The NBA offseason is short – especially when top-tier free agents have us gobbling up every rumor and report well into July. LeBron James made another decision. Carmelo Anthony stayed put. Chandler Parsons got paid. Pau Gasol switched conferences. Free agency was a whirlwind of speculation. But now the dust has pretty much settled and the period between now and when the season tips off feels like an eternity.
Luckily, Zack Rewis of thefantasyfix.com invited me to an offseason mock draft -- a 12-team Rotisserie affair with Fantasy Basketball analysts from across the interwebs. I leapt at the chance to cure my early August boredom, and here's how it all went down for my team.
Rules: 12 teams, 15 rounds, eight categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three pointers made.
Positions: PG, SG, SF, PF, C, G(2), F(2), Util.(2), Bench(4)
Round 1: James Harden, SG, Rockets -- No. 5 overall
A couple of factors went into this decision. First, the structure of the draft dictated we fill out specific positions, and there might not be a more shallow spot than shooting guard. When you boil it down, Harden is the only sure-fire stud at the position. He finished last season ranked fifth in points per game, 14th in assists per game 15th in 3-pointers made and 10th in free-throw percentage. And for all the grief he gets for his lazy defense, he still finished with more total steals than Mike Conley in the same number of games -- good for 17th in the league.
Second, Chandler Parsons left Houston and took his 13.3 field goal attempts and 4.0 assists per game with him. Trevor Ariza will get some of those shots, but he's much less of a playmaker and much more of a spot-up shooter/defender. The Rockets also traded Jeremy Lin, meaning Harden will most likely be the only creator on the roster. LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade are the only players since Michael Jordan in 1989 to average at least 25 points, four rebounds and seven assists per game for a whole season. Given the Rockets' lack of options and their top-five pace from last year, that ridiculous line seems attainable for Harden this season.
Round 2: Dwight Howard, C, Rockets -- No. 20 overall
I was very close to taking Chris Bosh with this pick, but I felt Howard had fallen too far for me to pass him up. Obviously the seven people who picked before me in this round didn't want his poor free-throw shooting dragging down their percentages, but if you want to compete in blocks, rebounds and field-goal percentage, chances are you're going to draft at least one bad free-throw shooter to do so. In my mind, his 59 percent from the field (third in the league), 1.8 blocks per game (seventh) and 12.2 rebounds per game (fourth), outweighed his 54.7 percent from the charity stripe (fifth worst). During Houston's six-game stint in the playoffs, Howard was undoubtedly the best player on the floor, averaging 26.0 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. I'm expecting coach Kevin McHale to try and awaken Howard a bit earlier on this year with the hopes that his team has a more organized game plan once things slow down in the playoffs.
These first two picks basically set the tone for the rest of my draft. I began to devalue efficiency in an effort to dominate the volume stats. The fact that this format excluded the turnover category helped make my decision easier. There likely won't be another duo in the NBA with a greater workload than Howard and Harden this season, as the rest of their roster is comprised of specialists with glaring limitations.
Round 3: Ty Lawson, PG, Nuggets -- No. 29 overall
Point guard is easily the deepest position in Fantasy. Lawson dealt with injury issues last season, missing 20 games on the year, but his averages indicate he's still among the league's best. He averaged more assists than Ricky Rubio and Stephen Curry (8.8), more points per game than Tony Parker and Mike Conley (17.7) and more steals per game than Patrick Beverley and Kyle Lowry (1.6). Basically he's a well-rounded point guard with high assist potential. On a per game basis, here's what separated John Wall from Ty Lawson last season: 1.7 points, 0.2 steals, 0.6 rebounds, and 0.3 blocks. That's it. Their assist, free throw, three pointer and field goal rate were nearly identical, and Wall went 19 spots ahead of him in this draft. I'd say that's pretty good value for Lawson.
Round 4: Chandler Parsons, SF, Mavericks -- No. 44 overall
Like shooting guard, small forward is another top-heavy position, that's why I couldn't wait any longer to snag an up-and-comer. Parsons has improved in each of his first three years in the league, and considering what the Mavericks just paid him this offseason, he'll likely play an even larger role in Dallas. I envision Parsons playing a lot of point forward for the Mavs, meaning there's room for his steadily increasing assist rate to keep climbing. His career free throw percentage isn't great (70.5 percent), but he's very efficient from the field. Last season, other than LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Parsons boasted the best field goal rate of any small forward averaging 16-plus points per game. I can see him putting up Nicolas Batum-type numbers as a more equally valued member of his new Texas team. Plus, with Shawn Marion and Vince Carter out of the picture, his only competition for playing time will be Jae Crowder and Richard Jefferson. I was very comfortable with this pick because there were plenty of talented power forwards still on the board, so I knew I could easily fill that position nine picks later.
Round 5: Greg Monroe, PF/C, Pistons -- No. 53 overall
Here's where the decisions started to get much harder. I still needed a power forward, but the ultimate three-point specialist in Thompson was still out there -- not to mention categorical Swiss army knife Thaddeus Young. I thought long and hard about drafting each of these guys, but I felt it was still too early for a one-trick pony like Thompson or a guy who seemed destined to leave the warm Fantasy confines of Philadelphia. Therefore, I went with the most upside at my position of need. Greg Monroe's future is just as uncertain as Young's, but his double-double potential combined with his youth made this choice a bit easier in the end. As of the posting of this column, Monroe still has not signed with a team in restricted free agency, but something's got to give in Detroit. A trade that clears space on the Pistons or moves Monroe to another team would do wonders to his value. And even in the bloated Detroit frontcourt, Monroe was still fairly productive. I planned to take a safer power forward with one of my next picks to hedge my bet.
Round 6: Brandon Jennings, PG, Pistons -- No. 68 overall
This is probably where I went all-in on my high-usage, low-efficiency approach. It seemed I wasn't as tied to targeting specific guys as the rest of the owners were, so my strategy basically became seeing which volume stat guy fell into my lap. My Jennings pick exemplified this perfectly. It's not often that 15.5 points, 7.6 assists, 1.9 made threes and 1.3 steals per game remains an option in the sixth round, which is what Jennings put up on a nightly basis for 80 games last season. His horrendous 37.3 percent from the field is what probably saw him fall so far, but considering turnovers don't count against me here, it seemed like a small price to pay for volume stats. Rajon Rondo and Ricky Rubio shot just slightly better from the field, but are nonexistent in the 3-pointers category. If you can look past his inefficiency, Jennings is a steal here.
Round 7: Tim Duncan, PF/C, Spurs -- No. 77 overall
Whenever I attempt to type Duncan's name into a story, I always write "Time Duncan" on first pass. This is the most appropriate misspelling of any athlete's name because, like time, Duncan is a constant -- an unchangeable law of basketball physics. An efficient double-double and two blocks per game in the seventh round? Sign me up. Sure, he's 900 years old and the Spurs are so hard to count on for Fantasy, but the best power forward of all time looked like he could do this for another 10 years the way he easily navigated 74 games last season. I seriously considered gambling on a Dwyane Wade renaissance or grabbing a three-point specialist in Matthews, but Duncan's impressive resume was too much to pass up here. Time Duncan is the exception to my "don't draft any Spurs" rule.
Round 8: Joe Johnson, SF/SG, Nets -- No. 92 overall
Sticking with my "pass on specialists" game plan, the next best value on the board by my estimation was Joe Johnson. He sank threes at the same clip as Jodie Meeks and J.J Redick last season, and this year there will be more to go around with Paul Pierce out of the picture. Plus, he'll be the sole beneficiary of any missed time by his injury-prone teammates Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. He's not especially great at anything other than scoring, but Johnson's a career 80 percent from the line and has the ability to go off on occasion. Plus, I like his job security in Brooklyn. Looking back, maybe Redick would have been a better pick here, but in the end the Nets will need Johnson much more than the Clippers need Redick. I stayed the course with my approach of taking reliable high-usage players.
Round 9: Arron Afflalo, SG/SF, Nuggets -- No. 101 overall
I had been targeting McBob to start the draft, but at this point I was pretty comfortable with my assists. So the Afflalo pick is a lot like the Johnson pick -- just an OK all-around player at a good price. His role might change a bit in Denver, but the career-high 3.5 assists he averaged last season show that maybe he's becoming more well-rounded. Before Victor Oladipo started getting heavy developmental minutes, Afflalo averaged 20.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game with 2.0 made threes a contest through his first 35 games. It's unlikely he gets back to that line in Denver, but the upside is there with minimal risk if you ask me.
Round 10: Channing Frye, PF, Magic -- No. 116 overall
The Magic are overstocked with forwards, so this one does have some risk, but none of those middle men can shoot. In fact, nobody other than Ben Gordon or Luke Ridnour can shoot on their whole roster. Orlando gave Frye a boatload of money, so it seems to me they plan to play him pretty heavily with the hope that the spacing he provides will clear driving lanes for their young athletes. He appeared in all 82 games last season for Phoenix and more than two threes in 28 minutes per game. Plus, he's an 81.5 percent free throw shooter on his career and picks up a block per game. Tenth round seems like a good time to splurge on the very rare center-eligible shooting specialist.
Rounds 11-13: Andre Iguodala, Anderson Varejao and Nene
I'll lump these three together because they're all notorious injury risks at this point in their careers. Before his hamstring injury last season, Iguodala was exactly what you want in a Roto player: 12.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.8 made threes per game on 55 percent from the field. But that 13-game stretch became a distant memory. As the season was winding down, his numbers plummeted. Still, the talent is there, so I thought I was safe enough with the rest of my picks to start gambling.
Next roll of the dice was the guy LeBron James insisted remain on the Cavs roster. Anderson Varejao is an efficient rebounding specialist, with sneaky steal and assist potential -- when he's healthy. And that "when" has been "not very often." A 65-game campaign last season was his healthiest in three years, so hopefully he can stay on the court for a good portion of the coming year.
And my third infirmary regular, Nene, was a flier for his steals and fluctuating free throw rate. The Wizards got some help at power forward this season, but Nene's got to be better than Samuel Dalembert and Timofey Mozgov -- the other big men on the board at that point.
Rounds 14-15: Marcus Smart and Nik Stauskas
Since all the trendy young dudes went early, I decided it was my turn to finally draft some upside. I'll be honest, I was shocked to see these two sitting there in the final two rounds of the draft. Marcus Smart is one Rondo trade away from being a nightly stat stuffer, and Nik Stauskas has one of the easiest paths to playing time of any rookie in this year's draft.