It's last Halloween. The witching hour. It's the night of your fantasy basketball draft.
You and your fellow fantasy basketball enthusiasts have gathered to launch your yearly quest for hoop-based supremacy. Like the opening of every season, it's a night filled with heady optimism.
And no one is more optimistic ... than Brian.
"Brian" is the name I give to the guy who thinks he is pitching the greatest draft of all time and won't stop crowing about it.
Round after round, Brian updates his enthusiasm for himself in real time. Brian won't shut his trap about what a great player his last pick was ... until Brian's next pick. Brian continuously throws out stats to validate his decision-making process.
Brian says things like, "I can't believe none of you thought to grab Jonas Valanciunas after that Olympic performance."
If a fellow owner compliments someone else's pick? Brian is wounded. Brian talks down the recently complimented player. Brian loves to shake his head while talking about injury histories.
And then at the end of the 13th round? Brian proclaims, "I think I had a perfect draft," walks outside, unchains his bicycle and pedals home.
Brian is a borderline sociopath.
Over the years I've encountered many a Brian and a few Briannas. I've come to realize Brian is part of the game. Brian is fine.
Because Brian never wins. Not once. Not ever.
But being around enough self-proclaimed "perfect drafts" always gets me thinking. At the end of each fantasy basketball season, what will have comprised a "perfect draft?"
My estimation is that a perfect draft means that come April, that perfect team outperformed its collective ADP by at least 550 aggregate picks in ESPN Player Rater value.
Every one of your picks, rounds one through 13, has to so outperform their average draft position that each pick averages an over-performance of 42 spots.
Sad to say there was no perfect draft in 2016-17. But with an over-performance of 492 spots ... this one came pretty close.
Normally, I force myself to pick players within the parameters of rounds assigned by average draft position. So in a perfect draft for a 10-team league, the Greek Freak would be a second rounder.
But 2016-17 didn't have any first rounders who drastically outperformed his draft spot. James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry met expectations. LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant underperformed. Anthony Davis and Antetokounmpo posted about the same over performance: top-five value on an early second-round pick.
But Antetokounmpo gets the nod here because of his positional eligibility. Going into next year, remember that picking Antetokounmpo at the top of your draft gives you flexibility. If his eligibility holds, you can draft the best player available until the right center comes along.
Wall was a smart second rounder because he offered obvious upside. Going into 2016-17, Wall's assist rate was bumping the ceiling. It had little room for growth. But his poor shooting in 2015-16 outlined a lot of room for growth. Turns out about two player points of growth, enough to push Wall into the top 10 overall.
Wall is shooting a career high .452 from the floor. His true shooting percentage is a career high .542. And he's made these improvements despite a drop in 3-point performance.
Wall is hitting only 1.1 3-pointers per game. He is currently shooting .318 from behind the arc: a huge slip from 2015-16's .351. Wall has also cut back on his 3-point attempts per game. They're down from 4.3 to 3.5.
The reason for the upswing? Wall is driving it to the hoop and drawing contact. According to Basketball Reference, 38 percent of Wall's field goal attempts are occurring from zero to three feet. Wall's career-high ratio of point-blank shot attempts pays off in another area: free throws. Wall is also hitting a career high 81 percent of his free throws, on a career high 6.8 attempts per game.
I've watched nearly every Wizards game this season. Wall is getting hammered to the extent that referees simply haven't caught up. He should be getting more than 6.8 free throw attempts a game. Result? As of this writing, Wall is seventh in the NBA with a career high 14 technical fouls.
Secret sauce: Wall is the best shot-blocking point guard in basketball. He's not quite in vintage Dwyane Wade territory, but his 0.6 blocks per game ranks as the best at his position.
Want a nice return on your draft pick investment, Brian? Follow the point guards. Because draft value and high usage rates go hand in hand.
Going back to his first three seasons in Sacramento, Thomas has long been one of fantasy's most underrated performers. He is under-drafted every fantasy draft season. Thomas has always delivered elite, efficient, score-first point guard performance.
The only stats missing from Thomas' portfolio: steals per game and minutes per game. Thomas isn't a defensive stalwart. He will never log elite steals production. But it's absolutely criminal that a player with Thomas' upside has averaged over 30 MPG only three times out of seven seasons.
Thomas has always possessed top-10 potential. Given Boston's backcourt depth, I believed coach Brad Stevens would never find a way to amplify Thomas' potential with enough touches to make the top 10 a reality.
But this season, the minutes have arrived (34.0 per game). We're finally seeing peak Isaiah Thomas: 29.1 points, 5.9 assists and 3.2 3-pointers per game. Throw in a .380 3-point percentage and a .911 free throw percentage, and you have a career year.
After usage rate, the second-best statistical harbinger of over-performance: blocks per game. Gobert is leading the league with 2.7 blocks per game. Mix in 12.9 rebounds and increased offensive responsibilities, and you're looking at second-round value off of a fifth-round pick.
Gobert's shot attempts spiked to a career high 7.6 per game, and he backed up the additional touches with a .660 field goal percentage. And relative to Gobert's role and position, his .652 free throw percentage basically make him the Steve Nash of the shot-blocking centers.
I always worry when players enter draft season with Jokic-level of hype. By Halloween, Jokic transformed from "poor man's Kristaps Porzingis" to "Dirk Nowitzki with a point guard handle." Jokic started slowly due to Mike Malone reducing him to a head-scratching timeshare with Jusuf Nurkic.
No knock against Nurkic, but Fantasyland knows Jokic has the makings of ... Dirk Nowitzki with a high assist rate. Out of position production is another proven method for ADP over performance, and Jokic's 4.9 assists per game is astounding for a low-post player.
Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, Utah Jazz
Average draft position: 51
Player Rater: 35
Year-in, year-out, always remember: You can find value on wings in the middle rounds. Going into this season, Hayward's fantasy career casted him as the anti-Isaiah Thomas. Since 2013-14, Hayward has been a high-volume, high-FGA player, but his efficiency has lacked year-to-year consistency.
Hayward's efficiency issue laid in his 3-point shooting. For a shoot-first wing, Hayward's historical 3-point performance has been decidedly replacement level. But for 2016-17, Hayward has posted an upper-crust 39.3 3-point percentage, good enough for a 21.94 PER and fourth-round value.
Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards
Average draft position: 69
Player Rater: 29
I'm the only Wizards fan I know. And Wizards fans always knew if you could just take "Playoff Bradley Beal" (20.2 PTS, 2.0 3PT, 4.7 REB, 4.0 AST, 1.4 STL in 2014-15 playoffs) extrapolate that stat line to the regular season -- plus keep Beal healthy -- you'd have a top-25 player with top-15 upside.
A couple of years ago, I took an Uber with a driver who played high school ball with Beal. This driver explained to me that Beal's early career, stress fracture-checkered injury history could mostly be chalked up to the fact Beal was still growing. It made sense. After all, Beal entered the league at 19.
Cut to 2016-17; Beal is in his fifth season but still only 23. He's already played a career-high 74 games this season. And he's riding a sky-high 40.6 3-point percentage to a career-high 23.0 points per game. Wall and Beal aren't only the most underrated backcourt in fantasy; they're closing in on best backcourt in the NBA, period.
Rubio is becoming an annual member of my "perfect draft" class. In 2015-16, I pegged Rubio in Round 9 of my perfect draft. He had an ADP of 81 and finished 34th on the player rater. He basically duplicated that over-performance in 2016-17 ... yet went nearly as under-drafted.
The lack of attention is largely due to the Fantasyland population's annual whiffing on Rubio's unique statistical footprint. He's a low-scoring, pass-first point guard. His point totals lull you to sleep. His field goal percentage produces night sweats. But he's elite in two of fantasy's scarcest categories: assists and steals. Throw in Rubio's sneaky-good rebounding rate (4.1 per game), and you have a perfect recipe for under-the-radar value.
Bonus material: In 2016-17, Rubio has improved his mid-range game from borderline terrifying to average. 10 percent of his shots are coming in the 10-16 foot range, and Rubio is hitting 48 percent of them.
Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors
Average draft position: 82
Player Rater: 49
After years of landing on my preseason sleepers lists, Valanciunas finally justified my support by landing on an end-of-season list. The keys to Valanciunas making it here: health and solid percentages. Valanciunas is on track to play in 20-plus more games than 2015-16. He's shooting .560 from the field and .814 from the line.
The blocks have dipped (to 0.8 per game), but at age 25, Valanciunas is doing just enough to earn No. 1 center consideration headed into 2017-18.
Payton -- and the fantasy performance of the Magic's young core at large -- is a classic example of a post-trade deadline bump. After Serge Ibaka was dealt for Terrence Ross, Payton scaled back his inefficiencies (3-point shooting) and concentrated on high-percentage shot attempts. Result: Payton shot .512 from the field in March.
Most importantly of all? Like Russell Westbrook before him, Payton has taken up the challenge of a post-Ibaka environment to attack the glass with power forward fervor. Since March 1, Payton has average 7.5 rebounds a night. It took a couple of career-altering scares, but Payton is finally fulfilling his Rondo-esque potential.
Otto Porter Jr., SF, Washington Wizards
Average draft position: 102
Player Rater: 26
A couple of months ago, I wrote an article on how the Wizards had quietly become fantasy's most underrated team. My planting three Wizards on this list isn't homerism. It's due to the fact that A) The Wizards had depth before the trade deadline and B) Scott Brooks should be on the short list for Coach of the Year.
Brooks' effect can be felt in a team-wide improvement in 3-point efficiency. The Wizards are using Wall's gifts to play in increased space. Beal is over 40 percent from 3-point territory. But at 43.8 3FG%, Porter is pushing Kyle Korver for the league lead.
I'm not saying Brooks should win. Just get him on a short list somewhere. And like Beal, Otto is going to get paid this summer.
Covington is another player who seems to always land on this list. Historically, his over-performance is due to his ability to hit 3s at the power forward position. And on a poor shooting team like the 76ers, Covington has had an everlasting green light.
But these days, you can't chalk Covington's fantasy success up to "average player meets tanking team."
Covington started the season in a horrific shooting slump, but he put his time on ice to good use by figuring out other ways to chip in and contribute. He's supplementing his elite 3-point performance (now back to 39.9 3FG% for the season) with career high in rebounds (6.5), steals (1.9) and blocks (1.0)
In 2016-17, no player outperformed his ADP to a higher degree than Williams. The fact that he did it at just 24.6 minutes per game speaks to Williams' unique fantasy appeal.
Williams has played in two ideal fantasy situations: a rudderless Lakers offense and a Mike D'Antoni offense. But top-50 production on less than 25 minutes a night is a unique fantasy achievement that even the Brians of this world can't ignore.
Total over-performance of these players: 492 spots ahead of ADP.