For our second mock draft of the season, we decided to shake things up a little. Instead of a standard, rotisserie, 10-team league, we went with a 12-team league in a head-to-head format. If you're wondering what the major differences are between the two, you may want to check out Josh Whitling's excellent comparison of the two styles.
Suffice it to say, for our purposes, that head-to-head leagues benefit players who dominate individual categories. Dwight Howard is the best example; while his atrocious free throw shooting can be a major drain on your overall score in a roto league, his dominance in rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage are so significant in a head-to-head league that it's worth punting away the free throw category if you need to.
With those differences in mind, let's take a look at our second mock draft of the season. Participating in this draft (in addition to myself) were fantasy basketball analysts Tom Carpenter, John Cregan, Josh Whitling, Brian McKitish, Adam Stanco and Neil Tardy, fantasy Insider Eric Karabell, fantasy editors Keith Lipscomb and James Quintong, and fantasy games engineers Dave Fishel and Christian Allgood.
My strategy: I would have preferred any of the first six guys taken, but after that I was extremely happy to land Danny Granger. With a real point guard in Darren Collison finding him more open looks, Granger should be able to take advantage of coach Jim O'Brien's up-tempo system even more than he has in the past. There's always a bit of an injury concern with Granger (he has missed 35 games in the past two seasons), but if he's healthy it's very likely he'll be a top-five player by the end of the season.
Round breakdown: Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard each went four spots higher in this draft than in our previous mock draft. Wade is good enough in any format that you could make an argument for taking him anywhere outside the top three picks, but in the case of Howard, this bump was clearly about the head-to-head format. It's also worth noting that Stephen Curry has now gone one spot ahead of Kobe Bryant in both of our mock drafts. Kobe is still going six spots higher than Curry in average ESPN live drafts, but at this point that is more about name recognition than anything else. It seems unlikely Kobe will improve on his production of a season ago, while Curry was the better fantasy player last season and is still improving.
Chatter: No one had much to say about the first round except that Durant was an obvious choice for the first pick. I would agree, and go so far as to say that Durant is the most obvious first pick in quite some time. He could easily finish head and shoulders above the field. This is a great year to have the first pick.
My strategy: Since I wasn't going to get to pick again until 35th, I decided that I should take the player I thought would have the best overall fantasy numbers without worrying too much about rankings. Smith is coming off the best season of his career, and at 25 years of age, seems to have finally figured out what kind of player he is. He finally stopped jacking up 3s last season, and his field goal percentage and assist numbers went way up. Plus, he's going to give me a solid foundation in blocks and steals every week.
Round breakdown: I seriously considered taking Brandon Roy at 14, so I thought Lipscomb made a great move getting him at 23. All things being equal, I'd rather go with the player with a higher ceiling, and very few guys have a higher ceiling than Roy, even if his value took a hit due to injuries last season. I'm not a big fan of Tyreke Evans, who finished just 58th on the Player Rater last season despite having a historically great rookie season. I love his well-rounded game, but he's certainly not going to blow anyone out of the water in any individual category, and I fear there's not a lot of room for his fantasy game to improve without improving as an outside shooter. I'd much rather take Derrick Rose in the fourth round than Evans in the second, and would have gone with Roy or Anthony over Evans in a heartbeat.
Chatter: Carpenter had some doubts about Chauncey Billups, saying: "I guess I don't understand the fascination with Billups at this point. His field goal percentage is hideous and his steals and dimes are pedestrian. I can think of a number of players with less downside and much higher upside I would rather take at the end of the second round." Considering Billups went 32nd overall in our first mock draft, it's probably true that you could get him in the third round of most drafts, especially after he looked a step slow for much of the FIBA World Championship this summer. On the other hand, Quintong wasn't going to pick again until the end of the fourth round, so if Billups was his man, he had no choice but to get him here.
My strategy: I really wanted Darren Collison, who I think is a perfect fit on the Pacers and is primed to have a huge sophomore year, but I was pretty happy to wind up with Pierce. Pierce is certainly on the downslope of his great career, but he has become one of the premier 3-point shooters in the game (without being a drain on field goal percentage), and kicks in a decent amount of assists, steals and rebounds to go with his great shooting from the foul line. Devin Harris and Rudy Gay probably have higher ceilings, but Pierce was a safe bet to go alongside my more volatile picks of Granger and Smith.
Round breakdown: The pick that stands out here is probably Joakim Noah, who is going 43rd in average live drafts. I personally would have rather had Duncan or Horford, but I certainly can't argue with drafting a player who has improved as drastically as Noah has so far in his short career. There aren't many guys who rebound and block shots like Noah without killing you at the line, and now that he's got some better offensive players around him, he might be a sneaky source of assists from the center spot, as well. Rashard Lewis went a lot higher than he has been going in most drafts as well (he went 53rd in our previous draft). There's an argument to be made that Lewis is due for a bounce-back season, but at age 31, I'm pretty worried about the fact he posted a PER below the league average last season. I think his days of being an elite fantasy player are pretty much over.
Chatter: From James Quintong: "While it was nice to have the No. 1 overall pick, I wasn't as happy with the double picks on the turnaround. I tried to do a lot of balancing categories and positions, thus I felt like I had to reach a couple of times to fill some positions that could've been dried up by next pick. I definitely did that with Jefferson in the third round, even though there were some other guards/forwards I might've wanted instead. Of course, there was a run of centers later in that round, so I guess it was justified. But overall, it was a bit tough to figure out when to reach for players you want when you figure they won't come back around."
My strategy: Rose was the guy I wanted all along, and with my 3-pointers all but taken care of by Granger and Pierce, I felt like I could go ahead and have him be my starter at the point. As I wrote in my 30 Questions piece on the Bulls, Rose could easily end up being a top-10 point guard this season, but was the 14th point taken in this draft. He'll score a ton of points with a great percentage from the floor, and with a more defensive-minded coach at the helm in Tom Thibodeau, Rose might finally boost his steal numbers up into a respectable territory. If he can produce the numbers he put up in the second half of last season, he'll have been a steal where I got him.
Round breakdown: We saw our first rookie go off the board when Lipscomb took John Wall at 47. You can't possibly argue with Wall's talent, but I have some concerns about his skill set as it relates to fantasy. Remember, as I pointed out above, that Tyreke Evans didn't even manage to crack the top 50 last season despite playing major minutes and missing only 10 games. It would be extremely difficult for any rookie, no matter how talented, to match what Evans did in averaging better than 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals per game. If Wall can even come close to those numbers, I'll be surprised, and I wouldn't expect him to fare any better than Evans did from behind the arc. It's exciting to draft rookies, but it's important to remember that great players don't usually start producing quite like their future selves until their second season.
Chatter: From Eric Karabell: "I never draft Marcus Camby, not only because the guy is a big injury risk, but I hate wasting an early pick on someone who doesn't score enough. I thought about Troy Murphy with the pick, 46th overall, but he's already hurt and it could be awhile. I should've taken the safer Chris Kaman, taken a minor rebounding and shot-blocking hit but much more scoring." Considering Camby's age (he'll turn 37 this season), it's hard to disagree with that logic, although he's still got a great chance of finishing ahead of where he was drafted.
My strategy: Here's where I started to panic a bit. I was without a center, and Kaman went right before I picked. I love Anthony Randolph's potential, especially on the Knicks, but he's anything but a sure thing. On the other hand, there wasn't another center I really wanted with anything close to fifth-round value. So, I went with Randolph's center eligibility over players I liked a bit more, like Eric Gordon and Kevin Martin, hoping I'd get one of them in the next round. I also figured I could get either Nene or Roy Hibbert in the seventh round, which ended up not working out so well for me.
Round breakdown: I think Eric Gordon could wind up being one of the best picks in this draft. He's got the potential to be an elite shooting guard, especially if he can boost his free throw percentage to the 83 percent he shot in college. The three picks that caused some heated debate were Beasley, Cousins and Griffin. Personally, considering the fact the always-healthy Samuel Dalembert is laid up for the next month or more, I like Cousins the best of the three. Even though he's a rookie, I think it will be pretty difficult for him to avoid putting up some pretty big scoring and rebounding numbers playing in Paul Westphal's system.
Chatter: On the other hand, Tardy had this to say: "As a Timberwolves fan (no, really), I hate that they passed on Cousins in the draft. The kid's a tremendous talent. But for fantasy, for this season, I don't think he's a double-double guy. Not as a rookie. He'll have big games, but he'll also have games where he puts himself on the bench with quick fouls. But maybe Carpenter beat us all there." It goes without saying that Beasley, Cousins and Griffin are huge upside picks, but in my opinion it will be extremely difficult for any of them to put up better numbers than Luis Scola, for example, this season.
My strategy: Martin was one of the players I wanted all along. He has some major red flags on the injury front, but I think he's finally in a really great system in Houston, and I wanted to make sure I scored an elite free throw shooter to counterbalance Josh Smith. Martin is great at getting to the line and makes a high percentage when he gets there. Now that he's starting his second season in Houston, he should be more familiar with his teammates and they should be more comfortable finding him when he's open. The return of Yao Ming (when he's able to play) should open things up for Martin even more.
Round breakdown: From Eric Karabell: "The sixth round seemed strong, with at least four players I would have chosen with my pick in Trevor Ariza, Hedo Turkoglu, Andray Blatche and Jrue Holiday." Blatche and Holiday, in particular, are great picks in the sixth round simply because we don't have enough information to properly judge them yet. If they play the way they played down the stretch last season, they will end up being far more valuable than guys with lower ceilings like LaMarcus Aldridge and Lamar Odom (even if Aldridge and Odom are technically safer picks).
Chatter: There wasn't much talk about the sixth round, except for a general consensus that it was a pretty good round for all of us. Lipscomb, however, had this to say about his choice of Paul Millsap: "He's done nothing but produce in multiple categories in his career as a starter, so I expect him to do just that, even once Mehmet Okur returns a couple months from now." I think Lipscomb is completely correct here. I wanted someone with a little more upside, and I'm happy with Martin and Manu Ginobili (who I got in the next round), but I might have been better off just taking Millsap instead of Martin and finding another scorer later in the draft.
My strategy: Sometimes we tend to forget about Ginobili. This happens mainly because the Spurs are a strange team and Ginobili ends up playing -- as he did last season -- fewer than 30 minutes per game. Nonetheless, Ginobili ended up 24th on the Player Rater last season because, on a per-minute basis, he's one of the best players in the game. He knocks down 3s, racks up steals and throws in a pretty decent amount of rebounds and assists for good measure. Considering the players taken in this round, and the fact I missed out on Nene and Hibbert (both of whom I really wanted), Ginobili could end up being the best value of the draft.
Round breakdown: This entire round seems filled with players who could end up being extremely important fantasy players if things break right, but that "if" is a big one. We have no idea whether Andrew Bogut, Baron Davis, Kevin Garnett and Carlos Boozer can stay healthy. Antawn Jamison and Leandro Barbosa find themselves in totally different circumstances than they did last season. All of that aside, though, players like this can make or break your season in fantasy basketball; if they reach their ceiling, you have a great chance of winning your league.
Chatter: McKitish had this to say about Nene: "Either I have Nene ranked far too high (52nd overall) or we all simply went to sleep on him. I'm thinking it's more of the latter." Personally, I agree. I probably should have drafted Nene (if not Millsap) at the beginning of the sixth round, but I'm high enough on Martin that I wanted to take the gamble. Nene doesn't seem to be the injury risk we all remember him as any longer, and puts up great production across the board. Getting him in the seventh round is definitely one of the steals of this draft. As for Hibbert, here's Neil Tardy: "I had targeted Hibbert at pick 77 (Round 7), only to watch helplessly as Big Roy went, along with fallback options Nene and Andrew Bogut. Kevin Garnett seems like a good value there, but he was definitely not my first choice. I love Hibbert this year, but so does most everyone else. Forget about him being a sleeper. If you really want Hibbert, take him a round sooner than you think you need to."
My strategy: Robin Lopez was going well outside of the top 100 in this draft, but I figured that once Okafor was off the board there were no sure bets at the center spot, and after missing out on Nene and Hibbert I wanted to make sure I got a player I liked. I probably could have waited another round, but didn't want to risk waiting another 21 picks to get my guy. Lopez is in a perfect situation as the only true center on a fast-paced team with an all-time great pick-and-roll point guard in Steve Nash. He shoots an extremely high percentage from the floor, and has some potential as a shot-blocker. He gets an assist only once in a blue moon, but I'll take Nash's pick-and-roll partner over the other question marks at center that went after Lopez.
Round breakdown: Because I had already taken Ginobili and Martin, Ray Allen was off my radar, but I think he slipped way, way too far. I know he's old, but he's in great shape and ended up finishing 32nd on the Player Rater last season. His main contributions are in 3s and from the free throw line, but I would have taken him over Vince Carter, Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa, John Salmons and a host of other possibilities at shooting guard.
Chatter: McKitish loved getting Miller here, saying: "I have Miller ranked 66th overall and got him with pick 90. Sure he's 34 years old, but he hasn't missed a game in three years and put up 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game after the All-Star break once he got his bearings in Portland last season." Miller (as well as other players like Terry, Allen and Mike Conley, to name a few more) tends to slip in drafts because he is so unexciting, but a good mix of risks and safer bets is essential for success in fantasy basketball. So taking advantage of a player like Miller slipping is a great move.
My strategy: Quite simply, I needed another point guard. That's what happens when you go best-available instead of worrying about positions. I had too many swingmen and not enough centers and point guards. Since I felt OK about my position in the steals category (with Granger, Smith, Pierce and Ginobili already on my roster), I went with Jose Calderon, who should get me more assists than anyone who was left on the board (unless Ramon Sessions winds up playing 35 minutes per game for the Cavs). Calderon certainly isn't the top-20 player he was a couple of seasons ago, but I still like his potential and the fact he won't ever kill me with bad percentages.
Round breakdown: I would have absolutely drafted J.J. Hickson (despite my need for a point guard) if he had slipped to me. He's looked great in the preseason and should be in line for plenty of minutes on a Cavs team looking for something to feel good about. I also think Ben Gordon is a great value here, and I think he'll be more productive than Vince Carter, who went one round earlier. I thought DeJuan Blair went way too early considering the guys on the board still behind him. I really like his talent, but considering he's still got Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess (and probably Tiago Splitter) ahead of him on the depth chart, it's hard to imagine him playing more than 22 or 23 minutes per game at the absolute maximum. Even if he can boost his averages to 9.5 points and 7.8 rebounds as we are currently projecting, he still might not be a top-125 player in fantasy. Hickson, Boris Diaw and Andris Biedrins, for example, are all better bets for production than Blair.
Chatter: There weren't many thoughts about the ninth round, which is probably a sign that we are getting toward the end of this draft.
My strategy: Considering I took Yao Ming 72nd overall in our previous mock draft (happily, I might add), it was a no-brainer to take him here. If it works out, I've got a great option at center most nights. If he can't play, I'll make sure I'm paying attention to centers on the waiver wire. I love Serge Ibaka, and thought seriously about drafting him, but I liked the particular strengths Yao brings to the table better than betting on Ibaka to get major minutes this season. Still, I think Ibaka and Biedrins were both great, smart picks in this round.
Round breakdown: Diaw is another guy who is pretty boring to draft but ends up putting up great numbers. Considering he finished ahead of LaMarcus Aldridge on the Player Rater last season, it's pretty hard to argue with getting him in the 10th round. I also think this was the perfect time to take a chance on Anthony Morrow and Terrence Williams. With the logjam at the wing positions in N.J., it's hard to say which guys will get minutes, but Morrow's elite long-range shooting and Williams' strong all-around stats make their ceilings a lot higher, in terms of fantasy value, than someone like Wilson Chandler, who is more of a known commodity.
Chatter: Besides a general notion that Ibaka could wind up being a huge steal, no one had much to say about the 10th round, either.
My strategy: This is where I really lost it. I had Elton Brand queued up for what seemed like half an hour, only to see him finally get drafted right before I picked. I wanted a big man who could rebound and also contribute a bit in blocks and steals. Shawn Marion would have been an OK pick, but I was worried about his being relegated to the bench, and I wasn't quite ready to take any of the other bigs left on the board. So, I ended up with Nicolas Batum, who might not be a bad consolation prize. He should be the starter at small forward in Portland this season, and I love his efficiency and the fact that he made better than 40 percent of his 3s last season. He might be a bust, but he could end up being a pretty key contributor in multiple categories, so it seemed worth the minimal risk.
Round breakdown: At this point in a draft, it's pretty hard to quibble with anything. I'm way down on Channing Frye this year, but even I think he could easily wind up being a major steal as an 11th-round pick. If anything, I think the picks to question would be the limited-upside guys like Marion, Jack and Brand, since at this point in the draft you don't have much to lose by gambling. On the other hand, I already said I would have taken Brand given the opportunity, so my guess is everyone was pretty happy with what they got here.
Chatter: Quintong mentioned liking Evan Turner at 126. I can't say I disagree. I don't love taking rookies in fantasy drafts because I think they are often overvalued (since they are basically nothing but hope), but Turner has enough potential as an all-around stat-stuffer that it's easy to make a case for taking him even sooner than this. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he outplayed Batum, Linas Kleiza, Terrence Williams and a few other guys who were drafted ahead of him.
My strategy: It was pretty simple here. I needed a rebounder, and since no one else among the Raptors' projected starters is going to want to get any, Johnson should have free rein. Of course, he needs to stop fouling so much so he can stay on the floor, but at this point in the draft everyone has some warts.
Round breakdown: I liked the Dalembert pick a lot, and almost took him myself. If he can recover quickly from his groin injury, he'll be a great option at center for most of the season. D.J. Augustin also has some major sleeper potential if he can return to his rookie-season form; he's a great 3-point shooter, and the starting point guard job in Charlotte is his to hold on to.
Chatter: No one had much to say about this round, either. I want to mention, however, that if Thaddeus Young ever finally starts to approach his vast potential, McKitish will have scored a big coup here. I can't think of another player in this round with a game more suited to fantasy, but Young still appears to be a long way away from putting it all together.
My strategy: I felt like I was solid at the guard positions and needed to take a chance on a big man. I probably would have taken Greg Oden if he had fallen to me, but once he was gone I couldn't think of a big with more upside than Derrick Favors. Sure, he might play just sparingly once Troy Murphy is healthy, but if he's getting minutes, he'll be a good source of boards and blocks, and has a chance, with his talent, to be an elite player soon. Think about how quickly Amare Stoudemire became a good fantasy player, and that's the reason for taking a shot on Favors at the end of your drafts.
Round breakdown: Perhaps it's an easy call, but Quintong's selection of Oden was particularly inspired. Of all the players in this round, Oden is the only one with the potential to be a top-50 fantasy commodity. I know it's a long shot, but at this point in the draft it's all about upside, and no one here has more upside than Oden. As for the other picks, considering the 76ers don't have a prototype center on the roster outside of Hawes, I like his upside here, too.
Chatter: Allgood had this to say about the final round: "I have to mention Eric Karabell taking Ron Artest in the last round of the draft. Sure he shoots an abysmal percentage from the field, but he contributes in other ways (e.g. 3s and steals). Great pick at 147." I agree. If you're not going to go with major upside in the final round, you might as well go with a player who you know will contribute something, and Artest could rack up steals even if he was 45 years old. In a head-to-head league, a guy who is a sure thing in a given category looks a lot more valuable than he would otherwise.
Seth Landman is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.