The 2012-13 NBA season is in preseason mode, which means that fantasy basketball is in full swing with drafting, both mock and real, and the gathering of opinions should be part of your strategy to winning your league. So as part of the information to help you in becoming victorious, all this week The Fantasy Jump Off will give you the top 100 fantasy basketball players, tiered to aid your assessment of when to draft a player.
NOTE: The number in parentheses is an actual rank number, but is used loosely to help you decide within the tier. However, all players within tiers basically have the same value. All stats are from last season, unless otherwise specified.
Tier One – LeBron James (1A), Kevin Durant (1B)
Do you take LeBron or Durant with the first overall pick? This comes down to preference. LeBron has the superior numbers in assists (6.2 to 3.5), steals (1.9 to 1.3), and field goal percentage (53.1 to 49.6), while Durant is better in free throw percentage (86.0 to 77.1), three-pointers per game (2.0 to 0.9) and blocks (1.2 to 0.8). Of course, despite lesser comparative numbers from either player, you’ll take it within a non-comparative context. Them boys good.
We all know they can score and board, so the things to consider are as follows: Do you build your team around a SF/likely PF-eligible player like LeBron who will give you tons of assists from the three or four? Or a player with an excellent amount of treys and a significant advantage at the charity stripe? Either way, you really can’t go wrong. It should be noted that LeBron jacked up less threes per game (2.4 attempts) last season versus the previous one (3.5) and his career average (4.0). It’s no coincidence since he seems like he’ll be going more to the post, which will only increase his field goal percentage.
Just like in the 2007 draft when the SuperSonics had Kevin Durant fall in to their laps, picking second overall may actually be the easiest of any picks this fantasy basketball season because there really isn’t any thought process involved.
Tier Two – Chris Paul (3), Kevin Love (4)
Again, we have another two-way battle for whom should be taken at a particular draft spot. In this case, do you take Paul who has the ability to lead the league in assists (9.1, which was third-best, but has led the category twice previously) and steals (2.5 and has led in steals per game four of the last five seasons)? Or go with Love who can lead the league in rebounds (13.3, which was second-best, but did lead with 15.2 the previous season) and can hit triples from the four or five spot with aplomb (1.9)?
Both players can score, although Love has the advantage there (26.0 to 19.8), though it should be noted that Love actually shoots worse from the field (44.8 percent) than CP3 (47.8), as well as at the line (82.4 to 86.0). So, again, while both players are extremely good players, this may come down again to preference. The lack of noteworthy defensive stats is bothersome about Love and despite there being some good depth at the point guard position this season, it’s hard to ignore CP3’s dimes and big-time steal numbers. After the second overall pick, drafting fourth overall is the easiest.
Tier Three – Russell Westbrook (5), Dwyane Wade (6), Al Jefferson (7), Josh Smith (8), Deron Williams (9)
In this tier we have some very talented players that contribute across the board, but just miss out on joining the league’s upper echelon. In this particular group, anyone is worthy of being the fifth overall pick and really shouldn’t be second-guessed by anyone in the draft room.
Westbrook gives you scoring punch (23.6) and while his assists from the point guard position are a bit lackluster (5.5), the rebounds (4.6) and steals (1.7) make up for it. Also, his shooting percentage from the field has improved from season to season since his rookie year (39.8 to 41.8 to 44.2 to 45.2), which has also affected his scoring trend in the same period (15.3 PPG to 16.1 to 21.9 to 23.6). Don’t sleep on the upswing.
Wade is coming back from offseason knee surgery, but has felt good during training camp. Admittedly, his numbers dipped in his second season with LeBron and Chris Bosh on the team, but so did his minutes (37 to 33 per game), which is a strategy likely to keep Wade healthier longer in his career, as well as keep him fresh for deep postseason runs. Besides, 22.1 points on 49.7 percent shooting from the floor and 79.1 percent from the free throw line, 4.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks are numbers not to be disappointed in. I don’t expect much of dip from those stats this season.
Jefferson has been getting a lot of love in fantasy basketball circles this preseason and a lot of it has to do with consistency and center-eligibility, as he may be the safest pick for the five spot who will get you all three of the big man stats — points (19.2), rebounds (9.6), and blocks (1.7). His field goal percentage (49.2 percent) isn’t as high as others, but his free throw percentage (77.4) isn’t as low as others either. He’s a very safe pick to man your center position.
Smith is a beast. In fact, he could very well end up being the top of the class of this tier if he shot better, particularly from the stripe (63.0 percent). He’s a solid scorer (18.8 points), excellent rebounder (9.6) and assist man (3.9), particularly if you play him at the three. J-Smoove continues to be an outstanding fantasy basketball defender with his steals (1.4) and rejections (1.7). It will be interesting to see his production during a contract season and with Joe Johnson playing with the Brooklyn Nets. This could be a very good year to own Smith.
Williams’ tenure with the Nets has been a bit stressful for many reasons. In 12 games during the 2010-11 when he was traded from the Utah Jazz, D-Will averaged 15.8 points and 12.8 assists, but shot a horrendous 34.9 percent from the floor with a horrendous team. Last season, in 55 games, he averaged 21.0 points and 8.7 assists while shooting 40.7 percent from the field, again for a horrendous team. However, things should be different this coming season and a return to double-digit dimes seems in the offing, as well as the potential for 20 points per contest. It’s all new with the Nets, from location to personnel to attitude, with the second one being the key to D-Will’s fantasy production. He finally has some finishers and shot creators on the squad.
Tier Four – Kobe Bryant (10), LaMarcus Aldridge (11), Andrew Bynum (12), Kyrie Irving (13), DeMarcus Cousins (14), Paul Millsap (15)
Bryant played an insane amount of minutes last season (38) for someone that played his 16th NBA season with long postseasons in the mix. While some of Kobe’s numbers might dip with the additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, he should become a more efficient player and hopefully better rested.
Aldridge continued to score (21.7 points) at the same clip from the previous season (21.8) and he should hit a similar number this coming season. He’s improved his shooting from the floor the past four years and is solid at the line (81.4 percent).
Bynum, when healthy, is arguably the best overall fantasy basketball center and I’ll touch on why later. This season will be an important one to determine Bynum’s durability, as games played during his career has been a worry, except for his second season and last year (82 his second season, 60 of 66 last year, 65 or fewer in every other season). The injury history is there and he’s already starting off the preseason sitting out for three weeks. We’ll drop him a bit down, but with some hope he can play a good number of games. Cross your fingers.
Irving is an amazing point guard and I truly believe he’ll end up as one of the upper echelon point guards one day. Of course, if you’ve seen him play and hit game-winning shots, you know that’s an obvious statement. In 51 games his rookie season, Irving only played 31 minutes per, so imagine how much better 18.5 points, 5.4 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.4 treys and 1.1 steals will get with real starter minutes.
Cousins’ 18.1 points and 11.0 rebounds last season are only a hint of what’s to come if he can keep it cool and keep playing level-headed (4.1 personal fouls per game for his career). If he gets his fouling under control, he’ll get more burn (29 minutes for his career). His upside is still significant and his defensive numbers (1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks) are enticing.
Millsap is hard to read because the presence of Derrick Favors is looming large. However, it’s probably best to think that Millsap is too good not to repeat similar numbers to last season — 16.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.8 steals and solid shooting percentages (49.5 FG% and 79.2 FT%). Also, it’s a contract year, which is always good to know as fantasy basketball managers.
Tier Five – Dwight Howard (16), Ty Lawson (17), Dirk Nowitzki (18), James Harden (19), Marc Gasol (20), Al Horford (21)
Howard is generally accepted at the best center in the NBA, unless you’re Shaquille O’Neal. While his numbers are undeniably great, his free throw percentage will bring your fantasy basketball team way down. Not only is it horrible at 49.1 percent, but when you consider that D12 also gets to the line a lot (10.6 free throw attempts per game), he impacts your free throw category a ton. Let’s just “Iron Man” is a VERY appropriate new nickname, just not for why Dwight chose it. Nonetheless, Howard is still rated as one of the best in fantasy hoops land because of the other great things he brings like points (20.6), rebounds (14.5), field goal percentage (57.3) and blocks (2.1).
Lawson has a lot of upside still and can grow in production from last season’s 16.4 points, 6.6 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.2 threes made, 1.3 steals and excellent percentages for a perimeter player (48.8 FG% and 82.4 FT%). He’ll have some great finishers on the break in JaVale McGee, Kenneth Faried and Andre Iguodala, who will also allow Lawson to play off the ball and likely score more. He’s been a good sleeper pick in previous seasons, but everyone is awake to him now.
Nowitzki is getting basketball old (entering his 15th season), which is obvious, and his production will assuredly drop, particularly in rebounds where he averaged less than seven a game (6.8) for the first time since his second season (6.5). Nowitzki’s scoring has also declined over the past four seasons (25.9 to 25.0 to 23.0 to 21.6) and he had his worst shooting percentage from the floor (45.7 percent) since his rookie season (40.5). The signs are everywhere, but he still brings solid value because he can score, hit threes (1.3) and do major damage at the free throw line (89.6 percent).
Harden comes off the pine for the Thunder, but produces like a starter. In only 31 minutes of play, he contributed across the board — 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.8 threes, 1.0 steal and hitting 49.1 percent from the field and 84.6 percent from the line. It’s going to be a sad day if OKC can’t re-sign him. However, it will likely be a boon to fantasy basketball managers because the production will be as serious as the heart attacks OKC fans will have if that day comes.
Gasol and Horford are steady players that don’t really shine or stand out per se. They just do what they do, which is be solid scorers (14.6 for Gasol; 12.8 for Horford (career)), excellent rebounders (8.9 Gasol; 9.5 Horford), shoot well from the floor (48.2 percent Gasol; 53.7 percent Horford) and block shots (1.9 Gasol; 1.1 Horford). (Horford’s career averages were used because he only played 11 regular season games last year.) Al can also have an uptick in points because of Joe Johnson’s departure. Gasol will produce, even if Zach Randolph gets back up to par.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two.
DV is the founder at Baller Mind Frame and can be reached on Twitter if a fantasy basketball question arises. Or a query on the best way to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. For actual position rankings, you can check here. Paz!