We’re knee deep in draft week around here so let’s get into what this list is all about. For your peace of mind, I have unintentionally grown a Spencer Hawes mullet during this year’s round of pre-draft research. Sleep has been optional and my friends and family aren’t quite sure if I’m alive. No joke, my fiancé looks at me like I’m Leonardo DiCaprio in that Howard Hughes movie circa the pee jar scene.
The process includes a huge statistical element where I look for baselines, outliers, and trends, and then I apply the player’s environment in accordance with a reality check. I look for ranges of values, and ultimately line guys up based on injury-risk, expected production, and the ease with which they can attain their fantasy value.
In the case of players like Ryan Anderson, I watch tape to see if we can get beyond the knee-jerk reactions.
This list is not going to match our draft guide rankings, as that is a compilation of a lot of input from our entire team. As a result, you’ll see that I’m afforded the chance to be more aggressive with my rankings so keep in mind that some of what you see may not strike a chord with our voice or the industry voice.
Lastly, all values are written from the perspective of 8-cat Roto leagues, and I have included in parenthesis each player's 9-cat ranking as well. The reason I use Roto rankings for my baseline ranking set is because it is a pure value that I can always adjust for a punting strategy, head-to-head, or whatever the format is.
Probably the most important thing to consider about this list is that it is not a directive to draft guys as I’ve ordered them. Try to get as much Average Draft Position (ADP) data as you can from various sources and draft accordingly.
Beyond this list, you can follow me on Twitter where fantasy values are communicated way faster than they can be anywhere else. In fact, go to our front page and follow the whole crew while you’re at it. It’s an essential element for anybody trying to win their league.
I will update this article periodically, and let you know when that update occurred right here: Updated as of SUNDAY AT 6:00 ET.
So without further ado, I give to you the Bruski 150. Good luck out there.
EARLY ROUNDS (1-4)
1. Kevin Durant (9-cat: 1, ADP: No. 1 or No. 2) – This is just a personal preference and in this case I’m choosing Durant’s youth against LeBron’s mileage, and the likelihood LBJ will be rested a few more games than Durant.
2. LeBron James (9-cat: 2, ADP: No. 1 or No. 2) – The No. 2 pick in fantasy hoops is actually better than the first pick, since you get a better selection in the next round of the draft and the two candidates are pretty much equal.
3. Russell Westbrook (9-cat: 9, ADP: 5th overall) – If healthy, I’m fairly confident that Chris Paul will outperform Westbrook, but if I can get one of the league’s most durable players at this stage I’m doing it.
4. Chris Paul (9-cat: 3, ADP: 3rd Overall) – His thumb injury clearly isn’t a problem and he has looked great in preseason action. Two years ago I said that this was the season I was concerned about with regard to his knee injury, but after a year of dragging his leg up and down the court he hasn’t shown any signs of it hurting him. On a very deep team including Eric Bledsoe, Chauncey Billups, and Jamal Crawford, the Clippers have plenty of ways to spell Paul if he ever needs a breather.
5. Josh Smith (9-cat: 10, ADP: 10th Overall) – A top-7 play cumulatively last season, no Joe Johnson means a lot of Josh, and it doesn’t hurt that the Hawks aren’t very deep. Sure there are concerns about him shooting (and missing) a ton of threes or long jumpers, but if it makes you feel any better he survived last year’s increased FGAs with only a two percent decrease (a typical volume increase impact). He’s due for a regression on his FT shooting after an 8.5 percent drop last season that was four percent below his career mark.
6. Kyrie Irving (9-cat: 20, ADP: 11th Overall) – This is where the draft begins to get funky in my opinion, because we’re projecting an awfully big leap for the uber-talented Rookie of the Year. It feels like we’ve set him up for failure in my book, though I look at Dwyane Wade’s rest and durability issues, the ceiling on LaMarcus Aldridge’s fantasy game, and I don’t see anybody beyond them that can out-gun Irving at an elite level.
7. Dwyane Wade (9-cat: 5, ADP: 8th Overall) – Wade dropped to me at No. 14 in 30-Deep (a 30-team league) the other day and I threw a party. Despite playing four less mpg last season, he held his top-5 per-game value once again and it’s a testament to his versatility. Last year’s mark of 17 missed games is not a good look any way you slice it, and owners can expect him to miss more this year, but he still managed a top-25 cumulative value and this year the ratio of games off projects to be a lot better. That looks a lot like a top-15 floor with top-shelf upside.
8. LaMarcus Aldridge (9-cat: 8, ADP: 14th Overall) – Aldridge returned top-12 value on a per-game basis last season before a hip injury required him to have surgery. We haven’t seen anything to suggest that it’s an issue this season, but it’ll linger in the back of our minds. It think he’s at or near his ceiling and I worry about his quickness over the long haul, but for this season he will still be able to get his shot off and get to the spots on the floor that he wants to get to. On a shallow Blazers squad, he will get all he can eat and has a nice, high ‘floor.’
9. Deron Williams (9-cat: 31, ADP: 7th Overall) – This is the first drop-off in terms of drafting tiers, so try to target the top four picks if you’re in a Kentucky Derby Style draft over the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth picks. Williams was a top-6 talent on a per-game basis while in Utah for the 2011-12 season, and a top-8 player on a per-game basis last season. He held that value last year despite seeing a 3.9 assist drop per game while playing for a minor league basketball squad. Now with some real pieces in play, Williams is a strong bet to perform at this lofty price for the Nets.
Saturday Update: The ankle situation could end up being minor, but the fact that he wants to wait and get it cleared out at the end of the year suggests it's a chronic issue. I practice risk-avoidance in the first and second rounds in most cases, so I moved him underneath Josh and Kyrie.
Sunday Morning Update: We mostly deal in print news, in other words, we don't get to see or hear about 90% of what we analyze over here when it comes to media reports. That's going to continuously change, though, as local news outfits, ESPN, TNT, and NBC/Comcast aren't the only ones giving video updates anymore. Team blogs and one-man shops are now able to capture interviews on their iPhones if they so choose, and all together the proliferation of video content for fantasy owners will be the next step in this grand game. This particular bit of news isn't from a team blog -- it's from NBA.com, but nevertheless I want to impress upon you how important video news can be. Take a look at this interview with Deron Williams talking about his ankle. Make no mistake, this is a concern. He's not filtered when he talks, saying that he was unable to walk down the street without his ankle hurting and swelling up. Williams also talks about how the decreased explosiveness has impacted his game, as his dissatisfaction comes from not being able to play at his normal elite level, even though his 80% is better than most in the league. When looking at the first round of a fantasy draft, this is more than enough evidence to drop him a few slots once again. Though Dwyane Wade has knee concerns and LaMarcus Aldridge has a hip injury on his resume, the upside of Wade and the guaranteed money that Aldridge is now stack up better than a potentially hindered Williams. He'll go down further if we catch even a whiff of more bad news, too.
10. Kevin Love (9-cat: 6, ADP: 8th Overall) – Love is a tough guy to project, and with 10-14 games crossed off the schedule due to his broken hand -- the format you are in will impact where he goes. This is ranked for Roto, so owners may want to bump him up in playoff leagues and head-to-head formats. I’m not as concerned as others about his hand impacting his shot, as any decision to lay off shooting the three will be accompanied by more rebounds and a higher FG%.
11. Goran Dragic (9-cat: 22, ADP: Mid 3rd Round) – This is where my list is allowed to be more aggressive than our official rankings, which Doc and I basically compile along with feedback from the rest of our crew. My bull-run on Dragic stems from his top-5 ranking as a late season starter in Houston last year, in addition to his unencumbered role for a Phoenix team that he is very comfortable with. Add in his elite-level FT shooting (84% on 4.5 FTA/gm) and it’s my belief he’s being drastically underdrafted.
12. Serge Ibaka (9-cat: 4, ADP: End of 2nd Round) – Ibaka is more of a 9-cat guy, but he still finished with top-24 value in 8-cat leagues last year and did it in just 27 mpg. We here at Rotoworld pride ourselves at being ahead of the curve, and pointing out Scott Brooks' disastrous coaching has been a common thread because 1) it impacted Serge Ibaka tremendously last season and 2) if we're charged with explaining why things happened, we have quite a job going against the same media that voted Brooks into the annually ridiculous Coach of the Year award in 2010. In a case of better late than never, some of the media decided to stop chasing their bad bet this summer -- after Brooks put his Thunder squad at a nightly 20-point disadvantage by overplaying Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher in the playoffs. The word is out, and Brooks has officially run out of COY currency to pay for his college-like motivational tactics and coach by narrative philosophy. So while Brooks is stubborn enough to put Ibaka into the same role that he was in last year, Sam 'Teflon Don' Presti just paid the man, and now both of them will catch heat if Ibaka sits the bench while Perkins puts up turnaround jumpshots and lets his man beat him on every other play. The good news is that even in another low-minute scenario, we know what Ibaka will do, and his preseason has seen him add scoring and small doses of 3-point shooting to his repertoire.
13. Carmelo Anthony (9-cat: 11, ADP: Mid 2nd Round) – When Melo arrived in New York, Amare Stoudemire was the team’s unquestioned leader and the two have passive aggressively struggled for that crown. But with Amare showing up last season out-of-shape and eventually missing 19 games, having a meltdown with a fire extinguisher during the playoffs, and seeing his own effectiveness dwindle – there was no real way for STAT to continue to be the leader of the team. And that’s important because Anthony does real well when he’s the center of his own basketball universe, as evidenced by his top-4 finish in the 16 games after Jeremy Lin (knee) was sidelined. It’s worth noting that Amare was out for all but four of those 16 games, too (Melo ranked 15th in those games), and that’s the scenario we’ll be looking at with Stoudemire out for 2-3 weeks with a cyst. Those cysts are often signs of arthritic conditions, but we knew he was a big injury risk months ago. Either way, the team is no longer his and players have been stocked that fit Anthony’s style.
14. Mike Conley (9-cat: 13, ADP: Early 4th Round) – Conley’s numbers are among the most stable in the league from last year to the year before, and last year he posted top-24 value on the season. We’ve seen him shooting more threes during the preseason and that will be the thing that takes him to the next level. If anything, getting one’s hands on an asset so stable is worth some added consideration.
15. Brandon Jennings (9-cat: 21, ADP: Early 3rd Round) – Jennings, whose FG% used to slaughter owners, has steadily improved in each of his three seasons and outside of one particularly bad month, he was putting up first round numbers on a nightly basis. The best news was that his numbers didn’t dip when Monta Ellis arrived, and in a contract year if Milwaukee doesn’t sign him to an extension he'll be real motivated to hold last year’s top-24 value. At 23 years old, there's plenty of chance he continues to improve, as well.
16. Pau Gasol (9-cat: 12, ADP: Late 2nd Round) – Mr. Consistency brought back No. 9 overall value last year despite being underdrafted in almost every draft I saw, and he’ll have a similarly situated campaign this season as a beneficiary of ‘homely pick syndrome.’ That’s when a big name attached to an aging body no longer returns the type of cachet reserved for players like Kryie Irving, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kevin Love.
17. James Harden (9-cat: 15, ADP: Late 2nd Round) – Harden predictably broke out last year and returned top-20 value, so he should continue to improve and climb up the charts, right? I’m not so sure, as his value dipped the most when he was playing the most and shooting his most, with February’s 11.0 FGA and 46.4 FG% being extremes for him in the wrong directions while having his highest mpg (34) of any month. I can’t see his value falling off by too much, if at all, but assuming he can keep climbing this list with Thabo Sefolosha around and his efficiency in question is a bit much for me. Saturday Night Update: While I've noted that Harden showed signs of lowered efficiency during periods of higher utilization, the move to Houston is undoubtedly a positive. He should get all he can eat on offense and the increase in counting stats should offset any problems with field goal percentage, not to mention he should be more effective in the free throw department. I decided to keep him below Pau simply for the chance that the change of scenery comes with challenges, in particular because of the mental impact of leaving a contender for a pretender. In short, we know what Pau's gonna give us.
18. DeMarcus Cousins (9-cat: 27, ADP: Late 2nd Round) – Speak of the devil, Cousins has been going earlier than this in many drafts I’ve taken part in, but the ADP data says he’s going right next to Pau. This summer has been a mixed bag for Cousins, but when you consider that a year ago it appeared that he might be a red-letter headcase we'll take it. He’s still fiery and is going to get plenty of technicals, with many of them undeserved based on a reputation that IS deserved, but he’s heading in the right direction more or less. The part I don’t like is that his footwork hasn’t improved, he still shows poor defensive fundamentals despite the 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game he achieved last year, and he isn’t going to stop flailing up offensive rebounds toward the hoop. These are often awful shots and help contribute to his 43.9% FG shooting, which along with the turnovers have been the reason he hasn’t cracked the top-30 yet. Ranking him this high shows my confidence level in him, but if he doesn’t make the grade we’ll know exactly why he failed.
19. Paul Millsap (9-cat: 18, ADP: End of 2nd Round) – The writers in Salt Lake City have been writing Millsap’s obituary for over a year now, and they even have new writers replacing old writers that go right to work hanging Derrick Favors' jersey in the rafters. They say Favors should start, but it never happens. And when Favors gets into the game, it’s usually uneventful. I’m not saying Favors doesn’t have a bright future and I’m not saying that he couldn’t force Millsap into a bench role at some point. But breaking out the taps this early doesn’t make sense in fantasy leagues, especially when Millsap can achieve a 30-minute role with the Jazz whether he starts or comes off the bench. He posted last year’s top-6 value in 32 mpg, and he’s still improving as a player. Some added threes wouldn’t surprise me and if the Jazz are dying to get rid of a guy that good, it’s possible his new team will want to carve out a primary role for him.
20. Rudy Gay (9-cat: 23, ADP: Mid 3rd Round) – Gay is another ‘homely’ pick despite the ability to land on highlight reels, as the third or fourth option at times with the under-the-radar Grizzlies doesn’t exactly produce Blake Griffin-like buzz on Twitter. His stats are no different, either, with a little bit of everything to throw into the pot before the concoction boils down to something like last year’s top-12 value. He’d be a higher guy on this list, especially if we give some credence to a potential slide by Zach Randolph, but much of his value came from his durability – and counting on that durability to push him up the charts again is tough when ranking him with the big boys.
21. Ty Lawson (9-cat: 26, ADP: Mid 2nd Round) – I would have Lawson higher on this list if not for Andre Iguodala’s tendency to dip into his PG’s assist numbers, and the slight concern I have that Lawson owns a trick ankle. That said, I expect him to hold his ground and/or improve over last year’s numbers, making him a solid way to spend a second round pick.
22. Al Jefferson (9-cat: 19, ADP: 11th Overall) – This is not a knock on Al Jefferson. I have no problem going forward with the assumption that he can repeat last year’s numbers (49.2 FG%, 77.4 FT%, 19.2 PTS, 9.6 REB, 2.2 AST, 0.8 STL, 1.7 BLK). But he was eerily as productive in 2010-11, but instead of top-16 value on per-game basis (No. 14 overall) like he posted last year he posted just top-32 value. Why is that? Sometimes that’s just how the numbers work out. Players’ production ebbs and flows in each category in a given area of the rankings, and advantages, disadvantages, and the overall value that gets spit out can be drastically different, even while the numbers are the same. Am I willing to bet that he gets the same sort of mathematical benefit this season? No.
23. Kobe Bryant (9-cat: 35, ADP: 12th Overall) – If you want to let me hear it, bring it on. I got it wrong on Kobe last year with my concerns about his wrist, but doing some medical research it’s clear he didn’t experience a full tear of the ligament as was reported. We’ll never know that, but a full tear was expected to take a beating with every catch and fall, whereas Kobe took even more shots and saw the swelling eventually go down. He had a great year otherwise, too, finishing No. 10 in cumulative value while showing very little loss of athleticism for a man with his mileage. So why not get hyped about all the hoopla in L.A. and foresee great things for Kobe as he steps in next to an all-time great distributor in Steve Nash? That's actually the reason. With Nash around Kobe won’t need to go into hero mode like he did last season, and he has already admitted that he’ll be taking a bit of a back seat to Nash on the ball. And with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol around, not to mention Antawn Jamison, there is no reason for the Lakers to ride Kobe like he’s Secretariat. It wasn’t too long ago in 2010-11 that he mustered up No. 18 per-game value, and I think this year we see something a lot closer to that. (UPDATE: The foot injury isn’t great news, but it’s not moving the ranking. Yet).
24. Kyle Lowry (9-cat: 28, ADP: Mid 4th Round) – That ADP probably reflects the uncertain time last week when he was stuck with a groin injury, but since he has returned to action and promptly hit five threes on Friday that ADP will go back to a mid 2nd round to mid 3rd round level. Lowry is a collector of small, mitigable risks like his injury history from the past three years, his temper and potential attitude risk, and the fact he’s jumping to a new team. To counter those concerns, he is healthy at the moment and is tough as nails, he enjoys a very good relationship with Dwane Casey, and the team is going to build around him. In fantasy we look for calculated risks and this is one of them. Lowry was the No. 8 fantasy play last season on a per-game basis through March 8.