Hoops draft recap: Experts discuss fantasy basketball sleepers, steals, strategies

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In less than two weeks, the NBA regular season will be officially, irrevocably and gloriously underway, which means your fantasy draft is happening soon — very soon, like perhaps this weekend.

As a public service, we recently brought together a dozen respected experts willing participants for a 14-round draft. We encourage you to check out these draft results, use 'em as a roadmap for assembling your own teams, assuming similar settings. The Yahoo Friends & Family league is an eight-category head-to-head format with the usual positions (PG, SG, G, SF, PF, F, two Cs, two Utils). And yes, of course we're playing this thing out. Because mock-drafting is for cowards.

After the draft, we asked participants to share a few thoughts on their strategies and execution. Let’s dive in...

Ryan Knaus, Rotoworld

I somehow pulled the No. 1 pick in this draft and was happy to go with Karl-Anthony Towns. His durability has been unimpeachable. He's better in 9-cat, but even in this 8-cat format he simply doesn't hurt you anywhere. The Wolves are running tons of offense through him this preseason. Coach Ryan Sauders has implied they want KAT even more engaged than he was last year, when he posted a 29.2% usage rate and top-five fantasy value. What's not to love?

I took Donovan Mitchell and Zion Williamson at the next turn, already filling my youthful upside quota, but didn't stop there with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Delon Wright and Wendell Carter Jr. joining my team before pick 75. Tobias Harris might look like a boring veteran addition, but he's just 27 years old (younger than Wright) and fit my build well. Getting Darius Garland and Collin Sexton with consecutive picks at 120/121 was a bonus, and I love Jakob Poeltl as a reliable source of REB/BLK/FG% in the late rounds. I really like my odds of winning with this team.

Karl-Anthony Towns is in the conversation for the No. 1 overall fantasy pick in any format. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Karl-Anthony Towns is in the conversation for the No. 1 overall fantasy pick in any format. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Dalton Del Don, Yahoo

I wasn’t thrilled getting the sixth pick in a draft with five legit options to go No. 1 overall, so I swung for the fences going Joel Embiid over Nikola Jokic. It’s definitely a gamble, but Embiid appears to be in shape and is determined to play in more games than ever this season; a monstrous campaign could very well be in store.

wasn’t overly excited going with Russell Westbrook next and was a homer taking D’Angelo Russell in the third, when I had a chance to pair Embiid up with three-point specialist Ben Simmons. I was happy to grab some favorite targets of mine later, such as Kevon Looney, Fred VanVleet and Derrick White. Nabbing Klay Thompson after 135 picks seemed like a good stash in a H2H playoff league with two IL spots. My heart sank when Jonathan Isaac was stolen in round six. Hassan Whiteside could go down as the steal of the draft late in the seventh for Tommy Beer.

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Jim McCormick, ESPN

The goal was to form a balanced statistical syndicate of heat-check shooters such as Hield, Bogdanovic, LeVert and Kuzma to keep scoring and shooting metrics competitive each week, while also placing a premium on stocks producers like Kleber, Favors, Millsap, and Butler. Brook Lopez, of course, lives in the center of this Venn diagram reading comic books. It also seems my goal was to name everyone on my team in this paragraph.

It was difficult to pass on LeBron in the first, but I preferred Lillard's volume shooting from 3-point range, superior freestyle flow and category-saving efficiency from the stripe (which helps buffer Simmons' drain on the category). Now that Simmons has fully morphed into Mark Price, it's safe to say my fantasy team's identity is defined by shooting and defense. Playing this team out, I could have some trouble when facing opponents rich in passing and possibly rim protection, but these were concessions I knowingly made.

Stan Son, Razzball

I'm the newbie in the league, so I first want to say thanks to Andy for the invite. When I opened the draft room, I was happy to see that I would be picking second overall. I guess my PayPal to Andy was good, but not good enough. I ended up taking Harden after KAT went first overall. AD was in the conversation, but I wanted the assists that Harden provides and he was the top rated player on my board. I figured the bigs would be there for me at the turn and they were, as I scooped up Gobert and Ayton. I won't bore you with the play-by-play of every round, so I'll just give you some things that stood out to me.

The first four rounds of the draft went chalk. The beginning of round five is where things got interesting, as Shai, Bam, Ja, and Lonzo were the first four picks of the round. The highlight of the draft for myself was in round eight when I selected Zach Collins. Immediately after, I heard keyboards smashing with a profanity-laced tirade directed towards me! I kid, but there were comments that he was literally going to be the next pick. There truly is nothing better. I'd like to apologize for not responding in the chat at the time, but. ... I was busy doing this.

Seriously, I was contemplating my existence on this planet as I had to decide between Tomas Satoransky or Andrew Wiggins with my next pick. I chose Satoransky. The last round had two picks that I loved. Stroup selected Jarrett Culver and Andy Behrens chose Michael Porter Jr. The upside for both is immense and perfect final round picks.

Nick Whalen, RotoWire

Picking from the No. 5 spot, I was thrilled to land Giannis Antetokounmpo, though I would've been just fine with any of the four guys who went ahead of him as well. I grabbed Luka Doncic and Pascal Siakam with my next two picks before selecting Robert Covington in the middle of Round 4. I like Covington as a bounce-back guy after he missed so much time last season, but in retrospect, I probably should've used that pick on a center.

Initially, my target was Jaren Jackson, Jr., but he ended up going four spots ahead of my pick. Draymond Green was next on the list, but he went two spots ahead. At that point, I basically panicked and took Covington. I probably should have just pulled the trigger on Bam Adebayo, who I've claimed as one of "my guys" this season, yet have only managed to land in one league. After barely missing out on Jonas Valanciunas and Thomas Bryant in Round 6, I ended up resorting to Domantas Sabonis (Round 7) and Alex Len (Round 9) as my two starting centers. Certainly that's not an ideal pairing, but I feel slightly less-bad about it since I'll get some traditional-center stats out of Antetokounmpo and, to a lesser degree, Siakam.

Luka Doncic, an easy choice in Round 2. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Luka Doncic, an easy choice in Round 2. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Overall, I may be a little frontcourt-heavy, but I'm satisfied with how my team turned out. Antetokounmpo is about as steady as it gets a the top, and both Doncic and Siakam carry upside as still-ascending players. Most of my mid-rounders — Covington, C.J. McCollum, Jeff Teague, Joe Ingles — are boring-but-reliable veterans, but I like the upside of a few of the players I grabbed late, including Justise Winslow, Brandon Clarke, and, with my final pick, Nerlens Noel.

Winslow is the safest of those three, but I'm intrigued by Clarke's potential to develop into a Shawn Marion-lite, while Noel is always among the league-leaders in per-minute defensive stats. If the Thunder move on from Steven Adams at some point, Noel would likely be the primary beneficiary.

Scott Pianowski, Yahoo

Although I am a man of all seasons, the NBA is not my primary jam. Hopefully opponents will see my F&F banner from years back and cower in fear.

(Ed's note: Scott indeed won Yahoo's first F&F league in the 1979-80 season. He was criticized on draft night for taking Reggie Theus, Swen Nater and Mike Mitchell, but WHO’S LAUGHING NOW? Flags fly forever.)

I wanted to stay young whenever possible and avoid anyone currently hurt. Any player who looked like a load-management case, I wasn’t going after. And although the flexible settings didn’t reward this too much (I do like flexible settings), I like to have a team of legos, interchangeable parts, position-fluid guys. I also have a bunch of players I’m eager to watch, and I see nothing wrong with considering that part of the criteria.

As with most fantasy leagues, get that early pick (or go after the blue chips in the auction). The first half of the first round looks so much better than what you get around the turn. The curve drops off the table; really, it's a cliff. I didn’t take a center until Round 7, and I don’t have any center who really excites me. Managing the pivot is one of the keys to my season.

Matt Stroup, Rotoworld

Picking toward the end of the first round is a nightmare this year, so I decided to get a little crazy and gamble on Trae Young, a guy who in a best-case scenario becomes an absolute monster. (He also gets a boost in a no-turnovers setup). I reached again for Nikola Vucevic, whose Yahoo ADP is 23.0 even though he was a top-12 guy last year. Those two picks will probably make or break my squad — Trae in particular — but I otherwise got a bunch of mid-round guys I’m excited about, including Jonathan Isaac, Kelly Oubre and T.J. Warren. I also think De’Andre Hunter has plenty of intrigue as a late-round rookie who’s set for significant minutes right away. Hunter has more offensive game than many people think, and he has already started to showcase it during the preseason.

Bradley Beal, still a member of the Wizards and a rock-solid fantasy asset. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Bradley Beal, still a member of the Wizards and a rock-solid fantasy asset. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Michael Beller and Brandon Funston, The Athletic

I feel compelled to start this by saying that Funston and I meant to kick off our draft with Bradley Beal. However, due to a scheduling conflict that prevented me from being present at the start of the draft, and a Yahoo draft room quirk that doesn't allow co-managers to make picks, LeBron was auto-selected for us instead.

Did Behrens purposely not tell us about this? It's certainly possible.

(Ed's note: If only someone associated with this two-person managerial group had some familiarity with Yahoo drafts. Alas.)

Load management issues aside, we feel pretty good about this squad. We especially love the frontcourt, with John Collins set to become a superstar and Jaren Jackson Jr. on the cusp of a breakout season. Montreal Harrell, too, should be ready to take the next step in his career with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George unlocking the Clippers offense. All told, this should be a fun, competitive team. Just imagine if it had Bradley Beal...

Andy Behrens, Yahoo

This draft was one of the more painful queue-killing experiences I can remember, start to finish. Each round brought fresh horrors. Kyle McKeown sniped me twice, on Zach LaVine (Round 4) and Aaron Gordon (Round 6). Son got me on Tomas Santoransky in Round 9. Whalen wrecked me when he snagged Doncic two spots ahead of my pick in the second. And in a group like this, I really needed to be more aggressive on fifth-rounder Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (an obvious breakout) and eighth-rounder Dejounte Murray (who would have broken out last year).

On the other hand, I did open my draft with Anthony Davis as the third overall pick. That ain't bad. I'm building around a 28-12 big man who's a near-lock to average 4.0 combined blocks and steals with stellar shooting percentages.

[Update: Aaaaaannnnd Davis is already dinged. Sure. I suppose it was never gonna be a smooth ride.]

My roster is balanced across all eight categories, I have a chance to dominate blocks (AD, Myles Turner, Al Horford), I landed a pair of spicy rookies (Ja Morant, Tyler Herro) and I've got a likely second-year breakout in Miles Bridges. (Charlotte is a big teal mess, but Bridges won't lack opportunities.) I'm also kinda excited about final-round flier Michael Porter Jr., who's been a high-buzz player in recent weeks. He's looking plenty healthy at the moment and he scored nine points in his first preseason action on Tuesday.

OK, that's arguably more fantasy draft breakdown than anyone needs or wants. If you're interested in viewing each roster, hit this link. (Please file your praise for Team Behrens in comments. Thanks in advance.)

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