Wednesday , Oct , 16 , 2013 Andrew Flint

Fantasy Basketball: Breaking Down The Top 10

Lebron James

With the NBA season inching closer by the day, that means two things. Basketball is nearly back in action, and the time to start drafting your fantasy basketball team(s) is now. Preseason is buzzing and the regular season picks up on October 29th. That gives you approximately 12 days to get your fill of fantasy research before drafting your winning team(s).

The two most common venues to showcase your fantasy basketball chops are ESPN and Yahoo!. Picking your poison won't really affect your status as a fantasy guru, being that both sites host solid fantasy action. I've personally hosted my personal league on Yahoo! since 2005. Although, I do play at least one ESPN league per season. The ways you compete can vary. Playing a standard league, with a snake styled draft is the most common course of action, but enjoying an auction, or keeper based league has become increasingly popular within the fantasy basketball ranks.

The top 10 players in this year's draft are debatable, depending on who you talk to. Scoring systems and rosters may differ from league to league, but finding your stud in the first round is virtually the same, regardless of league settings. That is, of course, unless you use some wacky, off the wall, rules.

My Fantasy Basketball Top 10:

10: Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets)

BAM! I start throwing curves right from the jump. I've already done a few mock drafts and the alarming trend I tend to notice is Dwight Howard going in the 3rd, and even 4th round. This is good for you, and bad for the league you're playing in. You now have the inside track on why becoming a slave to ESPN, or Yahoo! rankings is your first mistake as a fantasy manager. Howard has been a top 10 fixture for the past few seasons. One bad season in the City Of Angles, a couple injuries, and poor public image later, Howard finds himself bounced from the top 25 in both ESPN and Yahoo! respectively.

Howard averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.1 steal, while shooting 57% from the field. He accomplished all of that while playing with Kobe Bryant, who took 20+ shots per game. Howard's shot attempts were down by roughly one and a half shots per game last season. He played with an injured back and shoulder. Howard also played in system that completely went out of it's way to not use him in a successful fashion. Howard's now in Houston, playing with the much more user-friendly, James Harden. Houston is a better team than the Lakers were last season. Howard appears to be completely healthy, and I predict he'll be a 20-13-2 stat-stuffer this season.

9: Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)

Uncle Drew! Kyrie's back in 2013-14, and he's supported by a stronger cast. Additions of Andrew Bynum (if we ever see him), Jarrett Jack, Anthony Bennett and Earl Clark will ultimately help Kyrie develop into a more meaningful player. I know fantasy managers tend to get worried that key additions will vulture production from big names, but in this case you can toss your worries out the window. Guys like Jack and Clark will ultimately free Kyrie up to do more of what we've come to expect from the young guard.

The real worry with Kyrie, if you absolutely need to validate your pessimistic side, would be his ability to stay on the court all season. Kyrie only played in 59 games last season, and whether or not he'll stay in good health is always a concern, especially when drafting your first pick. The general rule is to proceed with caution. Kyrie is sort of the exception to the rule. Although, the risk is there, the reward is far greater.

8: Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)

Melo finished out last season with a playoff birth, and a scoring title. Notching just a touch under 29 points per game last season, Carmelo established what most of us already knew. He is an elite scorer. More importantly, he established himself as a legit candidate to push your fantasy agenda directly into the postseason. Carmelo shot 45% from the field, 37% from deep and 83% from the stripe in 2012-13, on his way to proving to me that he is worthy of a late first round selection.

Melo also comforts his owners with the fact that he fills up the scoring column. Personally, I believe that most teams need an elite scoring threat on their roster, or else their ship is already sunk. In most cases your first rounder is that guy. With the exceptions (on my list) being Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Look for Melo to post similar numbers to what he did last season.

7: Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves)

I know that Kevin Love is a touchy subject among avid fantasy competitors. K-Love left the fantasy community stunned last season as he fell to injury, after looking like a sure-shot to success. Love's unique ability to give his owners a heavy dose of scoring, rebounding, AND 3-point shooting from the PF/C position is what makes landing his services such a sought-after commodity. We're just going to call last season what it was… a bust. Kevin Love did not produce due to injury, and look, that happens. I know it's tough to let it go, but you have to. It's way too easy to hold a grudge in the fantasy world. But holding a grudge is what often finds managers giving themselves the Michael Beasley treatment.

Don't hold onto what a player did for you in recent memory. That's playing with your heart, instead of your head. Just because J.R. Smith averaged 18 points per game last season, doesn't mean I would draft him this year and expect the same production. You have to live in the now, and part of living in the now is realizing that falling in love with a player, or holding a grudge against a player for what he did or did not do for you last season, as hard as it is to avoid, is not the proper course of action. I'd look for Love's season to mirror that of his 2011-12 campaign, and not his 2012-13 season.

6: Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls)

D-Rose appears to be back and reportedly looks better than ever. Rose is another player, who like Dwight Howard and Kevin Love, seems to get a fantasy label that might not be fair. Don't let what happened to Rose last season affect your decision to choose him as your anchor this season. As I said with Kevin Love, injuries happen, and it's no fun, but you have to look past the potential for player's going down mid-season, and instead, look at the upside of what a guy can do for you when he plays the entire season. I talked about how anticipating an injury is almost impossible.

Prior to tearing his ACL, Derrick Rose only missed three total games as a pro, an unlike Kyrie Irving, doesn't deserve to be treated as an injury liability. But much like Kevin Love, I do understand that Rose has probably been written off by most managers who drafted him last season. Again, part of being good at fantasy sports is learning to not hold a grudge. Rose seems primed to have a season similar to that of his MVP run.

5: Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers)

Chris Paul has become Mr. Reliable in terms of a fantasy top 5. I can't remember the last time that CP3 wasn't ranked inside the elite range for fantasy studs, and who knows when he'll drop outside the top 10 again. Chris Paul doesn't exactly fill up the box score with points, but he will get you enough to validate his rank, and the assists and steals are what keeps us coming back for more. Paul's 9.7 assists were good for 2nd in the league last season.

He also led the league in steals per game with 2.4. But the one thing that really stands out to me for CP3 is the fact that he plays mistake free ball. Paul committed 2.3 turnovers per game last season, which is less than 15 of the top starting point guards in league had during that same stretch.

4: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors)

Young Stephen Curry broke out last season, and had the bay area buzzing with excitement. He also gained respect among fantasy circles. Curry shot his way into fantasy hearts, literally, as he connected on 45% from the field, 45% from deep, and 90% from the line. Curry also had a habit of going off in the scoring column, as he averaged 22+ points per game in 2012-13. The Warriors made a splash in free agency, securing Andre Iguodala, who will mesh great with Curry. Iggy is one of those guys who can impact every game without eating up shots. Curry needs the ball to be effective.

He electrifies, and Golden State could have ruined what they have going if they had signed Dwight Howard. Instead they made the clever move of landing Iguodala, who can push the pace, play defense, facilitate the game, and score needed buckets. The one thing Iguodala won't do is hog the ball, and take away from Curry's effectiveness. Curry has nowhere to go but up from a fantasy perspective.

3: James Harden (Houston Rockets)

I was asked last week about whether or not Dwight Howard's presence will negatively affect James harden as a bona fide fantasy option. The answer, quite simply, is no. Sure, Harden will have to share the ball with Howard, but it's not like James has ever been confused with a player who was allergic to dishing the rock. Harden averaged 5.8 assists per game last season, which was 2nd among all players at his position. Although Dwight's former teammate, Kobe Bryant, was first in that same category with 6 assists per game last season, don't let the numbers fool you.

The biggest difference being that Kobe had the ball more than Harden, so his assists were bound to be higher. Harden is certainly more eager to pass the ball than Kobe is, and that should work perfectly for his fantasy value this season. I don't even expect him to lose production in points. Harden averaged just over 25 points per game last year, and the addition of Howard shouldn't slow that down much. Expect other players in Houston to drop in scoring, not Harden. Much like Stephen Curry, I feel there is nowhere for James to go but up.

2: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)

This is where I tend to disagree with both ESPN and Yahoo!. Both websites have Durant ranked above LeBron James, but I just don't see why. Sure, you can't go wrong with Durant. I have him in my keeper league (which by the way, I won last season), and he's a godsend, but despite all of the great things this kid does, I just can't see any reasons that would validate me telling you to take him over LeBron, should you secure that number one selection in yoru draft.

Durant put up big numbers last season, averaging 28.1 points, 4.6 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game. I expect Durant's scoring to be up, at least while Russell Westbrook misses time early on. The departure of Kevin Martin will also help Durant's scoring, as the Thunder sorely lack anyone outside of KD as a legit scoring threat. Durant should probably average over 30 until Westbrook comes back. I feel like that is the only way the Thunder can stay over .500. Expect the get your full return for KD as the season opens up.

1: LeBron James (Miami Heat)

Where else do you rank a guy who has potential triple-double capability every time he walks onto the court? LeBron is the cream of the crop when it comes to fantasy basketball. It's a toss-up between Durant and LeBron, but for my money, I'm taking King James. His rebounding, assists, steals and field goal percentage give him the edge in my book. Sure, Durant will get you roughly a point and a half more per game and shoot a slightly higher 3-point percentage, but LeBron's ability to get me such a high volume of points, assists and rebounds makes him my ideal fantasy anchor.


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