FIWK the NBA: It's raining young guards

In reviewing the FIWK draft primer at the halfway point of the season, I always find it helpful to look at who has achieved expectations and who has underperformed so far. Without question, the standout performers have been mostly young guards. In fact, the overall recommendation to ‘draft young’ has been a winner. Among those listed, here are the young players outperforming draft position:

Ty Lawson (especially before injury); DeMarcus Cousins (still insane though); Mike Conley; Greg Monroe; James Harden; Marcus Thornton; DeAndre Jordan; Jeff Teague; Paul George; Kyle Lowry; Marcin Gortat; Roy Hibbert; Jarrett Jack

And in the interest of fairness, here are the duds from my list:

Tyreke Evans (started slow, playing better now); Serge Ibaka (same as Evans); JaVale McGee (not terrible, but not a big jump); Toney Douglas; JJ Barea; Ty Thomas; Landry Fields … and that’s about it. Seriously, most of the young dudes have been balling.

I did withhold one favorite sleeper, Danilo Gallinari, because I was nervous he might get taken from me in my draft (Aaron is sneaky). Of course I published this so late it didn’t matter. He was also great before injury. And there have been several high-profile young dudes who I did not list but have definitely outperformed their draft position:

Kyrie Irving (approx. 4th round); Rick Rubio (9th round?); Nic Batum (10th); Lou Williams (12th); Ryan Anderson (13th); MarShon Brooks (undrafted); Jeremy Lin (u); Nikola Pekovic (u); Ersan Ilyasova (u).

That is a pretty strong list. The one thing almost everyone has in common is that they are young and showed great improvement combined with some opportunity. Lin is the best and most obvious example – he clearly improved his game a ton since last year, when he didn’t play, and also he landed on a team that desperately needed a PG and so gave him the opportunity to get minutes. The same goes for basically every player on this list.

Special mention needs to be made for a couple of older PGs who have outperformed draft position: Steve Nash (4th round) and Jose Calderon (9th). Both are having throwback years to a few years ago, when they were super-efficient from the field and line, hit 3s, and dished a ton of assists. Both are performing 2-3 rounds better than their draft position to the season’s midpoint.

What stands out to me from the above names is that thirteen are young guards. Throw in the stud guards always picked high (Paul, Rose, Westbrook, Williams, Kobe, Wade, and the oft-injured Curry) and that is fully twenty studly guards who can fill up traditional scoring/assist/FT/3s/steals numbers that are the staple of the Fantasy Kahn strategy. (Only John Wall has been a disappointment among highly-drafted guards, and he’s bouncing back.)

The other position that is glaring for its dearth of talent is SF. The above-mentioned Batum and Gallinari (pre-injury) were both top-5 SFs in fantasy, which few would have imagined going into the season. Rudy Gay and Josh Smith (who does have SF eligibility) are near them, and then there’s a cluster of good but underperforming-their-draft spot guys: Igoudala, Pierce, Carmelo, Granger, Joe Johnson. In fact, Carmelo is ranked 19th on the Player Rater, sandwiched between such luminaries as Carlos Delfino, Thad Young, and Jared Dudley. Ugh.

Which brings me to the only two studs in fantasy this year: LeBron James and Kevin Durant. These guys are so good that they are worth almost 2 of any other player combination in fantasy, once you factor in SF positional scarcity. LeBron is singlehandedly keeping Aaron’s team afloat in our fantasy league. Both guys absolutely fill up points, board well, and are efficient. Interestingly, the differences are slight but meaningful when crafting a strategy around them: so far this year, LeBron is shooting better on FG% but Durant is a way bigger help for FT%; LeBron is getting tons of assists as usual and Durant is hitting more 3s as usual; and surprisingly Durant is blocking more shots this year (1.2/game vs. LBJ’s 0.7/g), which I think is just random chance. The blocks are putting KD ahead of LBJ on the Player Rater for the season, but I think the blocks will even out and LeBron will be even if not ahead by year end. Personally I think LeBron’s astronomical FG% and assists from the SF position are more rare and therefore more valuable to build a team around. Either way, both players are one-man wrecking crews.

What players have stood out to you so far, both positive and negative? Othern Lin, I am particularly surprised that two rookie PGs – Irving and Rubio – have been so impactful in fantasy. That is rare for rookies. What else has surprised you?


  1. I forgot to add Jrue Holiday to the "good young guards" list above - although he's basically played to the level of his draft position, wouldn't you say Aaron?

    Two other things stand out to me in the season thus far: key injuries and the rarity of blocks.

    Regarding injuries, Aaron has first-hand experience losing Eric Gordon basically all season. He was drafted in the 2nd round generally, and was expected to challenge Kobe as one of fantasy's best guards this year.

    Steph Curry's frequent ankle/foot injuries have also mitigated his talent; he was drafted in the first round this year, but due to injury has been a huge disappointment.

    Likewise, Andrew Bogut was due for a bounceback year after being injury plagued last season... except he's even more injured this year. People expecting him to put up Marc Gasol-like stats got totally burned. You have to wonder if perennial injuries to those 3 players make them untrustworthy in fantasy drafts every again.

    On the flip side, the same could be said for Andrew Bynum until this year. He probably will still get injured before the season ends, but so far he's been healthy and paid big dividends for the people brave enough to draft him.

  2. Actually there are two other key injuries I thought were interesting. Manu Ginobili going down was interesting because he was posting absurdly good numbers in limited minutes when healthy. He opened the door for a more assertive Tony Parker when he got hurt.

    The other is Zach Randolph, who had an amazing throwback season last year and looked like a slam dunk 20-10 guy with good percentages again this year. His injury combined with the "David West malaise" syndrome that Aaron mentioned leaves a big void in those efficient 20-10 PFs... previously David West, Zach Randolph, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Luis Scola, and LaMarcus Aldridge all could be counted for high efficiency, 20 pts + 10 boards (or at least 18+10), and minimal blocks at PF. Now Z-Bo is hurt; West, Boozer, and Scola are suffering from mediocrity malaise; and only Aldridge and Bosh are really performing that role admirably. Which changes the dynamic of how a team can be built.

    It seems a bit like the reliable fantasy options are going through a generational shift both at the guard position above, and at the PF position in this scenario. Worth keeping an eye on.

  3. As for blocks... you really have to go to ESPN's Player Rater and sort by Blocks to truly appreciate the rarity of blocks this season. There are only 8 players averaging 2 blocks or more per game... but look at the player rater: each of those players is more than 4 standard deviations above the average in the category. This means that hardly anyone else is blocking shots in large volumes.

    Furthermore, only 4 of those players can reliably be considered star players: Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol, Josh Smith, and Andrew Bynum. The other 4 are mid-tier or below, and the next group of high-block guys are barely even owned. Keep this rarity in mind, because I'm going to get in detail on it during the next post.

  4. Ok, I think I've given up on this season. Not that I will stop making moves and competing, but that emotionally, I am prepared to lose. This means that I don't mind sharing every thought I have had on fantasy basketball because I don't care if Royce steals my [superior] ideas. I may have the ideas, but Royce is significantly better at implementing know, by actually paying attention.

    It is my belief that in head to head, you need to decide which two categories you are going to punt. But when I got the second pick and drafted LeBron James, I was seduced by his all-around fantasy goodness and tried to craft a balanced team. LeBron, LaMarcus Aldridge, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Manu...I was working pretty well on pretty much every category (assuming Lebron gets a block a game and those three guards keep their FG% over 44%), but alas, two of my top five picks have been injured, my next two picks were David West and Luis Scola and my balanced team loses 3-5 every week, but in different categories.

    Early in the season, I wrote down these names to target. If I decided to punt blocks and trade away Aldridge, I would target Ray Allen, Ty Lawson, Jason Terry and DeMar DeRozan. If I traded away Eric Gordon and/or Manu (punting 3's), I would have targeted Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, Zach Randolph or David Lee.

    When I started looking at possible trade scenarios recently, I wrote down Kyle Lowry, Greg Monroe, and Ty Lawson again. Those are the three guys I was targeting two weeks ago.

  5. I can't argue that you have good ideas. This statement is EXACTLY how to think about fantasy head-to-head basketball: "It is my belief that in head to head, you need to decide which two categories you are going to punt." Unfortunately you didn't follow your own advice.

    I break it down in my head like this: pick 2 categories to punt based on your first pick (or 2 picks depending on draft position), then those top guys will help you determine what 2-3 categories you want to dominate, and the remaining 3 categories you want to try to win by building a balanced roster with those specific categories in mind.

    Aaron, because we're in head-to-head, you DO have the capability to massively rebuild your roster to compete in a few discrete categories if you really want to. The good news: the rare categories are open to contributions spikes if you focus on them. I have some ideas I'll pitch in Friday's column.

    The toughest thing for you other than injuries has been the mediocrity malaise of David West and Luis Scola... they normally only give FG%, FT% (for PFs), pts, and rebs, and right now they aren't particularly good in pts or rebs so you have got some empty players on the roster. And they're tough to trade cause they've been ineffective.

  6. You're exactly right that those two guys have been killers. I specifically drafted those two to get good percentages from the PF position. Along with above average points and average rebounds. West has seen his points drop from 18 to 12 and his FG% drop to 46%.

    My biggest problem was that I didn't do a mock draft with LeBron James because I never really expected to get him. I didn't know what categories to punt. He's too good.

  7. Haha wow that's an interesting dilemma... you actually got screwed by lucking into LeBron in the 3rd pick, because you were totally unprepared for him. Maybe that was the theory behind our league letting Kevin Love fall to me at #10 - they were try to screw me by hoping I was unprepared for him. Well I'm prepared, league of jerks!

    You have yourself to blame a little bit with West. He is coming back this year from having blown out his ACL last year... that is tough for any athlete to recover from fully the next season. It was very unlikely he would perform at his career norms.

  8. Yeah...I didn't know he tore his ACL last year. That might have helped me make a better decision.