Durant less fragile, more upside
By Adam Madison
A popular saying about the first round of the draft goes like this: You can't win your league with your first pick, but you sure can lose it.
The Kevin Durant-Dwyane Wade debate definitely covers both sides of that coin. If ever you could win your league with your first pick, Durant would be a great example of the type of player who would win it for you. He's a 21-year-old who averaged more than 25 points, shot better than 42 percent from 3-point range and got to the line 7.1 times a game while converting 86.3 percent of his free throws, and the sky really is the limit for Durant. Don't forget that Durant averaged more than 11 rebounds as a college freshman, not to mention nearly two steals and two blocks per game. Would it really be a surprise to anyone to see Durant's game grow enough to the point where, by this time next year, he was challenging Chris Paul and LeBron James for the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy leagues?
The elephant in the room in all of this remains Wade's health; the man has missed 20 or more games in three of his six NBA seasons. While Wade had an otherworldly season in 2008-09 and set career highs in nearly every category, every adept fantasy player gets it hammered into his or her head: Don't pay for the career year. While Wade had a season to die for in '08-09, he also benefitted from a perfect storm of circumstance. The Heat were dependent on Wade to carry them; he averaged 16.3 more points than the second-leading scorer, Michael Beasley. In the long term, however, that is simply not realistic. Wade set a career high in shot attempts last season, with 22 per game, more than three attempts above his previous career high. Even if you believe Wade will see a similar workload this season, how can you expect him to stay healthy through two consecutive seasons when he has injured himself with a lesser load?
If both Durant and Wade were to play in full 82-game seasons, Wade would probably come out on top. Assuming such a result, it would be easy to look back with the benefit of hindsight and claim Wade was the better selection, but that would be shortsighted. Although anything can happen in an 82-game season, we must factor in the wide range of possible results that could occur in any one season. If we could simulate the NBA season 1 million times, in how many would Wade come out on top? Would it make up for how many times he ended up well behind Durant by default because Wade missed 20 or more games again?
If your first-round pick missed 20 games, it very well could cost you your league. Meanwhile, the odds of Durant's showing signs of regression are fairly minute; budding superstars are pretty safe bets. The chances of Wade's repeating his career year, however, are much lower than the chances of his getting injured again. Durant, meanwhile, has nowhere to go but up.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Wade the clear choice at No. 3
By Neil Tardy
LeBron James and Chris Paul enter the 2009-10 season as the consensus top picks in fantasy. However, if you own the third pick in your draft, you shouldn't feel like you just missed out. In fact, a terrific opportunity awaits you.
You can choose Dwyane Wade.
• Assists and steals: While Wade led the league with 30.2 points per game last season, that's actually a ways down the list of reasons he's so valuable in fantasy. In 2008-09, Wade was second in the NBA in steals per game (2.2) and eighth in assists per game (7.5). Only four other players were top-10 in each category: Paul (incredibly, he led the way in both), James, Rajon Rondo and Jason Kidd. Wade had more assists than Devin Harris and Chauncey Billups; he had more steals than Rondo and Kidd. And he's a shooting guard. Assists and steals, along with blocks, are the toughest gets in fantasy hoops. And on that note, remember that, on top of everything else, Wade gave you 1.3 blocks per game last season, good for 16th in the NBA. Among qualifiers -- those with 100 blocks or 70 games played -- no other guard-eligible player averaged more than 0.7.
• Timing: Wade turns 28 in January. He's in the prime of his career. Actually, his prime seemed to launch immediately after last season's All-Star break. His second-half numbers were simply insane: 33.9 points, 8.3 assists and 2.3 steals while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the line. In addition, during that magical 27-game stretch, Wade found his range from distance. Just a 28.5 percent shooter in his career from downtown, Wade made 1.6 3-pointers per game while connecting at 37.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Wade heads into this season well-rested, something that wasn't the case last summer, when he led the Redeem Team to Olympic gold in Beijing. He should also benefit from the improvement of his Miami Heat teammates. For all the talk of Michael Beasley's offseason issues, expect him to be a much more consistent contributor in his second season. Likewise, Mario Chalmers should also be more polished as a sophomore. And though he's been dogged by minor injuries this preseason, Jermaine O'Neal, who's entering a contract year, seems healthier than he's been in some time.
In fantasy, Wade is just special. King James is the only other player like him. In fact, their 2008-09 numbers are amazingly alike. They were essentially even in assists, blocks and percentages. LeBron came out ahead in rebounds and 3s, while Wade held the advantage in points and steals.
However, while you'll have to draft in the top two to have any realistic shot at James, Dwyane Wade could be yours with the third, fourth or even fifth pick. At any of those spots, Wade is the player you want. No doubt about it.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.