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2016-17 fantasy basketball draft prep: Strategy tips

Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan, left, and Blake Griffin react to a basket by Jordan during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

You’ve checked out our Top 250. You’ve read up on all of the sleepers and breakouts to target, and the busts to avoid. You’re ready to dominate your upcoming fantasy basketball draft. Before diving in headfirst, though, there are a few final strategy tips you should keep in mind.

Familiarize yourself with your league format

What format is your league: rotisserie (where all owners compete for all categories throughout the year) or head-to-head (where you face one owner each week and compete for all categories)? If it’s head-to-head, do you earn points for winning each category, or do you only earn a point if you win more categories than your opponent? How many categories does your league feature? Which ones? Do you have an injured reserve spot on your bench?

All of these questions may seem nitty-gritty, but they could massively influence your draft strategy. If you’re in a roto league, it’s far more difficult to draft a player who is a massive negative in a certain category — such as Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan with free throw shooting. If you’re in an eight-category league rather than a nine-category one, players with high turnover rates (such as John Wall, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins) should all move up your draft board slightly.

ESPN.com’s Player Rater can give you a sense of how players fared in terms of fantasy value for eight-category leagues last season, while premium sites such as Basketball Monster have far more customization in terms of tracking fantasy value across different types of formats. If you’re using a cheat sheet or a set of pre-draft rankings, make sure they’re for your league’s specific format. FantasyPros’ expert consensus rankings, for interest, are based on nine-category head-to-head leagues, while other sites’ rankings may be for roto formats. Given the differences between the formats, using head-to-head rankings for roto leagues or vice versa could bury your team on draft day.

Punting categories

The strategy of punting categories only applies to owners in head-to-head leagues, as forfeiting a category in roto makes it damn near impossible to emerge as your league champion. Since you only need to win five categories each week to emerge victorious in head-to-head formats, though, punting a certain category to improve your standing in others is a viable strategy.

Though it’s hardly the only category you can punt, free throw percentage tends to be the most common, as Drummond, Jordan, Dwight Howard and the like gain considerable value if you go into your draft with the plan to intentionally lose that category each week. While drafting one (or more) of those players will almost assuredly guarantee you’ll rack up Ls in that category, each can help anchor your roster in terms of field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks. Owners who punt FT% can then round out their roster with guards who aren’t elite free throw shooters — Rajon Rondo, in particular, stands out as the obvious example.

Last year, Jordan finished as the 71st-ranked player in fantasy and Drummond was 121st on a per-game basis, but when factoring in punting FT%, Jordan was fourth and Drummond was eighth. Seeing as Drummond isn’t being selected until the mid-third round in average drafts and Jordan is lasting until the mid-fourth, owners who plan on punting FT% can ostensibly begin their draft with four first-round values if they get someone like Stephen Curry to pair with Hassan Whiteside, Jordan and Drummond.

Since roster construction is so heavily influenced by punting, owners in head-to-head leagues must determine whether they plan on heading down that path before beginning their drafts. A half-hearted punting strategy is a surefire way to build a mediocre team, so if you’re planning on disregarding FT%, turnovers or field goal percentage, know that going in and target players who will help you win at least five other categories each week.

Pay attention to pace

Last year, I broke down why fantasy basketball owners should pay attention to advanced statistics, including per-36-minute production and usage rate. Pace, however, is the most notable advanced stat that fantasy owners should keep in mind when heading into draft day.

Though a faster-paced team isn’t guaranteed to be loaded with top-20 fantasy options — to wit, the Sacramento Kings led the league in pace last year, and the Philadelphia 76ers were sixth — it does increase the probability of players returning positive value on their ADPs. Since pace is a count of how many possessions a team averages per 48 minutes, players on teams with a pace in the 100s — such as the Golden State Warriors — have a few more chances each night to rack up fantasy points compared to those on slower-paced teams.

Preseason pace statistics aren’t necessarily indicative of how teams will play in the regular season, unfortunately. Last year, only seven teams exceeded 100 possessions per 48 minutes during the regular season, while 16 jumped past that threshold during the preseason. Since teams limit their starters’ minutes (and run fewer set plays) during the preseason, play tends to be more run-and-gun than once the games begin to count. This year, all but eight teams jumped past the 100-possession mark in the preseason, but no more than half are likely to match that during the regular season.

That said, preseason is the first chance to see how new coaches are operating their programs. The Memphis Grizzlies, for instance, were the second-slowest team in pace last preseason, averaging 96.23 possessions per 48 minutes, while they were the ninth-fastest this year (103.14) under new head coach David Fizdale. Seeing as Fizdale announced his plan to “play with a higher pace” during his introductory press conference in May, fantasy owners should perhaps tick the main Grizzlies players — namely Mike Conley and Marc Gasol — up their draft boards slightly.

All 2015-16 rankings via Basketball Monster and are based on nine-category leagues. All average draft positions via FantasyPros and are current as of Sunday, Oct. 16.

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