By Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Tiers can be 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
Anthony Davis – Kevin Durant – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Fantasy’s top tier is loaded across several positions, and three of my top-five overall players have Power Forward eligibility. Davis and Durant are per-game monsters. If Durant is the best per-game fantasy player this millennium, Davis is the one current player with potential to catch him.
Since his rookie season, Davis has finished No. 1 twice, second twice, and fifth once. Antetokounmpo is still only 23 years old and is probably the most fun player to own in fantasy. When the top tier is so tightly packed, enjoying rooting for your team is a factor worth considering. One other advantage this threesome has over other potential first rounders: all three could approach or exceed two blocks per game.
Tier 1B: First-rounder, but not a No. 1 pick
Jokic is a clear first-round pick and I have him decidedly ahead of the next group of players. That said, while any of the three taken above are justifiable selections at first overall, taking Jokic any higher than sixth or seventh will probably elicit some hairy eyeballs.
Jokic is an oddball combination of point-guard passing with center-rebounding, and he’s added a three-point shot without decimating his field goal percentage (*cough* Brook Lopez *cough*). But as in real-life basketball, Jokic’s poor defense is a liability and his relative lack of steals and blocks is the primary reason he’ll struggle to rise into fantasy’s top-six. In 8-category leagues, Jokic still doesn’t crack the top six, but the gap between him and most of Tier 2 increases.
Tier 2: Second-round staples
LeBron James – Joel Embiid – Kevin Love – Andre Drummond
All four options in Tier 2 are fantastic players to build a fantasy team around and not one of them should sniff the first round of drafts. The 33-year-old James ranked outside fantasy’s top 10 in two of the past four seasons and basically took an entire month off in 2017-18. Embiid is knocking on the door of first-round per-game production, but he’s still shown too much propensity for injury to be worth that level of risk. I expect Love to return to Timberwolves-levels of production, but after four seasons in Cleveland it’s hard to feel too confident about the 30-year-old recreating the stat lines from his age-26 season.
I’m a believer that the buzz around Drummond adding a three-pointer to his arsenal is more than just offseason hype, but he might reach this tier even without that. Usually, atrocious free throw shooters are so dragged down by that one category that they can’t mathematically reach top-25 overall ranks, even if that’s where humans would actually value them. Nonetheless, Drummond’s improved assist rate in 2017-18 was enough to drive him into the top 25. He’s still got his category-liabilities, but he’s an excellent use of a second-round pick.
Tier 3: Strong semi-stars
Otto Porter – Clint Capela – Draymond Green – Tobias Harris
Ok, so technically Capela harms your free throw percentage, but he’s not nearly as disastrous in that category as some other bigs. Meanwhile, Porter and Harris are two very well-balanced producers that seem like safe bets to remain top-45 producers.
Green has been a top-35 guy the past four seasons, but 2018-19 brings two major new concerns. First, Green has taken fewer shots since Kevin Durant became a Warrior, and Green’s lack of scoring only becomes more problematic as NBA offenses become more prolific.
Furthermore, while DeMarcus Cousins is likely to miss roughly the first half of the season, it’s hard to imagine Green’s production remains stable as the Warriors are incorporating their latest All-NBA addition.
Tier 4: Season-defining risks
Myles Turner – Kristaps Porzingis
If you want either of these fourth-year options, this is where you will have to take them. Both have already demonstrated that they can be dynamic, top-25 players who offer the rare combination of three pointers on top of elite blocks. If either of these players produce near their ceiling, they will be one of the picks that define fantasy teams’ seasons.
That said, the downside here is almost equally tremendous. Turner disappointed early in the season, and was dreadful over the final month. After the All-Star break, Turner barely cracked the top-100, and over his last 13 games he was outside the top-150. Many head-to-head teams that continued to use Turner throughout the playoffs probably lost because of him. Porzingis has been the more stable fantasy asset of the pair, but he tore his ACL in February. The Knicks have not provided any meaningful insight into his recovery, but assuming normal timetables he is likely to miss the first two months of the season, maybe more. If he returns later than that and the Knicks work him in slowly, it could quickly become a situation where managers would have been better off if he skipped the entire season altogether.
Tier 5: High quality, every-night starters
Robert Covington – Nikola Vucevic – LaMarcus Aldridge – Aaron Gordon – Al Horford – Lauri Markkanen* – Blake Griffin – Paul Millsap
Throughout most of this article, players are listed within each tier in the order that I recommend drafting them. Though that’s technically true here, too, I feel very uncertain about this section of the draft, and am likely to continually shift and refine these ranks over the next month. I’m confident about which players are and are not in this tier, but not the internal order.
Included here are four aging bigs — Aldridge, Horford, Griffin and Millsap — who are each great sources of out-of-position assists. All four have adapted their games over time to prolong their relevance, and all but Aldridge have added three-point shooting to their repertoire. Vucevic doesn’t fit that group’s age range, but he’s also added the three-ball and improved his passing with age. Markkanen is coming off a standout rookie season and though his defense still lags, he’s already become one of the best-shooting big men in the league. For more on Covington and Gordon, check out the Small Forward tiers article, in which I went into more depth on both.
Tier 6: Starters, but not key assets
Serge Ibaka – Julius Randle – John Collins
Personally, I’d probably draft Collins a tier lower, but I felt he needed to be higher than that crew to keep this ranking realistic. I get the appeal; second year player, looked very good after the All-Star break, tons of “best player on a terrible team” stats available. That said the hype train has gone past funky town and transitioned into the crazy train. I’d love to talk about him as a ninth-round sleeper, but he went in the fourth in my most recent expert draft.
Ibaka may not be the second round pick he was in 2014, but he’s still a very solid fantasy contributor. Last season, he needed only 27.5 minutes per game to finish inside the top-75, and he’s still only 28 years old.
Tier 7: Quality, low-end starters
Thaddeus Young – Jonathan Isaac* – Larry Nance – Jayson Tatum – Dario Saric – Dwight Howard – Harrison Barnes – Nikola Mirotic – DeMarcus Cousins – Carmelo Anthony
Isaac’s floor is lower than most of this tier, but he’s also the player with the best chance to crack fantasy’s top-30 (I’d say Nance and Tatum are more likely to hit the top-50 than Isaac, but I don’t see a path for either of that pair to hit top-30). Isaac missed a ton of games as a rookie and was limited to under 20 minutes per game when he was active. But he was a top-40 player when sorted by per-36 production, and he was the only qualified player in the NBA to average more than two steals and two blocks per-36 minutes. One minor downside: Isaac is one of only four players mentioned in this article with single-position eligibility.
Cousins also gets slotted in here, because, as with Isaac, his floor is very low. Everything said about Kristaps Porzingis three tiers above this one applies to Cousins, except that Cousins has already been a first-round fantasy producer and he’ll cost even less in drafts. His transition to the Warriors understandably makes some managers nervous, but it also increases the likelihood that he returns to the floor to work himself into game shape before the fantasy playoffs.
Tatum and Saric are both talented enough to climb a few tiers, but they play for two of the three-or-four-deepest teams in the league. Neither the Celtics nor the 76ers need Tatum nor Saric to be even the fourth-best player on their roster, and both play the deepest position on the depth chart. If a manager is convinced that either should be drafted in the fifth or sixth round, I won’t try to talk them out of it; both players have that potential.
As is fitting for his entire career, I almost forgot to mention Young here. Though he is always under-appreciated, he’s only 30 and he’s been a top-80 producer since 2011.
Tier 8: High-probability upside players
Jabari Parker – Jarrett Allen – Willie Cauley-Stein – Dirk Nowitzki – Kevin Knox – Pau Gasol – Bam Adebayo – Nerlens Noel – Jaren Jackson* – James Johnson
Tier 9: Low-probability upside players
Domantas Sabonis – Kyle Kuzma – Derrick Favors – OG Anunoby – Jae Crowder – Marvin Bagley* – Jordan Bell – Kelly Olynyk
Follow Alex on Twitter @Rikleen