In its purest form? Fantasy hoops is an art form that hovers above the forces of fandom.
In reality? Our real-life NBA allegiances play havoc with our fantasy outlook.
If you're reading this, you're an avid fantasy basketball aficionado. Which means you probably came to your fantasy life via a rabid NBA fandom.
Which means there's a real-life NBA team that's skewing your fantasy perspective.
As the only Washington Bullets/Wizards fan I know, I'm forced to check my fandom at the door when assessing the Wizards' fantasy prospects. But it's tough to separate fantasy from reality. It's synergistically rewarding to watch productive fantasy players log minutes for your favorite real-life team.
I overvalue every prosperous Wizard with red, white and blue abandon. I undervalue every momentarily disappointing Wizard with the same abandon. (I just rejected a perfectly reasonable trade for Kelly Oubre because I'm still miffed he didn't play like this in Washington).
If I'm offered a deal for one of my Wizards, it's tough to get me to view said deal with the remotest whiff of rationality. I've lost a couple of championships over the years due to my D.C. irrationality.
Over the years, having played with managers from all over the world, I've been able to get a sense of which teams produce the greatest amount of fantasy-skewing passion.
Let's take a look at my sense of the top four teams, and players that end up being overvalued or undervalued.
The Sixers aren't on this list because of Philly's rooting history. Please don't take this as another shot at the city that pelted Santa Claus with snowballs, or jumped in a penalty box with Tie Domi, or ran my family's car off the road outside of a Veteran's Stadium parking lot in 1988 because it had D.C. plates.
The Sixers make this list because they endured The Process.
The past seven campaigns have produced a bipolarity of fandom. Going through multiple seasons of intentional bottom-feeding basketball does something to a fan. It warps you. Believing in The Process made followers uniquely, statistically aware of their pain.
I listened to many stories of dented Sixers passion during the low ebb of The Process. I genuinely felt for Sixers fans. I believed in The Process... for fantasy purposes. Peak-Process Sixers were among fantasy's best low-risk, high-reward investments. The Sixers' intentionally goosing their pace to inflate stats created a lot of high-volume, less-heralded fantasy producers.
Now that the Sixers are riding high? I'm genuinely happy for them. They've been through a lot. But with their success, they've become very attached to their current Sixers. And the years of focusing on the prospective value of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons has produced a little bit of overvaluation.
I loved Embiid going into the draft as fantasy's highest-risk, highest-reward player. And he's delivered. Over the past month, he's been a top-5 player. I was recently offered Embiid for Durant. It's not an unreasonable offer. But the injury history, coupled with the unsustainable recent true shooting percentage (62.8 TS%) and block rate (2.5 BPG) scares me. Embiid is top-10, but not top-5.
Simmons also has first-round upside. Some nights, he produces like a first-rounder. But most nights, his negatives hold him back.
Simmons' lack of 3-point production and punt-worthy free throw impact push him into late-third/early-fourth round valuation. And thanks to his boffo volume in rebounds (9.5 RPG) and assists (8.1 APG), he'll be overvalued until he develops a shooting stroke.
Butler is underperforming his ADP (19.8) by a round and a half (35th on the Player Rater). HIs growing chemistry-killer rep (and constant trade rumors) also drive down his value.
The other factor driving down Butler's value? The same factor that's been there for years: injuries. Butler has played more than 67 games only once since 2012-13. And missing 15 games a year carves almost 20 percent out of a player's perspective value.
If you revere NBA history, you have to respect the Celtics. But rooting for a team proffering multiple eras of championship potential and dominance tends to produce a fantasy fan that falls in love with the wrong kind of dynamics (fantasy-wise) -- dynamics that win real championships but don't necessarily produce individual fantasy excellence.
The Celtics are currently 30-18 and closing in fast on home court in the first round. They are the kind of team built to do well in the playoffs, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them come out of the East. Boston plays top-notch team defense. They have top-5 defensive upside (fifth in defensive rating at 106.1).
But in terms of team-wise stats that fuel fantasy stats? They're middle of the road. They're 13th in scoring, 10th in offensive rating, and 19th in pace.
Secondly, there's Brad Stevens' rotation, and Boston's ballyhooed, fantasy-value-sapping depth.
For the season, Boston has eight players averaging 22.7 MPG or more: Rozier, Brown, Hayward, Smart, Morris, Horford, Tatum and Irving. That kind of depth kneecaps fantasy upside. It puts a hard ceiling on possible production, outside of an occasional Superproducer.
And Irving has posted Superproducer numbers over the past month.
For the past 30 days, he's been top-10, pushing his Player Rater ranking to 11th on the season. If he stays healthy, he's in line to deliver a round-and-a-half of net value over his 22.7 ADP.
If someone's rostering Irving, they're not going to let him go for anything less than a top-10 player. If a Boston fan is rostering Irving? He or she won't even return your emails.
Horford is one of my favorite fantasy players of the past 10 years. He's going to deliver about a round of net value against his 64.7 ADP. When healthy, he's the epitome of the undervalued mid-round pivot.
Where's the biggest problem in terms of fantasy expectations? The minutes ceiling hung over Boston's young upside.
Boston has stockpiled multiple lottery picks in recent seasons. Brown went third overall. Tatum went third overall. Smart went sixth overall.
Those kinds of high draft slots beget high fantasy expectations. All three players have high upside, especially Tatum. I think Tatum could be a future top-20 player. But Tatum's scintillating 2018 playoff performance led to his being wildly overvalued for 2018-19. And the lack of minutes available to develop the Celtics' young upside hampers their fantasy development.
When you combine a lack of minutes and offensive prioritization with multiple draft picks... with a veteran Superproducer like Irving?
You get wild fantasy overvaluation.
Knicks fans are smart. Passionate. Loyal. New York is the greatest basketball town on earth.
If you want to take a one-day crash course in the existential condition of the average Knicks fan, do four things.
Read Bill Bradley's "A Life On the Run" and gain an appreciation for the Knicks of the early '70s. Read "Heaven is a Playground" and gain an appreciation for New York's basketball culture. Go to YouTube and gain an appreciation for the Ewing/Riley era.
Then, go to Basketball Reference and study what the Knicks have accomplished since 2001.
Two winning seasons in 18 years.
And when you're working overtime to attach any kind of current value to the once-great team you love? When you're looking for some sign you should still care? You tend to overvalue flawed players' fantasy prospects.
Under normal circumstances? Even a moribund team like the Knicks has something to offer fantasy managers. A killer young draft pick. An underrated veteran suddenly getting 35-plus minutes a night.
But these Knicks have no fantasy upside.
Their minutes situation is a mess. It's nearly impossible to track David Fizdale's rotation. One player averages over 15.0 PPG. No one averages over 4.0 APG. They're 26th in offensive rating, 23rd in points per game, 29th in defensive rating, 12th in pace. Kristaps Porzingis won't be re-evaluated until next month. He could be shut down for the duration.
The Knicks have one player -- Enes Kanter -- in the Player Rater's top 90. And Kanter was recently demoted to third string/trade bait before being reinstated due to Kornet's injury.
Hardaway Jr. is 98th on the Player Rater. His ability to score and inability to shoot combine to make him the Knicks' most overrated fantasy player. Kevin Knox can score, shoot 3s...and contribute nothing else fantasy-wise.
If you're looking for a silver lining? Noah Vonleh is 99th on the Rater. He has multi-categorical fantasy upside. If Porzingis is shut down, Vonleh will get a chance to build some second-half value.
(Plus, the Knicks have a good shot at Zion Williamson.)
I've lived in Los Angeles for 20 years. I work a mile from the Lakers' practice facility. I play in multiple fantasy leagues with multiple Lakers fans. I listen to 710 ESPN every commute.
And the term "Lakers Exceptionalism" is well-earned. Like with the Celtics, there's a certain sense of superiority that winning multiple championships promotes.
Lakers fans think they're getting every All-Star in every trade, for loose change in return. (Last week, I heard a radio host spend an entire segment entertaining the most ludicrous Bradley Beal trade scenarios in the history of the medium.)
This season, the current combination of LeBron, LeBron's injury and the Lakers' young talent have pushed Laker Fantasy Irrationality to an all-time high.
When LeBron was healthy, he was overvalued by a half-round. His high PPG was masking efficiency issues that drove him out of the top 10. And when you're talking about first-round picks, underperforming your ADP half-round is a huge gulf.
Since going on the shelf on Christmas, LeBron is barely top-40 for the season on the Player Rater. His extended absence has led to an overabundance of production from multiple players. Kuzma, Zubac, and Ingram have all pushed their way up the Player Rater. (Kuzma and McGee are top-70 for the season.)
The young Lakers' current valuation is getting boosted by LeBron's absence. And when he returns, he'll go back to leading the team in Usage Rate (31.9 USG). Which means Kuzma is about to come back to earth. And the other young Lakers should regress to their pre-Christmas levels. If you're going to sell high on Kuzma, this is the time to do it. He'll be overvalued for the rest of the season.
Until a big takes control, the 3-way timeshare at center will continue to fuel fantasy irrationality.
Zubac's scoring fuels his overvaluation. In reality, he's a 3-category player at best. He doesn't rebound or block shots particularly well. And he can't continue to shoot the 82.1 percent from the field he's notched over the past week.
Ingram is the most vexing Laker from a fantasy perspective. He's currently underperforming his 65.9 ADP by about 160 slots. A lack of steals, blocks and a 30.8 3PT% have all combined to drive his value down. The upside is there, but Ingram has yet to realize his potential. Until he cleans up his 3-point shot and gets some defensive stats, he'll be overvalued.