The fantasy basketball season is coming to its conclusion, and if you are lucky to still be in the playoffs this late, then you already know what you’re doing. So I asked my ESPN colleague, Josh Whitling, if he’d like to partake in a correspondence that we could share with all of you. He said yes, so below is what you get this week. This “conversation” began this past Saturday night and concluded Tuesday morning.
Velasco: Josh, considering you’re a Seattle native that loves the NBA, I really hope Kevin Johnson’s ability to land an arena in downtown Sacramento doesn’t see fruition. I thought it was a travesty that the SuperSonics left town to go to Oklahoma City. Seriously, that’s your team! However, I’m also conflicted about the whole Kings-to-Seattle thing because I’d hate for the Maloofs to make a lot of money considering how they ruined a good thing in Sactown. Luckily, the legacy of White Chocolate will never leave.
Seriously, there was some thought before this season began that Kevin Durant, a would-be Seattle superstar who combines the skills of Tom Chambers and Dale Ellis if you think about it, could actually be better than LeBron James in a fantasy basketball sense this year. It could be argued, but I’d say that preseason potential prognostication has come true. Agree or disagree? And do you think these two will be the top two guys in pretend hoops for years to come? Who do you think could challenge them for that top spot?
Whitling: Thanks for the Sonics love! My expectations are tempered until it becomes official, although I have faith that there will be an NBA team in my city again at some point — too good of a market, potential ownership group, and legacy of hoops in the town. It is interesting to see how Sonics gear has become retro, and it’s entertaining to witness the ubiquitous Seattle hipsters donning vintage Supes’ gear because it’s ironic the team isn’t in town anymore.
As for the KD vs. LeBron debate, to me it’s not a very heated discussion on either side of the issue when comparing them in a fantasy or “real” sense. In the actual game, LeBron is the best player alive, hands down. His ability to control both ends of the floor and the fact he’s a proven winner at this point shuts the door on that conversation pretty quickly. But in the fantasy sense, it all comes down to KD’s dominance in the free throw department, and the magnitude at which he dominates LeBron in this category makes him the superior fantasy player. Durant registers a +5.04 ranking on the player rater in free throws compared to LeBron’s -0.11.
It’s safe to call their points, rebounds and steals a relative wash. LeBron’s field goal percentage and assists are superior, but Durant’s blocks and threes win out. So if the rest of the categories are relatively even (there’s no difference larger than 2.1 in any category on the player rater), free throws become the deciding factor, and the reason Durant’s overall 21.95 player rater ranking dwarfs LeBron’s 19.07. As a matter of fact, the gap between them is nearly as large as that between LeBron and number three ranked James Harden, who sits at 16.08.
LeBron’s physical freakishness and athleticism is something that Durant will never match, but Durant’s superiority as a pure shooter and ability to get to the line often with deadly accuracy sets him apart from a purely fantasy sense, and is the reason Durant is the better fantasy player. It doesn’t look like this will change either as Durant has taken a step forward in nearly every advanced statistic this season, boasting a career-high PER, assist rate, true shooting percentage, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three-point percentage while cutting down his attempts between 16-23 feet, all indications that he’s still improving statistically. LeBron has taken many steps forward in these statistics as well, but not across-the-board like Durant, and with Durant being just 24-years-old compared to James’ 28, KD looks to be the best fantasy player for the foreseeable future.
I mentioned Harden; you think he’s the number three overall pick next year over CP3?
DV: As a Brooklyn Nets fan, there’s just no way I can’t be biased here considering the show that Chris Paul put on against the Nets tonight. He was simply a maestro conducting the Los Angeles Clippers offense, but also dictating what the Nets defense was doing. He was a beast and while I think Harden’s skill set was finally unleashed and proven as a starter, if not superstar, it’s hard for me to pass up on CP3 as the third overall pick.
JW: Again, here’s another case where the hardwood and fantasy contradict each other. Paul is among my favorite players to watch and the third best player in the league in my opinion. But Harden has a skill set made for fantasy, and eclipses Paul on the average player rater due to his elite contributions in points, threes, steals and free throws (he’s top-10 in all four categories) and with above-average contributions in rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage. Harden even blocks 0.4 shots per game, which is helpful from the guard position. Maybe I’m biased because I have him locked up at a low price for the next five years in my longtime keeper league, but I think he’s established himself as the third best player in fantasy this season.
DV: Fair enough, but when you can get a player that produces every season and has a fairly big sample size like CP3, it’s hard to pass up, especially when he has the potential to lead the league in two categories — assists and steals. The other elite point guards like Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker either don’t shoot as well as Paul (currently 48.3 percent from the floor and 89.0 percent from the charity stripe), drop as many dimes (9.7) or steal the ball (2.4) with such proficiency. It goes without saying that CP3 is the best point guard in the universe and it’s hard to find another point guard that produces like him all over the box score, whereas, you can maybe draft a player like Nicolas Batum or Monta Ellis in later rounds to get the same across the board type of numbers from the shooting guard position. Granted, not Harden-type numbers, particularly in points, but I think the appeal of The Beard is his production across several categories, and the aforementioned players do the same, but at a cheaper price.