Using Fantasy Football Strategy to Draft Your Fantasy Basketball Team: Power Forwards and Centers
Over the course of the last month I've been exploring whether not we can make use of the fantasy football strategy of Value Based Drafting (VBD) in our 2015 fantasy basketball drafts.
The principles of VBD put more weight on a player's value, in relation to their draft position and to others at that same position, rather than gross points alone. If you're not as familiar with fantasy basketball as you are fantasy football though, it's not just about scoring and comparing points -- it's about winning more statistical categories than your opponent.
Those categories, in a standard nine-category league, consist of the following: points, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, blocks, three-point makes, field goal percentage and free throw percentage.
Under VBD strategy, in fantasy basketball value is therefore found in a player's ability to outperform his counterpart in those nine categories. For example, in fantasy football, among skilled positions, running backs hold the most value, then wide receivers, followed by quarterbacks and ultimately tight ends.
How do I come up with such comparison between fantasy football and fantasy basketball positions? I first look at how each position (by its position-eligible players, not in a strict sense) is currently being drafted, with the help of Yahoo's average draft position, or ADP, rankings. I then look at each player's value in comparison to the rest of the positional pack.
As for floor generals, I concluded that they are currently being selected like fantasy football running backs but they shouldn't be. Rather we should be drafting them more like quarterbacks due to their usage and tendency to rack up stacks -- it gives later round selections added value a la NFL signal callers.
Shooting guards aren't being drafted all too similar to one fantasy football position, but if we had to give them a corresponding fantasy football position it'd be tight ends. Elite options are at a premium and go a lot earlier than those who could provide value, before dropping off the cliff to mediocrity in the latter stages of the draft
Small forwards, based on average draft position, are correctly being drafted like wide receivers. The elite go early and may pay off their value, like the big time NFL wideouts. Unlike shooting guards (and tight ends), however, small forwards (and wide receivers) can provide great to elite value in the next few rounds before they become boom or bust in the mid-to-late rounds.
Straying from my position by position breakdown, I have grouped together power forwards and centers as big men because of the large amount of overlap between the positions -- more importantly, it helps for our comparison purposes. In what ways are fantasy bigs being drafted and how should they be drafted in relation to fantasy football players according to their values?
Let's see what our final conclusion is.
Trends By Round
(Picks based on Yahoo ADP as of 9/8/2015)
As evidenced by the set of charts above, power forwards and centers aren't being drafted in the same manner. With the trend toward smallball lineups and outside shooting that doesn't come as much of a surprise. Stretch fours and fives have seen a huge increase in their everyday value.
Six power forward-eligible players (Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Al Horford and Carmelo Anthony) are currently going in the first round of NBA fantasy drafts. On the flip side, Davis, Horford and Cousins are the lone centers off the board before Round 2. The differences don't stop there.
In the second round, fantasy hoopers are again selecting six power forward-eligible players while at the same time picking a total of eight center-eligible players. Like in the first round, there is even more of an overlap between the two positions in the next round as six of the big men going in Round 2 are eligible for both the power forward and center positions.
This type of overlap is the reason I've grouped the two positions together. However, no matter the overlap, there is a reasonable difference between the way fours and fives are being drafted so far this year. As a result, they each draw their own comparisons to certain fantasy football positions.
Power forwards are being drafted most like running backs. According to MyFantasyLeague.com, 10 NFL running backs went in the first two rounds. Two more power forwards are going in the first 24 picks, but after accounting for their position flexibility I'd say the two are very similar. There are even more similar trends between the two as the respective drafts go on.
There's a unique dropoff from Rounds 2 to 3 for both power forwards and running backs. A mere two running backs and three power forwards have been selected in Round 3. One among many other similarities is in Rounds 6 and 7 where, on average, five running backs were picked in fantasy football and three power forwards were picked in fantasy basketball.
As for centers, they parallel (even though we used them already in comparison to small forwards) fantasy football pass catchers the most. Like I broke down in my previous piece on the small forward position, elite wide receivers went in a group of eight in the first two rounds of drafts. Even more center-eligible players -- 11 to be exact -- are currently going in the first or second rounds.
The two also draw a notable comparison to one another in Round 6. Three wide receivers were selected in that round and we can see that there is a drop to just three center-eligible players in the sixth. The one huge difference between the two is that wide receivers have been selected as fliers in late rounds like Round 13 whereas centers (at least ones fantasy hoopers think are worthy of drafting) seem to be gone at that point. None have been selected that late.
But as well as we could possibly draw a comparison to what many refer to as a dying breed in the NBA, centers relate most closely wide receivers in terms of ADP.
With all that being said, if we were using VBD, would we be hitting, gaining or giving up value by drafting big men how they're being drafted today?
To be consistent with all the other positions, I am once again using BasketballMonster.com (BM) and their player per game values (this is a system of assigning a value to each fantasy basketball category, where the standard-league average is represented by 0.0) to determine what value each power forward, center or combo-big holds for this year.
After an analysis of the BM values in light of average draft positions, I've come to the conclusion that power forwards and centers should be selected like NFL running backs and wide receivers, but the script should be flipped. Power forwards should be treated as wide receivers and centers should be treated as running backs. Why?
The numbers don't really tell the whole story because 25 power forward-eligible players and 26 center-eligible players finished with positive BM values (over 0) last year. The numbers are nearly identical, but the two things I look at to differentiate between the two are the value levels and gameplay trends.
What I mean by value levels is that there seems to be five tiers of BM values for each of the positions. There's the elite (players at .5 or above), the almost elite (.3 to .49), the really good (.1 to .29) and the good (.01 to .09).
For power forwards, the breakdown is as such: 2 elite (Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant), 7 almost elite, 11 really good and 5 good.
For centers, this is the breakdown: 1 elite (Davis), 7 almost elite, 15 really good and 3 good.
You can see that power forwards have more of an even breakdown while centers are more mid-tier loaded. There's one less elite player and four more really good players in the center breakdown.
That's why I compare power forwards more to wide receivers as there are a lot more wide receivers who could provide great value in the early to middle rounds and even those who could provide it later in rounds. They are less at a premium for obvious reasons -- and that's where gameplay trends come in.
Power forwards -- especially those who are big enough to play center but versatile enough to stretch the floor -- are here to stay in the NBA. As I mentioned earlier, the transition to smallball lineups has given power forwards like this a lot more value in the eyes of NBA general managers. Therefore, there's a lot more of them to go around.
As for the true bigs, centers are more like running backs because there's a logjam of really good fantasy options as opposed to even two elite options like we see with the power forwards. This is similar to the NFL for obvious reasons. There are a lot of running backs by committee, dynamic duos and even passing down specialists in today's NFL. That has led to a dying breed of elite NFL running backs. Adrian Peterson seems to be the only of his kind left, mirroring the elite status of an Anthony Davis for the center-eligible players of the fantasy basketball realm.
So that's why I think, at least after the elite power forwards come off the board in Round 1, you should target a top center more than you should target a top power forward. It has a lot to do with position scarcity, eligibility and even overall value. Of course, I'm not saying pass up on Anthony Davis if you have the number one pick, or pass up on Durant if you have a top five pick and he's still on the board. That'd be insane.
What I am saying is that there are a lot of other power forwards, with positive fantasy values, to be had in the third and even fourth rounds of 2015 fantasy basketball drafts. If they start flying off the board in the second or third though I'd be sure to grab one as soon as possible. I think it would be in your best interest, however, to try to secure a top center like Davis, Cousins or even Marc Gasol for the reasons above.
You don't want to end up with a center by committee approach with two guys getting just 20 to 25 minutes a night. If you'd like to take on a value-based form of drafting for your drafts this year, plan accordingly.