This week's column takes a scalpel to my own fantasy teams. I won't do every league and I'm intentionally picking leagues that haven't gone exactly to plan, for various reasons. I'm also looking at an array of formats from very deep leagues to shallow leagues, and points to 9-cat. I'll explain each league format before listing the guys I drafted and discussing what's gone right, what's gone wrong, lessons learned, and improvements (or not) that I've made via trades or the waiver wire.
League #1: This is a 10-team, 9-cat league with the following categories: Points, Field Goal %, Free Throws Made, 3-pointers, Rebounds, Assists, Steals, Blocks, Double-Doubles. No turnovers category. No IR spots. The only other Rotoworld guy in this league is Steve Alexander, who has been in it for a very long time. It's a money league and the format has changed a few times in the years since I joined, so it's always a fun challenge.
Here's my draft, picking out of the No. 3 spot. Remember, this is a very shallow 10-team league. Only 110 players were drafted.
1. (3) Anthony Davis
2. (18) Bradley Beal
3. (23) Nikola Vucevic
4. (38) John Collins
5. (43) D'Angelo Russell
6. (58) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
7. (63) Zach LaVine
8. (78) Miles Bridges
9. (83) Wendell Carter Jr.
10. (98) Joe Ingles
Not my best draft. This team is exactly .500 at the moment. I have a 30-30-3 record and so far this week I'm at 4-4-1. Blocks are a strength at 1st in the league and I'm second in scoring, but otherwise just middle-of-the-pack. I'll take it, considering I've been without John Collins all season (without an IR spot I cut him immediately), lost D'Angelo Russell for an extended stretch, and then also cut Nikola Vucevic when he got hurt. The initial report by Shams Charania said he'd be out at least a month, though it now sounds like he could be back before that timetable.
If I knew Vucevic would only miss about three weeks, I'd have kept him. The key to cutting him was that the waiver wire is always stocked in a 10-team league with shallow rosters and no IR. And with Collins already gone, and no viable trade value, I didn't like my odds of holding Vuc for 4-5 weeks and taking a bunch of losses. I've since picked up Zion Williamson in the hopes he'll return in December, though I'd trade him for Vuc in a heartbeat now that it wasn't revealed to be a Grade-3 sprain (which is what I feared after watching the video). I've also added Jonas Valanciunas, Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren. Injuries and suspensions have hurt me and cutting Vuc was the wrong move, even in this shallow of a league. I should have tried to stay afloat with him getting DNPs on my bench. You don't win leagues with a .500 record.
League #2: This is the Rotoworld Live Draft we did, with 12 teams and a points-league scoring system. It's the default for Yahoo! points leagues, is what NBA.com uses on their fantasy pages, and it's the same as FanDuel. This is a head-to-head league and once again there's no IR spot, so injuries are brutal. I'm happy with my draft but need guys to get healthy. You'll see what I mean with this draft order (from the coveted No. 1 spot!):
1. (1) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Mil - SF,PF)
2. (24) Kemba Walker (Bos - PG)
3. (25) De'Aaron Fox (Sac - PG)
4. (48) Khris Middleton (Mil - SG,SF)
5. (49) Mitchell Robinson (NY - C)
6. (72) Domantas Sabonis (Ind - PF,C)
7. (73) Gordon Hayward (Bos - SG,SF)
8. (96) Brandon Ingram (NO - SG,SF,PF)
9. (97) Collin Sexton (Cle - PG,SG)
10. (120) Tomas Satoransky (Chi - PG,SG)
11. (121) Will Barton (Den - SG,SF)
12. (144) Jakob Poeltl (SA - C)
13. (145) Nerlens Noel (OKC - PF,C)
Taking Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 1 was probably the right move, even though James Harden has been just as good per game -- they're both averaging 59.0 fantasy points. I'll quickly mention that Steve Alexander took Luka Doncic at No. 8 overall and got some heat for it, yet Luka is third in the league at 55.2 fantasy points per game. He's second in the league and first in points scored. Doncic has been surreal this season, and I have obvious regrets about not putting him higher on my draft rankings.
Giannis and Kemba have mostly stayed on the court, even though Giannis will not play on Wednesday (and was on my bench earlier this week...I used the 'Start Active Players' tool and forgot to double-check, so the system auto-started an injured guy over Giannis. It's my fault for not confirming). Still, it's been tough to piece together wins with De'Aaron Fox (ankle), Khris Middleton (quad) and Gordon Hayward (hand) all missing extensive time. I cut Jakob Poeltl and Nerlens Noel early, cut Tomas Satoransky a few weeks after that, but have continued to ride with the underwhelming Mitchell Robinson and Collin Sexton. I might have to move on from Sexton soon, as he's been terrible lately and has averaged 9.0 points in 27.5 minutes in the past two games, both huge blowouts. He just doesn't get boards, assists or defensive stats, so unless you see him scoring 18+ points he's probably not helping your squad. My hope for Mitch Rob is that he'll benefit from the coaching change in New York. Of course, he still needs to stop fouling long enough to stay on the court (5.7 fouls per 36 minutes).
My team has been reinforced with Dario Saric, mostly because I needed another center-eligible player (it's a two-C league) after Collins got suspended. Saric has had some nice moments lately, though I'm skeptical he can keep it up when Deandre Ayton returns. I might try to trade him if I can get something of value, or just ride it out and cut him if Ayton decimates his minutes and/or offensive usage. It doesn't help that most owners in this league are reading this column. Just kidding guys, Saric is bound for rest-of-season glory?
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Will Barton has been a late-round thrill, Brandon Ingram was a pick I only made because it's a points league, and that panned out perfectly, and Gordon Hayward was terrific prior to his hand injury. I didn't cut any of my key injured/absent players, and recently leaned into the DNPs by adding Victor Oladipo. I figured I was doomed to a month of losses anyway, so I might as well add talent. As it happens, I got a few easy matchups and am now sitting on a 5-2 record despite all the missed games. I'm still not certain Oladipo was a good add, due to the lack of transparency about his return date (he said his timetable is "loose as a goose") and the certainty that he'll have onerous restrictions when he gets back. Plus, the Pacers have enough weapons and depth to be even more cautious with him this season...they're 6th in the East with a 15-9 record, so it's not like they're desperate for VO to start playing 30 minutes per game. In any case, I'm happy with this team even if I end up trading or cutting Oladipo.
League #3: This is the Rotoworld staff league, which includes every NBA writer. It's standard 9-cat with 12 teams but there are 17 players on each roster, which makes the waiver wire (FAAB) very competitive. I was drafting out of the No. 8 spot, which was my least-favorite spot this year, and took Beal with my first pick:
1. (8) Bradley Beal (Was - SG)
2. (17) Nikola Vucevic (Orl - PF,C)
3. (32) Russell Westbrook (Hou - PG)
4. (41) D'Angelo Russell (GS - PG,SG)
5. (56) Julius Randle (NY - PF,C)
6. (65) Jonathan Isaac (Orl - SF,PF)
7. (80) Lonzo Ball (NO - PG)
8. (89) Montrezl Harrell (LAC - PF,C)
9. (104) Brandon Ingram (NO - SG,SF,PF)
10. (113) OG Anunoby (Tor - SF,PF)
11. (128) Terrence Ross (Orl - SG,SF)
12. (137) Jaylen Brown (Bos - SG,SF)
13. (152) Dennis Schroder (OKC - PG)
14. (161) Jakob Poeltl (SA - C)
15. (176) Willie Cauley-Stein (GS - PF,C)
16. (185) Luke Kennard (Det - SG)
Now, I should not have drafted Russell Westbrook in the third round. Something short-circuited my brain and I thought 'at 32, that's fine for an every-night triple-double threat'. But he's so brutal in 9-cat with low percentages and high turnovers, that you have to accommodate his weaknesses. After taking D'Angelo Russell (another poor FT% guard), I just decided to punt FT% with a streak of guys who are liabilities.
The bad news is that I also neglected to get enough 3-point shooters, so I'm 0-7 this year in FT% and 0-7 in 3-pointers. It's hard to punt two categories and expect to win, and you definitely can't lose three categories (I'm 0-6-1 in turnovers) and sit atop the league. As a result, I'm No. 5 in the league and currently up 5-4 vs. Matt Stroup this week -- I should mention that I traded Vucevic to Stroup for Andre Drummond (the ultimate punt-FT% guy) before the season started. I'm just sort of cruising toward a low playoff berth, and yet I'm optimistic.
With a team like this, making the playoffs might be good enough. It's not roto so those dead-last categories aren't a fatal blow, and I can consistently beat owners in five, maybe six categories. I'm first in boards, second in points, third in FG%, second in dimes, first in blocks and third in steals. Terrence Ross was bad early, so I cut him and that doomed my 3-point competitiveness, and half-measures to correct it (like Tim Hardaway Jr.) haven't paid off. I may try to flip an extraneous center for a 3-point specialist, because with 412 triples made on the season I'm only 50 behind the middle of the pack. If I can get competitive there, this team will be trouble for opponents.
League #4: This is a 30-team league stacked with experts from a variety of sites, including a handful of Rotoworld guys. It's purely pride at stake and after spending 3-4 days drafting intermittently, and closely tracking which third-string reserves are still available at pick No. 248, you are invested. I've made the finals a few times but have yet to claim the championship, which hurts. This might not be my year, either. Picking from the No. 17 spot, in a league with very strict position eligibility:
1. (17) Kyrie Irving
2. (44) John Collins
3. (77) Robert Covington
4. (104) Derrick White
5. (137) Jakob Poeltl
6. (164) OG Anunoby
7. (197) Willie Cauley-Stein
8. (224) Bruce Brown
9. (257) Bruno Fernando
10. (284) Jordan McRae
11. (317) T.J. Leaf
12. (344) Allen Crabbe
The first thing to note is that my top two picks haven't been available for a long time. It's hard to win any league in that condition, let alone one with 30 teams where you're now playing No. 77 as your top guy. There are two IR spots, at least, and I managed to get Omari Spellman (modestly useful in this league) and Ky Bowman (he's had some moments) to help me from completely going under. We play two teams each week and I have a 58-66-2 record, so it's not looking great.
Kyrie Irving's injury-prone nature is no secret, so that's my fault. You can't afford to lose your top guy and I should have prized durability over upside. I really wanted an elite point guard, though, and he was delightful to own for a few weeks. I tempted fate even more by taking Collins (even though it's not his ankles keeping him out) and Robert Covington, whose knees have mercifully held up thus far. Anunoby was a complete steal, Bruce Brown has had a few nice games, etc., but there's not much else you can do in a setting like this. I enjoy my team build when healthy and don't want to trade an injured star at a discount, because that's a recipe for mediocrity. The best waiver-wire options are guys like Thabo Sefolosha and J.J. Barea. So, yeah.
An interesting recent wrinkle is that the Spurs played only two games last week and this week. With two Spurs in my first five picks, that's left me at an even steeper disadvantage for games-played. It can be a great strategy if you happen to have multiple teammates with lots of games in the fantasy playoffs, but also presents a problem as you navigate the regular season. In a different league where I'm in first (14-team, 9-cat, 12-player rosters) I have four players from the Hornets -- Terry Rozier, Devonte' Graham, PJ Washington and Miles Bridges. They've been good for me to this point, but I'll need to orchestrate a trade before the bad stretch that's looming -- their games-played are awful Weeks 10-18. In that span they go 2, 3, 4, 2, 2, 3, 3, 2, 2. The final two weeks are All-Star-break related when every team has few games, but it's still going to be tough with literally 1/3 of my team on that schedule.
One thing this exercise has driven home for me is that trades and waiver-wire moves are the lifeblood of fantasy teams. You'd need to get extremely lucky to win a championship with the team you drafted, or even 80% of it, since injuries and underperforming guys will inevitably fall by the wayside. I mentioned some of the injured/suspended players I have exposure to, and I'm also an owner of Marvin Bagley, Deandre Ayton and Thomas Bryant. We always feel like we're cursed by injuries, though, and when you're in eight leagues you'll inevitably have guys sit out. I didn't draft Stephen Curry, Otto Porter or Isaiah Thomas anywhere, so things can always be worse.
Even if your team(s) are healthy, use however many transactions you're allowed! If it's a max of 50 for the season, be judicious and leave yourself the option to stream in the playoffs. If it's a limit of three or four per week, but no season-long max, almost definitely streaming the worst spot on your roster. It gives you the all-important games-played advantage and instills a 'kill your darlings' mindset where you're not too attached to low-end guys. Cut Terrence Ross for Tim Hardaway Jr. After THJ plays his back-to-back set, cut him for Norman Powell or Dillon Brooks or whoever else is going off at the moment. Rinse, repeat.
We also talk a lot about trades, but most owners don't float enough offers. I mentioned shipping off Vuc for Drummond, a move that improved my team even if Vuc hadn't gotten hurt. It reinforced my draft strategy overnight. In a league I co-manage with Jared Johnson, we sent off T.J. Warren for Gordon Hayward while he was hurt. That's looking like a great move with his reasonably speedy return to health. One strategy I employ is to seek out trades from the bottom up -- the last-place team in your league is probably desperate to improve, right? So, they might do something like send off Kelly Oubre for Markelle Fultz. That's a dubious one, but the point is that you just never know. If I think there's a sell-high opportunity, such as for Duncan Robinson or Kendrick Nunn after their eruptions on Tuesday, I might send offers to the bottom four teams in my league and see what happens.
Looking back at these drafts reminds me that drafting is only the starting point. Now, please excuse me...I have waiver-wire moves and trades to make.