Monday, October 30, 2006

FANTASY NBA: Drafting a Team That Could Almost Nearly Win Your League – Part Two

By Dustin Hockensmith

So we got you pointed in the right direction with Part One. You know where you pick in the draft, you know who's picking around you and you should have an idea of which players you're targeting. Now comes the hard part: executing the draft. In Part Two, we'll talk about prioritizing your players, crunching the numbers and finishing the draft on a high note to get your season started with a bang.

The Early Rounds
You can probably guess that the first five rounds are the most crucial and difficult in the draft. You get to use your imagination in the later rounds, but in the early rounds you're feeling the pressure of filling all your positions as best you can. This includes not just getting the best players, but also filling most of the spots in your starting lineup. Timing is a key, and it's the first pick you make that sets the pace of your draft and how you want to use your next handful of picks.

The first round always seems to be broken down in thirds, and many times you'll do well by picking with the last of the picks in those groups. With picks No. 4, No. 8 or No. 12, you should usually get as good a player as the ones leading up to yours. An example from my lone draft of the season went as follows: I had the fifth overall pick and Dwyane Wade, Gilbert Arenas and Kobe Bryant virtual equals. So the way to differentiate between the three is how you feel about what they give you. Do you like Wade's field goal percentage and blocks, Arenas' 3-pointers and steals or Bryant's scoring and lesser mix of the other two's strengths?

After you make this choice, you should be able to narrow your next pick down to who you should expect to be there. Brace yourself for the possibility of all three being there and know how all three would complement your first round pick. How you want them to complement that player is entirely up to you: You can find a player with similar strengths and hope to 'kill' categories, address your first-rounder's shortcomings or complete a dominant backcourt or frontcourt. Be flexible how you view this pick, but keep these types of strategies in the back of your mind as you go.

My Personal Take
I overplayed this strategy in my draft this year, but I think it is always a good idea to select players who can put up DOMINANT numbers in steals, blocks and, to a lesser extent, 3-pointers. These categories are available in the form of weaker players in the middle of the draft and in moderate doses late, but anchoring these categories with big-time producers greatly increases your odds of scoring big points. Points, rebounds, assists and percentage numbers are available in decent packages throughout the draft, but these harder-to-find categories come at a higher sacrifice to at least one area of your team.

Middle and Late Rounds
These rounds should be pretty wide open to personal preference. You have the opportunity to guess a little and try to hit home runs or choose the safer producers to be fixtures in your lineup. Again, there's no right or wrong way to do it, but I try and have it both ways. My theory is to seek out 'controlled upside', as in third or fourth year players in new roles or who appear ready to break out. The worst-case scenario is that they underachieve and you're left with the same player from the season before. Not great if it happens often in your draft, but not bad if you're closer to the upside for some other key players.

With that in mind, my advice is to usually stay away from the popular rookie and let your opponents overpay for them. I'll take slightly less upside in a less risky package, though it's usually a non-issue since someone always takes these guys too early. Give me (actual examples) Charlie Villanueva, Danny Granger, T.J. Ford or Shaun Livingston, guys that can be found at cheaper prices than the top rookies.

I hope that paints a pretty good picture of where your thoughts should be on draft day. With the draft complete, our thoughts will next shift to the upcoming free agency market and what you can do to be the first to act. In the third and final Fantasy NBA preview segment, we'll talk about how to strike gold on the waiver wire, address your needs through trades and field a consistent team for an entire season.

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