LeBron James among riskiest early-round fantasy basketball picks

LeBron James is one of the all-time fantasy basketball greats, but that doesn't mean he couldn't torpedo your 2019-20 championship hopes. Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

There are many ways to win at fantasy basketball, and strategies vary from league to league based on numerous factors, but there is at least one constant: In order to win your league, you can't botch one of your early-round picks.

Any time that happens, be it because of injury, poor play or other factors, the chances of finishing the season on top become very remote. Usually it takes a monster season by one of your other top picks or a waiver wire pickup who becomes a star or a blockbuster trade that goes in your favor.

More often, though, winning becomes all too difficult and losing becomes all too normal.

With that in mind, here's a look at the players you should think long and hard about before drafting this season.

LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers (5.5 ADP)

It pains me to write this, but a wise person once said that Father Time is undefeated, and King James turns 35 in December after playing a career-low 55 games last season. Even LeBron can't stay at the pace he's been at forever.

Dig a little deeper, and you see that not only does LeBron lead all active players in regular-season minutes played (46,235), he is already the all-time NBA leader in playoff minutes played (10,049). Add those up, and you arrive at 56,284 all-time minutes played, which ranks sixth behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (66,297), Karl Malone (62,759), Kobe Bryant (57,278), Dirk Nowitzki (57,263) and Tim Duncan (56,738).

Now, it's never wise to count out LeBron, but it's also hard to argue against the idea that there is some risk involved here. Even if he stays healthy all season, there's a very real chance he could get a good dose of DNP rest nights. While that may be well deserved, it's also something fantasy managers may want to avoid altogether by taking someone like Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid ahead of LeBron in the first round.

Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets (20.9 ADP)

Irving is saying all the right things in the early going as a member of the Nets, taking responsibility for the way his time in Boston ended, but the biggest question remains unanswered: Can he stay healthy?

The 27-year-old point guard has played in more than 72 regular season games just once in eight NBA seasons. Last season, it was 67. In his first campaign with the Celtics, it was 60. He also had seasons of 51, 59 and 53 games played while in Cleveland.

That alone is a huge risk, particularly as he carries the heavy burden of needing to be the man in Brooklyn all season while Kevin Durant is sidelined recovering from a torn Achilles.

Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns (24.3 ADP)

It may seem surprising to see Ayton on this list after he averaged a double-double (16.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG) as a rookie, but here's the thing: Ayton didn't shoot the 3-ball at all (0-4 last season) and didn't distribute much (1.8 APG) last season. For as impressive as he was as a scorer and rebounder, he also wasn't much of a contributor in terms of blocks (0.9 BPG) or steals (0.9 SPG) despite playing 30.7 MPG.

While Ayton should be just fine in points leagues as long as he sees slight increases across the board on offense, his game isn't well-rounded enough in roto leagues to justify a selection in the first three rounds. With center being a position of depth in fantasy hoops this season, anyone considering taking Ayton high in roto leagues should consider going for a PG, SG or SF and holding off several more rounds for a quality center option like Steven Adams, who can put up comparable numbers to Ayton.

John Collins, Atlanta Hawks (26.0 ADP)

Collins is one of the more efficient young frontcourt players in the game today, both from the field and the free throw line, and to his credit, he followed an impressive rookie season by making major strides last season. When all was said and done, he averaged 19.5 PPG and 9.8 RPG with a 56.0 FG% and 76.3 FT%.

The problem is that for the second year in a row, Collins also missed a chunk of games due to injury. In fact, he missed 21 games. And, perhaps due to the foot injury Collins dealt with early last season, he was a virtual non-factor in two important categories: steals (0.4 SPG) and blocks (0.6 BPG). And his contributions from 3-point range (0.9 3PG) and as a distributor (1.9 APG) also left much to be desired.

Like Ayton, Collins holds more value in points leagues than roto leagues with most of his numbers coming via points and rebounds; it could be tough to win with him if you take him in the first three rounds of roto drafts.

LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs (26.3 ADP)

Aldridge enters his 14th season in the NBA ranked ninth among all active players with 32,764 career minutes played in the regular season. If you take away LeBron and Chris Paul from the list, here are the other active players who've logged that many minutes: Vince Carter, Joe Johnson, Pau Gasol, Andre Iguodala and Dwight Howard.

You don't need me to tell you that all of those players are near the very end of their lengthy NBA careers, and that isn't very reassuring for Aldridge, who turns 34 in November after averaging 33.2 MPG last season and appearing in 81 of 82 regular season games. Though his perimeter-oriented style lends itself to longevity, at some point Aldridge's numbers have to decline, and this could be the year that happens.