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Fantasy Basketball: Why You Should Go Auction Draft Over Snake

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

I remember having a “What have I been missing?”-moment the first time I participated in a fantasy auction draft. This was in fantasy baseball, and I recall soon pitching the idea to close friends in my fantasy basketball league. Skepticism was the initial response, as it unfortunately seems to often be with an auction draft. How does it work? It seems too complicated. What happens if somebody doesn’t show up?  

Questions and concerns like this arise, causing leagues to shy away from something they should embrace. Once my fantasy hoops league bought in, they had the same reaction as me. They were totally convinced it was the way to go and we’ve never looked back.

The reasons for advocating for an auction draft are pretty simple. The biggest positive is it places owners on an even playing field.

This is especially relevant in fantasy basketball, where the top-tier studs hold considerably more value than players ranked just 5-10 slots lower. This is a bit different than football, where the first pick obviously possesses high value, but football has a lot of unpredictable variables that could cause the 10th pick (or even later) to showcase more value. Such a development is less likely in fantasy basketball, where performance is more predictable and injuries are less prevalent.

Let’s consider Anthony Davis, the top-rated fantasy player entering 2015-16, according to ESPN. If you get the No. 1 pick in a snake draft, then boom, The Brow falls in your lap. How is it fair to allow a player as dynamic as Davis to just be handed to an owner randomly? You might argue that everything evens out in a snake draft because the owner with the last pick of the first round also gets the first pick of the second round. I find this highly debateable, largely because Davis is an insane asset. So are Stephen Curry and James Harden. If you receive a high pick, you’re dealt a significant advantage because these beasts are highly unique.

Let’s consider a hypothetical. It’s a 10-team league, and you’re dealt the last pick of the first round and in turn the first pick of the second round. You snag Kawhi Leonard (No. 10 ranked player, according to ESPN) and John Wall (No. 11). You’ve added two quality players, but here’s the thing: Players ranked between 10-20 are much more similar in value compared to 1-10. For the owner who got Davis, he could very easily wind up with a player of comparable worth to Leonard and Wall with the 20th pick (his second-round pick). And then keep in mind that he picks twice in a row as he holds the first pick in the third round. So, the owner who picks first gets three of the top 21 players, including the most lethal weapon of all in Davis. There’s something about this that doesn’t seem right.

Values on ESPN’s Player Rater paint this picture even further. During 2014-15, Curry had the highest rating at 21.34, followed by Harden (20.43), Chris Paul (18.59) and Davis (16.98). Now let’s jump down to the 1oth-ranked player, Pau Gasol, whose rating was 12.46. So, from No. 1 to No. 10 we have a dip in rating of 8.88. When we arrive at the 20th-ranked player, Draymond Green, we see a rating of 9.80. So, from No. 10 to No. 20, we have a dip in rating of just 2.66.

According to these values, the No. 1 and No. 20 players have a combined rating of 31.14, whereas the No. 10 and No. 11 players have a combined rating of 24.9.

This analysis should crystallize how the decline in value from No. 1 to No. 10 is much more severe than the decline from No. 10 to No. 20, magnifying why the snake draft approach is flawed. The bottom line is this: Snake drafts in fantasy basketball favor whoever happens to get the top few picks.

Thankfully, the auction draft eliminates these concerns. Everybody is given the same amount of mythical money (typically $200), and everybody has a shot at everybody. If you want Davis, you can have him. But how much are you willing to pay? It should almost be obvious that this is a much more sensible approach to a draft because it’s fair. A snake draft can feel like you’re picking out of a hat and hoping for the best. It removes some ownership, while the auction draft places everything in your hands and creates a glorious field of strategy.

And the emphasis upon more strategy cannot be overstated. Fantasy leagues are thrilling because they provide avenues of competition that gives sports nuts the opportunity to strategize like a general manager. The more avenues we create, the better. Auction drafts give owners a lot to think about as they make their selections. Do I spend approximately half of my budget (and maybe even more) to grab Davis, or do I take a more conservative approach and a target a handful of middle-tier assets?

It’s up to you, and that’s the beauty of it.

The auction draft format can also set the table nicely for an auction waiver format as well. After the draft, every team is given a budget of money (i.e. $100) to spend throughout the season. They may notice a player trending upward and really want him, but they have to bid on him and are unaware of what other owners are bidding. Owners who are aggressive could be running low on money by the All-Star break, whereas owners who save that money could have enough to land that rookie who goes on a tear late in the year.

Once again, there’s more strategy, and there’s more power in the owner’s hands. The auction draft as well as the auction waiver wire approach strengthen fantasy leagues in ways that snake drafts and traditional waiver formats cannot.

It’s also worth noting that an auction draft is still doable if an owner isn’t present. Their team will auto-bid (which isn’t ideal), but it’s not like you can’t do an auction draft unless every owner is there.

I’ll even add that the auction format can also present some options to consider for a keeper league. One fantasy league I’ve participated in allows keepers, but their values increase by $10 for the upcoming season. This presents a whole new realm of strategy. An owner who’s struggling and will likely not make the playoffs may trade a couple stellar players to a contending team for one youngster with phenomenal keeper value. It creates a buyer/seller dynamic that can keep every owner engaged throughout the season. This may not be appealing to some, but it’s once again another benefit of doing an auction draft, as it sparks innovative ideas for keepers.

If you’re on the fence of an auction or snake draft, jump as quick as you can towards the auction format and don’t listen to petitions against it. Those same petitioners will likely soon be convinced that the auction draft should’ve been utilized sooner. There are too many positives to it, most notably that all owners are on the same playing field.

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