Last year around this time, I wrote the season’s first Roundball Stew with a headline (and accompanying recommendation) that owners should aggressively target Damian Lillard in drafts.
I obviously wasn’t the first person to recommend drafting Lillard. Mine was, however, the first recommendation that a high school friend of mine saw, which prompted him to draft Lillard one spot ahead of me in our cutthroat league of old friends who take way too much pride in humiliating one another in fake sports.
For a while I was pretty angry that I’d put Lillard in the headline – my writing had essentially given my friend a draft pick he never would have found – but after a lot of therapy and many long walks through scenic forests, I was able to make peace with the whole situation.
With that intro out of the way, let’s get going on the season’s first Roundball Stew. Hopefully we’ll find a Damian Lillard or two in here – and hopefully my friends won’t.
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The Roundball Stew Preseason Top-20
(Note: I play in 9-category leagues, so that's what these rankings are based on. If you play in 8-category leagues, the breakdowns should still be useful even if the draft spot changes.)
1. LeBron James: I personally put him ahead of Durant because I’d rather have the edge in assists (7.3 for LeBron, 4.6 for KD) over Durant’s advantage in FT shooting.
2. Kevin Durant: But if you want to take Durant over LeBron, I understand.
3. Stephen Curry: Injury risk? Maybe. But he’s still mostly durable. Other than his nightmare 26-game campaign in 2011-12, Curry has averaged 77 games per year (including 78 in 2012-13). I recently took him third in 30-Deep (the 30-team expert league that all the Rotoworld guys play in), so I’ll be walking around with my ankles heavily taped all season.
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4. Chris Paul: His most explosive seasons are probably behind him, but averaging 16.9 ppg, 9.7 apg and 2.4 spg with great percentages (as CP3 did last year) is still pretty useful. A very safe (if slightly boring) first-round pick.
5. James Harden: I’d expect last year’s scoring (25.9 ppg) to take a dip with Dwight Howard in town, but not by a lot. Harden is still in line for big stats.
6. Kevin Love: Obviously he’s an injury risk after playing just 18 games last year, but during a mostly healthy 2011-12, he was the No. 4 player in Basketball Monster’s 9-category rankings. Love doesn’t get many defensive stats, but 25 and 14 with a whole bunch of 3s is within reach.
7. Derrick Rose: Last season’s saga was annoying and bizarre, but all of that extra sitting out has him ready to go this year. Rose has averaged 26.0 ppg in his last four preseason games, and could easily make a run at the 25.0 ppg and 7.7 apg he posted in 2010-11.
8. Kyrie Irving: Averaged 22.5 ppg, 5.9 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.8 3s last year – and he’s still just 21 years old. Uncle Drew’s upside is flat-out monstrous.
9. Paul George: The No. 18 overall player as a 22-year-old last season. And if you’re worried that he’ll have trouble coexisting with Danny Granger, then you have more faith in Granger staying healthy than I do.
10. John Wall: Over the last quarter of the season (21 games), Wall was the No. 11 player in 9-category leagues, averaging 24.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 8.3 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.6 bpg and 0.5 3s. I normally want my point guards to hit 3s, but when the rest of the numbers are this explosive, I don’t care.
11. Carmelo Anthony: He doesn’t help as much in steals (0.8), blocks (0.5) or assists (2.6) as I’d like, but there’s nothing annoying about the 28.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg and 2.3 treys he posted last season.
12. Marc Gasol: Doesn’t dominate any one category, but brings elite value by helping across the board. With that said, I’d be much more excited about having him be the second-best player on my squad as opposed to the best.
13. LaMarcus Aldridge: If you don’t like surprises, Aldridge is ideal for you. His last three seasons:
2010-11: 21.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.0 spg, 1.2 bpg
2011-12: 21.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 0.9 spg, 0.8 bpg
2012-13: 21.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 0.8 spg, 1.2 bpg
14. Deron Williams: Over the final two months of last season (28 games), he posted 22.9 ppg, 8.0 apg, 1.1 spg, 2.8 3s and a No. 6 overall ranking. He’s likely to shoot less and dish more with all the new options in Brooklyn, but there’s really nothing wrong with 19 and 10.
15. Nicolas Batum: A top-10 player for the first half before wrist and shoulder injuries slowed him down (16.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.1 bpg, 2.5 3s in his first 42 games). I wouldn’t argue with taking Batum any time starting around No. 10.
16. Al Horford: The No. 15-ranked player last season (17.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.1 bpg), he’s got a strong chance for a repeat (and possible slight improvement) with Josh Smith gone.
17. Anthony Davis: Despite a number of injuries (and 18 missed games), Davis still returned No. 25 overall value (13.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.2 spg, 1.8 bpg) and has a chance for a big leap in his second year. With the probably unnecessary caveat that preseason stats are sometimes silly, Davis has posted 21.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.0 spg and 2.1 bpg this month.
18. Al Jefferson: He’s been dealing with an ankle sprain during the preseason, but he’s aiming for the opener and is once again a strong threat for fringe first-round value in 9-category leagues.
19. Serge Ibaka: A lot of his value comes from blocks, but his blocks generate a lot of value – Ibaka was the No. 11 player in 9-category leagues last year.
20. Dirk Nowitzki: Played in just 53 games, but for the second half of the year he looked a lot like Dirk – 19.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.3 3s and a No. 7 overall ranking for his final 32 games.
Bonus! 21. Tim Duncan: Yes, you have to deal with DNPs (13 of them last year, many without warning), but based on averages he was the No. 6 overall player last year in 9-category leagues. Repeat: No. 6. I can understand not wanting to deal with the risk, but one owner in your league is going to end up gaining big from others deeming Duncan too old.
Didn’t Quite Make the Cut:
Kobe Bryant: Based on no medical knowledge and simply based on Kobe’s reputation and relentlessness, I expect him to be on the court posting Kobe-like stats before too long.
Dwyane Wade: Only outside my top-20 because he has missed an average of 15 games the last two seasons.
Ricky Rubio: After a slow start, he kicked his season into gear in early February, posting 13.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 8.3 apg and 2.8 spg over his final 38 games. Fully healthy at the start of this season, he could do even more. Rubio went 21st overall in the 30-Deep league, so be ready to take him in the top-25 if you want to get in on the roller coaster of bad shooting, lots of turnovers and otherwise very entertaining stats.
Mike Conley: No objection to his quiet (boring) production, but I’d much rather try to get him in the third round than in the second.
Kawhi Leonard: He didn’t make my top-20, but there’s still a strong case for taking him in the second round. He was the No. 15 player from Feb. 1 onward last year thanks to averages of 14.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 1.0 3s (along with strong percentages and just 1.1 turnovers).
Josh Smith: His declining free throw shooting (coupled with the fact that he’s in the first year of a long-term deal) has me inclined to stay away this year.
DeMarcus Cousins: Still has room to improve at age 23, but unless he falls outside of the first few rounds, I’ll let someone else draft the No. 73-ranked player from last year.
(Continue reading on the next page for some of my favorite players to target in drafts…)