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With just a week left before the NBA season tips off, we fantasy junkies have honed our drafting skills by taking part in myriad drafts -- both mock and real -- so we have a solid idea of whom we are targeting and when. With that in mind, we brought together our fantasy hoops experts for one more mock on Oct. 23 to give you a look at how we see things panning out as you prepare for your drafts.
While this is dubbed a "mock," we are actually going to play out this league for real, which helps lend some extra credence to our picks, because we know they count for real. This is a head-to-head category league (points, assists, 3s, steals, rebounds, blocks, FG% and FT%), which means we play one opponent each week and receive a win for each category in which we outperform him. Teams with the best W-L-T record at the end of our scheduled regular season will compete in the playoffs. Knowing your scoring system is a critical part of constructing a winning team via your draft.
Below, you will find the thinking behind each of my picks, as well the thoughts of some my fellow competitors on their more intriguing picks.
While you can draft a championship squad from any spot in the draft, the middle is the best place to be, because you never have to reach for players. And quite often you can snag a guy when he slips a couple of spots. So, I was happy to be picking sixth overall, where Russell Westbrook was a no-brainer selection.
As a rookie, Kyrie Irving posted terrific stats across the board. You took him with the eighth overall pick. What are your expectations for his statistical production in Year 2? Specifically, do you think he will produce more like a point guard after averaging only 5.4 assists per game last season?
Josh Whitling: "I'm a sucker for stellar percentages, especially when they come from guards. Irving posted 46.9 and 87.2 percentages from the floor and stripe, respectively, as a rookie, with a solid number of attempts in both areas. According to hoopdata.com, he attempted a whopping 5.5 shots at the rim per game, making 60.4 percent of those attempts, so I don't predict a regression in his field goal percentage. If anything, I could see it rising as he continues to refine his jumper. His statistical floor should hover around his post-All Star numbers from last season: 19.0 points, 5.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.7 3-pointers and 1.3 steals per game. My expectation? I'm not banking on much of a jump in assists, maybe 6.0 per game but could easily see him averaging 21 points, 4 rebounds, 2 3s and 1.5 steals per game with those excellent percentages. If you draft him it's important to get cheap assists elsewhere, which I did by later selecting Kyle Lowry, Darren Collison and Greivis Vasquez. I also drafted Pau Gasol and Gordon Hayward, who provide excellent assist totals for non-point guards, because Irving won't provide the dominant assist numbers that fellow first-round point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams do. But considering the fact this league doesn't count turnovers, it wasn't really a question for me to draft him eighth overall; the upside is tremendous, and he's providing me with a solid foundation in percentages, something I like to secure with my first overall pick."
I probably would have passed on taking Love if this were a roto league, because his absence early on will limit his season-long totals. However, in this H2H format, he's going to be an absolute stud in my weekly battles as soon as he returns, making it worth the risk of waiting. This is a perfect example of how drafting a H2H team differs from drafting a roto team.
Serge Ibaka is the King of Blocks in the NBA, but he does little else. What was your thinking behind nabbing this one-category wonder with the 16th overall pick?
Seth Landman: "In fantasy, Serge Ibaka blocks shots better than anyone else does anything else, and because of that he managed to finish 11th on the Player Rater last season despite playing just 27 minutes per game. He's also played in every game each of the last two seasons. I think he's a relatively safe bet at this point, actually, and if his pick-and-pop game improves at all, he's got a chance to slide into the top 10."
Typically, we find our sleepers in the middle or later rounds, but for some reason, people seem to be sleeping a bit on Gay this season. His well-rounded game is great in any format and small forward is relatively thin this season. Don't sleep on him in your drafts.
You took the leap on Goran Dragic in Round 3, so you obviously don't think his flash of success with the Houston Rockets last season was a fluke. It looks like he is pure upside in his new role leading the Phoenix Suns' offense. What do you think about his expected production this season and his value in this format?
Andrew Brooks: "I don't like to look a guy's per-minute stats, but even when he was a backup, he was super productive on the court. My goal was to attack assists and steals early and Dragic had the most upside of the point guards still on the board, which is why I took him so early. I'm banking on his assist numbers getting better (ESPN projects 7 per game and I'd be ecstatic with that), but at the very least I know the steals and 3s will be there. Not only that, I really don't believe in Kendall Marshall or any of the Suns' backups, so I expect Dragic to play a lot of minutes."
George is bursting at the seams with talent and has the ability to pile up points, 3s, steals, dimes and good percentages. Before the preseason, I felt he was poised to surpass Danny Granger as the Indiana Pacers' primary scoring option. I'm even more confident of that coming to fruition now that Granger is having trouble getting healthy.
You took a chance on Dirk Nowitzki with the second pick of the fourth round. Aside from missing at least a few weeks of the regular season, he's now an aging big man with a bum knee. What convinced you to pull the trigger on him here?
Brian McKitish: "Dirk is getting up there in age and mileage, and the knee injury is certainly a concern, but he's been one of the league's most durable players this decade, missing only 36 games in the past 10 years. Still a top-15 player when healthy, I felt pretty confident nabbing him in the early fourth round when he may only miss the first 10-15 games of the season."
We'll have to wait to see exactly how the rock will be shared between all of the scoring options in Brooklyn this season, but at worst, Lopez should score in the mid-teens with excellent percentages. Who knows, maybe he'll remember how to rebound, too. He was the best center left on my board, so I nabbed him.
Ersan Ilyasova finally broke out last season for the Milwaukee Bucks, and they locked him up with a pretty good contract. Do you expect him to maintain -- or even improve upon -- last season's success?
Neil Tardy: "Taking Ilyasova at 44 -- while passing on Andre Iguodala -- yes, it's safe to say I'm all in with him. With the Bucks' offense running through Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, I'm not expecting big scoring, but with modest statistical improvement, we're talking about a player who could average 15-and-10 with a 3-pointer, a steal, a block and excellent percentages. Rebounds aside, he won't be elite in any category, but Ilyasova should be a legitimate contributor in six cats (seven if you count turnovers). Relative to his average draft position on ESPN.com, he's a tremendous value."
Typically, I try to avoid having too many injured (or injury-prone) guys on my team. However, at this point of the draft, I felt I had to roll the dice on Wall in this format. If I can keep pace at all over the first month, my opponents will not be happy to see Wall and Love on my roster the rest of the season. It also allows me to trade dimes, because I already have Westbrook.
There arguably is not a bigger mystery man in Fantasyland than Jeremy Lin. We briefly saw the upside (and the downside) of Lin during his brief tenure with the New York Knicks last season. Now he is with the Houston Rockets, but he is still dealing with his knee issue. What convinced you to drop your sixth-rounder on him?
Eric Karabell: "My expectations on Lin are well in check, as in 14 points, 6 assists and enough threes and steals to matter for that round. And that's the floor, not the ceiling. To me, it's more about the opportunity than anything. We know the Rockets will play him plenty, assuming health, and with much of last season's team elsewhere thanks to a failed attempt to get Dwight Howard, Lin might have to score a lot."
In a points system, I wouldn't have even considered McGee here. In this H2H category system, though, his big block ability will help me beat teams that are weak at blocking shots. That made him worth the reach.
The hype machine for Damian Lillard has been going full bore all summer and fall. He surely seems capable of making a run for rookie of the year. It's almost always a roll of the dice when it comes to rookies, but you were confident enough in his abilities to take him in Round 7. Why?
James Quintong: "I'll admit I'm falling for the hype, although the opportunity is definitely there with a Trail Blazers team in flux and he's got plenty of skills to be a top fantasy performer. I probably did reach a little for him, but given my place in the draft, I didn't think he would be available with my pick at the end of the eighth round, so I had to make a move sooner than later. It's one of the weird things picking either first or last in a round, while you get your opportunity to take two players at once, sometimes you'll have to go way beyond the preferred ranking/draft slot because you know the player you're targeting will go in the 15-20 slots between picks."
When I do roto or category drafts, I use a spreadsheet filled with player projections and cut and paste my team together as we go. Looking down my projections, I felt I was pretty good in steals, rebounds and blocks, but I thought the boost Wallace will give me in those hustle stats should make me competitive each week in all three categories.
You managed to draft five point guards in only 13 rounds, including three straight from Round 8 to Round 10 (Mo Williams, Kemba Walker, Jameer Nelson). What was your strategy here?
John Cregan: "It's sort of the death-by-papercut strategy. In a lot of drafts, at PG, I'm going with quantity over high-end quality. I just think there are so many undervalued PGs out there that I'd rather load up my UTIL and G slots with nothing but point guards who hit 3s and use my higher picks on the best players available at the other positions. It's sort of the opposite of what I've won with in recent years (a stud PG in the first round), but I see the terrain shifting at that position this season."
I have Pekovic on my short list of sleepers. I considered him the previous round and was glad to see he was still here. I think he's poised for a big season, plus he will help get me through the first month or so while his teammate, Love, is out of action.
Evan Turner is a bit of a mystery player this year. He will have every opportunity to break out this season with the Philadelphia 76ers, but many pundits wonder if he actually has the requisite tools to make it happen. What are your expectations for Turner this season?
Christian Allgood: "I took a gamble on Turner here because the departure of Andre Iguodala leaves a big hole at the SF position in Philadelphia, and I believe Turner will be the man asked to fill that void. While nowhere near the defender or scorer that Iguodala is, he is a particularly good rebounder for a small forward and I expect he will assume an expanded role on the offensive end. He does hurt me in some categories, like 3PM and FT%, but I already resigned myself to underperforming in those when I drafted Dwight Howard. I also worry that guys like Thaddeus Young and Dorell Wright could play their way into that starting role. Bottom line, Turner is definitely a risk, but he has a well-rounded game that could pay off for me in the end."
I was driving the Valanciunas train before he was even drafted (I wanted my hometown Detroit Pistons to move up and get him). Now that he has an extra year of experience under his belt and little competition for minutes with the Toronto Raptors, he's one of the better late-round fliers you can take. At the very least, he should have quality percentages, hit the glass and block some shots.
Everyone is sleeping on Gordon, maybe with good reason. After all, he did next to nothing with the Detroit Pistons. But I'm willing to roll the dice on his scoring and 3-point prowess in his new gig with the Charlotte Bobcats, who have no one else capable of being a dominant scorer.
I love Novak in the latter rounds of H2H category leagues for his 3-point upside. In weeks when one of my regulars plays only a game or two and Novak has three or four games, I can plug him in and have a legit shot at locking up 3s for the week.
This was a bit of a homer pick for my Pistons, but if you've seen Drummond play this preseason, it's clear he's farther along than many thought prior to the draft. If I can hold onto him for the second half of the season, he could be a serious factor in rebounding and shot-blocking come playoff time.