Is Serge Ibaka Worth a First-Round Pick in Fantasy Basketball?
There are approximately seven sure-fire, undeniable first-round picks in fantasy basketball this season. If you can find anyone that can give you a legitimate reason not to take Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, or James Harden in the first 12 picks (standard league size), send them my way; I might have an opening in one of my leagues and I want to take their money.
After that, things get a little dicier. There are roughly fifteen guys you could at least make a case for taking at some point between picks eight through 12. Some are easier to justify than others, of course, but depending on how you plan on building your team, it’s your prerogative beyond that elite tier of seven to take who you feel you need.
Every fantasy expert or enthusiast you meet will have a strong opinion about which players in that second tier deserve the most love and I can get behind just about any of them with the proper reasoning. If you could humor me with a similar level of open-mindedness, I've got my hot take for you:
I absolutely believe that Serge Ibaka can’t be left on the board past the first round and if he makes it to the second round by some miracle, you should grab him immediately.
"But all he gives you is blocks!" you might say. "He's nothing more than average in everything outside of blocks!" you're also likely to comment.
Just How Valuable Are the Blocks?
First of all, let's establish something important: the advantage Ibaka gives you in blocks is bigger than that just about any other player can give you in any given category.
Basketball Monster has a value system based on the standard score statistic. Put simply, 0.0 represents average standard league value, a positive score represents how much more valuable than league average a player is in any given category, and a negative one, how much less valuable.
If you take points, for example, Durant averaged 32.0 per game last year and had the highest points value at 3.65. Tyreke Evans was the 0.0 points value model at 14.5 points per game (basically standard league average), while Draymond Green's 6.2 per contest gave him a -1.72 points value (the lowest of anyone who still maintained standard league value in 2013-14).
Ibaka's average of 2.7 blocks per game gave him a 3.73 blocks value rating. That is the second largest value rating of any player in any category in the entire NBA last season, trailing only Anthony Davis' 3.94 for his 2.8 blocks per contest. That means Ibaka's blocks were essentially more valuable than Durant's points, Chris Paul's assists, Stephen Curry's three-pointers, etc. None of those guys will fall past the first five picks or so in your draft this year, whereas Ibaka should still be available in the 10-15 range.
The following calculation is far from an exact science and it ignores the rules of standard deviation entirely, but let's do a little simple math for fun. The 0.0 blocks value last year was Blake Griffin's 0.6 swats per game. Ibaka blocked 4.5 times more shots than that at 2.7 blocks per contest. Here's what you would need in the standard counting stats to be 4.5 times more than the 0.0 value:
|Category||0.0 Value||0.0 Value x 4.5|
Ok, What About the Other Categories?
Admittedly, there isn't much else in Serge's stat line that jumps off the page at first glance:
Apart from the blocks, however, the rebounding, field goal percentage, and turnover rate are all quietly solid as well. In fact, his rebounding represented the 23rd-best value in the league last season and his field goal percentage value ranked 12th (and that accounts for volume, in case you're wondering). His turnover rate was also among the best of all the early-round finishers - a nice bonus if you play in a league that counts them.
Ibaka may not be a high-scoring superstar, but he represents positive value in six of nine categories, one of which is absolutely elite. Other players that displayed positive value in at least six categories last season? Only Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kawhi Leonard fit that bill. Most of the remaining block specialists in the league after Davis and Ibaka are typically big drains in other areas too, particularly threes and free throw percentage. Ibaka has the potential to help you in both of those, while still contributing in all the places you'd expect your power forward or center to do.
Ibaka might not blow anyone out of the water in any area outside of blocks, but being relatively solid across the board while all but guaranteeing you a good shot at winning one category by himself every week is well worth a first-round price tag in my eyes.
You Want a Sure Thing?
Furthermore, if you're the type of person that likes taking sure things early and upside later on, then Ibaka is probably more tantalizing than you realize. Here are the standard league finishes in nine-category leagues from the last three years by the consensus first-round picks this season (according to fantasypros.com):
Players that have finished with first-round value in each of the last three seasons: Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Serge Ibaka.
That's all I need to say about that.
If anyone laughs at you for grabbing Ibaka in the first round after all seven of the elite guys I mentioned earlier are off the board, ignore them. There's nothing wrong with locking up blocks early with a guy that won't kill you anywhere else and focusing on the other categories later while others are reaching for blocks.
People are typically scared to take non-superstars early in fantasy drafts, especially ones that are third bananas on their own NBA team. It's why people have shied away from Chris Bosh for years, why Kyrie Irving is bound do drop this season, and why people have a hard time picking Ibaka in the first round when Durant and Russell Westbrook are right there alongside him.
But this is fantasy basketball, not real life. Here, Serge Ibaka is a superstar. Draft him like one with confidence.