In last week's column, we laid out this season's worst investments; this week we look at the best investments, measured in dollar per Player Rater point. I'll include some average draft positions as well so no one feels left out.
To help set up why certain players were so valuable and others weren't, I'll take one last detour to explain.
Worst investment in a fantasy category
For the 11th season in a row (since I started writing about fantasy basketball), the pursuit of points led to the biggest drop-off in acquired value. As in, many of the worst player investments in terms of dollars per player point tended to be players who delivered a large chunk of their production via points scored.
To put it bluntly: Many of you overpaid for points. That's not exactly breaking news.
But why did we pay too much for assists?
Because the high-end market at point guard has become unstable. Other positions have begun to provide better value, more depth and fewer games lost due to injury.
Think of how many past "super producers" at point guard are now injury risks, including Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook. That's a shocking number of elite 10-plus-Player-Rater-point elites.
This season, the real story at point guard was the ascension of John Wall, the stabilizing health of Stephen Curry and the maturation of Damian Lillard. Come October, those three should be the first point guards off the board. And if you miss out on them, you have Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, as well as IT2 (Isaiah Thomas), depending on where he ends up.
I think you take those six (maybe minus Thomas) before thinking of risking big money (or a high pick) on CP3, Irving or Westbrook.
Meanwhile, small forward continues to offer more depth than any other fantasy position. But another position scrambled up the charts to grab the title for "best investment." There has been a shift in terms of which areas on the court yield the most production per dollar (or draft picks) ...
Best investment in a position
1. Power Forward
I've been banging this drum all season. The hidden story in fantasy hoops in 2013-14 has been the elevation of power forward to the premium position.
Power forward has provided us with eight players at 10 points or better on the Player Rater (DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka, Dirk, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love and LeBron James). No other position packed a more concentrated high-end punch.
Meanwhile, shooting guard has offered only five players with 10-plus Player Rater points, and only four small forwards have achieved the mark.
The scary thing is that power forward production is set to improve in 2014-15. Love, Davis, Griffin, Cousins, Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Derrick Favors all have yet to hit their ceiling, and outside of maybe Duncan, it's hard to see any power forwards regressing next season. (I'm done trying to predict when Duncan will finally start winding down. He's still at the "Gandalf the White" stage of aged genius.)
So which statistics powered big men to become the best value in fantasy this season? Having the market cornered on fantasy's most undervalued category is a good place to start.
Best investment in a category
2. (tie) Field goal percentage
2. (tie) 3-pointers
It's no coincidence that most undervalued positions (power forward, center) happen to excel in two of the three categories that offered the most value in terms of dollar per player point, blocks and field goal percentage.
The 3-pointers are another story. If you had one of fantasy's best investments of 2013-14, and he wasn't blocking shots, he was draining 3s. More specifically, he was draining 3s while maintaining a decent field goal percentage. He was offering volume and efficiency.
Just like in the actual NBA, 3-point efficiency has become one of our most undervalued assets. Teams such as the Spurs figured out ages ago that the Danny Greens and Marco Marco Belinellis of this world work for relatively cheap. The fantasy world has finally picked up on the trend.
I can hear the pro-point fulminations now. Why are points overvalued while 3-pointers are undervalued? After all, players who score a lot of points generally throw some 3s into the mix, right? Well, right. But the most valuable 3-point producers were players who took a disproportionately high number of their attempts from downtown.
Allow me to elucidate, by way of introduction of fantasy basketball's best investment of 2013-14. This player went from 2.6 3-point attempts per game at a 34.8 percent clip to 5.8 3-point attempts at a 41.5 percent clip. He went from hitting 0.9 3-pointers per game to 2.4 3-pointers per game.
This player averaged only 11.2 field goal attempts per game, but more than half of his attempts came from behind the 3-point line. All while maintaining a better-than-NBA-average 45.3 field goal percentage.
This player also shot 78.8 percent from the line, grabbed a career-high 6.3 rebounds and is 12th in the league in steals (at 1.7 per game).
And he'll be a free agent. The envelope, please .....
Best fantasy investment of 2013-14
Ariza's accountant is in for a busy summer. But you'd be wrong to claim he stepped it up Larry Sanders-style only in a quest to get paid. The maturation of Ariza has been slowly building since the 2010-11 season.
Just compare Ariza's numbers this year with his previous career year back in 2009-10 with the Rockets. That year he played a career-high 36.5 minutes per game, took a career-high 13.9 shots and attempted a career-high 3.2 free throw attempts on his way to posting a career high of 14.9 points per game. But he shot only 39 percent from the floor, 33 percent from downtown and 65 percent at the line, all below the NBA average.
It was a high-volume campaign to get back at the Lakers after they spurned him for Ron Artest. After that season, Ariza's volume numbers dipped, then started to rebuild again as he took fewer and better shots. The signs were all there in 2012-13, but Ariza was locked in a timeshare with Martell Webster. Webster slipped, Bradley Beal got hurt and Ariza was suddenly playing 35 minutes per game.
Early in his career, Ariza would go on two-week tears that would resemble his 2013-14 percentages and then regress. Now he has come full circle. He has gone from a volume-based fantasy asset in need of some efficiency to an efficient player in need of minutes.
And he's still only 28. And he's a great defender.
Second-best investment of 2013-14
Just like with Ariza, you could see this coming. Lopez posted a sneaky-good campaign in 2012-13 (11.3 points, 1.6 blocks, 53.4 field goal percentage). His season in New Orleans showed that maybe all he needed was more minutes (26.0 minutes per game in 2012-13) to stop being called "the other Lopez."
The Trail Blazers' lack of depth makes Portland a great destination for players looking to establish fantasy value. It happened for Lillard in 2012-13, and now Lopez is averaging a career-high 31.7 minutes. As a result, he has gone from being a top-20 center to the top 8.
But it wasn't just the minutes. Lopez has cured his "Lopez-itis." He started to rebound at a respectable rate for a 7-foot, 255-pound man who also happened to be the starting center for a 50-win team. Lopez grabbed 8.6 rebounds per night, a 50 percent improvement over his previous career high of 5.6.
Third-best investment of 2013-14
When Green first came into the league with the Celtics, I tabbed him as a sleeper because players with his drool-inducing athletic ability have a tendency to be late bloomers. (The evolution of Randy Foye is another example).
Then Green proceeded to promptly play his way out of the NBA and spent two years playing in Russia and China. Then he came back to the U.S. and played in the D-League. Finally, he made it all the way back with the Nets.
In 2011-12, you could see that Green was capable of making subtle improvements to his numerical resume; the Pacers (Green's team in 2012-13) were just a bad fit. When Green was traded to Phoenix, he was an injury or two away from establishing some real value.
So when Green blew up, I wasn't shocked. Pleasantly surprised, but not shocked. He was always on the late-bloomer program ... I just didn't realize it would take quite this long.
Like Ariza, Green has posted uber-value because more than half of his attempts have been 3-pointers (6.3 of 12.3 attempts per game). The next step in his fantasy evolution will come when he learns to improve his steals rate (just 0.8 per game).
All-Undervalued, First Team
PG: Darren Collison, Los Angeles Clippers ($0.19 per PR point; ADP: plus-150; Player Rater: 62)
SG: Gerald Green, Suns ($0.13 per PR point; ADP: 150; Player Rater: 42)
SF: Trevor Ariza, Wizards ($0.11 per PR point; ADP: 144; Player Rater: 32)
PF: Markieff Morris, Suns ($0.16 per PR point; ADP: 143 ADP; Player Rater: 60)
C: Robin Lopez, Trail Blazers ($0.11 per PR point; ADP: 146; Player Rater: 27)
How good has Phoenix been this season? Three of the top eight investments in fantasy played for the Suns. Morris had one of my favorite seasons of 2013-14, nothing flashy, just steady across-the-board numbers that built into a great month of March (16.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.8 3-pointers. 0.9 steals, .540 FG%, .812 FT%).
There's nothing about Collison's volume stats that jump out at you (11.4 points, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.9 3-pointers), but he proved capable of providing some out-of-position stats when he shifted to shooting guard last month. When Collison started taking 3s, his value shot up; for March, Collison launched 3.6 3-pointers per game, making 1.6 of them, and also chipped in 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
I don't think Collison is the next Eric Bledsoe -- he already has had that chance -- but he can be a nice fantasy bench player. Just remember that he's backing up three players (CP3, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick) who have a hard time staying on the court.
All-Undervalued, Second Team
PG: Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings ($0.22 per PR point; ADP: 95 ADP; Player Rater: 20)
SG: Jodie Meeks, Los Angeles Lakers ($0.15 per PR point; ADP: 149 ADP; Player Rater: 48)
SF: Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks ($0.21 per PR point; ADP: plus-150; Player Rater: 87)
PF: Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns ($0.17 per PR point, ADP: plus-150; Player Rater: 73)
C: Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia 76ers/Cleveland Cavaliers ($0.14 per PR point; ADP: 128 ADP; Player Rater: 30)
This list shows the value of paying extra attention to lottery teams. Milwaukee was a roto sinkhole in 2013-14, but they do have some young players with fantasy potential in Middleton, John Henson, Nate Wolters and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Meeks deserves some sort of special achievement award for most bankable production within a lost season. He waded through the "Buss-ian mire" to post career highs in points, 3s, steals, assists and rebounds while shooting 40 percent from downtown.
Best big-name investments
PG: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors ($0.22 per PR point; ADP: 92 ADP; Player Rater: 15)
SG: Monta Ellis, Dallas Mavericks ($1.78 per PR point; ADP: 40; Player Rater: 23)
SF: Rudy Gay, Raptors/Kings ($2.15 per PR point; ADP: 35; Player Rater: 26)
PF: Blake Griffin, Clippers ($2.09 per PR point; ADP: 30; Player Rater: 13)
C: Chris Bosh, Miami Heat ($1.52 per PR point; ADP: 45; Player Rater: 21)
These are the type of players who win fantasy leagues: mid-round picks that yield upper-round value. And the one thing these guys have in common: Negative items on their resume regarding their makeup or style of play. Ellis is a gunner, Gay is selfish, Bosh is aloof, Lowry is unstable and Griffin is all slam dunks and no midrange game.
DeMarcus Cousins, owner of one of the worst reps in the NBA, almost made this list ahead of Bosh. Just keep in mind that culture is important, but you always need to allow some room for growth.
Bosh quietly posted one of the most underrated seasons in fantasy. His free agency decision will be one of the most important this summer in terms of resetting fantasy value. Does he go somewhere where he can be a first or second option on a nightly basis? That wouldn't necessarily be the best basketball decision, but it could make him a top-20 player in 2014-15.
Best senior citizens
PG: Jose Calderon (0.69 per PR point; ADP: 75; Player Rater: 51)
SG: Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks ($0.23 per PR point; ADP: 107; Player Rater: 46)
SF: Shawn Marion, Mavericks ($0.21 per point; ADP: 135 ADP; Player Rater: 78)
PF: Tim Duncan ($1.71 per point, ADP: 46; Player Rater; 29)
C: Samuel Dalembert, Mavericks ($0.25 per point, ADP: plus-150; Player Rater: 98)
I've written in detail about "The Maverick Effect," the otherworldly transformation players seem to undergo after signing with Dallas. I wonder if it's really the Dirk Effect. There's something about playing with the guy that reenergizes NBA careers.
The Mavs have cap space this summer, and whomever they sign needs to immediately vault a round or two up your preseason draft lists. Chris Bosh or Greg Monroe would be two good fantasy fits.
Best long-term investments
PG: Michael Carter-Williams, 76ers ($0.28 per PR point; ADP: 125; Player Rater: 88)
SG: Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic ($1.03 per PR point; ADP: 69 ADP; Player Rater: 55)
SF: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs ($1.79 per PR point; ADP: 50; Player Rater: 44)
PF: Thaddeus Young, 76ers ($1.24 per PR point; ADP: 60; Player Rater: 34)
C: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons ($1.20 per PR point; ADP: 62 ADP; Player Rater: 35)
I'm conflicted about Carter-Williams. He posted the best rookie numbers this side of Oladipo this season, but those numbers were generated in Philadelphia's conscience-free offensive system. That said, he'll still be in that system next season, which is why he's at point guard instead of Trey Burke. We just have to hope he irons out his shot before he becomes the next Josh Smith.
I went with Leonard over DeMar DeRozan. Leonard's pure SF pedigree won out in the end. Just beware of overpaying for Leonard. As long as Duncan and Parker continue to produce, his value will be held hostage by San Antonio's system.
Oladipo is going to be a top-30 player in 2013-14. That's a big leap. But I don't think he'll be worthy of a first- or second-round pick. I'm concerned preseason palaver will drive his price up a round too high. In a way, Oladipo's overvaluation is a byproduct of the lack of quality in this season's rookie class.
Just remember, by Columbus Day, we will have overhyped rookies available at every position. There are going to be tons of dollars overpaid for Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, so keep your powder dry and get ready to pounce when your draft pool's available value begins to rise.