The seven types of players described below can be toxic to an NBA fantasy players’ chances of winning. I will mention specific examples of players, but really these archetypes can be found throughout the modern league’s history and will likely exist well into the future.
Avoid drafting these types of players for a better lineup over the course of a long and often bumpy fantasy season. We also describe in great detail why each type of “doomed” player only makes your team that much crappier over the course of the season – so pay attention!
1. “Mr. Injury”
This one should be obvious, but every year you’ll see high-percentages of ownership on those players we all know are going to have foot, ankle, or knee problems. It’s impossible to predict injury, but remembering that fantasy basketball is a marathon and not a sprint (like fantasy football can be), it makes no sense to draft a guy who has enough of a history of injury to make you suspicious – there are better picks at every position. The trick is to find them.
An example is Brook Lopez, a perennial disappointment because of injury. It’s tough not to pick Lopez because when he’s healthy he’s the best big man in the league – look at the start of his 2013-2014 season for an example. His 57% shooting and best-in-the-league rebound totals continued for a grand total of 17 games before he broke the same bone in his foot that he broke two years earlier. Instead of being tempted by Brook Lopez in the third round, go for a guy like DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond if they’re available, as they’ll put up consistent numbers that will outpace whatever 20-game spurt Lopez has this year.
Another injury-prone player that could give fantasy owners fits is one of the league’s rising stars – Kyrie Irving is hard to pass up, but Goran Dragic may be the better choice at that stage of the draft. Dragic is the veteran leader among a gigantic Suns backcourt that could push his numbers above what Irving’s capable of now that King James is in town ahead of mine.
Don’t forget that Irving broke a half-dozen bones in his body in his first three seasons as a professional. The Memphis Grizzlies’ Mike Conley makes an even better pick than Dragic, provided Conley steps up his defensive ability to earlier levels and can take advantage of his amazing ability to avoid injury.
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2. Dud Guards
We’re not talking about duds in the general sense here – dud guards is a code word for a guard that looks good in a few stats but can be a real fantasy sinkhole in terms of field goal percentage. This least-talked-about stat (at least among lightweights) is often the make-or-break stat among an owner’s pool of guards over the course of a season, and can be the dagger in a tight race in the playoffs. Though the temptation to pick guys whose names you know, take a look at that all-important field goal percentage stat.
Brandon Jennings got a lot of coverage at the end of his college career and his name is dropped a lot on SportsCenter, so fantasy managers sometimes stick him in a draft slot because they’ve heard of him before and he produces lots of assists. But the guy has never shot more than 40% from the field, and the 2013-2014 season saw his number drop to lower than during his rookie year.
Better guards that can produce as many or more assists than Jennings are guys like Jose Calderon and Brandon Knight, whose names aren’t that well-known. This is kind of the essence of smart drafting – knowing who to avoid, why to avoid them, and who to substitute them with.
3. Recent Trades
Be very wary when selecting players that have just been traded, generally we’re talking about an off-season trade. But right off the bat, let’s talk about exceptions to this rule. Superstars involved in trades are exempt – it would be unwise to avoid Lebron James just because he moved back to Cleveland. A funny exception is any player traded to a worse team, especially 2nd and 3rd round guys who suddenly find themselves the go-to scorer.
Outside of those examples, a trade can be a real diuretic, in fantasy-stats terms. Look at Thaddeus Young, who put up big numbers in 2013-2014 because he was one of the only NBA-level players on a terrible Philadelphia 76ers team. He is the poster child for an NBA paper tiger and now he’s meant to fit in with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he’ll be one the least-experienced and least-promising options for his teammates.
That means fewer points-per-game, probably between 10 and 12, a huge drop from his inflated pre-trade stat. Some fantasy draft rankings have Young in the fourth round, but the impact of his trade to Minnesota makes a guy like DeMar DeRozan a much better pick, or even a promising rookie gamble pick like the likely-available Jabari Parker. Seriously, Young’s numbers are going to tank, and he’s a perfect example of how a trade can reveal a players’ weak fantasy value.
4. Rookies from Anywhere but Duke and North Carolina
It’s tempting on some level to draft the big-name rookie player, the guy who won a bunch of awards recently or led a mid-market team to a run for the NCAA title and has declared for the draft. The trouble is, the NBA is a man’s game, and too-often, college players (especially from smaller markets) can’t compete immediately against bigger bodies with better talent. An exception to the no-rookies rule is any player from the rosters the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels. No matter if you’re a Duke lover or hater, the numbers put up by guys fresh from Coach K’s system (and from UNC) make the players attractive fantasy late round selections.
Don’t think about names like William Avery or Bobby Hurley – Avery was a clear bust that no sane fantasy player would have invested in and Hurley’s numbers were softened by unpredictable injuries. Think instead of consistent producers like Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier, and Elton Brand. Heck, even a day-in, day-out workhorse like Johnny Dawkins or Kenny Smith (Duke and UNC respectively) would make solid fantasy late-round picks today. As for other North Carolina rookie greats – Vince Carter and Rasheed Wallace had amazing rookie seasons that would justify a selection for any modern fantasy bench.
Since we like to give exceptions for every rule, a sea-change type of player like Lebron James or Tim Duncan necessitates fantasy interest. When a player is clearly ready for professional competition (this is particularly true of big men), this rule is null and void.
The most obvious example is Greg Oden – his rookie season in Portland didn’t exist thanks to a knee injury caused by nothing more than his freakish height and lanky frame. Let’s not forget that another rookie available that year was a guy named Kevin Durant, who averaged 21 points and 5 rebounds.
Oden is one of many examples of how hard the leagues frequent games and lengthy schedule can be on the joints and smooth muscles of its bigs, but Oden’s case highlights a particular example. Not only was Oden in danger of being injury-prone simply because of his size, he was also untested much beyond high school, having played only a single season at the NCAA level.
When considering drafting one of the NBA’s giants, consider the context of their player in the league – do they have experience playing 82 games a season, as many big men in the league are forced to do these days? For every Hakeem Olajuwon there are ten, no, a hundred Yao Ming’s.
6. Guys Who Didn’t Go to College
The most glaring example of a fantasy and real-world high school bust is Kwame Brown, taken first overall on the advice of Michael Jordan, who apparently felt the 18 year old was ready to convert from a scholastic lineup of 18 games or so to a full year of head-to-head competition with grown men. He was wrong, and Brown put up numbers just a few digits higher than my grandmother’s.
The major exception – a time when it is okay to gamble on a guy not involved in the US collegiate system – is a small number of players emerging from outside the US. Obviously these players are more difficult to handicap. Fantasy basketball fans these days can take advantage of the foreign player scouting skills of several NBA coaches who, like the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, constantly find stat-producing stars among the annual flood of players from Serbia, Spain, and Brazil. If Popp thinks the guy with too many consonants in his name is worth adding to his team, the guy’s probably worth a consideration for a very late draft pick.
We sometimes refer to players with inflated value as balloons – get it? Yeah, it’s not funny, but it makes sense as a way to picture how some players’ real-world abilities don’t translate to fantasy success.
It’s easier to pick out players whose fantasy value is inflated in the NBA simply because there are fewer players. Avoid inflated-value guys is all about making fantasy stats-based decisions as opposed to fan- or emotion-based picks. So how can you tell if a guy’s value in the world of fantasy is far less than his real-world league value?
Consider a player like Manu Ginobili – the guy is fun to watch and his value to the Spurs is impossible to overstate. But as a fantasy producer, he’s been unpredictable because of injury and slight changes to coach Popovich’s system that reduce his role. Now with his age a major factor, fantasy GMs should expect continued reductions in both his shot percentages and his defensive stats this year.
Andrew Bogut is another example of the traditional inflated-value player, because he should be so good. The fact is, he hasn’t played a full season since he was a rookie, and when he does play, he’s scoring about half as much as he used to, and his lack of speed makes him a non-factor on defense. The Andrew Bogut of ’07-’08 isn’t coming back, and even then his value was inflated by being on one of the worst teams in the history of the Eastern Conference.
If I were selecting players for my own pickup team, I’d no doubt go for Ginobili, one of the best sixth men in the league’s history – over the course of his career. On a season-by-season and week-by-week basis, his presence on fantasy rosters causes more headaches than hallelujahs.