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Fantasy basketball: Foundational players to trust and build around heading into next season

Evan Mobley has added appeal to fantasy managers in keeper leagues. AP Photo/Ron Schwane

Who are you going as this Halloween?

In my house? With a 10-year-old cosplay-addled daughter, whose quest for anime-grade authenticity mandates mood-boarding their demands months in advance? When it comes to gaming out our Halloween choices... it's never too early to start thinking ahead.

If you're like me (and I hope that only goes this far), for us, deep down, Halloween isn't about your child's happiness. It's about the heart of draft season. We think "Halloween" and our pulse starts to beat just a little faster.

For me, it gets complicated in record time. When I think "Halloween," I begin to game out which version of John Cregan is going to run which team.

Fine. I admit it. I leverage several fantasy GM personas. After years of practice, I can now navigate draft season operating as multiple mes. And since I usually end up managing 5-to-7 teams... I have the experience and luxury of letting different "mes" run different teams.

Does this sound a little unhinged? Oh, absolutely. But so is a competitive fantasy basketball draft. And no matter your threshold for randomness, real operators go into a draft with more than a spreadsheet. More than a list of targets, sleepers and busts.

If you're in it to win it? Longterm? You need an ethos. An organizing principle. Stick to that principle when the draft starts getting a little hectic, and you will have an extra operational gear other managers can't touch.

(Example: did you watch the NBA 75 Ultimate Draft? You should because one GM played a draft ethos to disciplined perfection: Quavo. His ethos: drip. Simple, elegant... and it secretly made a lot of strategic sense. Quavo probably knew his knowledge of NBA history only ran so deep. He was in a room filled with NBA legends and lifers. But by drafting for one quality? He aligned an analytically distinctive team.

It showed that when you draft with an ethos, other managers can feel it. By the end, when the sell-by date on Quavo's NBA knowledge had clearly passed? Said heavyweights started pitching him players. Including the single player Quavo probably didn't realize he absolutely had to make his ethos work: Walt Frazier.)


My drafting personas

Each Cregan persona confronts with the same core query: who's the lynchpin? Who is my ideal player to build around?

Each me boils it down to this fundamental question: who is my Foundation? (As in that's how every Cregan refers to that first pick/salary cap acquisition: Foundation, with a capital "F.")

To help you see how hard it is to be me on a day-to-day basis, and to maybe get you thinking ahead a little for once, I thought I'd give you the full Cregan Fantasy GM menu; his ideal No. 1 overall snake/$75 salary cap Foundation, and a more gettable late-round-one/early round-two/$55-$65 Foundation.

The Baseline

This guy hugs the middle and is risk-averse. Makes the most obvious choice at every opportunity. Doesn't draft for upside. Doesn't like players with a glaring weakness, the kind that makes you punt in a roto setting. This dude drafts what's right in front of him because he likes to know what he's getting. Seeks balance in every which way. Is preternaturally cheery and compliments other managers on their picks. Says "mindful" way too much. I do not hang out with this guy in my off-hours.

Ideal No. 1 Overall Foundation: Nikola Jokic (like I said... obvious)
Gettable Foundation: Karl-Anthony Towns


Takes PER Way Too Far

Still takes his early-aught obsession with efficiency evangelist John Hollinger way too seriously. At one point in his life, was probably guilty emailing Hollinger himself on occassion. When he got an answer, he worked hard to play it as cool as possible. But he isn't cool. Was secretly relieved when Hollinger got hired by the Grizzlies, because it meant asking any more questions was a clear professional no-no. This guy will go out-of-the-box early if it means getting a player who shines in an atypical way (blocks, TS%). You'd think this guy would be a roto-only GM...but he's won his share of points leagues.

Ideal No. 1 Overall Foundation: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Gettable Foundation: Rudy Gobert


Gordon Gecko

Greed is good. Probably the one Cregan on this list whoever considered pledging a fraternity. This man is a volume monster. Disdains efficiency. He takes and then takes some more. Gobbles possessions. Shot attempts. Looks to get his at every opportunity. Loves players on high-pace teams. Ballhogs. Shooting guards. Defends Russell Westbrook to the point of total existential collapse. Says "I just won this draft" to the draft room after every pick. The only percentage he cares about: Usage Rate. And of course this guy kills it in points leagues...and we hate ourselves for it.

Ideal No. 1 Overall Foundation: Luka Doncic
Gettable Foundation: Donovan Mitchell


Bizzaro Cregan

Picks the precise opposite of who I'd usually take. An excellent way to ensure my various teams don't end up duplicating the same picks repeatedly. I accept it as a professional necessity to occasionally let Bizarro Me run the draft room. He keeps my analysis from getting too set in its ways. He doesn't understand why the other "mes" buy so much vinyl when everything is just so steamable nowadays. He wears Supreme shirts way too much. Probably a little Ed Hardy around the edges. He also doesn't shave as often as I'd like.

Ideal No. 1 Overall Foundation: LeBron James
Gettable Foundation: Jayson Tatum


Process-Obsessed (KEEPER LEAGUE ONLY)

Starts tanking on draft night. Plays for next year by prioritizing cheap sleepers and sophomores, scads of rookies, and a couple of drool-worthy, high-priced stars to dangle for more cheap keepers at the deadline. Has to be reminded actually to draft to win for a change.

Ideal No. 1 Overall Foundation: Evan Mobley
Gettable Foundation: Cade Cunningham


Don Nelson

When this guy puts on a turtleneck for 30-45 seconds...he actually is Don Nelson. And Don Nelson is a mad scientist. He comes up with the most out-of-the-box strategies. He tries to collide strategies (ie: Small Forwards+Defensive Rebounds Per Game+Body Mass Index) He drafts with rigorous intensity. He erases the line between genius and instantly. We love being Don Nelson. We are Don Nelson. The Current Mrs. Cregan sometimes has to show us pictures of our kids to snap us out of it.

Ideal No. 1 Overall Foundation: Dejounte Murray
Gettable Foundation: Dejounte Murray


Moneyballer

This guy drafts around an underappreciated stat that drives fantasy championship play. He prizes discipline and sticking to his draft board no matter what. Think Luke Skywalker flying down the Death Star's trench, staying on-target with Force-heavy focus.

Ideal No. 1 Overall Foundation: (This season) Stephen Curry
Gettable Foundation: Damian Lillard


So I'll end this with a cautionary tale.

Last Halloween, Moneyballer me ran 75% of my drafts. He identified a stat I wanted to build my team around: free throw production, adjusted for volume (basically how we generate the free throw category on the Player Rater). But I severely underestimated the impact of the offseason rule changes.

Adam Silver's banning perimeter flopping, contorting, and extremely bad acting? All in the name of preventing cheap and-1s? It dashed months of pre-draft plotting.

Moneyballer may never live down building around James Harden, Bradley Beal, Lillard, Jimmy Butler, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Ingram, Paul George and Kemba Walker.

Last season? This version of Moneyballer would have won all of his leagues. This season? He's in a zero-gravity chair, listening to the Whatnauts, and trying to figure out what's wrong with this stupid eye massager thing his kids made him get off Amazon.