Fantasy basketball - Key players and positions to focus on in next year's draft

Center is a deep position but Denver's Nikola Jokic stands out due to his rare skillset. Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Every season, the top 150 players in the player pool carry about 2,000 points of Player Rater value.

The distribution of those points fuels the dynamics of everything we discuss within this space.

In the end? We're plumbing for scarcity.

Which categories and positions contained the most uneven distribution of value. It's all Moneyball. If we roster players, positions and categories that were undervalued on draft day... we win. If our draft was governed by sources of overvaluation... we lose.

In fantasy, there are two basic ways to break down scarcity: by category and by position. Let's examine positional scarcity, and where it's headed going into the 2019-2020 campaign.

When I first began playing fantasy basketball (at the turn of the century) it was a simpler statistical time. Valuation by position was more regimented. There were far fewer players who qualified at multiple positions. Certain statistics were more weighted by position.

Today, the lines demarking positions have been blurred. Take a look at the top 50 players on the Player Rater: 17 players qualify at multiple positions.

When you add up overall valuation by position? Across the top 150 players? Scarcity becomes harder to detect. Across the top 150 players, the prevalence of so many multipositional players has led to little to no differentiation in available Player Rater value by position.

When you add up the top 40 players at each position? There's only about an 18-point swing between the positions in terms of Player Rater value (from small forward: 307 PR points to center: 325 PR points).

Once you get out of the top 40? The first four or so rounds of your draft? Positional scarcity disappears.

Conclusion: at that point, you can draft almost purely based on upside. Post-round four, look for the player at a position of need that has the most opportunity to outperform his ADP.

But if you're drafting in the first four rounds? Pronounced scarcity still exists.

The first four rounds are (naturally) the most important, because that's where the lion's share of Player Rater value is weighted. And the higher you go in the draft, the more weighted the positional scarcity. (If you really want to get technical about it, the majority of overall Player Rater value is concentrated in the top-32.)

Let's take a look at the positions, ranked by top-40 scarcity.

1a. James Harden

We need to get Harden out of the way.

Harden is so far ahead of the rest of the Player Rater field (a full 4 points), that we need to table him early in the hopes of having a reasonable scarcity discussion. Harden is the top 2019-2020 pick, regardless of all other fantasy considerations. Throw in the fact that Harden carries the Uber-valuable PG/SG qualification, and Harden becomes a position unto himself.

We're smack in the middle of the Harden-D'Antoni era. The combination of player and scheme has led to pure Player Rater domination. The only other player who could catch Harden at his present production rate? Giannis Antetokounmpo, if he becomes an elite 3-point shooter and an average free throw shooter.

1b. Small forward
Top-40 SFs: 9 (Antetokounmpo through Danilo Gallinari)
Available Top-40 PR Points: 110.64

This is what happens when you have so many multipositional players. There are so many available combinations that small forward -- once the easiest position to find top-shelf talent -- has become the scarcest of the positions.

Small forward becomes more of premium position when you consider that three of the 11 top-40 SFs reside in the top five: Antetokoumpo, Kevin Durant and Paul George. After those three, you only hit two other SFs before Round 4: Tobias Harris and Kawhi Leonard. Meaning that if you miss out on Harden at No. 1, you should think heavily about investing in one of the premium SFs early in your 2019-2020 draft.

As an added bonus, small forward still offers the most diversified categorical value across all the categories. From the percentages to blocks, you can find whatever category you're looking for at the three. If you're looking to establish a firm statistical floor for your fake squad, without any categorical negatives? Look for a small forward in the top five, or toward the end of the second round.

2. Power forward
Top-40 PFs: 9 (Giannis Antetokounmpo through Danilo Gallinari)
Available Top-40 PR Points: 116.82

The preponderance of SF/PFs in the top 40 (four overall) contributes to a duplicate scarcity dynamic to small forward. Plus, there are three PF/Cs in the top 40. That leaves only two pure PFs: Blake Griffin and Pascal Siakam.

Power forwards excel in one category that's becoming increasingly top-heavy: rebounds. Small ball has taken away the upper middle class of fantasy rebounders. Grabbing a top-10 rebounder is looking like a smart idea, and there are only two PFs that provide that volume (Antetokoumpo and Nikola Jokic).

All in all, if I'm picking in the second half of the first round, I'm going to think heavily about grabbing one of four players that qualify at PF: Antetokoumpo, Durant, Jokic or Anthony Davis (who should go a few spots too late this fall due to his star-crossed 2019-20 production).

Then there's Ben Simmons.

I could (should) write an article just on his fantasy potential headed into next season. We make a lot of hay from the fact that he can't shoot 3s or free throws. But the fact that he's the one player who qualifies at point guard and power forward opens up all kinds of draft possibilities. Forget the 3s, if Simmons becomes even a replacement-level free throw shooter, he becomes a top-10 candidate. And stocking elite assists at PF is a very tantalizing proposition.

Then there's Luka Doncic.

Although he'll finish outside of the top 40 this season, he'll be a popular early-round pick this fall. Like Simmons, he carries a rare classification: SG/PF. You'd have to punt free throws, but the fantasy combinations that Simmons and Doncic offer are statistically endless.

3. Shooting guard
Top-40 SGs: 10 (James Harden through Devin Booker)
Available Top-40 PR Points: 118.67

If you take away Harden's Player Rater dominance, shooting guard vaults to the top of the scarcity list. And even if you don't get Harden, there's still a strong top-5 scarcity option at SG: Bradley Beal.

There's a good chance John Wall misses all of the 2019-2020 campaign. And we now have a good statistical sample of what to expect out of a Wall-less Bradley Beal. Over the past month, Beal has been the No. 2 player overall on the Player Rater, less than a point behind the (mildly slumping) Harden. Save the Wizards striking gold in the draft and/or luring a quality free agent (near-mathematical impossibilities), there's no reason to think Beal couldn't be a top-3 player next season.

If you miss out on the Harden/Beal tier early, I'd still recommend going SG in the late-first/early-second-round range. There, you'll find your choice of Jrue Holiday, D'Angelo Russell and Klay Thompson.

Then you have some upside picks in Round 3: Donovan Mitchell, DeMar DeRozan and Buddy Hield. All three of these players are closing the season out strong and could go a round under value in this fall's drafts.

4. Point guard
Top-40 PGs: 12 (James Harden through Trae Young)
Available Top-40 PR Points: 150.06

Assists is one category where stats have really shifted across positions over the past decade.

There are plenty of ways to build fantasy value in assists without going first-round on a PG. You could grab Jokic, LeBron, DeRozan, or Antetokoumpo, pair them with a quality mid-round PG (think Eric Bledsoe-De'Aaron Fox territory), and still compete in dimes.

There's so much early-round depth at point guard, you can simply wait until you feel like you're getting one at the best value. This trend has been happening for the past few seasons. It's gotten to the point where I tend to ignore PG entirely within the first three rounds (unless I'm getting a steal), then stack PGs in the middle rounds.

There is one wild card within the first four rounds I should call out. Jrue Holiday carries the very valuable PG/SG qualification. He tends to go at least a half-round late in every draft. But it's going to be difficult to gauge the impact of an Anthony Davis-less rotation on his stats. His scoring could climb even higher, but his assists should decrease. Still, he's a great gamble in the third-to-fourth round.

5. Center
Top-40 SGs: 14 (Karl-Anthony Towns through Al Horford)
Available Top-40 PR Points: 168.70

Center used to be the scarcest position in fantasy. Now? You can get an impact center any time you want in the first half of your draft. As long as you're getting one or two of the premium shot blockers (there are 11 of them) at some point in your draft, you can wait and get one you feel is the best value.

The first four rounds are stacked at center: Towns, Jokic, Davis, Vucevic, Embiid, Gobert, Aldridge, Nurkic, Lopez and Turner are all 10-point Player Rater producers. Or like with PG, you can go SG, SF, or PF early and then load up at C in the middle rounds.

The lack of scarcity at center puts more of a premium on centers that offer more than elite blocks and field goal percentage. It really puts the spotlight on Jokic. Categorically speaking, he's an honorary PG/PF/C. After Harden, he could be the single most important first-rounder this fall, in that he'll allow you to build your team in myriad combinations.