Lessons Learned from 2021/22 Season

The 2021/22 season was a bit of a downer for me. I had a lot of stocks in Lillard, Paul George, Kevin Durant, MPJ, Paul George, Anunoby and Porzingis across my various leagues, so injuries just weren’t kind to me whatsoever in most of my competitive leagues. I was also far too low on a bunch of rookies – Evan Mobley & Scottie Barnes in particular. Lastly, there were a bunch of role players I was suggesting were going to be fringe top 100 players – based on efficiency and low turnovers with roles that didn’t eventuate. It wasn’t all bad – there were some home runs in the draft guide that I nailed and we will look to mimic that again this year.

To summarise:

  1. Games played matters
  2. Situations and per-minute upside help us predict breakouts, but rookies can be home runs too
  3. Don’t reach on role players

Games played matters

Looking back at my 2021/22 Draft Guide, there were quite a few players I was high on that didn’t hit the court enough (in some cases at all) to be worth the pick where I suggested taking them. So, where did I go wrong?

  • Michael Porter Jr. – has had back injuries dating back to college and missed his rookie season. I completely ignored this and suggested taking him late 2nd/early 3rd round. Not smart.
  • Paul George – I was high on Paul George last year, no Kawhi; his stats without Kawhi were great. But how many games was Paul George averaging in the last two years? 51. So I should not have been as surprised when he only played 31.
  • Kevin Durant – He’s a bit over a year removed from an Achilles injury. Even if he’s healthy now, he wasn’t going to be at full strength going into last year – but I completely ignored that and took significant shares in him across multiple leagues.

These are just some examples, Anunoby, Porzingis (a far more well-known case) and Zion were other guys I didn’t adequately factor in the risk of drafting when putting out the draft guide last year and you’ll notice I have baked this into my calculations this year.

Dame Lillard is an excellent example of the unpredictability of injuries – he has been an iron man over the past 5 seasons and now enters 22/23 with question marks.

Looking forward to this year, who falls into this category and who do we be mindful of not taking too early?

  • Kawhi Leonard/Paul George – Both will likely sit back to backs and when there are a lot of games in short windows, so they are already missing significant time there with extra rest and injuries adding to that risk. Clippers are stacked, which also enables them to rest their guys. Wait until round 3 for both these guys.
  • OG Anunoby – one from last year; he has only played 43 and 48 games respectively the last two years. Discount accordingly – round 5/6, not round 3/4.
  • Gordon Hayward – I don’t love him for head-to-head as his strengths aren’t elite (low peak z-scores for best categories) but is a well-rounded 9-cat guy. He fits every team but he only plays 50 games a year. Let someone else take him before 100.

Situations and per-minute upside help us predict breakouts, but rookies can be home runs too

Moving away from injuries – when we get to rounds 7, 8 and 9+ we need to throw out any conservative risk-averse gameplan and swing for the fences. This is because the difference between players in the 80, 90, 100+ rank range and those in the 120, 130, 140+ range is relatively small on a per game basis – meaning the ability to replace production you are getting from these players is far easier than those in the top 80. Rookies and young players in more prominent roles make for the perfect storm regarding late-round picks. These players will see large spikes in minutes, usage and in some cases, efficiency or per minute ability as they get stronger and round out their game with improved defensive positioning and added 3pt range. There is a balance to be had – if we reach on these players too early, we are capping their upside in terms of their breakout; we also need to balance risk as some of these players won’t get the increases we anticipate.

Looking back at last year, I put a lot of work into researching young players who would have bigger roles this year and was successful modelling their per-minute upside:

  • Jordan Poole – Had a decent sample size at the back end of 20-21 where he averaged very similar per minute numbers. I correctly modelled this onto a bigger sample for the 21-22 season and placed him just after the top 100 which meant a decent 20 pick upside on his eventual production for the year.
  • Mo Bamba – Similar to Poole, Mo Bamba had put up flashes in the back end of 20-21 where he had strong per minute upside. Orlando had given us enough reason to believe he would have a big enough role to warrant comparing him to Chris Boucher from the year before. Again placing him just outside the top 100 was a home run for those that drafted him there.
  • Robert Williams – Time Lord had flirted with being a fantasy stud for a while with many fans myself included just waiting for him to seal a role big enough to be a star. I correctly called that as last year. You needed to spend a pick just after the top 50-60 in most cases to secure his production but he was well worth it.
  • Dejounte Murray – Dejounte was around an ADP of 65 when I released my draft guide last year. With Derozan using an incredible void from a usage standpoint, I felt that was way too low for him and put him inside the top 45. That even proved excellent value, netting you a near first-round player on the season.

But where I went wrong – I didn’t do enough homework on rookies, I didn’t model in the right minutes or upside because my method of prior seasons per 36 didn’t help me. This year I have looked at comparable players – who do these players project to play like in the NBA, and what roles and minutes did those players play to give me a sense of how certain players will translate whilst being faithful to their unique strengths and weaknesses. Players like Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes slipped through the cracks for me and despite me putting them around the 120 mark, a reasonable marker for each, they were both touted for big roles, both were talked about fondly in all analysis out there. Why wouldn’t you take a punt a round or two earlier around the 100 mark for players who sure might not live up to their billing, but have the upside to win you a league if you’ve had a decent draft to that point. Getting 1 or 2 of your last 4 picks will not cost you your league – remember that and swing for the fences.

The players that profile as good swing for the fences picks this year:

  • Alperen Sengun – Sengun will be the first player off the board out of this list. He is currently placed around the 70 mark ranking wise on Yahoo but projects to be a top 50 player this year. Houston does not have another true center on the roster right now meaning Alperen should play 30+ a night.
  • Paolo Banchero – The highest floor rookie on the list. Should be close to a 18 and 9 player right out of the gate with close to a steal and a block per game thrown in. There’s upside for this to be higher but I think he will produce pretty much right where he is being taken this year (top 75).
  • Isaiah Jackson – The backup centre for the Pacers should get close to 20 minutes. I think you’ll see some turner at the 4 at times and this will only mean more minutes. The real kicker here though is Myles is in his contract year and is yet to re-sign meaning he is likely to before the deadline. Jacksons per 36 reads 20 and 10 with 3 blocks and over a steal a game. Big-time numbers. In 20 mins flat that’s fringe top 100.
  • Jalen Smith – Another Pacer, a huge minute increase for Jalen who’s pencilled into the starting 4 role projects to get high 20s for minutes and sports a 19 and 11 with 1.5 blocks, a couple of 3s and decent free throw percentage per 36. Good for fringe top 80 numbers on 27 mins a night.
  • Jabari Smith – Another Smith, just going to have a really neat, stocks fuelled line. I currently have him at 16 and 7.5 with a steal and nearly a block and 2 triples making him a nice triple-threat option in 30 mins a night, that 30 mins a night has a lot of upside though and could be closer to 32 or 33 for a team that needs spacing.
  • Keegan Murray – Murray might have the most fantasy friendly line of all the rookies. In summer league he showed off a complete 9 category game. It will be interesting what role he gets on offense but even though they are very different players this gives me Scottie Barnes feeling, I currenly have him as a 14 and 6.5 boards, a steal and a block on decent shooting in 30 mins a night, but I’m going to be watching very closely in preseason to adjust this.
  • Jarred Vanderbilt – Vando is my favourite pick in early drafts right now. I think the Mitchell trade hurts him slightly with Lauri also best positioned at the 4. But Vando will get minutes at the 3, 4 and 5 this year for a rebuilding Utah and should show off an impressive and unique skillset – look for 10 and 10 with 1.5 steals and a block.

Don’t reach on role players

I put some very questionable players into my draft guide far too high. Otto Porter and Facundo Campazzo. Before he got hurt I would have also had Donte Divincenzo with them. There were other players I missed badly on, namely Kemba Walker, but I would argue that there was no telling how that situation played out. Super efficient role players are great. They’re also usually quite low ceiling (unless a shot blocker) and you will find players like them in free agency or on waivers in most leagues. Go for the high ceiling guys and stream/pickup your 3&D or 1 category specialists during the season.

I hope this gives you some insight into my thinking going into this year and should help to explain why I have made a few changes to my draft guide methodology.