By Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Tiers are an indispensable draft-day tool in all Yahoo Fantasy sports. So, we made some for you in time for the Fantasy Basketball season.
A few notes before we dive in:
Overall, the tiers cover players projected to rank roughly among the top 120 overall.
Within each tier, players are generally listed in the order in which they should be drafted. Of course, come draft night, team construction and roster constraints must be considered.
Yahoo assigns most players eligibility at multiple positions. As such, players are included in these articles for every position at which they are eligible. Players who do not have multiple-position eligibility are denoted with an asterisk, as their single-eligibility can be a strategic disadvantage in some settings.
Unless otherwise noted, players are listed only within the positions at which they are currently eligible in Yahoo fantasy Basketball leagues.
Tiers assume 9-category roto settings, unless otherwise noted.
One last thing: Per-game production is valued above season-total production. For example, Chris Paul was a top-10 per game fantasy producer in 2017-18, but since he missed 24 games, he was closer to the 20-25 range by total production. While Paul’s chronic injury risk impacts his standings here, he’s still valued as roughly a top-15 player. Most leagues allow for easy and frequent substitutions, and season-total rankings are often counterproductive for head-to-head playoffs.
Tier 1: Potential No. 1 Overall Picks
James Harden – Steph Curry
Though popular perception has Harden clearly ahead of Curry, the two should really be considered neck-and-neck here. Harden has played more games in each of the past four seasons, but Curry has finished above Harden in per-game ranking every season of their careers. These tiers are built for 9-category roto leagues, but in 8-category or head-to-head settings Curry would be listed first. The obvious caveat here is both players are also point-guard-eligible.
Tier 2: Elite options for the late first and early second round
Kawhi Leonard – Jimmy Butler – Victor Oladipo – Paul George – Kyrie Irving
Leonard and Butler are returning from seasons heavily impacted by injury, but both were top-10 players in 2016-17 (Leonard was actually top-5, but I digress). George has been roughly a top-15 player for the last three seasons, and with the exception of a March slump, George’s production steadily improved throughout his first season with the Thunder. Oladipo is a newcomer to first round-consideration, but he’s still just 26 years old at the start of his sixth season, and the clear standout on the Pacers roster.
Even if Myles Turner makes a major leap, his improvement is more likely to help Oladipo’s assist numbers than harm Oladipo’s scoring.
Irving doesn’t really fit in this tier, but he makes more sense here than in group three. The crowded Celtics rotation means that less will be required of Irving, and Terry Rozier’s emergence means the team can afford to cut back on Irving’s regular season minutes. Irving is still a solid mid-second round value, but I wouldn’t even consider drafting him ahead of anyone else in this group.
Tier 3: Near-elite wings and guards
Khris Middleton – Gary Harris – Gordon Hayward – Jrue Holiday – Eric Bledsoe – Josh Richardson
Holiday and Bledsoe are very good dual-eligible point guards with realistic chances to break into fantasy’s top-25. Middleton, Harris, and Richardson are all standouts who would have much better name recognition if they played for higher-profile franchises.
Harris and Richardson are 24 and 25 years old, respectively, just entering their prime, and Middleton has already logged two seasons of top-30 production. Hayward was a top-35 player the last time we saw him, and now he will play for Brad Stevens, a coach with one of the best reputations for player development in the league. The Celtics rotation is crowded, but Hayward is too good to let that drive down his production.
Tier 4: The best actual shooting guards in the NBA
Klay Thompson – C.J. McCollum – Bradley Beal* – Devin Booker
No, you’re not reading this incorrectly. I have this group as Tier 4, below the group in Tier 3. And I did it on purpose.
These four are all elite shooters, 20-point scorers, and players likely to be near the top of the NBA in threes. That’s great for your real-life basketball team. But in fantasy, those skills are rapidly becoming less valuable. We’ve been hearing about the NBA’s 3-point boom for years, which has caused many to think (and draft) as though the boom has already arrived and that we’ve reached some kind of stasis.
Far from it. The number of made threes has gone up steadily every season since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, and the increase from 2016-17 to 2017-18 was the second-largest during that span. The boom is ongoing — potentially even increasing in pace — and it will continue to diminish the value of fantasy prospects who get a lot of their stats from their beyond-the-arc prowess.
Five seasons ago, 2.5 threes were good for seventh in the league, and only 21 players averaged 20 points per game. Last season, Nikola Mirotic ranked 22nd with 2.5 threes per game, and 28 players averaged more than 20 per night. These four players all contribute in more areas than just points and threes, but except for Booker, points and threes are by far their biggest source of fantasy value (Booker is also one of the league-leaders in free throw impact). I’m not projecting regressions for any of these three, but they all need to actively improve just to repeat their fantasy value from last season.
Tier 5: The face of the backcourt, for better or for worse
Donovan Mitchell – DeMar DeRozan – Jamal Murray – Reggie Jackson
Mitchell enters his sophomore season with a ton of hype as the new leader of a Jazz team with deep playoff aspirations. I’m fully convinced that Mitchell will one day become a superstar in this league, but I’m not sure he’s there yet. His responsibilities increased as his rookie year went on, but they were accompanied by increased turnovers and a decrease in shooting efficiency. He averaged more than 36 minutes per game after the All-Star break, so there’s no real room for an increase there. Mitchell will keep getting better, but it may take another year before he enters fantasy’s upper echelon.
DeRozan was the Spurs’ primary return for losing Kawhi Leonard. DeRozan and 33-year-old LaMarcus Aldridge now headline the Spurs, another team that considers itself a serious playoff contender. DeRozan’s scoring and passing are likely to increase, but without Kyle Lowry alongside him, DeRozan may face more defensive pressure than he’s accustomed to. As his usage rate climbs, his efficiency numbers are likely to fall.
Tier 6: Solid options at risk of decline
Joe Ingles – Lou Williams – Darren Collison – Goran Dragic – Will Barton – Nicolas Batum
All of these players could very easily outplay their draft position and play a significant role in a fantasy roster’s success. However, each of them could also drop off, and a few – Williams, Dragic, Batum – could even find their way onto the waiver wire. Dragic is 33, and Batum has a lengthy injury history. Ingles is 30 and plays on one of the deepest depth charts in the league. Barton is only 27, but he also could see his workload diminish as the younger Nuggets continue to improve. Williams is 31, and the track record of players who peaked after 30 usually involves a steep and sudden decline. Collison seems like the safest of this bunch, but he also offers the lowest upside.
Mini-Tier: Isaiah Thomas goes somewhere?
Yes, Thomas is dual-eligible at shooting guard. If you haven’t already read the Point Guard Tiers piece, here’s a refresher: Thomas was All-NBA two years ago. Last summer he was recovering from injury and put in two of the worst possible situations. He could be a top-50 player, or he could be a fantasy afterthought. Both possibilities are completely on the table. Where you take him depends on your appetite for risk.
(Yes, I copied and pasted this section from the PG Tiers article. The points still stand though, right?)
Tier 7: Miscellaneous
Jaylen Brown – J.J. Redick – Brandon Ingram – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Kris Dunn – D’Angelo Russell – Zach LaVine – Eric Gordon – Evan Fournier – Andrew Wiggins – Trevor Ariza – Tim Hardaway Jr. – Buddy Hield* – Allen Crabbe
There’s no theme tying these players together, other than their draft cost. You could present me with seven different rankings of this group, and I’d probably think all of them were reasonable. Some (Wiggins, LaVine) offer giant upside coupled with sea-level floors. Others (Crabbe) just need to maintain their post All-Star break role to carve out a solid spot at the end of a roster. Whoever managers draft, and where, is more about the manager and their roster than any particular attributes of these players.
If Wiggins remembers how to play basketball well, he’d be a steal this late in drafts – and we know coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t going to cut back on his minutes. Similarly, if LaVine is even 80 percent of his pre-injury self, this would be a bargain. Brown and Ingram are two young players with potential All-Star futures, but the rosters surrounding them inject huge risk and uncertainty into their fantasy value. If I trusted the Suns to keep Ariza active all season, he’d rise to just behind Joe Ingles – unfortunately, their recent track record with veterans implies that Ariza could get shut down in February.
Tier 9: High probability upside guys
Avery Bradley – Patrick Beverley – Zach LaVine – George Hill – Tyler Johnson – Josh Jackson – Kent Bazemore
Don’t draft Kent Bazemore. He isn’t good. I’m only including him here to avoid angry tweets and comments accusing me of forgetting him.
Tier 10: Lower probability upside guys
Rajon Rondo – Dennis Smith Jr – E’Twaun Moore – Markelle Fultz – Malcolm Brogdon – Marcus Smart – Terry Rozier – Bogdan Bogdanovic – Malik Monk
Follow Alex on Twitter @Rikleen