going with your gut, picking players based on your own team needs and/or value lists.

Nine times out of ten you’ll be happier picking the guy that you really want, more-so than the guy that rankings lists tell you that you are supposed to take. Because if you wait and miss out on that player, it will hurt a lot more if it is the one you had your heart set on.

Posted by Professor at 10/25/2007 9:54:00 PM
Comments (3)

How much should the preseason affect your draft?
I was running a chat last week, and I got a question about how much I believe the pre-season should affect your fantasy draft strategy. I thought this was an excellent question, so I decided to talk more about it here.

The preseason is a lot like the various summer leagues as well as international play, in that there is no way to directly apply results there to future success in a season. Different players have different things that they want/need to work on in the offseason, and these individual goals play a huge part in the numbers they produce. Some young players are trying to make the team, so they are going 110% at all times to try to produce. On the other hand, many vets just want to use the preseason to get in shape and not get hurt, so they may coast through many games at 70%. Some players are working on a particular move or shot, and may care more about perfecting that move than about their overall output. These factors and many more cloud the offseason results enough that they should not be the main deciding influence on your draft strategy.

On the other hand, there are three main things that I look for as useful information to be gleaned from the preseason.

1) Big injuries. While it is obvious that you want to avoid drafting a player if they suffer a huge injury in the preseason/offseason, it is also important to look for who can take advantage of those injuries. Two years ago, the big injury to Amare Stoudemire led to the explosion of Boris Diaw. Last season the fall of Jason Richardson led to the rise of Monta Ellis. Who will it be this year?

Possible examples this year: Chris Kaman, Tim Thomas, Al Thornton (injured Elton Brand); Smush Parker, Dorrell Wright (injured Dwyane Wade, Jason Williams, out-of-shape Antoine Walker); Adam Morrison, Walter Herrman, Jared Dudley (Sean May); Brendan Haywood, Andray Blatche, Oleksiy Pecherove (Etan Thomas)

2) Young guys ready to make a leap. If you look over the last several years, often the “come from nowhere” free agent pickups really played well in the preseason and/or summer leagues. For young players with talent, there is a point where they get adjusted to the speed of the NBA game and they are able to stop thinking and just play ball. Al Jefferson, Kevin Martin, and David Lee are just a few that I can think of off the top of my head that played well in the offseason then eventually made the leap in the regular season. Warning: not every offseason warrior is a star in the making, as Nicoloz Tskitishvilli was a summer league legend that was never heard from once the games count for real.

Possible examples this year: Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Marco Belinelli, Louis Williams, Martell Webster, Marquis Daniels >

3) Position battles. When multiple players are battling for one position, often the one that plays better in the preseason will be the opening day starter. One of my colleagues has already done a good job laying out most of the position battles , so I won’t belabor those here. I’ll just say to keep an eye on the preseason box scores, especially the minutes played, to start getting an inkling over who might be starting opening night.

Posted by Professor at 10/19/2007 12:02:00 PM
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Favorite methods for choosing sleepers
Before the season starts, every fantasy owner is a genius. We all have the perfect draft strategy, we all will outsmart everyone else in our leagues, and we all know exactly which “sleepers” to get in the middle/late rounds that are going to put our teams over the top. One of the problems, though, is that after awhile everyone reads the same magazines and websites and comes up with the same list of sleepers. Making pre-season prognostications can be full of hand-waving and guess-work, but at the same time there are some general formulas that really do help when trying to predict the next rags-to-fantasy riches story. Here we’ll look at three of those formulas to help some of you come up with your own sleeper lists.

1. Young love/upside potential. One of my colleagues, Chris Liss, is famous for drafting entire teams of players that aren’t old enough to drink. The idea here is to look for a very young, very athletic player that is either a rookie or was not quite ready to contribute last season but has the physical ability to be one of the best players in the NBA if he pans out. Liss’s philosophy is that he’d rather pick a player that could legitimately win him a title than go with a more mundane player that can’t be a difference maker. There is some validity to that train of thought, and because he does this Liss almost always finds at least one or two breakout players every season. The downside to this is that young guys, if they don’t pan out, can be pretty worthless so I don’t advocate taking your sleepers too early. Use the first few rounds to get a foundation of players you can trust, then go for the home run in the middle/later rounds.

Example candidates: Kevin Durant, Rajon Rondo, Randy Foye, Danny Granger, Andris Biedrins, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marvin Williams, Tyrus Thomas, Andrew Bogut, Andrew Bynum, Darko Milicic

2. Former superstars. Another method is to look for former stars that are coming off of uncharacteristically poor seasons. Sometimes that decline is due to correctable issues, such as an injury that may have healed or just a bad season. The downside to this is that sometimes the player declined because they were just washed up, or their previous success may have been a fluke, so be careful not to get so caught up in names that you end up with a 2003 All-Star team that can’t even make the fantasy playoffs in 2008.

Examples candidates: Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic, Larry Hughes, Jason Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Brad Miller, Shaquille O’Neal, Bonzi Wells, Boris Diaw

3. New situation. Follow the player movement. Sometimes all a struggling player needs is a new environment and fresh opportunity, so when someone is traded or goes to a new destination as a free agent there is always the chance that they may break out. Likewise, sometimes one player moving to a new team opens up opportunity for an overshadowed player to replace them and shine. Often, young upside guys and former stars would also fit into the new situation category as well.

Example candidates: Al Jefferson, Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson, Steve Francis, Sebastian Telfair, Stephen Jackson, Channing Frye, Craig Smith

Posted by Professor at 10/11/2007 5:40:00 PM
Comments (8)

Mining for deep sleepers in Minnesota
Last week I talked about learning to love a new team after my favorite player was traded to them. This week I follow up on the other side of the coin, how to keep the love for my old team after losing their franchise player. This was especially difficult for me in this case, as Kevin Garnett was the entire reason that the Timberwolves were my favorites in the first place. I've never been to Minnesota, I have no natural tie to the squad so why should I stay around? Especially through a dreaded "Rebuild".

For one thing, there's loyalty. I've put a significant amount of blood/sweat/tears into the Wolves over the past decade. With wonderful inventions like the NBA League Pass and the internet I've been able to get to know the team like they were my local squad. For another thing, there's the Wolves community. Guys from the Wolves message boards play in my fantasy leagues, and the Wolves followers I've encountered are some of the more knowledgeable and passionate basketball fans around. I don't want to leave that behind.

Finally, and somewhat surprisingly based upon the almost universally bad press that the Timberwolves front office gets…there's hope. Even before Garnett was traded, the Wolves front office was pushing their young players as the Blueprint of the Future. Now, whether you feel that the return package for Garnett was good value or not, it could be argued that only Portland has a decidedly better young core, and with Greg Oden out it's possible that the Wolves eclipse them as well. They sport nine players under the age of 25, four of which were lottery selections, and it is conceivable that all nine could be regulars in the rotation this season.

This is also where the smart rotisserie player starts to get interested in the Wolves. Unlike a contending team like the Celtics, there is no set hierarchy of minutes and production in place. Instead, Minnesota is now a hotbed of activity in which any from a group of 8 or 10 players could potentially break out this season. This team absolutely needs to be on your fantasy radar in the middle to later rounds, and immediately after the draft is over you should put several others on your "watch" list to pick up in case they get hot during the season. Excluding known quantities Ricky Davis and Mark Blount, who are veteran starters whose current roles are undefined in the youth movement, let's take a look at this year's Wolves of interest on my personal draft card.

Al Jefferson: Late 2nd/early 3rd round. The centerpiece of the Celtics deal, Jefferson could officially make the leap to fantasy stardom this year. Jefferson caught fire once he entered the Celts starting line-up last season, and finished the year by averaging 19.8 ppg on 55% FG, 11.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg and 1.1 steals after the All Star Break. If he can approximate those numbers for the season, he'd be worthy of a first round pick. But beware, he's had injury issues in each of his three NBA seasons and with the additional pressure of being The Man he could have trouble again this year.

Randy Foye: 6th round. I sincerely believe that the Foye/Brandon Roy dynamic this year will be like Deron Williams/Chris Paul last season. Foye had very similar per-minute numbers to Roy as a rookie, but Roy was playing 35 minutes per on a rebuilding team while Foye was playing 20 mpg on a team with playoff hopes. This year Foye is on a rebuilding squad and should be the main perimeter option. He already had the physical ability and big-shot mentality, and this summer he showed a dramatically improved 3-point stroke. Look for big things.

Corey Brewer: 11 - 13th round. The Wolves used their lottery pick this year on Brewer and have since traded Trenton Hassell, whose role he should replicate/improve upon. Brewer is a Garbageman in training that should contribute across many categories in the not-too-distant future, if he can earn the PT.

Gerald Green: 11th - 13th round. Green is competing with Davis, Brewer, and Rashad McCants for minutes at the swingmen slots. He averaged 16 points and 1.8 treys per game in 26 starts with the Celtics last season and also won the dunk contest, which combined to make his name large enough to get him roto attention.

Craig Smith: late rounds. The only reason that I list Smith below Brewer and Green is that he is more unknown. The former second round pick was an NBA All Rookie selection last season and flat out dominated in the Vegas Summer League this year. If he gets near starter minutes this season he could easily average well into double-figure scoring with solid rebounds.

Rashad McCants: late rounds/undrafted. My own personal deep sleeper. McCants came out of college as a scorer with a sweet 3-point stroke, but microfracture surgery killed his sophomore campaign last year. The word out of Minnesota is that his knee is dramatically improved this year, and if he gets his shooting stroke back he could very well grab one of those starting swingmen spots.

Ryan Gomes: very late rounds/undrafted. Gomes is a SF/PF tweener, and at times has been fantasy relevant with the Celtics over the past couple years. I don't think he'll beat out Smith at PF or any of the four swingmen for SF minutes, but if Ricky Davis and/or Mark Blount are traded before the season he has some fantasy upside.

Sebastian Telfair: undrafted but watch. Randy Foye is likely to start the season at PG for the Wolves, but he's still learning the position. Telfair is the only true PG on the roster, and he's still young enough that he could "get it" and become the lottery player he was drafted to be after disappointing in Portland and Boston.

Chris Richard: undrafted. Richard may not even make the playing rotation, but watching him in Vegas this summer he clearly has game. He's a great glue big man, willing to bang around, grab boards and play solid defense. He's also got surprisingly long arms and a nice mid-range jumper, and if he does ever earn bigger minutes he could produce in a Udonis Haslem kind of way.

Posted by Professor at 10/5/2007 6:59:00 AM
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