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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Early 2014-15 preview

By John Cregan
Special to ESPN.com

This is it, folks. The final day of the season.

I'd like to leave you with a few things to think about, including a list of my top 150 players for 2014-15.

I'll give you another list first: My top 10 things to ponder headed into the fantasy offseason:

1. Beware of playoff goggles
Don't let a couple of big playoff games by a player influence your thinking going into your next draft. Plainly put: beware of the Spurs. Gregg Popovich has a tendency to lean on certain players more heavily in the playoffs, which makes for overinflated regular-season value.

Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, or a wild card such as Danny Green or Marco Belinelli will have a dazzling couple of games in a conference finals or NBA Finals and overinflate his draft stock by 2-3 rounds. Or it could be Roy Hibbert (again). It could be a new name, such as J.J. Redick or Terrence Jones. Anyway, consider yourselves warned.

2. Look for the fit, not just the rookie
It's almost lottery time! As the only Bullets/Wizards fan I know, I know what it's like to count me some pingpong balls.

This is a heavily-hyped draft class. Don't let the hype fool you into overtargeting players, especially big men. Even in a good year, only 3-4 rookies have season-long value.

Just remember these numbers: 53 and 60. That's how high the top fantasy rookies (Victor Oladipo and Anthony Davis) finished on the player rater in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

And keep in mind that it's not always about upside.

The right rookie needs to be fit into the right team at the right time. Look at Michael Carter-Williams this season. He walked into a locker room that contained not a single person who could realistically put even "D-League Point Guard" on his resume.

It's the same situation Damian Lillard walked into his rookie year. Except that these Philadelphia 76ers were constructed to lose. So there was also a zero-expectations situation to go along with the no-other-point-guards situation.

3. Build around percentages
You need to build more around efficiency, and less around points per game. Look for players who take a disproportionate amount of shots from downtown, while nailing them at least 38 percent of the time. That's how you get bargains like Trevor Ariza and Jose Calderon.

The best buys in fantasy this year majored in two subjects: 3-point efficiency and blocked shots. Which leads me into my next item:

Monta Ellis, Samuel Dalembert, Anthony Davis
Big men such as Anthony Davis are now the plays to build a fantasy team around.

4. Things are getting bigger
In fantasy, we are transitioning out of a golden age of point guards and into a golden age of big men.

Seven of my top 12 players headed into next season qualify at power forward. Nine of my top 15 qualify at power forward or center.

The reason? Small ball. As players like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have started playing the four, the front lines in fantasy have deepened.

Throw in some skilled stretch fours such as Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki, add a couple of high-ceiling players such as Davis and DeMarcus Cousins and then throw in Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin and then throw in the PG-trapped-in-a-7-foot-frame Joakim Noah? That's deep-dish value.

5. More big men are coming
We are also adding several potential impact big men in this draft. Just keep in mind that it usually takes young big men a couple of seasons to develop fully. But players also tend to peak in blocks per game during their first 1-2 seasons in the league (thanks, Kevin Pelton). Incoming rookies such as Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Joel Embiid and Noah Vonleh are going to add more value to an already deep position.

6. Nerlens Noel is also coming
Lest we forget, the big man who produced the most buzz in 2012 will make his NBA debut in 2014. The man my Washington Wizards passed over for Otto Porter Jr. is landing in the same situation Carter-Williams landed in this season: on a zero expectations team that wouldn't mind tanking its way to one more top-5 pick in 2015.

7. Al Horford and Brook Lopez will be back too
We're going to hear a lot about Derrick Rose's latest comeback. But Horford and Lopez will be staging their own mini-comebacks in 2014-15, and will probably be lost a bit in your draft-day shuffle.

With a great draft class, and several high-profile seasons lost to injury, it took me this long to get to this:

8. Player movement this summer will be so, so key
The Miami Heat can blow it up. The Los Angeles Lakers have already blown it up. The New York Knicks could lose Carmelo and then blow it up.

The Dallas Mavericks can sign a max player like Chris Bosh. The Phoenix Suns could make a run at Love. The Chicago Bulls could make a run at Carmelo. LeBron could make a different Decision.

And those are just the top-shelf guys. Ariza will probably need more than the full midlevel, so he could change teams. I am starting to detect some rumbles about a Harrison Barnes trade, maybe to the Lakers. Jeff Teague could be traded. Greg Monroe could leave Detroit. Rudy Gay could leave Sacramento. Marcin Gortat is a free agent. Lance Stephenson, too.

You get the point. There's going to be a ton of jersey swapping this summer. But remember that it's always about the fit. Not just for rookies, but for veterans as well.

9. Pay attention to coaching changes
If Mike D'Antoni gets canned in Los Angeles, everyone's fantasy value immediately drops by about 10-15 percent. (Unless they hire Paul Westhead. Then values will go up 25 percent.)

A coaching change can do more to help or hurt a player's fantasy value than a change of teams. Look what Doc Rivers has done for DeAndre Jordan and Griffin this season. He nearly doubled their player rater values.

10. Play in an auction league next year
Just do it already. Look at it this way: If you're reading this, you deserve the rich complexities of an auction league. You're not Merlot. You're Syrah, my friend.

If you've read my last couple of columns, you'll know I have been performing an end-of-season audit on how we chose to invest our draft picks and auction cash.

The overriding lesson of the audit?

That we are locked in a battle for fantasy basketball's collective mind.

The battle is over perceived value versus actual value.

Cue the charts.

Player Rater values 2013-14 season, ranked 1-150 (Through Tuesday's games)

Chart

This is how the player pool produced its value this season. From Kevin Durant at No. 1 overall on down to Al-Farouq Aminu at 150.

As you can see, player rater valuation jumps off a steep cliff from Durant to around 25 overall (DeAndre Jordan). Then value tapers off at a steady rate from Robin Lopez (26 overall) on down to Aminu.

Does a traditional snake draft capture this value in a realistic manner? Next chart, please:

Traditional draft valuation

Cregan Chart

Does a traditional draft allow for realistic fantasy ownership? Not on your life. A traditional draft just can't capture value as presented by the values on the player rater. It's a blunt instrument.

There's no way to capture the subtleties presented by players one through 25. Or 26 through 37. Or the gentler downward trajectory of 38 through 150. (By the way, a chart of ADP from 1-150 presents a similarly shaped line, it's just a little jagged. If that's the best argument you have for snake drafts, you need to find something else to argue about).

So how did auction owners do this year in gauging the actual value of the player pool?

Average auction values 2013-14, Players 1-150

Cregan Chart

If you compare, the shape of this graph comes a heckuva lot closer to reproducing the shape of the Player Rater graph than the traditional draft graph.

But if you look closely, you'll see that there was still some overvaluation and undervaluation.

The main problem overvaluation area was from around players 33 through 70 (Parker through Tobias Harris). This overpaying resulted in the undervalued range from 71 through 150 (Jonas Valanciunas though Gerald Green).

The culprit behind the misevaluation? We are too dependent on the Stars and Scrubs strategy.

We overspend on big-name players who can never, ever come close to a decent return on that investment.

In my experience, a good investment on a star player should average out to around $3 to $3.25 per Player Rater point. And even that's slightly overpaying. Anytime you're over $3.50 per point, it had better be for a top-5 player.

Anything over $4? You've been ripped off.

I want to get real with you for a beat and talk about Actual Value.

Actual Value has to be based on the economic conditions that actually exist. Your average 10-team auction league will spend around $2,000 on players in its auction.

If we were to adjust auction valuations to the actual economic conditions of our player pool, prices on most big name players would drop by around 20 percent.

This lack of perception of actual value is why LeBron is at over $5 per Player Rater point, while Trevor Ariza is at 11 cents per Player Rater point.

To adjust, you simply have to pay less for big-name players and a little more for late-round players.

I realize this adjustment will probably never, ever happen. We like our big name players because we like sure things. We like star power.

But the only way to make Stars & Scrubs work on a year-in, year-out basis is to play with owners who aren't up to your level. You're competing with them for top-level talent, while getting the $1 premium players less experienced owners don't pay attention to.

So I made you a list. It's my top 150 headed into next season, and it reflects the aggressive revaluation needed to accurately capture the value in the player pool.

Cregan's Top 150 auction values

Cregan Chart

It's not bulletproof, but it's the most accurate capturing of value I can come up with six months in advance. And it's pretty damn close to the Player Rater chart.

The most expensive player is still Kevin Durant. But in this graph, he's only a $62 player. Which would be $21 cheaper than his average auction value in 2013-14. Steph Curry is just $52. LeBron? $50.

By the same token, there are no huge bargains like Trevor Ariza or Robin Lopez. Ariza headed into next season (if he stays with the Wizards or goes to another team that can give him big minutes) is a $20 player. Jodie Meeks is $14.

Based on the amount of money we have to spend, and the values on the Player Rater, these are what these players are actually worth.

A few little items before I give you the list:

1. I included five rookies; Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon. It's a little aggressive. I gave them imaginary destinations based on lottery probabilities (conrgats, Mr. Wiggins, you're headed to Milwaukee!)

2. I left all prospective free agents on their current teams. So no Bosh in Dallas (yet.)

3. I made big adjustments in value based on prospective games played. That's why Chris Paul is only $30 and Dwyane Wade is only $15. This does not reflect my belief in their basketball-playing abilities, just their ability to stay on the court.

4. Even though the dollar values are lower throughout, there is still a premium price on superproducers. So John Wall costs more per Player Rater point than say, Jameer Nelson. (This model still allows you to overpay for stars, I promise.)

5. I bumped Harrison Barnes up based on trade chatter. If he got traded, say, to the Lakers, he'd be a solid late-round pick.

That's it. Thanks for reading this season.