September 20, 2019, 7:44 pm
Welcome to the Auction Draft section of the 2019 Hoop Ball Draft Guide. The popularity of auctions as a drafting mechanic for leagues has been growing more and more each year. While it won’t replace snake drafts as the number one chosen drafting format anytime soon, auctions have their own distinct appeal, value and benefits.
On September 15th, I participated in a 12-team Auction Draft with Hoop Ball’s very own Mike Apotria (@MikeApotria). The league is an industry experts league (not a mock draft) with a $25 buy-in and is run by Basketball Monster’s Kyle McKeown (@RotoKyleNBA). The league has a solid lineup of managers: ESPN’s Andre Snellings (@ProfessorDrz), Hashtag Basketball’s Marc Roberts (@MarcFRoberts), Jordan Schultz (@dynoNBA) and Tyler Watts (@tylerpwatts), Rotowire’s Alex Rikleen (@Rikleen), Kevin So (@kevinso) and Jay (@FantasyNBALayup) of Fantasy Unicorns, just to name a few.
I like to practice what I preach, or, for the purposes of this draft guide article, will be preaching what I practice and will be using this actual draft as a backdrop for a Tips-and-Tricks-styled auction strategy guide. I’ll also address some frequently asked questions about auction drafts in the process.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with auction drafts, here is a quick rundown. In snake drafts, a draft order is randomly determined with each team picking players in that order. The order is reversed in even rounds. So the team that picks last in Round 1 will be the first to pick in Round 2 and so on.
As you can see, teams picking in the top-5 or top-8 in the first round have a distinct advantage over teams picking ninth and onward, because they will get the opportunity to pick one of the five best players in fantasy – normally found in a tier clearly above the rest of the players that follow.
In auction drafts, however, that aforementioned advantage is non-existent. Every team gets an equal shot at owning said top-5 players. It’s just a matter of how much they’re willing to spend.
Each team is given a $200 budget to build their rosters. During the draft itself, each team will nominate a player that is up for bid. Teams are randomly assigned a position in a queue and in that order, teams take turns nominating players. The nominating team starts off the bidding in an open auction with an optional starting bid of $1 (can be set higher from the get-go). From there, a timer starts and other teams may place their bids. Bids can be made in increments of $1 or set to a specified amount when made. When the timer finally expires, the team with the top bid wins the player. After that, the next team in the queue is now up and nominates the next player up for auction.
There is a minimum bid of $1 per player. So for a 13-man roster, you can technically spend $188 of your $200 on one player and $1 on each of your other players. That said, I cannot guarantee how good a team that would be.
Why do I love Auction Drafts so much?
Aside from it being the fairest drafting mechanic available, due to each team having equal chances to take any player, it also gives us drafters the freedom to come up with some highly interesting and fun player combinations.
You know how you like two NBA players and wished you picked both of them but can’t because they’re ranked too closely and can only choose one of them in snake drafts? Well, you can kiss that feeling goodbye in auction drafts. Mix and match players to your heart’s content, but be willing to not only pay the price but also be prepared to figure out how to spend what remains of your budget on the rest of your team.
The draft is a game in itself. Building your team with the auction mechanic takes skill. Not just knowledge of fantasy value, but the act of maximizing $200 to build the best team possible is both an art and a science.
Through up-bids, you can make other drafters pay more than they should or may have originally intended.
At the end of the day, auction drafts are about resource management, your $200. But it is also about understanding the ebb and flow and learning to use it to your benefit. Yes, that’s a thing.
Pro Tip #1: Win the first player up for bid
Here’s something I’ve noticed time and again in the many auctions I’ve done; more often than not, the first player who goes up for bid goes for cheap. Why? I’m not 100 percent sure, but my guess is that the draft room has not settled on a metagame just yet. Mostly, drafters are not sure if they’re drafting against an aggressive or a passive/conservative group. Take for example, my draft. You have a 15-second timer to nominate a player. When that expires the player at the top of the platform’s rankings queue gets put up for bid.
In our case, it was Anthony Davis. People bid on him, sure, but not too aggressively. In the end, he was sold to Mike Apotria for $63. Now considering AD was projected to produce value in the $68 range and was being speculated on at bids in the mid-to-higher 70s, that was, by and large, a steal. Well done, Mike!
Pro Tip #2: Come in with a plan, but be ready to adjust on the fly
In full transparency, I did not do much preparation for this auction. My bad. To be honest, I’ve done this so many times before, I was pretty sure I would be able to hold my own against professional fantasy writers. Not to brag, but as a full-blown Geek, I play board games on the weekends. And some of the board games I play employ auctions as one of their mechanics, so yes, I’m pretty used to it, even during the NBA offseason.
A few days before the draft, I made the decision to spend big on both Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic. This was mainly because I was in a 16-team league that had a snake draft, where we were allowed to trade picks pre-draft. One manager traded for another first-round pick and was able to pair both elite centers. Admittedly, I was a bit jelly and wanted to try it out. I was going to have both efficient bigs as a core, preserve their solid shooting percentages and build around that.
Just my luck, KAT was next up for auction. At this point, I stuck to my loose plan and clicked away on that bid button like a mad man. By the time the price got to the mid-60s, I was only up against one guy. I was ready to keep on clicking up to whatever the price. Finally, I ended up winning KAT but at the cost of $71. Considering AD went for $63, felt kind of sick. Oh FYI, Towns is only projected to produce roughly $61 value, so ugh.
These first two picks in the draft are shining examples that it’s market forces that rule the auction and not your fancy mumbo-jumbo, handcrafted valuations. “The market wants what the market wants.”
F.A.Q. – Do I nominate players I want or do I nominate players I want other people to blow their money on?
Now, this is a very interesting question and a timely one at that.Right after I won Towns and saw my $200 budget suddenly shrink to $129, I wasn’t feeling too enthused. I was third in the queue to nominate. So, my answer to this particular FAQ, at least given the context of my situation, was to nominate a player I felt would get other drafters to burn their money on and it also had to be someone I likely didn’t mind rostering.
I went with Mitchell Robinson.
To my surprise and horror, he went for a measly $24. I repeat, $24. #WTF. Considering the massive hype this guy’s been getting, in rankings and mock drafts, I was almost 100 percent certain people would bust open their piggy banks for him. I was, apparently, wrong. Considering he’s projected to bring $32 in value, I just inadvertently (assuming his valuation by Yahoo! is/was correct), facilitated a steal.
This leads me to my next Pro Tip…
Pro Tip #3: Do not underestimate your competition in the draft.
Check that ego at the door, sir.
Going back to the FAQ, I generally like nominating players I don’t intend to pay for. When the spot comes that a player I really want is finally nominated, I want to be able to go into a bidding war for him from a position of strength – meaning, hopefully, I have more money than the drafter(s) I am bidding against.
This is not a carved-in-stone kind of rule, but a preference. Later in the draft, once you have the money advantage (top-3 in auction $), you can comfortably secure a target player or two. That’s completely fine.
Going back to that Mitch Rob nomination and win, it signaled something. It made clear to me that in general, I was dealing with a rather passive/conservative room. This meant that most of the drafters tend to prefer not to overspend on targets if possible.
Pro Tip #4: Remember, you do not have an infinite bankroll.
The second core player of my “designed build” was Nikola Jokic, who eventually got nominated 17th. Before he went up for auction, we saw some studs find owners. Giannis Antetokounmpo went for $66, Stephen Curry went for $62, Damian Lillard went for a reasonable $55 and James Harden, who was the most expensive player in the draft, went for $72.
So roughly, if you translated this to a snake draft, the top-5 went something like:
- James Harden
- Karl-Anthony Towns
- Giannis Antetokoumpo
- Anthony Davis
- Stephen Curry
You could totally see that sequence in a mock draft, right? Kinda?
Anyway, I digress. Going back to Jokic. When he went up for bid, I clicked away at the bid button. Again. However, while in the middle of Jokic’s auction, I was doing some rough math in my head and started to get a bit anxious. Somewhere around the $58 mark, I was figuring I’d have $71 left for the rest of my team. $58 came and went, but at $60 I either A.) chickened out or B.) got a nice jolt from my intuition to just STOP and let him go. The truthful answer there was probably C.) Both A and B.
Jokic was eventually won by Andre Snellings, who at this point, still had not won a single player yet.
Rule of Thumb: Be ready to pay top dollar for top-tier talent in deep leagues. In standard or shallower, there’s no need to break the bank.
The KAT-Jokic duo was doable in a 16-team snake draft, but not likely as feasible in 12-team. The whole point of the above rule of thumb is that there’s simply more demand and therefore you have more competition and more competition translates to higher prices.
Just visualize it this way — in a milieu where, say James Harden or Anthony Davis form the undisputable, unquestionable Top-1-2 players, there are 15 other managers competing against you to own either Harden or AD in a 16-team league, as opposed to just 11 other managers in a 12-team league. That’s a lot less pressure in a smaller league.
With Jokic now off the board and my plan now effectively unachievable, I decided to hang back, chill, and let some of the other people spend their precious auction dollars.
I eventually decided to still stay on track with the build of securing big men who don’t kill me at the free throw line. I got to fill the second spot on my team’s roster all the way at pick #38 when I won Nikola Vucevic for $38. He fit the build as a big man who doesn’t really hurt you anywhere and is able to chip across the board as a 1-1-1 guy. When I landed him, I knew I wanted to at least shore up and win blocks. That meant going after Myles Turner, last season’s league leader.
You will have to remember, however, that in auctions plans don’t always fall into place. At least not necessarily in the order you want. Which leads me to my next Pro Tip.
Pro Tip #5: Be careful when up-bidding, you could fall into your own trap.
One of the common strategies used in auctions is to up-bid your opponents, getting them to pay more fantasy dollars on a player they want. It gives them less money to work with afterward and can also throw off some initial accounting they may have done.
Up-bidding is a dangerous game to play. It’s hard to gauge when people will simply let go and let YOU have the player.
This happened to me in the auction. I was up-bidding for someone for Deandre Ayton (whom I didn’t really want), but I ended up winning him for $33, as the 43rd player off the board. Ayton wasn’t so bad of a stinger in the end after I splashed on some hindsight sauce to help me eat my own words of wisdom. He’s still a 20-10 threat who can shoot reasonably well from the line. He just doesn’t block the ball much and at this point, I now had $33 fewer dollars at my disposal to go to war for Myles Turner.
It could have been worse.
Like what happened to Kyle McKeown, for example. Somewhere around the 87th pick, he decided to up-bid another manager for Domantas Sabonis. Kyle ended up winning Sabonis for $5. “But five bucks is cheap, what’s the big deal?” you might ask.
Kyle was playing a midrange style of draft. He shied away from first-round talent but instead loaded up on a ton of mid-round picks. At that point in the draft, he already had around 10 of his 13 roster slots filled up. He was almost done filling up his team and didn’t want Sabonis “cluttering it up.” By far, Kyle was one of the more budget-conscious guys in the room. He had paced his cash quite well. The Sabonis
pickwin made him livid and you could picture him looking something like this:
To fine-tune the rule, “If you’re going to up-bid a player, make sure it’s someone you wouldn’t mind seeing on your roster. I guess Ayton wasn’t too bad of an up-bid mistake.
Fast-forward a bit more, I eventually got to bid and win Myles Turner at #46 for $37. A fair-ish price.
At this point, I had KAT, Vucevic, Ayton and Myles Turner, all of whom are top-30 worthy players and fit my build’s theme but $21 to build the rest of my team.
$21? How can I fill up nine roster slots with such a pittance of a budget? Well, dear readers, you can and I will show you how. With the Ayton hiccup aside, I have a solid core of big men and a nice foundation. At this point, I knew I was going the punt-assists route. Too many quality guards have been taken off the board at this point. My plan then shifted to go for threes. But not just threes, I want to target players who, as much as possible, helped my team’s 3-pointers made while not totally flushing my field goal percentage down the drain.
Oops! I almost forgot. Remember that lesson about being careful about up-bidding? Well not too soon after landing Turner, I had to attend a remedial class to re-learn the lesson. So I got Turner at #46. Two picks later, one of the other drafters, who apparently was working with nickels and dimes at this point, decided to nominate Dwight Powell for $1, one person bid him up to $2, then I to $3 – thinking I’d drive his price up a bit especially now that I had so little money left, I wanted people to spend money. But then… “bleep, bleep, bleep” when the timer and I won Powell for $3. It’s a good thing he still fit my theme (as per the Pro Tip), but I still felt a bit miffed that my plan to pivot to 3-point shooters went awry.
This now takes me to my next Pro Tip.
Pro Tip #6: There will ALWAYS be bargains at the “Dollar Store.”
As you can see, aggression in auctions tends to make people overspend for certain players and at some point, teams will be left with a budget of $1-3 per player to fill out their rosters. Well maybe with the exception of one miserly drafter who decided to hoard all his fantasy dollars like he could “cash them out” at the end of the draft for some reason.
Here’s a complete look at my team.
Round Pick Player Winning Bid 1 2 Karl-Anthony Towns (Min – C) $71 2 38 Nikola Vucevic (Orl – PF, C) $38 3 43 Deandre Ayton (Pho – C) $33 4 46 Myles Turner (Ind – PF, C) $37 5 48 Dwight Powell (Dal – PF, C) $3 6 92 Delon Wright (Dal – PG, SG) $8 7 112 Spencer Dinwiddie (Bkn – PG) $2 8 122 Taurean Prince (Bkn – SF) $1 9 131 Darius Garland (Cle – PG) $1 10 139 Terrence Ross (Orl – SG, SF) $1 11 143 Bojan Bogdanovic (Uta – SG, SF) $2 12 145 Jerami Grant (Den – SF, PF) $1 13 150 Landry Shamet (LAC – PG) $1 Unused $1
As you can see, I was able to get some decent guards in Delon Wright and Spencer Dinwiddie. Darius Garland was a bit of a roll of the dice here though. The fact that KAT, Vooch and Turner are able to chip in 3s here and there makes competing in that category a bit easier. Considering I have a firm foundation in field goal percentage, I felt Terrence Ross’ 3s and points contributions were worth it. I missed out on Joe Harris (bummer!), but Bojan Bogdanovic ends up being the glue that holds my foray into threes while preserving my FG% together. I also figured I’d get Jerami Grant’s ability to put up a nightly 1-1-1 performance as a topper for my squad’s themed cake.
The point now is, when you look at the team as a whole, does it look like a competitive 12-team roster? Dangit! I think it does. Hopefully, my “Good free-throw shooting Four Horsemen” core will be enough to carry me through into the playoffs and a title.
Lastly, I’d like to leave you with one final Pro Tip.
Pro Tip #7: Enjoy the ride.
Auction drafts, as I said before, are games in themselves and can be both stressful and enjoyable by themselves. Take the time out to appreciate being able to handcraft the team of your dreams, or at least the closest approximation to it. Have fun doing battle with friends and foes alike for the chance to own highly-coveted NBA players. And of course, be ready to go through a roller-coaster ride of emotions – most of which will be good – I promise.