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Welcome to fantasy hoops '08

9/28/2007

While fantasy basketball drafts are normally about getting stars and building a balanced team, I won't soon forget the best pick I made, or at least the most memorable one. Turn the clock all the way back to the fall of 1989, in my formative years playing fantasy, and the same day the Athletics dispatched the Giants in the earthquake-delayed World Series. I chose Terry Catledge with my last draft pick on a Saturday night.

I knew who Catledge was because the 76ers had drafted him, and knew he had been a double-digit scorer and decent per-minute rebounder with the Washington Bullets (yeah, it was a long time ago!). The Orlando Magic was building a team, and Catledge figured to be one of the few scorers the maiden franchise had. Ancient Reggie Theus was there, Nick Anderson came via the draft, but would the old man still have it (he did), or would the rookie start right away (he did not)?

I knew on opening night I had made a solid pick, when Catledge scored 25 points and added 16 boards against Charles Shackleford, Dennis Hopson, Joe Barry Carroll and the rest of the Nets. Catledge ended up averaging 19.4 points and 7.6 rebounds that season. He never did either again, and he was out of the NBA three seasons later, but the memories, ah, they live on.

The NBA won't introduce any new franchises this season, though I'd never put anything past the wise, feared commish David Stern (can they fill an arena in Barcelona on a moment's notice?), but you'll be making new memories this 2007-08 season in fantasy basketball. Maybe you'll steal a Catledge-type late. Someone has to score on the bad teams, and not all the roles are set. Maybe you'll guess correct in the Houston point guard battle, figure out who else will score in Seattle or convince the annoying, unprepared guy in your league that Greg Oden will be back in two weeks. "Sure, Bob, he'd make a fine third-round pick. He'll be fine. I'm thinking of taking him with my next pick, ya know, so act now." Ah, good times.

Until then, I have some general thoughts about fantasy basketball, and I intend to share them this season, so get ready. For now, with two drafts already under my belt, here are some things I've noticed, combined with draft strategies I normally use.

Know your rules: In one of the drafts I did the questions began to flow on the chat board in Round 2, like "do turnovers count?" and "how many true point guards do we need?" Um, you should know all this long before you draft. What are your stat categories? What is the starting lineup? Is the position eligibility already set for the season, and can I slip Al Harrington in as a center? Know these things and make the proper preparations before the draft.

The draft is critical: Why is it so important to know what you're doing before the draft? Because in fantasy basketball, unlike its baseball and football counterparts, in my opinion, it's rare a team can survive a bad draft. It's tougher to make trades when you don't have anything to deal. In football, you can always find a hot free agent after a big week and hope he keeps it up. In baseball, trade a pitcher for an outfielder, it's simple. In hoops, you need to draft well.

Get the right stars: Don't merely look at last season's leaders in scoring or another stat and assume they will do it again. While I wouldn't pass up Kobe Bryant with the No. 1 pick, mistakes can be made in the first round, and more so in Rounds 3-5 when a fantasy team needs to show balance, not feature Jason Kidd as its leading rebounder one hour into the proceedings.

Target point guards and power forwards: Back in the day, there used to be little men who would go 20/10 in points and assists. Now the point guards don't do that. There remain 20/10 big men who pile on the rebounds, but how many of them are true centers? Exactly. Build around ones and fours and chances are you'll have the assists and rebounds you need, and can always find a Kevin Martin type to do the scoring.

Know the stats: While some of the stats will surely change, based on new faces in new places, playing time, new coaches, things like that, most players have their skill set known already. Eddy Curry isn't going to all of a sudden start passing the ball, and Ben Wallace didn't take a free throw shooting course over the summer. Draft your players with proper expectations. Sure, last year's stats don't mean a thing, as some players improve and others get worse, but you should have an idea what you're getting. It's fine to take chances when appropriate, but have a solid core in place with balanced stats.

Don't assume trade: I note this in every league, yet still I see people leave a draft with no wide receivers, stolen bases or in hoops, blocks or threes, assuming they'll just fix it in a trade. Those seem like the obvious stat categories that get glossed over in basketball. Not everyone can block a shot. Don't assume your top rebounders do it. I chose Utah's Carlos Boozer in Round 3 of a recent draft, and I knew he wouldn't help me in blocks, but could I have chosen someone who scored and rebounded less, but blocked a lot more shots, like Jermaine O'Neal? I could have, but I didn't. Trading isn't easy, not in leagues where everyone knows what they're doing, and why would someone want to help you if you didn't draft, say, a point guard? Exactly.

Avoid the really injured: There will be cases where a player isn't terribly hurt, and he's going to miss a few weeks in November, and you can get a draft day steal, but I'm talking about the players who are really hurt, like Amare Stoudemire was for 2005-06. He played three games that season. You thought he'd be back by Valentine's Day. He wasn't. I wouldn't bother with Greg Oden for this season, for example. He's done. And in keeper leagues, I wouldn't assume he's going to be one of your top-5 options having not played a game.

Avoid most rookies: You know how many rookies last season were really worth it on draft day? Portland's Brandon Roy was the only first-year guy to average as many as 12 points per game. No rookie topped Shelden Williams getting 5.4 rebounds per night. Wow, that's impressive. What, you drafted J.J. Redick and Tyrus Thomas in Rounds 5 and 6? Sorry, you lost. Kevin Durant comes guaranteed, but most of the players you think are going to dominate right away won't.

Got thoughts? Send those comments by clicking here, and let me know what you'd like me to write about, what you think of other blogs, mistakes I have made that I probably didn't mean to, whatever you want. Get ready for what should be an interesting fantasy hoops season.