The reason Jefferson warrants just as high a pick as LeBron is due to an oft-overlooked facet of fantasy valuation: positional scarcity.
That means identifying which positions have the most and least amount of cumulative value, and just how that value is distributed from top to bottom. (In fantasy football, think of the dearth of elite tight ends. Or how having two top running backs will give you an edge on the competition.)
Positional scarcity is an especially important concept within the ESPN hoops universe, which diversifies the player pool into neat little subgroups: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center.
No matter the size or format of your league, positional scarcity inflates and deflates every single selection whether you like it or not.
How I calculated it
For the purposes of this column, I totaled the top 30 players at each position by dollar amount. Don't worry, even though I'm using auction values, all of this information is just as applicable in standard leagues.
After coming up with a cumulative value, I broke down the dollar totals by projected draft position: Top-10s (projected top-10 draft picks), First-day picks (11-40), Second-day picks (41-80) and Endgamers (81-150). This way, you can see how each position's value is weighted by tier.
I'm also listing the mean average player at each position (the player whose value closest resembles the exact middle of his 30-man group. Think of Joe Bowers in "Idiocracy.") I find that showing the mean provides a valuable tool for seeing where quality begins and ends at a particular lineup spot.
The big finale
As a final show of how much position affects value, I calculated the overall rate of inflation or deflation by position. (I won't go into how. This all may seem incredibly emasculating, but I have a DNA test that proves I have fathered at least one child. I keep a copy in my wallet.)
What this means is that by using ESPN's dollar values, you could recalculate ESPN's entire top 150 players if so inclined. And it would indeed bump up Jefferson (a center) from $47 to $67. Conversely, it would knock down James (a small forward) from $73 to $67.
Overall value of top 30 PGs: $542 (Overall average PG: Baron Davis)
Top-10s: 2 ($126)
First-day picks: 9 ($250)
Second-day picks: 9 ($89)
Endgamers: 10 ($21)
Drop-offs: Third round, sixth round
Inflation: Deflated by 5 percent
If you are sticking to official TMR wisdom and going with multiple point guards, you're in luck. Overall, what we've got is a rapidly unfolding and radical changing of the guard (no pun intended -- I really, really mean it).
With the First-day picks, you've got a mix of aging fantasy greats duking it out with up-and-comers. Namely, Steve Nash, Chauncey Billups and Jason Kidd are desperately holding on to their top-25 status with Jose Calderon, Rajon Rondo and Devin Harris knocking at the door.
If you're not grabbing Chris Paul or Deron Williams, I wouldn't break the bank on Nash, Billups or Kidd. They have the combined age of a California Redwood and all are prime candidates to regress this season (but if I had to stick with one in the second or third round, I'd go with Billups).
The real value here lies in Rounds 4-6. There will be a couple of potential studs who will slip: Gilbert Arenas, Monta Ellis and Russell Westbrook could all end up being top-25 players at season's end.
Of course, these guys all have various question marks: Gilbert Arenas and his knee, Baron Davis and his career average of 67 games played, Monta Ellis and his moped. Then there are the younger point guards who seem to be either over- or under-hyped: Derrick Rose (over), Westbrook (under), Mario Chalmers (under).
Looking deeper, Mike Conley, Mike Bibby and T.J. Ford should all slip far enough (ninth to 10th round) to warrant a flier. Jason Terry is somewhat undervalued due to his bench role, but his dual positional eligibility makes him a great seventh- or eighth-round pick (more on this later).
Overall value of top 30 SGs: $498 (Overall average SG: Stephen Jackson)
Top-10s: 3 ($191)
First-day picks: 7 ($210)
Second-day picks: 12 ($79)
Endgamers: 8 ($18)
Drop-offs: Second round, fourth round, 10th round
Inflation: Inflated by 3 percent
I don't mean to go all Lou Dobbs on you, but there is a war on the middle class at the shooting guard spot. It's an inordinately top-heavy position, with 10 good-to-great players and then a lot of utility contributors and bench fodder. Which means you should look to snare a shooting guard on your board by the time the draft dribbles past Round 4.
With the elites (in order of quality: Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade), you really can't go wrong, unless you're a little worried about Wade's durability. The lack of depth beyond the top 10 players here certainly justifies spending a first-rounder on one of the three.
If you don't acquire a blue-chipper, you sure as heck better grab one at the next tier, because you're getting into dicey territory once you get past the top 10.
Of these, everyone loves Andre Iguodala going into this season, but he has burned me in the past. Watching him, the other A.I. seems to lack the instinct to be an elite scorer (like Kevin Garnett), which makes him a great all-around player, but probably puts him just behind Joe Johnson and Brandon Roy.
Dual eligibility is a big reason I really like Monta Ellis for this season. Any time you can get 5-plus assists at the 2, you go for it, because it's going to build the statistical depth winning teams crave. Just make sure you're getting your 3s from another source, and sure as heck don't pair him with Andre Miller (that is unless you've got Andrea Bargnani at center and Troy Murphy at power forward).
Vince Carter made the mold when it comes to chemistry-immolating behavior, but because of that rep, he always goes a round later than he should. Stepping into the Hedo Turkoglu slot in Orlando, Carter should be good for something in the vicinity of 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists a night.
Eric Gordon's Clipperness (a real fantasy term, at least in my world), led to his flying a little under the radar, but he was having a gangbusters second half until he got dinged. John Salmons also had a nice second half after joining the Bulls, and there's no reason to believe he won't equal those numbers in 2010.
At this point, I'd rather have either Ben or Eric Gordon than the sexier-repped, yet injury-plagued Manu Ginobili or Josh Howard. The Allen Iverson-O.J. Mayo dynamic is not one I'd wish for as a coach, but I'll be watching this situation closely all October. Mark my words: Memphis is going to be a fantasy gold mine this season.
Overall value of top 30 SFs: $559 (Overall average SF: Vince Carter)
Top-10s: 3 ($215)
First-day picks: 8 ($224)
Second-day picks: 12 ($103)
Endgamers: 7 ($17)
Drop-offs: Second round, fourth round
Inflation: Deflated by 8 percent
In terms of impact players, there isn't a deeper and more evenly distributed position this season, with $439 of projected value in the top 11 picks. Throw in the fact that there are just six frontline small forwards who don't have dual eligibility (LeBron, Danny Granger, Carmelo Anthony, Caron Butler, Rudy Gay and Turkoglu), and you've got a smorgasbord of fantasy goodness staring right back at you.
To me, the biggest question with the elites is whether or not Granger is worthy of a top-five pick. Believe me, there's going to be a guy (or girl) in your league who wants to look like a genius and will take him at No. 3 after Paul and LeBron.
On the surface, Granger is my fantasy ideal: blocks, steals, boards, 3s, 25 ppg and boffo percentages. But there's something hauntingly Don Draper-ish about the guy. Granger is just too perfect. Deep down, both Granger and Draper possess a quality that makes me wonder just what the heck they're hiding. And I fear it's something that could bring my world crashing down at any moment. And I certainly wouldn't trust either of them alone with The Current Mrs. Cregan. Especially that home-wrecker Draper.
I'm wondering if Gerald Wallace has come full circle from being criminally underrated to unbelievably overvalued back to underrated once more. He's an injury risk -- and an even bigger injury risk to others (just ask Gilbert Arenas) -- but could give you some nice value in the middle rounds.
As the only Wizards fan I know, it pains me to write this, but I'd stay away from Caron Butler this season (at least until the fourth round.) Beyond the injury concerns, the Wizards have approximately 18 swingmen on their roster. Butler will surely start, but touches are going to be harder to come by with Arenas' return and all the new depth.
If you don't nab a top-10 small forward, don't fret, because you have some tantalizing options in the 11 to 21 range. You could dream big and roll the dice on Josh Smith or Stephen Jackson. Or go steady with Rashard Lewis, Boris Diaw or Hedo Turkoglu. Or go upside with Rudy Gay or Jeff Green. I am absolutely besotted with the Thunder and am looking for Westbrook and Jeff Green to take huge fantasy leaps this season.
If you want a lesson in how fickle Ye Fantasy Gods can be, look no further than Shawn Marion (also known as yesterday's Danny Granger.) He's only No. 22 on the preseason list at small forward, but still could pack a punch in a utility role on your squad. He's capable of a double-double with a steal and a block and won't kill your percentages.
Overall value of top 30 PFs: $607 (Overall average PF: Gerald Wallace)
Top-10s: 2 ($105)
First-day picks: 11 ($342)
Second-day picks: 15 ($153)
Endgamers: 2 ($7)
Drop-offs: Second round, fourth round
Inflation: Deflated by 15 percent
This is the bargain bin, pure and simple. So what should drive your pick at power forward?
After being terrified by the next section of this column, you'll see why I heartily recommend Pau Gasol ahead of Dirk Nowitzki. Personally, if I'm not taking Gasol, I'm waiting until at least the third round before going power forward (unless someone slips a crazy amount, like Dirk or Amare Stoudemire to the mid-second round, etc.). Garnett's and Duncan's minutes are going to be managed beyond the point that I can justify picking them with a second-rounder when there are so many other quality power forwards to be had in the third to sixth round.
If he does well this preseason, Elton Brand is a solid pick in the late third round to fourth round. He may not have center eligibility, but he has another quality too many 4s lack: elite shot-blocking ability.
You'd probably guess I'd be totally in the tank for Troy Murphy (and you'd be right -- Jim O'Brien's system isn't talked about nearly enough in terms of what it produces in fantasy numbers). Murphy's projected double-double and 1.8 3s per game adds up to a great late third-rounder. David Lee doesn't block shots, but he qualifies at center, making him another value pick in this range. And if you want to shake things up in a competitive league, there's always Josh Smith.
Any one of the following could be available to you in the fifth or sixth round: Antawn Jamison, Nene, Al Harrington, Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge. All are solid starters whom you won't have to reach for to own.
Then, in the sixth to eighth round lies the intrigue: a string of rising young players and veterans with baggage. Tyrus Thomas, Boris Diaw, Charlie Villanueva, Andrea Bargnani, Luis Scola, Kevin Love you get the picture. Again, Bargnani, Al Horford and Scola deserve special consideration due to their center-eligibility.
And I can confirm ESPN's blurb that Anthony Randolph was indeed the talk of the summer league. He's going to be a sexy sleeper. Just remember Randolph toils for The Black Hole of Roto, Don Nelson, so don't reach for him.
Total value of top 30 Cs: $372 (Overall average C: Mehmet Okur)
Top-10s: 1 ($54)
First-day picks: 6 ($220)
Second-day picks: 8 ($79)
Endgamers: 15 ($19)
Drop-offs: Every round, but especially the second and fourth rounds
Inflation: Inflated by 40 percent
Trust me on this one: If you take Dwight Howard, Gasol or Jefferson in the late first round, a wave of overwhelming calm and tranquility will enwrap you, allowing the rest of your draft to magically fall into place. (I make no guarantees with Stoudemire, but he's just a hair behind the first three.)
Remember what I said about that smart owner who snares Granger early? That same guy is going to be targeting Brook Lopez. Don't get me wrong, Lopez is definitely worth a mid-third rounder but don't fall in love.
And once you get past Lee, Lopez and Nene, you're entering murky waters, the waters of the No. 2 center. (Yes, Mehmet Okur, Andris Biedrins and Marcus Camby are all technically No. 1s, but all have red flags, be it bum knees, Clipperness or Don Nelson.)
Now, in the eighth to 10th rounds, you've got no shortage of quality No. 2s: Emeka Okafor, Horford and Andrew Bogut are all nifty upside picks this season. I've especially got my eye on Okafor because I'm anxious to see how playing with Chris Paul ups his offensive numbers.
So, please stock up at center. Don't be shy.
If you end up running out Horford as your top center, you need to start thinking one of two things: trade, or using the time you were going to spend this year on fantasy hoops to address other areas of your life.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.