Let’s be real – this time of the year isn’t all that urgent for 95 percent of the fantasy basketball playing public. Aside from the fact that two-thirds of the reports you read will be total crap, most owners have plenty of time to see how the dust settles after the draft and free agency.
The other five percent of you are grinding, borderline-OCD about it and perhaps you play in a rookie keeper-league that selects before Thursday’s big draft. I’m not going to sit here and try to predict where guys fall with any certainty – our guys Ed Isaacson and Doctor A have you covered there – but I will set the stage for the type of fantasy value that could be had in each location that holds a top-8 pick.
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Biggest Need: Small Forward
Other Needs: Interior Scorer
Fantasy Situation: The Cavs will have their eyes on two small forwards in Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, and barring a total surprise either guy will get all the minutes that they can handle in Year 1 should they don the Wine and Gold. New Euro-hire David Blatt is the anti-Mike Brown, and should inject some flamboyancy to the offensive end. As an understudy of the Pete Carril Princeton offense some concerns about Kyrie Irving pounding the air out of the ball should be mitigated. It’s also possible that some dead weight gets trimmed via trade, and a thinner group consisting of Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters, Spencer Hawes, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao could get clipped. With Milwaukee and Philly both prime fantasy destinations, an all-out fantasy gamble prior to the draft on either Wiggins or Parker seems like a fine play within any reasonable context. For what it’s worth I like Wiggins as a player a lot more than I like Parker.
Biggest Need: Back up the truck (everything). There is not an untouchable player on this roster after Larry Sanders’ bust of a season.
Other Needs: I guess I can expand here. Brandon Knight was the one bright spot last year in terms of productivity and he still has a ton of holes in his game -- including finishing, free throws, point guarding and defense. Ramon Sessions belongs on another team. O.J. Mayo could really use the carb-restricted diet I have lost fifty pounds on. Khris Middleton is a nice player but you’re not writing home about him. John Henson regressed at the end of the year and Larry Drew was not a fan, though an increasingly dysfunctional organization as Herb Kohl felt around for the exits certainly contributed to the charade. If we’re talking needs, here, Drew should be as ‘interim’ as ‘interim’ gets with motivated new ownership around to make sure he’s developing and not tinkering. It became clear that Kohl was more enamored with Ersan Ilyasova than the coaching staff or management, which is probably why he has been yo-yoed in and out of the lineup for the duration of his big money deal. Giannis Antetokounmpo has a bright future but he is still very raw and wasn't able to force Drew into playing him last season, which shouldn't really have been necessary in a tanking season but that's how it went. Henson, Antekounmpo and Knight are all worth planning around, but they're not going to tilt the draft in any one direction.
As an aside, if you don't think the Bucks were tanking last year as Kohl was marketing the team then I have some swampland in Florida you may be interested in.
Fantasy Situation: The Bucks have pinned their hopes – not just for turning the franchise around – but also for getting some public dollars for a new arena around their top overall pick. They openly tanked last season and were supported by a vocal portion of their fan base in doing so. This won’t be the year that they try to get cute (at least I think they won’t). They need a big name guy to sell to the city of Milwaukee, and with plenty of team needs I think they’ll take the best player available. Assuming Wiggins goes first that will be Jabari Parker, even if I hate his defense and his Derrick Williams’ like Tweener status.
Parker is a big character guy from a big name school in Duke and the Bucks are going to wrap their entire arena effort around him. For those not schooled in the Bucks' future in Milwaukee, if they don’t get a new arena then the team could be moved out of town. There are a handful of powerful owners that want a team moved into the larger market of Seattle, and there are a tremendous number of big media voices that will try to pick apart Milwaukee’s perceived issues in securing their building. The new Bucks owners didn’t get into this endeavor to lose their team right away, so they’re going to take the safe pick and do everything in their power to make it look amazing.
Biggest Need: See Milwaukee.
Other Needs: The only players the Sixers can turly hang their hats on are Thaddeus Young and Michael Carter-Williams. Nerlens Noel may end up being a good or even great defensive big, but as a mid-level lottery pick in a bad draft nobody should be banking on his future after a significant knee injury. I do think that MCW can be a solid player, but the jury is still out on his ability to defend quicker point guards, shoot consistently, and whether or not his production will look remotely similar in any non-tanking situation. As usual, the answer will likely be in the middle of the two extremes you’re picturing in your head right now. The rest of the roster makes Milwaukee’s group look like a bunch of All Stars.
Fantasy Situation: The Sixers don’t seem to want to play Nerlens Noel as a five-man, and that’s going to severely limit their playing style if they can’t find a center with some shooting range. Joel Embiid might fit the bill there but who knows how bad the foot thing is. Some draftniks are looking at Dante Exum here, too, and there has been talk that MCW is on the block – which would make sense in that case since Exum profiles a lot like him. That seems like a lot of work to get to the same place unless you’re cashing in on MCW’s probable high point in perceived value, and you’re absolutely sure Exum can be that guy.
Overall, I wouldn’t be entirely sure that Brett Brown is going to run a track meet every year – since this past year it was obviously an attempt to junk up games. But there should still be some elements of that approach with youth and athleticism as their defining attributes. Embiid carries his own unique risk in both the real world and in fantasy drafts, but if he was to land in Philly it would be a pretty good place for him to land with a good coach and nobody to push him for playing time. To be clear, owners are drafting him as a keeper only this year. Beyond that, even though not everybody is sold on Exum’s ability to play point at the next level, he might be the value play among the top-3 probable draft picks because Philly is such fertile fantasy ground.
Biggest Need: Point Guard
Other Needs: Depth, upside and a dominant scorer. Can Victor Oladipo play point guard at the NBA level? Sure, he’s a starting caliber point guard prospect based on his defensive abilities alone. If we fast forward three seasons he’d be a fine signal caller in the association, though it’s doubtful he’d be pushing the elite tier of Point Gods for a spot in their group. The Magic would love to move him off the ball and have him work on his outside shooting over time, all while pairing him next to a more traditional point guard to give the lineup a potentially elite one-two punch. Dante Exum would be a good start toward that calculus, assuming you think he's a one and not a two, since the duo could cross-match on the defensive end.
Beyond that, the Magic have a lot of good, promising players that aren’t going to be elite anytime soon. Nikola Vucevic and Arron Afflalo are starting-caliber NBA players, though statistically they will certainly fade when the roster accumulates more depth. Tobias Harris’ ankle injury was a doozy and Jacque Vaughn didn’t do him any favors with some of his rotations, but he’s also headed toward being a decent starter with some upside if he continues at his trajectory. Moe Harkless is a project but it’s too early to rule out his chance at contributing meaningful minutes for a good NBA team. Kyle O’Quinn showed that he can be a serviceable backup this year. Jameer Nelson needs to exit stage left and find a contender that will nurse him to the finish line every year.
Fantasy Situation: Unfortunately, unless the Magic make a trade to get rid of their quasi-depth in the starting unit, the only position that would bring with it a surefire fantasy hit is point guard. This, of course, assumes that Nelson moves along, because the Magic might decide to bring Exum or another point guard prospect like Marcus Smart along slowly. However, if you’re gambling on Exum before Thursday’s draft it’s good to know that a team like Orlando is looking at point guards in case he falls past Philly.