NBA Draft Strategy: Difficult Draft-Day Decisions

NBA Draft Strategy: Difficult Draft-Day Decisions

This article is part of our NBA Draft Strategy series.

Snake drafts, as opposed to auctions, can be a lot of fun. But the snake format often puts fantasy owners in a tough spot when there are two or more players available who are viable options with a given pick. With limited time on the clock, it's best to be prepared.

What follows is a list of some players who are likely to be available in roughly the same spot, along with the case for why it might make sense to draft either player.

Jimmy Butler or Donovan Mitchell?

When healthy, Butler is one of the best players in the league. He's earned All-Star nods in each of the past four seasons, averaging 21.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists and a combined 2.3 steals/blocks over that span. Fantasy owners also benefit from Butler's overall shooting efficiency. In each of those same four seasons, Butler has drilled at least 45% of his field goals and 83% of his free throws, while making at least one three per game. However, Butler's draft stock is deflated due to his health concerns. Butler, who is averaging 66.8 games over the past four campaigns, is entering his age 29 season, coming off a torn meniscus, and hasn't played fewer than 36 minutes per game since 2012-13.

Mitchell, who led the Jazz over the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, had one of the more memorable debut seasons in recent memory and, in most years, would have won the Rookie of the Year award in a landslide. The Louisville product was especially locked in after the All-Star break, recording 22.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and a combined 1.8 steals/blocks per game. An increase in post-All-Star break threes drove his efficiency down, as he made 2.5 per contest but only shot 43.2% from the field, overall. Mitchell also saw his free-throw percentage dip from 83.6% before the break to 75.8% after. Missing just three games, health was not a concern for the 21-year-old.

The Verdict: Butler gets the nod in both volume and efficiency, but his health, combined with the potential of Mitchell to close the gap during his sophomore campaign, keeps the two wings close on most draft boards. If put in this situation, I'd draft Mitchell. Health aside, I think he can rival, or maybe even surpass, Butler's production. Set to turn 29 next month, Butler is what he is at this point. With Mitchell, there's still the allure of the unknown.

C.J. McCollum or Chris Paul?

McCollum hasn't played well enough in a loaded Western Conference over the past three years to earn an All-Star appearance, but his numbers keep him right on the borderline. Since the 2015-16 campaign, he's averaged 21.7 points, 3.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and a combined 1.4 steals/blocks. Though last year's true shooting percentage (53.6%) was his lowest mark over the past three seasons, McCollum ranked 15th in the league in made threes and third in overall field-goal attempts. In addition to his usage, only missing five games over the past three seasons has helped inflate McCollum's fantasy stock.

During his first season in Houston, and is first sharing the ball with someone as high-usage as James Harden, Paul saw his assist average (7.9) reach its lowest mark since his rookie season. He also set a career low with 1.7 steals per game. Still, Paul remained a quality scorer in both volume and efficiency. Paul set career highs in threes made per game (2.5) and free-throw percentage (91.9%), while averaging 18.6 points per game on 46.0% shooting. While Paul remains one of the best point guards in the league, his age, role and injury history present reasons for fantasy owners to give pause before drafting him. Entering his age 33 campaign, Paul is averaging 67.8 games played over the past six seasons – he missed 24 games a year ago – and will not only be sharing the ball with Harden in 2018-19, but also Carmelo Anthony.

The Verdict: McCollum holds the edge from a volume-scoring and health perspective, but Paul is a much better all-around player and fantasy asset – that is, if he's able to stay on the court. For me, Paul's injury history is enough to scare me off. I'd draft McCollum, hoping for improved efficiency.

Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward?

After Hayward suffered a season-ending ankle injury during the first game of last season, Tatum was given a bigger workload than anticipated in his rookie campaign. He exceeded expectations, putting up the second-highest scoring average (13.9 PPG) for a team that was one game away from the Finals, and doing so with efficiency, hitting 47.5% of his looks from the field and 43.4% from deep. Tatum was also solid on the glass (5.0 RPG) and on defense (1.7 combined steals/blocks). The return of Hayward suggests Tatum will see a smaller workload, but how much can Brad Stevens realistically alter the 20-year-old's role after such a promising rookie year?

It's expected that Hayward will be fully healthy by the time training camp rolls around, giving him time to shake off some rust ahead of the regular season. While he shouldn't be expected to immediately revert to his old self following a lost year with a new team, Hayward was an All-Star talent (21.9 points on 47.1 FG%, 5.4 RPG, 3.5 AST, 2.0 3PM, 1.0 STL) during his final year with the Jazz in a tougher Western Conference, and it's hard to knock fantasy owners for drafting him as such. Still, the emergence of Tatum combined the risk of re-injury and rest games deflates Hayward's overall value.

The Verdict: Hayward is a better all-around player and a proven commodity. Optimistic fantasy owners should keep that in mind come draft day. That said, those high on Tatum's upside and worried about the myriad of questions surrounding Hayward's return have reason to select the 20-year-old ahead of the former All-Star. I'd prefer to avoid the situation entirely but, if forced to choose, I'd lean toward Hayward.

Paul Millsap, Myles Turner, or John Collins or Julius Randle?

Between taking on a smaller role on a new team and breaking his hand in mid-November, Millsap missed 44 games and failed to make the All-Star team for the first time since 2012-13. The hand injury appeared to affect his free-throw shooting, as he posted his lowest percentage (69.6%) since 2009-10. Millsap also posted his lowest usage rate (22.0%) since that season, though the injury prevented him from ever truly settling in with his new surroundings.

Turner, amidst health issues and the breakout of both Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, failed to make the level of improvement many fantasy owners anticipated. Still, his upside as a three-and-D center remains intriguing. Over his past 146 games, Turner has totaled 290 blocks and 96 threes, hitting them at 35.3% – a quality floor to work with. The question remains whether he can develop enough offensively to be a consistent No. 2 option.

After going 19th overall pick in last year's draft, Collins generated some early hype by averaging 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds during 2017 Las Vegas Summer League. His 24.1 minutes per game in the regular season as a rookie didn't propel him high enough to make the All-Rookie First Team in a stacked class, but Collins was a Second Team selection on the back of 11 double-doubles in 74 games. Collins also recorded at least one block in 50 games. If, as widely expected, he's given more run under head coach Lloyd Pierce, Collins could be in store for a big sophomore campaign.

Last season was the best of Randle's career, as he notably improving his scoring from 13.2 points on 48.8% shooting in 2016-17 to 16.1 points on 55.8% shooting. He's also averaged 8.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists over the past two campaigns. In joining the Pelicans this season, Randle will presumably be asked to continue playing his sixth-man role, occasionally sharing the floor with Anthony Davis. While that may hurt Randle's rebounding, the Pelicans played at the fastest pace in the league last season, which should keep Randle's volume relatively high across the board.

The Verdict: While Millsap will be entering his age-33 season, the trio of Turner, Collins and Randle are all at least a decade younger and making steady progress. And each player brings a different situation and skillset to the table, making the choice difficult come draft day. I love Collins' upside this season, but I still have faith in Millsap to put up All-Star caliber numbers that will trump the other three players'.

Lauri Markkanen or Blake Griffin?

Last year's seventh overall pick, Markkanen started in all 68 of his appearances and became the fastest player to 100 made threes in NBA history, averaging 2.1 on a 36.2% clip. He was also able to secure 14 double-doubles, helping him be selected to the All-Rookie First Team. However, he played most of the year without volume-scorer Zach LaVine available due to an ACL tear. The Bulls also signed Jabari Parker and drafted Wendell Carter this summer, jamming up a frontcourt which still includes Bobby Portis and Robin Lopez. There's plenty of reason to be high on Markkanen, but it's also fair to hold reservations about his workload and usage heading into his sophomore campaign.

Griffin has morphed into one of the best all-around big men in the league, though struggles staying healthy have kept him off the All-NBA team since 2014-15. He's appeared in only 154 games since then, but in those games has averaged 21.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.2 assists and 1.0 three, making significant improvements as a passer and shooter. With Griffin, the question has to be: Where do you draft someone of this caliber who's almost a lock to miss 15-plus games?

The Verdict: Had Chicago not loaded up its frontcourt, the decision to draft Markkanen for fantasy owners who are risk-averse would have been easier. Now, even owners who avoid injury-prone players will be put in a tough spot if both players fall to them. Regardless, I'd snag Markkanen here. I simply just don't trust Griffin to play a meaningful number of games.

Jabari Parker or Deandre Ayton?

As a result of two ACL tears in the same knee, Parker has been limited to 183 games across his first four seasons. Still, his progress as a player has been encouraging, as he's averaged 17.3 points on 48.8 FG% and 37.1 3PT% over the past two seasons (82 games). This year, he'll be joining the young and rebuilding Bulls, with which he should have an opportunity to trend closer to the career-high 26.5% usage rate that he achieved in 2016-17, when he took 16.0 shots and dished 2.8 assists per contest. But, fantasy owners must weight his upside against the fact that Parker is averaging 45.8 games per season for his career.

The No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, expectations are justifiably high for Ayton after one season at Arizona, where he was named Pac-12 Player of the Year (20.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 1.9 BLK) while often playing out of position. Though he wasn't dominant in four summer league games, Ayton cruised to 58 points, 42 rebounds and a combined eight blocks/steals while shooting 59.5% from the field. His 12-of-35 mark from deep in college suggests that Ayton may be able to provide some fantasy value, even if relatively minimal, as a three-point threat. At the very least, he looked comfortable from that range, so it was surprising that he didn't attempt a single three-pointer during summer league. Rookies are always a risk to select high in fantasy drafts, but recent history is on Ayton's side, as three of the last four centers to be taken with a top-three pick – Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis – were productive fantasy contributors right away.

The Verdict: Fantasy owners hopeful about Parker's health and role have an argument to draft him over Ayton. On the other hand, despite Ayton being an unknown fantasy commodity, he should be a high-usage piece of the Suns' offense and be able to rack up double-doubles regularly for a team with little reason to limit his playing time. Even as someone who has watched most of Parker's games over the last few years and thinks he can turn into a great player, I still feel more comfortable taking Ayton.

Thad Young or Wendell Carter, Jr.?

Young has been one of the most consistent mid-to-late round presences in fantasy over the past six years. Across that span, he's seen 32.7 minutes per game and averaged 14.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 49.3% from the field. Young has also been one of the best sources of steals in the frontcourt, averaging 1.7 per game. Though his scoring has dropped over the past two years since joining Indiana (11.4 PPG), he's maintained his efficiency (50.5 FG%), rebounding (6.2 RPG) and steals production (1.6 SPG). When you draft Thad Young, you know what you're getting.

The seventh overall pick in this year's draft, Carter has significant upside due to his versatility. He can finish in the pick-and-roll, catch and shoot threes, work in the post and make the right passes, all while holding his own on the glass. Carter looked more than comfortable during five summer league games, averaging 14.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.4 combined blocks/steals and 1.6 assists while shooting 55.1% from the field and going 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. It's unclear if he'll be the team's starting center from Day 1, but it would be surprising if he doesn't at least split time at the position with veteran Robin Lopez. If the Bulls fall out of the playoff race, Carter could eventually take over for Lopez full-time.

The Verdict: At the end of the day, Young's security and consistent play make him the safer pick, while Carter's upside makes sense for fantasy owners looking to take late-round risks. I'm high on Carter in general, giving me enough reason to choose the uncertainty of his role over Young.

Marvin Bagley or Jaren Jackson, Jr.?

Bagley averaged a double-double during his lone college season (21.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG) and was voted ACC Player of the Year. At 6-foot-11, 234 pounds with elite athleticism, Bagley may be able to play both power forward and center in the NBA, though he projects at the four during his rookie year. He also has potential as a three-point shooter, but he took just 58 three-point attempts in college, hitting at a 39.7% clip.

Questions remain about Bagley's ability to defend and protect the rim, and it's possible his three-point shooting takes some time to come around. He wasn't particularly impressive on offense during summer league, averaging 10.3 points and 5.8 rebounds on 33.3% shooting while going 1-of-10 from beyond the arc. However, he managed to record seven blocks and two steals in four games.

Selected two picks after Bagley was Jackson, who was voted the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman at Michigan State. In addition to his 3.0 blocks per game, Jackson averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds across 21.8 minutes. He has upside as a three-and-D big, as he shot 38-of-96 (39.6%) last season. During summer league, Jackson showed off that skillset, averaging 12.9 points (14-of-28 from three), 7.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks across 24.9 minutes. Though his long-term position may be center, he projects to start alongside Marc Gasol this year, allowing the team to put out a modern five-out offense while not giving up shot-blocking.

The Verdict: Bagley's collegiate production and place on a rebuilding team suggest he should see the higher usage of the two as a rookie. However, it's possible that Jackson, even in what will likely be a smaller role, is buoyed by his defensive stats and three-point shooting. In the event that he's able to win the starting power forward spot, his upside would rise considerably. Despite Bagley's fantasy upside, I'm all in on Jackson. I believe he'll eventually start at power forward and play within himself offensively, which should lead to a high field-goal percentage, in addition to threes and blocks.

Dennis Smith, Jr., De'Aaron Fox, or D'Angelo Russell?

Playing 69 games between injuries, Smith had an up-and-down rookie campaign after being selected with the ninth overall pick in 2017. Some of his woes could be chalked up to not feeling 100%. Not that he was touted as the next Steph Curry coming out of NC State, his shooting splits of 39.5% from the field, 31.3 from three and 69.4 from the charity stripe were rough, but no necessarily uncharacteristic of a rookie point guard. Smith also failed to make up for his shooting through passing or defense, recording just 5.2 assists and 1.0 steals across 29.7 minutes per contest. This season, the addition of Luka Doncic complicates things. While Doncic should be able to function well off-ball, he may already be a better passer than Smith, and the Mavs will ensure he has plenty of opportunities to initiate offense.

Drafted three spots earlier than Smith was Fox, who didn't look much more comfortable shooting the ball, making 41.2% of his looks from the field, 30.7% from three and 72.3% from the free throw line. He, too, failed to make much of an impact as a passer or defender in his 28.7 minutes per game, averaging 4.4 dimes and 1.0 steal. Unlike Smith, Fox's role should remain relatively constant. The Kings made only minor moves in free agency and drafted a frontcourt player in Bagley with the No. 2 pick. That said, the addition of Yogi Ferrell could to cut into Fox's upside, but the Kings will likely prioritize their heftier investment.

Due to a knee injury, Russell was limited to 48 games last season – his first in Brooklyn. Most of his production remained similar to his first two years in the league, with two exceptions. On a positive note, he set a career-high 5.2 assists per game while averaging a career-low 25.7 minutes. On a negative note, he averaged a career-low 1.1 steals per 36 minutes, having averaged 1.6 per 36 across the two prior seasons. It's not clear if Russell will see an expanded role this season, as the Nets hedged their bets at point guard by signing Shabazz Napier and retaining Spencer Dinwiddie. As a result, he might have an hard ceiling as a fantasy player in 2018-19.

The Verdict: Each of the three young point guards have their flaws and are in subpar situations. It won't be an easy task to predict who will make a leap. I wouldn't be excited to nab any of these players, but I prefer Russell, if for no other reason than that it's a contract year for him.

Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges, T.J. Warren or Trevor Ariza

Jackson's rookie season, as a whole, wasn't spectacular, but there were moments where it was clear why he was selected fourth overall. In the 20 games in which he saw between 30-39 minutes, Jackson averaged 18.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and a combined 2.2 steals/blocks. While his counting stats were impressive during those games, he still was relatively sloppy, posting a 48.1 true shooting percentage and totaling just six more assists than turnovers.

Acquiring Bridges, who plays the same position(s) as Jackson, during the Draft raises questions about Suns' faith in the Jackson/Warren tandem, long-term. Bridges is also defensive-minded, winning Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, but he projects as a far superior shooter. Last season, the Villanova product shot 51.4% from the field, made 2.6 threes per game (43.5% 3PT), and knocked down 85.1% of his free throws.

An attempt by new head coach Igor Kokoškov to play both Jackson and Bridges together could lead to decrease run for Warren, who saw 87% of his minutes at small forward last season and has played 76% of his career minutes at the position. Fantasy-wise, Warren needs all the minutes he can get, as he's averaging 65.6 games played over the past two years and has only played 218 games in four NBA seasons. He quietly averaged 19.6 points and 5.1 rebounds on 49.8% shooting in 2017-18 but is nonetheless a risker draft pick than ever this season.

Adding onto the logjam is Ariza, who signed a one-year, $15 million deal with Phoenix at the start of free agency. He spent 81% of his minutes at small forward in Houston last season and hasn't been a consistent presence at the four since 2015-16 (41% of his minutes at PF). It's fair to assume he'll transition more to the four, but will then cut into the development time for Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, which is probably in Phoenix's best interest, from an immediate wins and losses perspective.

The Verdict: Of the four teammates, Ariza is the safest bet, though he's the most one-dimensional player. Warren's ability to score the ball keeps him in contention for a late-round pick. Jackson and Bridges may fight it out for time, leaving who to draft first up to personal opinion about each player's overall talent level. I think drafting any of these players is a recipe for disaster, but I'd select Ariza if it came down to it. His three-point shooting and defensive production have been consistent for the past five years.

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Alex Barutha
Alex is RotoWire's NBA Assistant Editor. He writes articles about daily fantasy, year-long fantasy and sports betting. You can hear him on the RotoWire NBA Podcast, Sirius XM, DraftKings Live and other platforms. Vince Carter and Alex both first dunked during their respective sophomore years of high school.
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