- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Well, that didn't take long. For much of the summer, when prompted for whom I would take with the first pick in a fantasy hoops draft, I said Kobe Bryant. Love the points, the shooting, the all-around game, look, the guy is a monster. I participated in two drafts in August, and somehow Bryant fell to me with the fourth pick in one of them. In another I drafted him first overall.
Then, I had the good fortune of getting the first overall pick in another draft last week, and I chose LeBron James. OK, so you might be wondering, what happened in that span to change my mind? Did Kobe get injured again? Well, kinda, but it's nothing to worry about. Did LBJ shoot a million free throws, with the promise of a much better percentage? Well, he went to the Olympics, but I doubt free-throw shooting was a major prerequisite to attend.
Before this latest draft, I took a long look at our fine projections in ESPN Fantasy, and saw that Bryant was listed first, James third. I also took a gander at the rankings of our crack staff, of which I was part, and there was Bryant third, with James first. So what gives? Well, the projections are essentially the numbers we think each player will provide, and when they are spit into our Player Rater, James' low free-throw percentage took a toll. For the staff rankings, Brian McKitish and Guy Lake each placed Bryant fourth, with Chris Paul and Amare Stoudemire better.
Sometimes too many opinions can be a bad thing, and ultimately I decided I could live with James shooting 71 percent from the line. Like colleague Matthew Berry, I'm a big fan of point guards and power forwards, but I care more about the stats, not the positions. James gets more assists, rebounds and blocks than Bryant, and I can make up the 3s and free-throw percentage. I'll just draft Reggie Miller later. Wait, he retired?
Changing your mind isn't a big deal, especially when you're talking about two extremely talented players, the best in the league, I believe. I'd take Bryant second, Paul third and really, Stoudemire is fourth? Yeah, looking at the rest of the field, I'd have to say so.
Basically, I'm just going to share some thoughts I had during my latest mock draft, and maybe some will be applicable to you when you draft.
• You can't go wrong at No. 1: Whether it's James, Bryant or even 20-10 point guard Paul, you'll be fine, so don't overanalyze things. And if your league uses free throws made rather than percentage, I think Dwight Howard is a top-five guy, if not better than Stoudemire. If it's roto, it's actually tough to take Howard in the second round. I think he's awesome, but I can't stand leaving a draft knowing I punted a category. Draft Dwight Howard, and that's the result, like Shaq back in the day.
• You can go wrong at No. 5: Seems nobody wants to have that pick. I checked not only the drafts I was in, but others, and there's no real consensus for that pick. I've seen Shawn Marion go there, but also slip to Round 2. Dirk Nowitzki doesn't hit the 3s like he used to, and I was wary of him this high even when he did. Kevin Garnett became too unselfish, though, I guess in a good way since he owns an NBA title ring. I don't trust Dwyane Wade to stay healthy. I'd probably go with Steve Nash, but hopefully it's not a keeper league or turnovers are worth double.
• I love picking back-to-back: The best part about picking first is you always get back-to-back picks after that. I tend to narrow my choices down to two or three players each time I pick anyway, so it's helpful to me. Sure, I know it's a really long time until I select again, not being in the middle of a round, but I don't care. I get players I want. I also don't mind picking last, either. In another draft I was last and got loads of dimes with Deron Williams and Allen Iverson. Anyway, in the draft in which I took LeBron, with picks 24 and 25 I went with Tim Duncan and Joe Johnson. Duncan's value is a given; he always gets 20 and 10 and blocks his shots. He's not a kid, but I've got him as a top-20 pick. Atlanta's Johnson seems to be downgraded on a few sites, I assume because people think his assists will drop with Mike Bibby around. Johnson was even better after Bibby arrived, though, and his numbers look a lot like Kobe's but with a lot fewer points. I'm not comparing them, but Johnson looks underrated.
• The point guards go quickly: A year ago, I did a draft with other fantasy industry members on NBA.com, and I kept missing out on the pure point guards. I already had Bryant and Vince Carter, though, and the way I viewed it, why take an Andre Miller type three rounds early? Late-rounder Jamaal Tinsley was terrific for me for a few months, and I won the league despite being picked on for having him and Delonte West as my main point guards. So what did I do in this latest draft? With picks 48 and 49, I went with Tony Parker and Mo Williams, disregarding their deficiencies. I didn't get a ton of assists, and who knows how Williams can get along statistically with James, but I didn't want to have to rely on Kirk Hinrich, Ramon Sessions and Mike Conley, either. I don't think I would do that again, though, since both Parker and Williams went too early, but they wouldn't have been around with my next picks. That's another thing: Don't worry about taking a player too early. Win and your league-mates tend to shut up quickly.
• One bad season and people forget: I didn't really target Mehmet Okur and Greg Oden, but by the time I picked 72 and 73, I thought they should have been off the board. I had Okur in a league last season, held on to him through the first few months when he was drop-worthy, then enjoyed all the treys and boards after the All-Star break. Plus, check out the center pool, it's like catcher in fantasy baseball. With Oden, my expectations are low, quite lower than our projections of 12 points, 10 boards and 2 blocks, but it was the right time and I needed two centers. I actually don't think I would take Oden in that spot the next time. I don't see a healthy season for him, and I always make it a practice to avoid rookies in fantasy hoops. You take Michael Beasley in Round 4. How'd that work out with Kevin Durant a season ago? And don't tell me Beasley is so much better. Durant was supposed to be -- and eventually will be -- a monster.
• The injured guys are falling far: On the day the latest Gilbert Arenas knee problem was announced, we were asked to update our rankings. I didn't rank the Washington scorer all that well to start with, but my first thought was that missing him until New Year's is a big deal, but there remains upside here. Maybe he's following the Shaquille O'Neal plan by missing the games up front, pacing himself for the playoffs. When we all dropped Arenas a few rounds, he ended up at No. 56. But in this draft, while I kept passing him up and others followed, I just couldn't resist with the 97th pick, I had to act. I had most of my starters. For all we know Arenas might miss four months, or all the months, but at some point common sense said he was a better pick than Joakim Noah. For the record, Monta Ellis went only a few picks earlier than Arenas. I'm not targeting the injured folk, but we can't totally dismiss them, either. Just don't be the owner who takes more than one chance on a really injured guy, with Arenas, Ellis and Manu Ginobili the main culprits. Your fantasy team should be balanced not only statistically, but in terms of young and old, durable and risky, whatever.
Bill (Memphis): "Eric, I saw in your rankings you didn't have Dwyane Wade in your top 10, while all the other guys had him No. 5. Wow, that's a big difference. Care to defend yourself?"
Karabell: Sure, no problem. Wade is a fantastic player, no doubt, but he hasn't played more than 50 games in either of the past two seasons. My first pick needs to be someone I can count on for health, a full season. I have no inside information that Wade is hurt right now, but if I continue to downgrade guys like Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming for not playing enough, why don't others view Wade a similar way? Doesn't Allen Iverson get the same -- or more -- points, assists and steals, and isn't he more -- but not all the way -- durable?
And, of course, thank you for reading the blog. Please keep sending comments by clicking here. I read all feedback, whatever the topic, and post at least one e-mail in every blog. Also, if you have topics or general thoughts, send them in. Enjoy your week.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," will be released soon. You can e-mail him here.