Mistakes to avoid, strategy tips and favorite targets

Welcome to the start of a new fantasy basketball season! Whether you are an experienced player or just now joining, this season is sure to be an exciting one. Navigating through all the potential paths that lead to success can be tricky, what with all that goes into drafting. Don’t worry, though, because we have your back and are here with a segmented concept to make it easy to prepare for your drafts!

We’ll start by providing insights into what works and doesn’t so you can move forward confidently. Later, you’ll find deeper analysis for managers looking for an additional edge.

So join us as we lay out our strategies for making a championship run — or, at the very least, building a competitive team. Let’s get started!

Draft mistakes to avoid

  • Please don’t assume that because an NBA team projects to be bad, they’re unsuitable for fantasy. The San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets ranked in the top 10 in Pace last season. A higher pace typically equates to more possessions and opportunities to score, generating more fantasy stats.

  • Over-drafting rookies. Over the past six seasons, an average of three rookies have finished in the top 100 each campaign. This year, it’s trending towards being Victor Wembanyama, Chet Holmgren and Scoot Henderson. However, these rookies are unique because they already have established roles in their offenses. Most rookies do not and will face competition to get minutes and adjust to the NBA style of play. I boldly predicted that this season will feature five rookies in the top 100, but that doesn’t mean you have to reach in drafts to acquire them.

There's understandably plenty of help around San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama, but fantasy managers shouldn't load up first-year players in their drafts. (AP Photo/Sarah Phipps)

There’s understandably plenty of help around San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama, but fantasy managers shouldn’t load up first-year players in their drafts. (AP Photo/Sarah Phipps) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

  • Over-stacking or forming non-correlated stacks. Stacking is when you have multiple players on the same team. A good strategy (similar to football) is pairing a point guard with a power forward or center with a strong rapport. For example, Joel Embiid/James Harden, Darius Garland/Evan Mobley, Stephen Curry/Draymond Green. But don’t go too far. Try not to get more than two players from one team on your roster because it gets too dependent on one team’s success.

  • Don’t go into a draft without knowing your league settings and format.

  • Don’t forget to set up your draft queue. Always have 3-5 players ready on your board.

How to get ready for your drafts quickly

  • My points and category rankings will continue to be updated if you need a quick guide before your draft.

  • I also created positional tiers to segment players into groups with similar projected fantasy production/outcomes for this upcoming season:

  • Use Yahoo’s research tools, specifically the draft analysis tool, to evaluate where players are being drafted, or their average draft position (ADP). Fantasy Plus subscribers can also view how the market has changed over the past seven days, which is essential as you get closer to drafting. Sign up for a free 7-day trial now.

  • Mock draft! It’s the best way to see where players are selected and allows you to practice drafting from different positions (depending on how many people are in your draft). There’s always a few questions I ask myself approaching drafts:

    • Who is falling relative to their ADP?

    • What players are going earlier relative to their ADP?

    • How early do I need to draft my sleepers?

Next-level draft tips

  • I’ve been producing draft content for weeks now as have our partners at Rotowire. We’ve rounded everything up in one spot in our draft kit if you want to take a deeper dive ahead of being on the clock.

  • With the NBA being so guard-centric, I like to focus on the first three rounds of any draft on getting the All-NBA/All-Star caliber guards and wait to draft big men after Round Five.

  • Every draft will be different, so you might have to adjust your strategy depending on how the board falls to you. Use the first five rounds to establish your core, and then, based on that core, determine what gaps you need to fill.

  • If you’re playing in a category league and want to deploy a punting strategy, I recommend this quick overview of how to do it effectively. For example, if you draft Giannis Antetokounmpo — he’s unquestionably an MVP-caliber player, but because he shoots a high volume of free throws and is inefficient (65% last season), you have two choices: build a team that pairs Giannis with other productive players who aren’t good free-throw shooters or go the opposite direction and prioritize productive players who can compensate for Giannis’ flaws.

  • Pay attention if other teams are punting because valuable players will likely be passed up on the draft board as they’re looking for the right pieces to fit their roster.

  • Know which players are preferred relative to the format. For example, Jordan Clarkson and RJ Barrett are solid options for points leagues, but I wouldn’t touch either of them in category leagues.

  • Know which players are eligible for IL versus IL+. IL is the default for Yahoo leagues, and a player with a short-term absence (load management, suspension, bereavement, paternity leave) is not eligible to go into IL. They must be injured. One player I’ve been stashing is Trey Murphy III because he can go into your IL spot right now. If you’re a league commissioner, I recommend changing to IL+ because it allows more roster flexibility in an era where players frequently miss games.

  • Only six players are within the top 150 in Yahoo fantasy basketball with three-position eligibility (Paul George, Brandon Ingram, Josh Giddey, Franz Wagner, Ben Simmons and Bruce Brown). These players are cheat codes that you can plug into almost every guard or forward spot.

  • Use the final few picks of drafts to get a combination of high-upside fliers and high-floor rotational players. Fantasy basketball is never won from the draft and so you’ll likely have to drop players for more favorable waiver adds once the season begins.

  • Get on X (formerly Twitter) and turn on alerts for national NBA news breakers or local team beat writers to get the quickest access to the latest player updates and rotational/positional information.

Strategy overview by format

9-Category H2H leagues

  • Prioritize players who are efficient with high usage rates and play the most games. Load management exists, so be cognizant of star players prone to take random nights off.

  • Target players who can get you points and assists while shooting a high free-throw percentage in the first three rounds because those categories will dry up quickly as you progress through your draft.

  • Rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage are abundant from the fourth to the ninth rounds, but once you hit round 10, you’ll need help finding centers or power forwards who can do both. My dream team is landing Alperen Şengün in the fifth round, Jalen Duren in the seventh round and Mark Williams in the eighth round.

  • Threes and steals correlate well with guards, but don’t worry if you’re unable to get either category early because they can be found throughout your draft or via waivers once the season gets going.

  • I tend not to punt turnovers in 9-category leagues because most players who see a high volume of touches (usage) will accumulate higher turnover rates.

  • If you want a deep dive into categorial scarcity, check out Josh Lloyd’s breakdown here.

Points leagues

The default for new Private and Public Free League scoring is Head-to-Head Points, so here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Similar to fantasy football, you accumulate points based on counting stats.

  • Efficiency categories such as field goal percentage and free throw percentage don’t matter.

  • Focus on targeting the players who play a lot of minutes with high usage rates.

  • If you’re playing in a default league, the scoring is as follows:

    • Points: 1

    • Rebounds: 1.2

    • Assists: 1.5

    • Steals: 3

    • Blocks: 3

    • Turnovers: -1

  • Use the first four rounds to draft the high-scoring, stat-stuffing players. Players like Cade Cunningham and Josh Giddey get a boost in a points format.

  • I co-sign Alex Barutha’s strategy on which players to target by round, but here’s a glimpse of what to keep in mind.

    • Rounds 1-2: Draft someone who can put up MVP numbers (45-55+ fantasy points)

    • Rounds 3-6: Draft players with All-Star/All-NBA potential (35-45 FP)

    • Rounds 7-10: Look for starters who are trusted within the offense (30-35 FP)

9-or-8 category rotisserie leagues

  • Like fantasy baseball, the objective is to build a balanced roster emphasizing players who efficiently complement their production.

  • Executing a punt strategy is more complicated, and I don’t recommend it.

  • Prioritize selecting centers and power forwards who are efficient from the field and the free-throw line because the further you get in your draft, those players won’t be available. For example, players that get a boost in roto leagues are Jaren Jackson Jr., Karl-Anthony Towns, Bam Adebayo, Myles Turner, Deandre Ayton, Onyeka Okongwu and Zach Collins.

Guard Draft Targets

My favorite guards are listed in my breakouts column, but if you missed it, they are Cade Cunningham, Jordan Poole, Jalen Green and Devin Vassell. Here are a few of the other guards I’ve been drafting:

Desmond Bane, SG/SF, Memphis Grizzlies (24.1 ADP)

  • In 16 games without Ja Morant in the lineup last season, Bane’s usage rate went to 28.5%. That’s high, and there’s a chance he tops 30% through the first 25 games, which Morant will miss due to suspension. Bane broke out last season and is well worth a second-round pick.

Darius Garland, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (40.5 ADP)

  • He’s played almost 70 games across each of the last two seasons and has been a top 50 player in per-game value over that span. He’s great for all formats because the only thing he doesn’t do is produce blocks. We haven’t seen his ceiling yet and while Garland’s fourth-round ADP is fair, I’d draft as early as the third round.

Tyus Jones, PG, Washington Wizards (81.6 ADP)

  • He’s inexpensive and finally earned a starting role. He’s one of the best point guards in assist-to-turnover ratio, and he’ll be a reliable source of assists, steals and threes. It’s one of the better-value picks if you missed the top-tier guards.

Honorable mentions: Tyrese Maxey, Markelle Fultz, Bennedict Mathurin, Coby White

Forward Draft Targets

My favorite forwards are listed in my breakouts column, but if you missed it, they are Josh Giddey, Paolo Banchero and Jaden McDaniels. Here are some other forwards I’ve been drafting:

Franz Wagner, SG/SF/PF, Orlando Magic (68.8 ADP)

Wagner is another guy on third-year breakout watch. A true iron man through his first two seasons, he’s only missed five games thus far. He’s yet to crack the top 100 in per-game value, but he will this season. He’s efficient and is maturing as a playmaker, as seen by averaging 3.5 assists per game last season. He’s also capable of reaching 20 points per game and poised to outperform his ADP.

Jabari Smith Jr., PF/C, Houston Rockets (94.4 ADP)

His efficiency is questionable, but he’s a player who can get you a cheap source of threes, rebounds and blocks later in drafts. Many are likely off him because he was terrible for much of his rookie season, but he appears to have turned the corner this summer. He went off at the Vegas Summer League, and all reports out of Houston this preseason are that he’s more confident than ever. His ADP is inside the top 100 right now, and all signs point to him improving from his 143rd finish a year ago.

Honorable mentions: Chet Holmgren, Trey Murphy III, Ausur Thompson, Keegan Murray and Paul Reed

Center Draft Targets

My favorite centers are listed in my breakouts column, but if you missed it, they are Alperen Şengün, Jalen Duren and Mark Williams. Here are a couple of the other big men I’ve been drafting:

Zach Collins, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs (113.1 ADP)

Collins did average 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists as a starter last season, and in one of the fastest-paced offenses in the league, Collins should smash relative to his ADP. That’s, of course, assuming he can stay healthy.

Bobby Portis Jr., PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks (110.3 ADP)

I don’t know what it is, but I always end up with Portis with my final few draft picks. He’s not going to wow you, but I’ll take the points, threes and rebounds with decent peripherals that he provides.

Honorable mentions: Deandre Ayton, Wendell Carter Jr., Onyeka Okongwu, Jusuf Nurkic and Dereck Lively II

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