Much like improving your game, building the perfect fantasy basketball team requires preparation, practice, commitment, perseverance and a healthy dose of fortunate circumstances. You can control four of those five factors by heeding the humble advice below.
Do your homework
There’s no such thing as an offseason for fantasy basketball owners. The summer brings more than enough nuggets of potentially juicy information to chew on, especially from a fantasy perspective. Beyond the obvious – Summer League/preseason games, free agency moves, trades – there are subtle quotes and updates that hit the wires and lend themselves to fantasy-related spin. These can be anything from a coach’s mention of his rotations, to reports that a player is working on a certain aspect of his game. While everything seen and heard during the offseason should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt (paging everyone who had their summer fling with Anthony Randolph last year), it only helps your chances if you keep up-to-date by reading various basketball resources – fantasy-related or not. So bookmark those websites and blogs, update your RSS readers and follow those Twitter accounts.
Understand the system
Head-to-head, rotisserie, fantasy points, categories, keeper, auction – these simple words can determine whether Dwight Howard goes at No. 5 or No. 20 overall in your drafts, among other things. Make sure you know the scoring system and settings your fantasy league will use, especially if there are aspects that are more exotic than usual.
Be like Santa
Make your own home-brewed draft-day cheat sheet and rank fantasy players from the nicest to the naughtiest. There are many ways to go about this, but the wisest is to come up with your own list, compare it to other rankings on the Internet and adjust accordingly. Just be sure you understand the assumptions of those other lists – scoring system, number of categories, etc. Some may not specify these, so do your best to look at them with a discerning eye. If you’re not a big believer in the wisdom of crowds, you probably don’t see the point of spending time looking at what other people think, and that’s fine. Just know that you might be missing out on some keen insights and indicators of what’s to come. Keep in mind that lists from purported “experts” aren’t the only ones out there. There are rankings based on the average pick positions from mock and non-mock drafts, and those are helpful. Exposing yourself to as many perspectives as you can is a good exercise – just don’t lose your own perspectives in the midst of it all. Generating your own list kills two birds with one stone: it helps you to have a set of rankings on hand that actually reflects how players should be valued in your specific league, and it helps you to avoid being the guy who catches the draft-day jitters, constantly burning the clock to its last seconds and fumbling your sixth-round pick with Vince Carter.
If you’re in a roto league, the goal of your draft is relatively straightforward: build the team that has the best chance to compete in all counted categories. In a head-to-head league, drafting is a bit more open to interpretation. There are two main schools of thought here: 1) Draft a team that’s strong across the board, or 2) Disregard (or “punt”) a category or two and stack up on the other stats. While it may seem counterintuitive, going the across-the-board route is actually easier than punting. Why? Because punting categories takes commitment, discipline and a more detail-oriented eye. If, for instance, you’re in a head-to-head draft and decide to take Dwight Howard at No. 8 overall and go the punting route, you’re committing yourself to losing the free-throw percentage battle. When you get to the second round and find yourself with the decision to choose between Rajon Rondo and Chauncey Billups, who do you take? If you said Rondo – who shot 62 percent from the charity stripe last season – you’re getting it. On the other hand, if you’re drafting David Lee – a center-eligible player who rebounds like a monster, but blocks and shoots the ball like a stud guard – you can try your hand at punting blocks. Also, while it’s not quite like punting, you can choose to focus on rare categories right out of the gates. Typically, fantasy owners who employ this tactic will greedily grab players who rack up steals and blocks. This is an appealing way to go, since getting an early leg up on these categories ensures you’ll at least be competitive in those two categories each week. However, it doesn’t give you much control over the other categories, especially since players who usually block the ball well tend to have different strengths (field-goal percentage, rebounds) than players who are skilled thieves (free-throw percentage, assists, threes). Yoked statistics can simplify the drafting process, but if you’re diligently targeting two categories that are yoked to different sets of stats, you could be on the verge of defeating your own recipe for success. Pick your poison, but do it carefully.
Play it by ear
Regardless of which strategy you employ, you’re going to have to hold off on your selection until you know which pick you have (unless you’re in an auction draft), and sometimes after the first two or three rounds are in the books. While it’s easy to stick to the script that your draft preparations have laid out, you’ll eventually reach the point where you’ll have to stray, whether it’s because other owners are drafting in a completely unexpected fashion, your gut is telling you that you made a mistake in evaluating certain players, or your eye’s strongly drawn to a sexy sleeper that you initially listed to be taken later. Don’t be strangled by your pre-draft plans. If you are, you’ll likely walk away from the draft with more than a few regrets. Also, while it’s unwise to be without a starting center by the 12th round, don’t cave in to that natural urge to pick a PG, SG, SF, PF and a C with your first five picks. If the opportunities fall into place for that, great. But it’s okay if you don’t fill every one of those five spots right away. (Just know that quality point guards and centers are much harder to find down the line than quality SGs/SFs/PFs.) If you don’t really care about positions, there’s always the option of drafting the best player available for whatever strategy you’ve chosen, regardless of position needs. Chances are you’ll fill in every spot eventually, though you’ll likely have surpluses at certain spots that you’ll need to use as trading chips after the draft is done. (By the way, if you want to keep track of your fantasy squad’s round-by-round strengths and weaknesses, don’t be afraid to open up a spreadsheet and update it with each player you pick, along with the averages you’ll expect from them this season.)
So you’ve prepped like a pro and drafted like a disciplined punter or a suave Renaissance man – now what? As with shooting a basketball, the follow through is as important as any other step of the process here. Don’t get discouraged if you think you had a bad draft, or too bold if you think you had a good one. The first few weeks should serve as a litmus test and you’ll start to see how your draft actually measured up. Among the keys to post-draft success are watching actual NBA games (you’d be surprised by how much you learn), closely monitoring the waiver wire, keeping track of team’s weekly schedules (and making roster adjustments based on that information), eyeballing which categories next week’s opponent looks strong in, and not shying away from making trades. While having a solid draft helps, the best teams are usually built and maintained throughout the season via savvy pickups and deals. It’s always easier to sit back and accept your team’s strengths and weaknesses than to fight for every tenth of a percent or half of a steal, but the road to your league’s championship isn’t paved with “easy.” There’s always another trade to make, waiver-wire gem to pick up or lineup to tweak. To quote the words of an interesting man, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”
Throughout the season, be sure to leave your questions, comments, concerns, trade offers, roster problems and more in the comments below.
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