“Victory Red”: NBA Western Conference Divisional Breakdown
Pursuing an NBA Championship and a Fantasy Championship both require more than just talent on a roster. Yes, talent makes you a contender, but a mix of things such as chemistry and matchups create champions. Chemistry on a fantasy team is much different, however, than chemistry on the court. Having a mix of stat-stuffers in different categories is what you would consider chemistry on a fantasy roster. The goal is to have a mix of players that can contribute in most of the categories so that you have a chance to win each of the categories on any given week. On the same note, getting hot at just the right time can ignite a fascinating run at a Championship, when just a month prior, that same team was written off. In the West, the goal is to make the playoffs and be playing the best possible basketball at that time. With such parity across the conference, seeding is valuable for home court advantage and not much else.
Last week, we took a look at how the offseason impacted the contenders in the Western Conference without looking much into the fantasy implications of those moves. It is extremely important to understand the landscape of the NBA to determine which players are best suited for your fantasy roster. However, the largest portion of the roster-building puzzle is performance. Every team is guaranteed to play each of their division foes four times throughout the course of a season so stacking up well against your divisional opponents is often overlooked when drafting players for your fantasy roster. We are going to look at each of the divisions in the Western Conference and what you will need to keep in mind for your fantasy drafts.
Oklahoma City Thunder- The Thunder are one of the best home teams in the NBA and are consistently at the top of the standings. I fully expect them to take this division and contend for the top spot in the Western Conference. Obviously Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Russell Westbrook are fantasy superheroes, but the guys to look at on this roster are Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. Reggie Jackson proved he is a valuable asset last year with his 13ppg/4ast/4reb split plus 90% free throw shooting and will be tasked to play both point guard and shooting guard for a ton of minutes. Also, Jeremy Lamb will finally be given a chance to excel with the Thunder. Lamb is a five-tool player that needed some grooming to make an impact in the NBA. I think that time has finally come.
Portland Trailblazers- The Blazers had a tremendous finish to last season, winning nine of their final ten regular season games and taking down the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. The Blazers did a great job of adding some depth to their bench with Steve Blake and Chris Kaman, but from a fantasy standpoint, their starting five is where all of the fantasy points will come from. Nicolas Batum is one of my favorite fantasy players because he can fill up a 9-category stat sheet like it is nothing. Last year he shot 80% from the free throw line, averaged 13ppg/5apg/7.5rpg/1spg, and made 145 3-point field goals. Big guys like LaMarcus Aldridge are also incredibly valuable. Most big guys will bring you down in certain categories, but Aldridge has the ability to excel in all of them with the exception of 3-point field goal shooting. Portland has themselves a budding big-three with Aldridge, Lillard, and Batum, all of whom are incredible fantasy options.
Denver Nuggets- The Nuggets are not going to make a run at the playoffs, but Kenneth Faried is certainly worth a mention. He has dominated the paint for Team USA this offseason, which should boost his mojo coming into the 2014-2015 season. The Nuggets carry a lot of players such as Afflalo, Mozgov, Chandler, Gallinari, Foye, and Robinson that could provide fantasy value at certain times, but the only consistent options I trust on this squad are Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried.
Minnesota Timberwolves- This team is young and talented, but has proven absolutely nothing. From a fantasy standpoint, there are a lot of high risk/high reward players to choose from. Of course, Andrew Wiggins is going to be the sexy pick, but he is going to need a couple of years to show his full potential. I think he is going to struggle to maintain a good shooting percentage, which could cause some trouble in other categories as well. The two players that I like the most are Thaddeus Young and Ricky Rubio. They both have some tremendous upside, but have proven to be flakey at times. Most of the depth on this team comes at the PG/SG/SF positions, so Thaddeus will be relied heavily upon to hold down the frontcourt. Gorgui Dieng broke out at the end of last year averaging 11.5ppg/10.7rpb/1.4bpg/1.0spg. His dominance down the stretch makes him one of the most intriguing fantasy sleepers in the entire NBA.
Utah Jazz- Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors will be the only definite players worth drafting this year. However, Dante Exum and Trey Burke are both worth examining. This team has some talent, but made me believe nothing positive about them from their performance last year. The three players mentioned above had tremendous upside but are streaky in their fantasy performance. Gordon Hayward has the ability to knock down three’s, make free throws, rebound, and pass but seldom puts it all together in a single game. His 16ppg, 5rpg, and 5apg make him a staple in most fantasy lineups.
L.A. Clippers- The Clippers are one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA this season with new ownership and the backing of America after last seasons fallout from Donald Sterling. Doc Rivers has filled his roster with suitable players giving them some depth they missed last year in the playoffs. When it comes to fantasy, there are no surprises on this team. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are fantasy studs and should be drafted early in any draft. DeAndre Jordan, on the other hand, should be drafted based on category need. He shot 42% from the free throw line last year, but yielded an impressive 2.5bpg/13.2rpg and 67% FG percentage. Spencer Hawes should also take away from his playing time a little bit, as he is much more reliable in pressure situations. The Clippers are poised for a run at the Western Conference title this year.
Golden State Warriors- Though Mark Jackson was canned after last season, I still believe that the Warriors have the pieces in place to finish second in the Pacific Division. There was a lot of talk about trying to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love, but the Warriors stood strong and are moving forward without any major changes. Stephen Curry, one of the consensus top picks in fantasy basketball, is one of those all-around category killers that will give you an on-paper advantage going into any matchup. Andrew Bogut and David Lee hold down a solid frontcourt for the Warriors, as Bogut makes up for the lack of defense David Lee provides. I think last year we saw the slow demise of Andre Iguodala as a fantasy asset, which is sad because he could contribute across all categories. The Warriors assets are great for scoring categories.
Phoenix Suns- Talk about a logjam in the backcourt. With the acquisition of Isaiah Thomas, the Suns now have three legitimate fantasy studs in their frontcourt. This, I assure you, should not be of worry. Two of these three will be on the court while the third will rotate in, giving them all ample playing time. The Suns have a youthful roster with a great offensive system, so a lot of the fantasy output is very random. One player to keep your eye on is T.J. Warren. I think they got a steal in the draft with Warren, and he should be able to make an impact this year and will be available late in drafts. The Suns were knocking on the door of a playoff birth last year and will do the same this year. Unfortunately, I think the result will remain the same.
L.A. Lakers- What happened to the Lakers? If Kobe can stay healthy, he is going to be an amazing fantasy asset. He has too much pride to be on a joke of a team, so he will naturally take things into his own hands. Due to the state of the Lakers, I think Carlos Boozer has a chance to emerge as a nice fantasy option as well. The only other Laker worth mentioning is Julius Randle. I think he fits in great in L.A. and will be a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come. He proved in college that he is a man in the paint, and I think it will translate well into the NBA.
Sacramento Kings- This Kings roster is abysmal. I still don’t understand how they let Isaiah Thomas get away. Though the Kings will not compete at all this year, they do have some promising fantasy options starting with DeMarcus Cousins. You might miss him on occasion due to ejections or suspensions from technical fouls, but he will hold down your Center position better than almost anybody else. Darren Collison will fill the void for Isaiah Thomas and will play a lot of minutes. Due to that fact, I believe that Collison will be a key player for a lot of fantasy teams that make the playoffs. You will be able to get him later in the draft and he has tremendous upside with the Kings. Rudy Gay is always an option, but he is unreliable so I never end up drafting him because you have to pull the trigger much earlier than I am willing. He has potential to be great, but I think the time for that has passed.
San Antonio Spurs- The boring, old Spurs changed the entire NBA’s perception of their play with one of the most exciting NBA playoff performances in recent memory. Tim Duncan is returning for yet another season with his tremendous supporting cast. Kawhi Leonard, the NBA Finals MVP, is poised to emerge as one of the league’s greatest superstars this year and is one of the only Spurs that I am going to really go after in drafts this season. The rest of the Spurs players come with some risk as they spread the ball a lot and rest when needed. The unpredictable nature of their style of play makes them a great team, but leave much to be desired in the form of fantasy assets.
Dallas Mavericks- They rank as one of the league’s worst defensive teams, but one of the best offensive teams. The addition of Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons is their attempt to overcome their 7-game loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki took an amazing deal this offseason, giving the Mavs the ability to revamp their roster for a playoff run this year. Rick Carlisle is one of their greatest assets, but when it comes to fantasy sports, he is extremely unpredictable. Dirk is going to be a superstar, but I see him sitting out various games to rest for the playoffs. Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons will be relied upon to create shots and put up points as the catalysts to the up-tempo offense the Mavs have created over the last several years. Tyson Chandler, lastly, will hold down the center and should be drafted for blocks and rebounds. I think they will push for the division championship, but fall just short to the Spurs.
Houston Rockets- It was a rough offseason for the Houston Rockets, and I think it is going to show in their performance on the court. James Harden and Dwight Howard are the cornerstones of the franchise and would be of your fantasy roster as well. With the departure of Chandler Parsons, I think Terrence Jones will have a nice boost in fantasy value from last year. Another player that I like on the Rockets is Patrick Beverly. He is a pest on the court and averaged 1.4 steals per game last year. Beverly is the type of guy late in the draft to secure some steals but also for the hope that he emerges as a multi-faceted fantasy option. Trevor Ariza will take over for Parsons as SF, but I expect his value to remain the same from his days in Washington. Ariza can shoot the three (made over two per game last season) and play tough defense (averaged 1.6 steals per game last season), which makes him a solid fantasy option in the middle of the draft.
Memphis Grizzlies- The Grizzlies are my eighth seed in the West simply due to their amazing grit and toughness. The addition of Vince Carter will give them a shot creator they haven’t had since Rudy Gay. They had trouble scoring late in the series last year against Oklahoma City, which is why they went after Carter in free agency. The rest of the team is going to grind you out, make smart plays, and defeat you mentally. Zach Randolph shoots a great percentage, rebounds the basketball, and can put up points. He is always undervalued in fantasy drafts and will be once again this year. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are both great fantasy assets as well. Conley is a high percentage shooter who averaged 17ppg/6apg/1.5spg last season, which is a great combination of categorical value for a point guard. Lastly, Marc Gasol is a reliable center who has been of the most steady fantasy centers over the last several years. It took him a while to bounce back into form last year, but I fully expect him to regain the top fantasy center status this year.
New Orleans Pelicans- ANTHONY DAVIS!! This kid has the best player in the league status written all over him. From the second he entered the NBA until now, he has improved everyday. His ability to do everything on the court makes him so scary and his average of 2.8 blocks per game last season is what will make him a top-3 overall fantasy option this season. The Pelicans have fielded a team that should be extremely competitive, but they are in the toughest division in the Western Conference. Fantasy relevant players for the Pelicans include Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Omer Asik, and Eric Gordon. All of these players make come with a free roller-coaster ride, but could pay off exponentially. The Pelicans will be an exciting team with a ton of upside both in fantasy and on the court.