Are you thinking about playing in a fantasy basketball league for the first time? You don’t have to be a hardcore analytics expert and tweak your roster every day to join the fun.
Gathering a handful of friends, family or coworkers to play a small, six- or eight-team league and set rosters once a week takes little time commitment but gives you a chance for bragging rights and living the NBA vicariously. It also gives you rosters chock-full of fun players to watch.
With that in mind, we took part in an eight-team mock draft with no positions (10 flex spots, three bench) and head-to-head categories scoring (the team that wins the most categories against the weekly opponent gets a win). The participants, in order of draft position, were: Damian Dabrowski, Seth Walder, Kyle Soppe, Joe Kaiser, Eric Karabell, Jim McCormick, André Snellings and Tom Carpenter.
Read on for a takeaway from each of our experts and the full results of the draft.
Damian Dabrowski: Similar to the points mock draft, my initial takeaway was that the change in format did not drastically alter player values. Removing positional constraints certainly adds flexibility and makes it easier to implement a “best player available” strategy, but the reality is that the H2H category-scoring format in and of itself encourages some level of roster balance.
That said, I think center is clearly the position that gets devalued the most once we get beyond the top tiers. In an eight-team league with these rosters, it becomes more feasible to chase rebounds and blocks using forwards who provide more scoring volume and versatility in other categories. In general, this format also encourages you to take risks on high-upside players, as the level of production available on the waiver wire is considerably higher than in traditional leagues.
Seth Walder: I decided to use the position-less format to try out an extreme approach: punting on bigs. In terms of categories, that meant sacrificing rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage by taking only guards and a couple of wings to maximize assists, points, steals, 3-points and free throw percentage.
It worked … maybe?
I ended up at or very close to the top in the projections for all five of the categories I was chasing while dead last in the three areas I punted. I think this approach would set me up well for the playoffs — basically holding a 5-3 edge over my opponents, as long as they didn’t go hard at one of my five categories — but the question is whether I would reach the playoffs.
In a single-week format, variance would presumably cause me to lose steals and free throw percentage now and again. Still, I was encouraged enough by the draft to want to try it out in a play-through league.
Kyle Soppe: A position-less draft is a different animal than your standard draft, as it allows you more flexibility as the draft progresses.
That said, I still gear my draft toward versatile players, so I was thrilled with the Karl-Anthony Towns/Joel Embiid open. By adding Draymond Green in Round 4, I feel as if I took an edge on the big man and defensive stats without sacrificing much of anything else. This freed me up to take advantage of league-wide backcourt depth that I knew I liked more than the competition.
Joe Kaiser: When I was able to get Anthony Davis with the No. 4 pick and Ben Simmons with my next pick at No. 13, I felt like my draft was made. Davis and Simmons are two of the most versatile players in fantasy hoops, and I knew from that point forward, I needed to draft as many versatile and well-rounded players as possible to stay with the foundation that was set with my first two picks.
Jrue Holiday and Donovan Mitchell give me two big-time scorers who can pour in 3-pointers and rack up steals, and my next two picks (Hayward and Julius Randle) do a little bit of everything, as well — including share the ball and pile up assists. By this part of the draft, I thought that I needed to focus a bit more on big men, and I was thrilled to land Al Horford in Round 7, Enes Kanter in Round 8 and a double-double machine in Steven Adams way down in Round 10.
Otto Porter Jr. and Joe Ingles are two other favorites of mine who were there in the ninth and 11th rounds, respectively, providing more versatility in the form of rebounds, steals and 3-pointers. My last two picks, Robert Covington and Nikola Mirotic, add more 3-pointers and rebounds, which is exactly what I was hoping for at that late stage of the draft. All in all, I would put my team up against anyone’s in the league because I feel like things fell exactly the way I was hoping.
Eric Karabell: Drafting a fantasy hoops team with no regard to positions is a joy, frankly, and hopefully a harbinger of more of this format. I found it good practice for building a balanced team, and perhaps I could use more practice, since I ignored shooting guards and, after LeBron and Kawhi, swing types.
I’ve got mainly point guards and centers after the two star players, such as Kemba, Conley and Vucevic whom I covet. I have found it annoying in other mocks the need to fill positions and perhaps reach, but it is important to building a balanced, statistical club. I’m clearly more comfortable with this format, though it reminds me how I need to be more balanced with swing types who score and hit 3-pointers, even if they don’t shoot well. My first 2-guard came in the penultimate round and was on my “Do Not Draft” list! That’s probably not ideal.
Anyway, this was fun, and it’s a format I recommend.
Jim McCormick: I truly enjoyed the “positionless” format employed in this draft; it allowed for the focus purely to be on curating statistical balance and speaks to the realities of an NBA increasingly trending toward fluid and switch-centric lineups — as the epic Western Conference finals revealed.
I believe infusing fantasy football with more flex spots, and especially the superflex position, improves the quality of competition and rewards deft management. The same appears true for fantasy hoops — offering more freedom to deploy players outside of traditional positional limitations can prove rewarding for fantasy gamers.
Per my draft outcome, it wasn’t by design heading in, but it appears I ended up punting assists to a degree; a category that tends to dry up quickly among the high-volume and high-usage point guards and passers. The board just fell in a way that I didn’t acquire one of those elite distributors and instead built a nice collection of defensive dynamos and gifted wings.
André Snellings: My takeaway regards strategy. The key to an H2H, category-scoring league is to identify at least four to five categories that you have a great chance to win every week. And with only eight teams in the league, the talent is deep on every team, so I chose to really overload to get those winning categories. Of the 13 players I drafted, eight are big men who shoot very well from the field, crash the glass and block shots.
In addition, I drafted six strong 3-point shooters — led by Damian Lillard, who’ll be among the league leaders — with two star big men in Nikola Jokic and Kevin Love, who are also high-volume, 3-point shooters.
Finally, my team goes deep in volume scorers, and I’ve got three starting point guards plus Jokic and Nicolas Batum as assist leaders at other positions to make assists another category I can compete in regularly. Free throw percentage and steals could be a weaknesses, but I don’t have to win every category to win the week.
Tom Carpenter: With so many players sporting eligibility at multiple positions, I pay little to no attention to positions when drafting in standard leagues, so my approach was not altered in this position-less format. I take the best player available in the early rounds and flesh out my roster in the middle and late rounds.
To that end, I was excited to have the opportunity to snag Myles Turner and Hassan Whiteside on the Rounds 7-8 turn. Added to my Rudy Gobert pick at the Rounds 3-4 turn, I have a trio of shot-blockers who should give me a sure weekly win in that category while making me competitive in FG% and rebounds.