Our Man’s Secret to Winning Fantasy Basketball
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because there is a whole wide world of fantasy sports beyond football, with lots of money and esteem waiting to be won.
Late October is perhaps the merriest time of year for sports fans. With the bitter smell of Bud Light in the air and the living room decked with shiny flat-screens, Chris Berman groupies everywhere get to flip among the NFL, NHL, and MLB. And tomorrow, another three-letter acronym will join the lineup — because the NBA is coming to town. And after an off-season in which the balance of power shifted from one coast to the other, star players turned down star teams for upstart clubs, and the LA Clippers literally barricaded one of its players in his home until he re-signed, it should be an interesting show.
But while the variety is great, it can mean overload for the growing millions who prefer a more active viewing experience (whether or not it’s also a slightly illegal one is still up for debate). We’re talking about those in the fantasy leagues, which at last count had attracted an amazing number of followers — close to 57 million people in the U.S. and Canada across almost all professional sports, even golf. For those new to the world of make-believe athletics, fantasy basketball is played by virtually selecting a team of active players. Your win-loss record is then determined by how many points you accrue each week based on your players’ real-life performances.
But there’s a trick to playing this right, at least in the opinion of one proud NBA-fantasy aficionado (and less dignified Lakers supporter) who has spent the past five years scouring sports blogs and dissecting player statistics. It’s not just about who you draft, but who you don’t. In other words, pass over these marquee names:
1. Kevin Durant (preseason rank: No. 4): The Oklahoma forward played in only 28 games last season because of foot injuries, but with Durant back at full strength, some expect him to return to his All-Star days. Not me. Sure, the 27-year-old had a decent preseason, but injuries of this sort have a way of lingering. Need we mention Yao Ming?
2. Lebron James (preseason rank: No. 6): Yep, I’m going there. Don’t be lured by five straight Finals appearances; when you’re playing fantasy basketball, the only playoffs that matter are the ones that take place between you and your buddies. And those happen during the end of the regular season, right around when teams start benching his Majesty to make sure he’s rested for that final run.
3. Kawhi Leonard (preseason rank: No. 10): Fantasy-sports writers love Leonard. Sure, he was the darling of the Spurs’ Finals run two years ago and recently signed a hefty franchise contract, but injuries have been known to sideline him during the regular season. Whether it’s a torn ligament in his hand, dental surgery, or an eye infection, he’s not worth the worry.
4. Paul George (preseason rank: No.14): When George snapped his tibia and fibula during a Team USA scrimmage last summer, fans around the world cringed as the gruesome mishap spread across the Web. But George made headlines again when he made an early comeback. His off-season performance, however, hasn’t been quite so highlight-worthy. It’s just a hunch, but I’m thinking he’ll be rusty.
5. Kevin Love (preseason rank: No. 35) A dislocated left shoulder was a dreary finale to Love’s inaugural season in Cleveland. What was supposed to be the new Big 3, between Love, James, and Kyrie Irving, turned out to be what was often a one-man show. Still, hopes have been high for the power forward (evident by the generous contract he signed this off-season). But while Love might get a boost early in the season with Irving nursing a knee injury, I think he might have trouble fitting in with the flow of the offense.
With that, go boldly, my fellow fantasy nerds!