The first mock draft of the season allows us to draft from a state of purity. In September, there's little in the way of analysis, rankings or training camp rumblings to base our strategies on, so we're drafting from unadulterated fantasy judgment. Here's how the first mock draft of the season went down, round by round. The draft was conducted Sept. 23. The participants, along with myself, were fantasy hoops analysts Tom Carpenter, John Cregan, Seth Landman, Brian McKitish, Adam Stanco and Neil Tardy, fantasy Insider Eric Karabell, and fantasy editors Keith Lipscomb and James Quintong.
My Strategy: To me, CP3 seems a no-brainer with the second overall pick, as LeBron's stats are sure to fall now that he's playing on the Globetrotters instead of the Generals. Paul's numbers dipped last season, although I envision a bounce-back campaign with Darren Collison out of the picture, and he gives me huge numbers in assists and steals, with excellent points, percentages and boards for a point guard. He's not a 3-point stud, although he did set a career high with a 1.2 per-game average last season, and if that trend keeps us, I'm looking at a true seven-category player with a chip on his shoulder and no competition for playing time.
Round Breakdown: Carpenter made a splash early in the draft by selecting Stephen Curry with the fourth overall pick. I love Curry's fantasy game and what he was able to do last season, but there are too many question marks surrounding the Warriors this season. With Keith Smart replacing Don Nelson, the arrivals of David Lee, Louis Amundson, Charlie Bell, Rodney Carney, Dorell Wright and Ekpe Udoh, and the exits of Anthony Randolph, Corey Maggette, Anthony Morrow, Kelenna Azubuike, Ronny Turiaf and Anthony Tolliver, there is a lot we don't know about this season's Warriors. It was a fun and flashy pick, although I don't want any questions surrounding my first overall pick, and would have gone with either Dirk Nowitzki or Kobe Bryant here and then built around their unquestioned dominance.
Chatter: From Neil Tardy: "Intriguing a talent as Steph Curry is, fourth overall seems high. And frankly, if you look at the Warriors' string of sub-100-point games when Keith Smart replaced Don Nelson on the bench last season, you have to reconsider the draft positions of all Golden State players at this point."
My Strategy: I had been eyeing Josh Smith or Brook Lopez with this pick, and once both were taken, I had to adapt on the fly. I wanted to establish some across-the-board stability with my first two picks, and with the two centers I coveted off the board, I decided I would be taking Al Horford in the third (it was too early to take him 19th when I was virtually assured that I could have him three picks later with No. 22), and this allowed me to target a different player. Gerald Wallace finished 14th on the Player Rater last season, provides fantastic boards from the small forward position, is good in the defensive categories and percentages, and is still showing improvement in his game at the age of 28. He fits perfectly in my plan to establish an early foundation across all categories, even if he doesn't play the 5.
Round Breakdown: In some ways, I wish I would have gone with Brandon Roy with this pick, as his numbers last season were deflated due to a hamstring issue that limited him to 65 games and reduced his effectiveness in the games he did play. Roy has first-round talent, contributes across the board and has yet to hit his ceiling. I feel fine about grabbing Wallace here due to the unique combination of categories in which he contributes, although if I were to do it over again, I'd likely grab Roy. I don't like Jason Kidd this year, coming off consecutive seasons of 80-plus games and 35-plus minutes per night. I think this is the season the wheels fall off.
Chatter: From Seth Landman: "I'm pretty interested in Tyreke Evans going in the second round. Seems way, way too high to me; I feel like ... he and Derrick Rose aren't that different [Evans is better in boards and steals; Rose is better in field goal percentage and assists], and yet they are going about 40 spots apart. And I think the problem is on the Evans end, not the Rose end." From Tom Carpenter: "I think getting Amar'e at 14 was the steal of the draft. He could easily finish the season in the top 5."
My Strategy: Some see it as a bit of a reach, but I love Horford this season, as he's shown steady improvement each year he's been in the league. I think he is prepared to take another step forward this season, and will hover around 1.5 blocks per game with double-digit boards and fantastic shooting percentage with good free throws from a big man. In the first few rounds in roto leagues, I try to secure players who aren't hindrances in the percentage-based categories, since otherwise it forces you to compensate with each future pick. This is why I stayed away from players like Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala, and went with secure percentage players like Wallace and Horford to complement Paul. These three players give me a solid foundation in every category except 3-pointers, which are relatively easy to find, and now I can try to draft for value in future picks without having to compensate for weak percentages.
Round Breakdown: This round included several big men with question marks surrounding them this season, namely Chris Bosh, David Lee and Al Jefferson. Each player has the potential to be a top-15 player, although it's unclear how many touches Bosh will get with LeBron and D-Wade around, how Lee's numbers will change now that he's not in a Mike D'Antoni system, and how Jefferson will adapt to a new team and prove he can stay healthy.
Chatter: From Eric Karabell: "Iguodala I thought went a bit high based on name value. Chris Bosh is Miami's third scoring option. He and Iguodala probably belong in Round 4." From Seth Landman: "Jefferson's a full year removed from his knee surgery, and his numbers did slowly improve as the season went along [especially in shot blocking]. He's going to one of the best offensive teams in the league after spending the past few seasons having defenses keyed on pretty much only him. Playing with a great point guard shouldn't hurt, either. He could easily be top-20 this year."
My Strategy: With Paul as my only guard thus far and 3s the only category in which I was lacking, I wanted to make sure my next pick was a guard who can dial long distance. Done. Aaron Brooks is coming off a fantastic season, and although his assists and steals aren't fantastic for a point guard, I already felt comfortable in both categories thanks to my first three picks. I was praying he would fall to me here, as he is an ideal backcourt mate for CP3.
Round Breakdown: Blake Griffin will have to come out of the gate strong to justify being selected 33rd overall by Stanco. There's no doubt he has talent, but a year of not playing basketball and his never having been tested by NBA-level competition will be working against him. There's no way I would have drafted him ahead of Carlos Boozer until seeing what he can do at this level. Darren Collison had an amazing rookie campaign and has high fantasy expectations now that he's starting in Indiana. If this were a turnover league, I would have questioned that pick, but it's not, and he should be a stud. It would have been a tough decision between Collison and Brooks for me with my pick, so I was almost happy Lipscomb took him, as Brooks feels safer and I need the 3s.
Chatter: From Seth Landman: "Blake Griffin, fourth round. I think this is way too high. I like him but don't see any way he finishes the season ahead of Boozer, Murphy, West and a slew of other PFs. And that's not even taking into consideration the fact that he's a major, major injury risk." From Eric Karabell: "Really liked the Round 4 picks, as I see Tim Duncan, Chauncey Billups and Paul Pierce slipping probably two rounds below past seasons, probably based on their age. They remain productive. But also in that round, interesting point guards Darren Collison and Aaron Brooks went. Made me wonder why I chose Jason Kidd in Round 2."
My Strategy: With no glaring needs at this point, I went for overall value and I think I got it with David West, who finished 15th on the Player Rater last season. His numbers were insane after the All-Star break, when he averaged 20.8 points per game while shooting 53.2 percent from the floor and 87.5 percent from the stripe, to go along with 7.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 0.8 blocks and an impressive four assists per game. Non-flashy players such as West tend to be undervalued in drafts, and based on his numbers last season and steady improvement as a player, I'm more than happy to grab him in Round 5, where I think he was a steal.
Round Breakdown: Paul Millsap is a fantastic player but also is a reach here, as Al Jefferson will steal his thunder the same way Carlos Boozer did. John Wall goes in the top 50, and based on his performance in the summer league, that seems about right to me. I think Kevin Love is a nice value here, as he was able to average 14 points and 11 boards in just 28 minutes per game last season. Those minutes will skyrocket this season, as he should start in all the Wolves' games and show the significant improvement typical of players in their third year.
Chatter: Apparently, nobody had anything particularly thought-provoking to say. On to Round 6.
My Strategy: Andrew Bogut fell way too far, and I was going to snatch him if he stayed on the board, even though I already had Horford and West. I am a big fan of Eric Gordon's game and was surprised when he took a step back last season. But he looks poised to take two steps forward this season and regularly looked like the second-best player on the court in the 2010 FIBA World Championship this summer behind Kevin Durant. There were several guards vying for my attention with this pick -- Brandon Jennings, Kevin Martin, Jrue Holiday and Marcus Thornton -- but I am wary of Jennings' field goal percentage and like Gordon's upside more than that of the other three.
Round Breakdown: I find it hard to believe that Rashard Lewis could be as bad as he was last season and have to think he'll hover closer to the 18 points per game he averaged two years ago. He's too talented and too well paid to be a 3-point specialist at this point in his career, so grabbing him in Round 6 could pay big dividends, as he's been a top-25 player in seasons past. Carpenter took a gamble drafting rookie big man DeMarcus Cousins, who has some question marks surrounding him, both in the area of polish as well as his role with the team this season. The Kings have Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and Samuel Dalembert already in their frontcourt, so even though he'll get significant playing time, they'll have the luxury to bring him along slowly and not force him into 30 minutes per night from the jump. This is good for his long-term development but not so good for his fantasy prospects this season. The fact that he was taken before Bogut is borderline ridiculous, as we all identified the fact that Bogut slipped too far in this draft, gimpy arm or not.
Chatter: From Adam Stanco: "Mike D'Antoni's system can make mega-stars out of athletic big men who like to run the floor, but .... only one at a time. Amar'e Stoudemire didn't sign with the Knicks so he could watch Anthony Randolph put up numbers. Expect Randolph to be better than he was in years past, but he was still taken far too early."
My Strategy: This is where things were thrown off course for me, as I had Jeff Green queued up but Cregan took him right before my turn. I immediately began surveying the rest of the options and decided to go for upside with Blatche, who will be well worth a seventh-round pick if he plays anything like he did down the stretch last season. I thought about Brandon Jennings, Kevin Martin and Manu Ginobili here, but after just drafting Gordon, I wanted to get another big man to maintain roster balance and provide a backup for Horford at center.
Round Breakdown: Mo Williams seems to be perennially underrated, and even with Ramon Sessions around this season, he'll finish much higher than 70th on the Player Rater. Jennings was lauded as a fantastic pick by several participants, although this is a roto league and he was far and away the most harmful player in the league in field goal percentage last season, shooting 37 percent from the floor on nearly 15 attempts per game. That should improve this season, but I'd be surprised if he topped 40 percent. He's good value in this round, although you have to consciously build your squad to account for that shooting percentage.
Chatter: From Tom Carpenter: "The only pick that seemed out of line to me was Jonny Flynn. He's plenty talented, but with so many ballhandling guards on a bad team, I'm not sure I'd take him there even if he were healthy."
My Strategy: I'm a big fan of Luis Scola's game based on what he did in the second half of last season: 18.7 points, 8.9 rebounds, 51.9 field goal percentage, 80.8 free throw percentage and 0.8 steals, with center eligibility to boot. He finished 55th on the Player Rater last season, and with a full season of those kind of numbers, he would end up even higher in 2010-11. He looked fantastic in the FIBA games, hasn't missed a game in his NBA career and has shown significant improvement in each of his three seasons. I will be targeting him in all my drafts this year and was happy to get him in Round 8.
Round Breakdown: Marcus Camby is another underrated player, even if he is an injury risk. In roto formats, as long as you draft intelligently from first round to last round, it's worth it to take a risk on injury-prone players who produce at a high rate on a per-game basis. Ginobili is the same way; when healthy, he's an absolute stud, and at this point in the draft, when you're not drafting team cornerstones, it's worth it to take a risk on a player who will easily give you top-50 production if he's playing. Furthermore, in roto, you can bench a player as soon as he's injured, so as long as you're proactive about subbing in your bench players, the negative impact of a player missing time is much less than in head-to-head leagues, especially those with weekly rosters.
Chatter: From Eric Karabell: "I find it hard to believe Yao Ming will play enough to matter, especially for where he went and with so many reliable players on the board."
My Strategy: Once again, I had Hedo Turkoglu queued and Cregan snatched him right before my pick. I settled on Rodney Stuckey, who was in a difficult situation with all the injuries in Detroit last season but has a great fantasy skill set, has shown improvement each season and is the type of unpolished player who hasn't reached his upside yet.
Round Breakdown: This was an interesting round, with several veterans who fell below market value -- Turkoglu, Jamal Crawford, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen -- surrounded by younger players with talent but also question marks about them -- Tyrus Thomas, Anthony Morrow, Evan Turner and Landry. Turner is poised to have an immediate impact in Philly, and based on how well rookies did last season, he could be a great value here. If Morrow gets big minutes in Jersey, he'll be valuable this late given his combo of 3s and percentages. However, if the Nets opt to go with Terrence Williams at the 2 and Travis Outlaw at the 3, he could be the odd man out. I don't see this happening and think Lipscomb got nice value there, especially with those percentages.
Chatter: From Keith Lipscomb: "Trevor Ariza at 86 by Brian McKitish could prove to be the steal of the draft, if having CP3 as his point guard can improve his field goal percentage a bunch." From John Cregan: "I liked Hedo Turkoglu in the ninth round. He's going into the absolutely perfect situation and could crack the top 50 if he returns to a semblance of his old form."
My Strategy: Michael Beasley's upside is tremendous, and with a player with off-court distractions, sometimes a change in scenery is just what he needs to achieve his potential. He provides an intriguing combination of steals, blocks and 3s with unquestioned scoring ability, and should have plenty of opportunity to shine in Minnesota. Based on his upside, he could pay huge dividends as a 10th-round selection. I'm targeting him in all my drafts this season.
Round Breakdown: I'm not a fan of Channing Frye, as I want my big men to do more than drain 3s. His low rebound rate is detrimental to roster balance and must be compensated for elsewhere, and his production decreased as last season progressed. I have quetions about John Salmons this season, playing alongside Corey Maggette, who seems to suck the fantasy value out of other players on his team, and I don't think Salmons will be able to replicate the fantastic numbers he had down the stretch with the Bucks.
Chatter: From Neil Tardy: "Roy Hibbert progressed last year, and the Pacers (sans Troy Murphy and improved at the point with Darren Collison) claim they'll feature him on offense this year. Fantasy owners have a great chance to pick up a two blocks per game guy late." From Adam Stanco: "Centers seemed to be selected in waves late in the draft. First it happened in the top half of the eighth round when Camby, Yao and Nene all went within five picks. It happened again in the top half of the 10th round when Hibbert, Samuel Dalembert, Andrew Bynum, JaVale McGee and Emeka Okafor went within six picks."
My Strategy: I like point guards. At this point, I felt solid about my roster overall and wanted to make sure I had plenty of depth at what I see as the most important position in fantasy hoops. Mike Conley averaged 14.7 points, 5.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.9 3-pointers per game in the second half of the season, and even though he's inconsistent, he has no competition in Memphis and has improved in each of his three seasons in the league. I debated between Conley and Nelson with this pick but have been burned by the latter too many times in the past, due to his inconsistent performance and injury history. I see Conley as having a bit more upside based on his second half last season and wanted to make sure I got one more point guard before all the starters were gone.
Round Breakdown: Mike Miller could put together an impressive fantasy season as the glue guy in Miami, as he has the ability to contribute in 3s, assists and rebounds with fantastic percentages when in the right system. Terrence Williams is an intriguing pick here, as he came on strong late last season and has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. Derrick Favors has the upside to be well worth Carpenter's pick here, although he could easily struggle as many first-year big men do. Still, with a pick in the 100s, the risk is relatively low, and his upside is tremendous.
Chatter: Crickets from the participants regarding this round … on to Round 12.
My Strategy: Shane Battier is the epitome of a fantasy glue player, and I like to add one of these guys to my roster in later rounds. With Trevor Ariza out of the picture, Battier should get more minutes and touches this season, and even though he doesn't score much, he does a little bit of everything else and I think his numbers are due for a bump. Knowing I'd go with a high-risk, high-upside player with my final draft pick, I wanted to go safe here, and Battier is about as safe as it gets.
Round Breakdown: This is way too late for Jason Terry; Quintong got an absolute steal with the 116th pick overall. Both Serge Ibaka and James Harden are high-upside guys in Oklahoma City, and I especially love Harden, who averaged better than a steal and a 3 per game in limited minutes as a rookie and is a jack of all trades and underrated passer. I think he will significantly cut into Thabo Sefolosha's minutes this season and could be starting sooner rather than later.
Chatter: The crew agreed with me here, as many tabbed Terry as one of the biggest steals of the draft. In the draft chat room, rumblings of "Is something wrong with Terry?" even went around, and this was a classic case of a non-flashy player dropping too far.
My Strategy: Despite the question marks surrounding him, I like D.J. Augustin this year, as I don't think Shaun Livingston will last an entire season with big minutes and Augustin showed tremendous potential as a rookie, especially in the 3-point department. He'll be competing with Livingston for the starting job in Charlotte, and if he wins out or even secures decent minutes, he could be in line for a huge jump in value with Raymond Felton out of the picture.
Round Breakdown: Lots of fun players here, although I prefer to go with upside with my final pick instead of somebody who has been solid in the past but likely hit his ceiling. Thus, I like the picks of DeJuan Blair, Thaddeus Young and Tiago Splitter more than Beno Udrih, Dorell Wright and Jarrett Jack. Even though the latter might finish higher on the Player Rater based on past performances, the upside is in guys like Splitter, who could struggle to adapt but also could explode. It's all about upside with your final pick, unless you have a significant need, although if you have a significant need this late, you're in trouble.
Chatter: From Eric Karabell: "My last pick was Greg Oden, and chuckle as we might, I expect him to play well ... when he plays. Could be a top-50 player if he can get into 60 games."
Josh Whitling is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.