In fantasy basketball, preseason valuation is always tough. And this NBA fantasy season, it's really tough because of all of the "unprecedented" factors surrounding our upcoming, one-of-a-kind regular season.
So, when I look at some of your average draft positions (ADP) and say to you that with certain players, Fantasyland has abandoned all pretense of even the most ephemeral relationship with basic analytic reason...
I don't mean you.
C'mon. You're reading this! I'm on your side -- now and always. And to prove my long-term devotion, I've organized my most underrated and overrated ADPs into two easily digested All-Star teams.
Salary-cap value: $2
Cregan's actual value range: 40-45 ADP, $15-$20
So, I wanted to start with a fellow late bloomer, Dejounte Murray. Murray and I don't pack a lot of obvious heat. He doesn't pop off the screen with eye-catching anything. His assist output is mediocre. He averaged only 25.6 minutes per game last season for noted fantasy buzzkill Gregg Popovich.
But taken in the long view? Murray is constantly trending upward.
Murray does a little bit of everything but also owns the underrated fantasy trait of always figuring out a way to contribute with unique combinations of production -- even when his shot isn't falling. He rebounds extremely well (5.8 per game in 2019-20), posts solid percentages (79.8 FT%, 36.9 3FG%) and elite steals potential (1.7 SPG in 25.6 MPG)
Murray finished last season strongly (12.6 PPG, 4.6 APG, 5.8 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 0.8 3PG, 0.3 BPG post-All-Star break). He is projected to play more minutes, and if Murray pushes 30 minutes per game, 15.0 points, 5.0 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game is a very reasonable expectation. But even at his post-All-Star production from last season, he's pushing top-40 value in points leagues.
Salary-cap value: $56
Cregan's actual value range: 12-14 ADP, $35-$40
This isn't based on any kind of projected drop-off. You can Sharpie in Lillard for 30.0 PPG, 8.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, 4.0 3PG, 1.0 SPG and an elite 62.5 TS%. I'm not trying to scare you with any kind of anticipated injury issue.
This valuation is about scarcity. As in the lack of scarcity at point guard in the first two rounds.
The top 20 ADP picks are over-saturated with PG-eligible elites: Doncic, Harden, Lillard, Curry, Young, Booker, Westbrook and Simmons (with Irving lurking at ADP 21). And as of this writing, Lillard is the third PG-eligible elite coming off the board.
Plus, you might have noticed I have Lillard priced way under his going salary-cap value. That can be explained with two facts: 1) You're overvaluing Lillard, considering the lack of PG scarcity, and 2) All elite players are marked up by a good 25 percent. You're happily paying the superstar tax for the extra peace of statistical mind.
First, if I'm spending that kind of capital on a point guard, I'd rather have Curry. He'll probably be worked back in somewhat slowly. But without Klay Thompson, Curry is primed to post his highest shot volume since 2015-16.
Second, I'm not spending that kind of capital on point guard unless it's Harden or Doncic. There are just too many great point guards who can be had for less. Much less. And I haven't mentioned the massive upside of mid-round PG-eligibles like De'Aaron Fox or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Lillard will not let you down. You're just going to overpay, that's all.
Salary-cap value: $13
Cregan's actual value range: 27-32 ADP, $16-$21
I don't get it. I shouldn't have to talk you into a high-volume scorer at a scarce position. Yet LaVine is going more than a round after my very uncontroversial projection. I actually plug LaVine's production at slightly less than last season's (new coach; so hedging my bet).
But the idea of paying Lillard $56 and LaVine $13 for around 24.5 points, 4.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 3s and 2.0 steals + blocks per game? Mind-boggling. (Can you see where I'm getting at in terms of factoring in scarcity?)
Overrated: DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
Salary-cap value: $19
Cregan's actual value range: 42-47 ADP, $13-$18
You're not crazily overpaying for DeRozan. Just by about three-quarters of a round. And DeRozan is a very stable investment. A legacy vet on a Popovich team.
DeRozan meshes well in the Spurs' system and should be rewarded with 32-34 minutes per game. You can book his 22.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists per game and an admirable 60.0 TS% because he's also in a contract year (the most underrated fantasy value boost out there).
So what's wrong with overpaying a little for such solid, immovable value? Because you're overpaying for someone without any upside. LaVine (going for five picks and $6 less) has upside. Fred VanVleet has upside. And SGA has monster upside. DeRozan isn't going to suddenly add a 3-point shot. Or elite assists or steals.
DeRozan is what he is, which is solid and dependable. But I'd much rather have LaVine's cheaper price and plus upside.
Underrated: Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers
Salary-cap value: $28
Cregan's actual value range: 19-24 ADP, $32-$37
You may have noticed in some of my other preseason columns my discussion of "playoff goggles" players. Players who play well in the postseason and get overvalued by a round in next season's drafts (beware Tyler Herro, who's overvalued by about three rounds).
George is also a playoff goggles player -- but in reverse. His postseason flame-out knocked him down a round.
Never mind that he just re-upped for the supermax. Or that he's always a strong regular-season player (the only games that count in fantasy). Or that small forward is another very scarce position. Or that Kawhi will be load managed, and George (now healthy) will have to pick up the alpha-dog slack.
In a stacked, then re-stacked Western Conference, George will have to take on expanded touches to ensure the Clippers keep pace. He'll be on a mission-type campaign, to produce big-time to atone for the 2020 playoffs. 23.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.5 steals + blocks per game -- at small forward, which is bone-dry in the middle rounds.
Salary-cap value: $13
Cregan's actual value range: 55-60 ADP, $11-$13
Harris presents a similar dynamic to DeRozan. Absolutely nothing wrong with him or his projected production. He's reuniting with Doc Rivers, who coached Harris to his career-best season in 2018-19. He's stayed healthy for four straight seasons. Book him for a solid 21.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 3s per game -- and he won't help or hurt your percentages (around a 55.0 TS%).
Thanks to positional scarcity, Harris is only slightly overpriced in salary-cap leagues. But he's most definitely going a round too high in snake drafts. And you know Harris' ceiling. You're seeing it. He's not going to suddenly become a No. 1 at Embiid or Simmons' expense.
Small forward is a scarce, funky position this season. It's the one that makes me the most nervous in terms of draft tiers. But here are small forward-eligibles I'd rather have in the middle rounds: Robert Covington, Jaylen Brown, Kelly Oubre Jr., Michael Porter Jr., T.J. Warren ... even DeRozan.
Salary-cap value: $4
Cregan's actual value range: 50-55 ADP, $20-$25
Here's one trend I've definitely noticed in draft under-valuations: If you didn't play in the bubble, you're slipping by about a round. Obviously, managers have forgotten Wood's multiple out-of-body statistical experiences in Detroit last season (a very tough place to have any kind of out-of-body experience). His final nine games: 24.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.6 3s, 1.1 steals, 1.0 blocks per game and a stratospheric 64.2 TS%.
No one's expecting that in Houston. No one knows what to expect in Houston. But in an offseason filled with questionable moves (with one big, bearded move possibly to come), managers can be sure of Wood getting 30 minutes a night. In that range, regardless of Harden's being a Rocket, Wood's floor should be 18 points, 8 rebounds, 1.5 3s, and 2.0 blocks + steals per game.
Minimum, Wood should be right around 50 on the Player Rater. Not only is he the most underrated PF in fantasy, he's one of the most underrated ... period.
Salary-cap value: $39
Cregan's actual value range: 25-30 ADP, $28-$33
I wrote that Siakam would be overrated last season. I was right. Again, I'm not predicting him to be a bust. But Siakam got dinged last season by the traditional malady that hits over-hyped players who get a usage bump: His efficiency dropped. His true shooting percentage regressed to a league-average 55.4 TS%.
Siakam hit his volume expectations (at least mine) last season. He'll hit them again. Book him for 22.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 3s, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals + blocks per game. Great production, but this feels like his ceiling. If I can get Siakam at 30 overall, great. But I don't think he falls that far.
Salary-cap value: $2
Cregan's actual value range: 39-44 ADP, $21-$26
Overrated: Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers
Salary-cap value: $16
Cregan's actual value range: 55-60 ADP, $10-$15
I'll bunch these last two together, since they're teammates ... and since they nearly cancel each other out in terms of underrated/overrated polarity. And yes, I know Sabonis is more of a power forward who just also qualifies at center (Want a bonus overrated center?: Clint Capela).
Turner is at that golden fantasy stage: He's come full circle from underrated to overrated and now back to underrated again. Turner's late-round availability is one of the reasons why I'm not spending more than $10 on a center in salary-cap drafts, unless I get Anthony Davis at bargain. There are just too many upside plays at center from Rounds 6-11 to overpay for one early.
There's a new coach in Indiana (Nate Bjorkgren) who's promised to "resurrect Turner's fantasy career and ADP" by letting him take "five to six 3-pointers a night." OK, he hasn't promised to resurrect Turner's ADP or fantasy career. But he is on the record about upping the 3-point volume. Turner is a player who seems to do better on defense when he gets more touches on offense. So, engaging Turner from deep should have a positive effect on both ends of the court.
Sabonis played out of his mind last season. Great scoring (18.5 PPG) and elite rebounds (12.4 RPG). He ladled on out-of-position production in assists (5.0 APG). But with a new coach and Victor Oladipo fully recovered, it remains to be seen how Sabonis meshes with Turner in this new system.
Just remember that his lack of defensive stats (he'll be lucky to chip in 1.0 steals + blocks per game) is really going to hamstring him in ESPN's new points scoring system, which prizes steals and blocks. It prioritizes assists, too, a plus for Sabonis, but they don't get the same love as steals and blocks. And out of all the categories out there, nothing overinflates value like elite rebounds ... when they're not backed up with any defensive counting stats.