By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Separating players into tiers is a popular method of draft prep, and it de-emphasizes the idea that you must draft a player because his projections come out slightly more favorably than those of another player. Often, the difference between a player ranked, say, 30th, and a player ranked 45th is smaller than you think.
Tiers help account for those discrepancies by grouping together players with similar risk/reward profiles, empowering the fantasy gamer to choose for themselves.
Some notes on methodology:
Tiers take into account players with top-120 upside. Essentially, players that could reasonably come off the board in a standard draft.
Players within tiers are not ranked in a specific order. Ideally, everyone in a tier has an argument to be taken over anyone else in that tier.
Plenty of players are multi-position eligible, but to avoid confusion and redundancy, each player only appears at what we assume to be their primary position
Tiers are based on 8-category, rotisserie scoring
Tier 1: Potential No. 1 Overall Picks
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Winner of the 2018-19 Most Valuable Player award, Antetokounmpo became just the fifth player in the three-point era to average at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in a single season. Plus, he's averaging a combined 3.1 blocks/steals over the past three seasons and has been named to an All-Defensive team twice. While he may never be a great shooter, Antetokounmpo's one-of-a-kind athleticism makes him arguably the league's most dominant interior force. Heading into 2019-20, it's hard to imagine Antetokounmpo getting much better, but he's still only 24 years old.
Davis’ messy exit from New Orleans dominated the headlines, but through his first 41 appearances of the season, Davis averaged a ridiculous 29.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists and a combined 4.3 blocks/steals. With the Lakers trading for Davis in the offseason, he instantly becomes the best teammate LeBron James has ever had, and the combination figures to be one of the deadliest in the NBA. While playing alongside LBJ will entail an adjustment process, it could unlock another level of Davis’ game.
Tier 2: Elite Starter
Leonard had about as successful of a 2018-19 season as possible with Toronto. That said, he appeared in only 60 regular-season games as part of a highly publicized load-management schedule. All indications are that Leonard will continue to be cautious with his workload, which will artificially drive his fantasy stock down relative to his talent level. Even so, there's no reason Leonard should make it to the third round of any draft. He's the best two-way player in the NBA.
Tier 3: High-end Starters
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Williamson enters the league as one of the most-hyped prospects in recent memory. He’s a virtual lock to start from Day 1, though what his true position is at the NBA level remains somewhat of a mystery. What we do know is that he has the potential to be one of the best athletes we've ever seen on the hardwood. From a fantasy perspective, count on the rookie to have a high floor as a rebounder, defender, and efficient interior scorer.
Siakam took a bigger leap than perhaps any player in the league last season, and he’ll be asked to raise his game to another level in the absence of Kawhi Leonard. With Leonard off the court last season, Siakam averaged 20.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and a combined 1.9 steals/blocks per 36 minutes. It's possible Siakam's efficiency will suffer under an increased scoring burden, but he should remain among the league’s most diverse fantasy producers.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
Green, who appeared in only 66 games due to injuries, is coming off the lowest usage season of his career (13.1%). That was reflected in four-year lows in points (7.4), rebounds (7.3) and assists (6.9) per game. His three-point shooting also continued to slide. But much of Green's value comes on defense, where he averaged a combined 2.5 steals/blocks. With Kevin Durant in Brooklyn and Klay Thompson out of the picture for the foreseeable future, Green will be asked to shoulder his most offensive responsibility since the 2015-16 season, when he posted career-best scoring (14.0), rebounding (9.5) and assist (7.4) numbers. Don’t count on Green to suddenly revert to being a reliable three-point shooter, but jumps in the other offensive categories are very realistic.
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Collins quietly averaged 19.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists on 56.0 percent shooting last season. The only other player 21 years old or younger to average those numbers in the three-point era was Shaquille O'Neal. That’s not to say Collins doesn’t have room for improvement, but through two NBA seasons, he’s already proven to be a nightly double-double threat. Improving as a jump shooter and shot-blocker would take his fantasy value to another level.
Tier 4: High-Potential Starters
Kristaps Porzingis, Mavericks
Porzingis didn't play at all last season as he recovered from a torn ACL suffered in February of 2018. He was in the midst of a career year when he suffered the injury, averaging 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.2 steals. He could take some time to get back into rhythm, but Porzingis will team with Luka Doncic to form one of the league’s better young duos.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs
Plenty of the Spurs’ scoring burden was again placed on the shoulders of Aldridge last season, and he responded with another 20-plus-points-per-game season. Aldridge also averaged 9.2 rebounds per game, which was his highest mark since 2014-15. At some point, Aldridge’s age will catch up with him, but the Spurs didn't make any significant changes to their frontcourt over the summer so there is no reason to believe that Aldridge can't produce similar numbers in 2019-20.
Blake Griffin, Pistons
Once known for his pick-and-rolls, post-ups, and posterizations, Griffin is now a primary ball-handler and three-point threat. He’s coming off of an impressive bounce-back year in Detroit, but with Griffin, the issue is never his production — it's his health. Since 2014-15, Griffin is averaging just 59.2 games per season, and he's only crossed the threshold of 60 games three times over that stretch. By the end of last season, Griffin’s workload caught up to him, and it’s almost impossible to imagine him playing 75 games again.
Tier 5: Reliable Starters
Julius Randle, New York Knicks
Randle is coming off of an impressive statistical year with the Pelicans in which he posted a career-high 21.4 points per game. Entering his age-25 season as quite possibly the best player on the Knicks’ roster, Randle could be primed to take another leap forward. When seeing at least 30 minutes last season, he averaged 24.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while shooting 52.2 percent from the field. The hope is he’s handed a significant workload from the jump, but the Knicks loaded up on frontcourt players in free agency, so there’s some concern as to how David Fizdale’s rotation will ultimately shake out.
Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City Thunder
While injuries have plagued him his entire career, Gallinari has proven to be a talented scorer when healthy. He reached new heights in 2018-19, posting career highs in points (19.8), rebounds (6.1) and threes (2.4) per game, as well as field-goal percentage (46.3), though he was limited to 68 games. Gallinari may be in the best individual situation of his career in Oklahoma City, but the near-guarantee that he’ll be injured at some point hangs like a dark cloud over his fantasy profile.
Al Horford, Philadelphia 76ers
Another solid defensive season and his best shooting percentage (53.5) since the 2014-15 campaign helped Horford earn an eight-figure contract with the 76ers, who'll team him with Joel Embiid to form the best defensive frontcourt in the league. Lining up alongside an elite big man will allow Horford to slide into his more-natural power forward position, though his overall production — particularly rebounds and assists — could take a hit as he enters his age-33 season.
Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls
Though Markkanen has struggled to stay healthy in his first two seasons, his time on the floor has been impressive. He became the first player in NBA history to average at least 18 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.0 three-pointers at 21 years old or younger. And in 2018-19, only three other players 6-foot-10 or taller converted at least 2.0 threes and 3.0 free-throws per game (Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, and Danilo Gallinari). If he can stay healthy, Markkanen could easily provide the most value of any player in Tier 5.
Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Jackson's rookie season was cut short due to injury, but he showed enough in 58 games to warrant considerable buzz. While he’s not a great rebounder, Jackson’s rare combination of threes and blocks give him enormous upside as the starting power forward on a rebuilding team. Assuming he can avoid the foul issues that plagued him for much of last season, the 20 year old should be set for a relatively dramatic increase in playing time.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
The veteran once again battled injuries last season, and after missing at least 22 games in each of the last three years, that has to be weighed heavily in his fantasy evaluation. When healthy, Love is a nightly double-double who adds elite three-point shooting for the position, but he’s never been an overly efficient scorer, and he doesn’t add value on the defensive end.
Tier 6: Mid-Level Starters
Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
A top-five pick in 2014, Gordon has plateaued, to some degree, over the last few seasons, but he posted a career-best 3.7 assists per game last season. Gordon has a tendency to shrink for weeks at a time, but he’s still just 24 years old and has a proven track record of points/rebounds/threes production.
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
With Thaddeus Young now a member of the Bulls, Sabonis should find himself starting next to Myles Turner. It might not be a perfect fit, but Sabonis should be set for an increase in playing time, which could easily result in the first double-double average of his career. Sabonis doesn’t offer much on the defensive end, but he’s a strong passer (2.9 APG last season) who doesn’t hurt you in any of the percentage categories.
Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors
Ibaka mostly came off the bench after Toronto acquired Marc Gasol at the trade deadline. But with Kawhi Leonard gone, the opportunity for Ibaka to return to a larger workload is there. The loss of Danny Green also opens up extra wing minutes, and it's possible coach Nick Nurse often ends up sliding Pascal Siakam to small forward, allowing Ibaka to reclaim a starting role in the frontcourt next to Gasol.
Marvin Bagley, Sacramento Kings
Across the final three months of last season, Bagley averaged 17.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 27.7 minutes. While the Kings once again made some bizarre offseason moves, Bagley's role as the starting power forward is cemented, and it would be a surprise if he doesn’t creep closer to 30 minutes per game.
Jonathan Isaac, Orlando Magic
Isaac took a leap forward in Year 2, but he still struggled to score efficiently, and his steals numbers dipped under 1.0 per game, despite a healthy leap in playing time. With another year of development under his belt, Isaac enters 2019-20 as a potential breakout player who could eclipse a 1.0 average in every counting stat.
Tier 7: Low-End Starters
Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets
Now entering his 14th season, the 34 year old appeared in 70 games in 2018-19 — the first time he reached that threshold since 2015-16 — but there were also signs of decline. Millsap played his fewest minutes per game (27.1) since 2007-08, recorded his lowest per-game averages in scoring (12.6) and assists (2.0) since 2009-10, and posted his lowest blocks average (0.8) since 2011-12. While Millsap will remain a valuable contributor for the league’s deepest team, the arrival of Jerami Grant could further slash his value.
Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers
During Nance's first full season in Cleveland, he set career-highs in points (9.4), rebounds (8.2), assists (3.2), steals (1.5) and minutes (26.8) over 67 contests. The Wyoming product also showcased an improved three-point shot, hitting 33 of his career-high 98 attempts at a respectable 33.7 percent clip.
Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers
The last man standing from the Lakers’ multi-year rebuild, Kuzma will be asked to step into a key role as the third scorer behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He should again be a strong source of points, but Kuzma is yet to show he can provide much else. His rebounding declined last season, and while he provided 1.8 made threes per game, he hit just 30.6 percent of his attempts from deep.
Tier 8: Fringe-Starters
Jerami Grant, Denver Nuggets
Grant secured a starting role in Oklahoma City last season, but this time around he finds himself in a much different situation as a member of a Nuggets team with significant depth at both forward and center. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he wrestles a starting spot away from Paul Millsap, but Grant will have a difficult time reaching the 32.7 minutes per game he played last season.
Brandon Clarke, Memphis Grizzlies
Clarke is very much a wait-and-see prospect, but his incredible scoring efficiency and defensive production at the college level bode well for his fantasy floor. The Gonzaga product is a bit undersized, but he’ll play both forward spots in Memphis and has top-100 potential if the minutes are there.
Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs
Despite starting 51 games last season, Gay played the second-fewest minutes (26.7) of his career and managed just 13.7 points per game — the third-lowest mark in his career. But Gay is still a good source of rebounds, and if he can maintain his newfound efficiency shooting the ball, he'll be a valuable fantasy asset.
Thaddeus Young, Chicago Bulls
Young’s propensity for high-volume steals and solid production elsewhere has kept him fantasy-relevant for most of his career, but he’ll likely struggle to maintain value in Chicago, where he projects to come off the bench behind Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen.
PJ Tucker, Houston Rockets
Tucker led the league in corner threes last season while providing elite defense and a career-high 2.1 combined blocks/steals per game. Tucker's scoring totals are never consistent, but he can heat up when his three-ball is falling, and he finished the year hitting at least three triples in 29 games.
Justise Winslow, Miami Heat
Last year, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 threes, and 1.1 steals in 66 games — all career-highs. His usage may decrease with superstar Jimmy Butler now on the roster, but Winslow is versatile enough to sustain fantasy value, regardless.
Dario Saric, Phoenix Suns
Last season, Saric finished with career-lows nearly across the board after struggling to fit in with the Timberwolves. However, he’ll have a good chance to reboot his career as the likely starter at power forward for the Suns. Having averaged 14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 2.0 threes in 29.6 minutes per game just two seasons ago, Saric is a solid bounce-back candidate who can be had late in drafts.
Other Players to Monitor
Al-Farouq Aminu, Magic
Marvin Williams, Hornets
Rodions Kurucs, nets
Nemanja Bjelica, Kings
Rui Hachimura, Wizards
Kelly Olynyk, Heat
Jabari Parker, Hawks
Bobby Portis, Knicks
Marcus Morris, Knicks