November 5, 2020, 4:23 pm
With the new NBA season potentially only weeks away, the HoopBall crew got together with a number of industry folk for an early mock draft. For this edition of the ‘Nights at the Roundtable’, I asked team Hoob for their takeaways from the draft. Given there are still a host of player moves that could take place, their thoughts were focused more on the ‘big picture as opposed to player-specific opinions.
Big Picture Takeaways
Everything is very unorthodox these days and that will create value in fantasy drafts. The challenging part is differentiating between the “fool’s gold” and the gold. One way for us to capture value during the upcoming draft season is to look at the non-bubble teams and see where other people are valuing the non-stars on those teams. The eight teams that haven’t played meaningful basketball since March are the teams that could have the potential to beat their ADP due to recency bias. We just haven’t heard about them in nine months come December. Recency bias is always a factor but it will play an even bigger role this year due to the unorthodox way that last season ended. Some teams and players haven’t been thought about since March and drafts may not start until December. Remember this and I believe you’ll have a leg up on your competition.
First of all, let me begin by saying that this has been my first-ever “Way Too Early Mock Draft.” That said, it has definitely been a learning experience for me. Off the top, I can’t really say I’m thrilled with the team I ended up drafting, despite having the first-overall pick (which I used on James Harden, because 8-cat Roto). It was “OK,” but as you know, in our industry, “OK” is never enough.
Here are a couple of disadvantages I encountered from drafting this early. First, my team is already at the mercy of the NBA season start date. At the time I selected Kristaps Porzingis, I thought that the 2020-21 season would begin on January 18. Now, there’s talk of a preferred December 22 start, a whole month earlier. We’re also unable to react to player movement via trades and free agency, factors that should figure heavily when forming rankings. The second problem was the platform we conducted the draft on did not have any rookies, which is a disappointment. Next and lastly, I felt my personal rankings were a bit off as I was drafting players, meaning I wish I had more time to tweak them. That said, it’s also my observation that most of the people in the draft were also feeling things out as the draft moved along.
This now takes me to my positive takeaways. The act of going through the draft was very enlightening. Not only did it give me a glimpse of the early market-value snapshot for this format, seen through the eyes of industry experts, it also helped me validate the ranges where I should target my pet picks for the draft. Moving forward, I cannot stress the value and importance of mock drafts any more than I already have in past articles. Each succeeding draft will help me refine and sculpt my rankings board and help me come up with my master plan to totally crush this season’s leagues.
I’m betting my deep thoughts on our Way-Too-Early Mock Draft will diverge from the other Pros, but not because of anything I’m doing differently. Mostly, I think my classical training (can I use that term for fantasy sports?) in 9-category leagues left me a bit off balance even before the draft began. Also, of note, we began our draft before the news hit that the season might begin on December 22, so players like LeBron James, Jimmy Butler and others that went deep into the bubble season were still drafted as if they had a full offseason of rest (or at least enough to recover).
Once the dust settled, the middle rounds seemed like the area most ripe for takeaways, and the biggest one, to me, was that folks have strange selective memory on the truncated season. Brandon Ingram went early, seeming to indicate that his hot start left a nice taste; Andre Drummond went late, with his unknown whereabouts and poor end with Cleveland driving his draft position way down. Malcolm Brogdon went early even though his second half stunk. It seems like part of the time players were drafted on first halves, and part of the time they were drafted based on recency bias. In all, it seems like this coming draft season could be total chaos. Preparation and research are going to be even more important, and health will, too.
The name of the mock draft is really what gives it away. In a “too early” mock draft, it is “too early” to tell who really came out on top. So much depends on what happens in the NBA Draft, free agency, potential trades, and of course how the league ends up agreeing on the course of the 2020-2021 regular season. That said, one of the things that stick out is how close most teams stuck with the per-game rankings of most players from last season. That’s probably a function of dealing with the known versus the unknown. There were some exceptions. Some general assumptions on year-to-year improvement were made with Ja, Zion and Michael Porter Jr. going in the 4th, 5th and 6th rounds respectively. There are also some initial guesses about the form of players returning from significant injuries with Kevin Durant going in the 1st, Klay Thompson sliding to the 5th, and John Wall in the 6th. But as a whole, the draft felt largely safe with most players sticking to the rankings big board regardless of Bubble, no Bubble, or how deep each team went into the playoffs with the potential of a tight turnaround.
The big thing I took away from this one was how many well-known guys are lined up for potential bounce-back years. Every season features a handful of players who offer some rebound potential but there were a ton of proven (or proven-ish) fantasy players who went at a pretty good discount. Now, there’s a reason that all those players fell as far as they did, but I wouldn’t be surprised if multiple teams in every league ended up rostering an early-round player that was picked in the middle rounds or beyond without needing to get super lucky. You’ve got the injured guys (Klay Thompson, Blake Griffin, Victor Oladipo, Clint Capela, John Wall, Marvin Bagley, Otto Porter) and guys with long track records that had a hard time adjusting to new circumstances last season (Draymond Green, Mike Conley, Al Horford, Joe Ingles). It felt like there was a lot of name-brand talent that slipped; even if some of them are truly over the hill, I’d bet on a handful of those players getting back to the old normal.
Given the timing of this draft, it is obviously tricky to make any bold statements. However, one thing that was clear from the outset was the depth of talent early in the draft. It feels as though Harden is basically a consensus number one pick, no matter the format. Beyond that, it gets a little clouded. The possible December start date is going to have an impact on a number of elite options. For example, Anthony Davis would almost certainly go at pick two in a lot of situations. Having had just two months to recover, his projected games played could see him fall in drafts. With rest coming into play, perhaps more than ever, it opens up the value for a lot of fringe first-rounders. Total value and per-game value are going to vary quite significantly, impacting ADPs across the board.
Looking at this draft specifically, LeBron James was taken at pick 12, whereas Zach LaVine was the 22nd pick. This is absolutely fine when drafting on projected per-game value. However, there is a pretty realistic chance LaVine ends the season ahead of James in total value. Scenarios such as this as certainly nothing new when it comes to fantasy. My thought for this season is that it will be quite common, and perhaps more pronounced.