- John Cregan, Fantasy Basketball
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I think it's important to try to view the player pool from a variety of perspectives.
One view that helps me is imagining I'm starting just five players: a point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center. Which guy is giving me the most production? Which one has been stinking up the joint? Basically, taking a look at the landscape of performance by position.
This allows me to see where I might want to adjust my roster. For instance, I might be carrying too many power forwards when maybe there's greater value to be had in the point guard pool.
We're only at about the one-quarter mark in games played. But with games flying by at such a fast and furious pace, I figured this was a good time to take a breath and put together my first positional power rankings of the season.
To do this ranking, I use the Player Rater so as to place the emphasis on pure production. I compile the ranking from the perspective of an owner in your average 10-team, 13-man-roster league. That means the top 130 players in fantasy, going from Kevin Durant on down to about Jameer Nelson.
Then I try to figure out who the baseline (average) player is by position as a way of calibrating how I look at the position as a whole. I do this by finding the average Player Rater number of a position then seeing which real-life player is closest to that average.
After that I look at how overall production is distributed by position. Is a position dominated by a couple of elites and super-elites (my term for a player who at least doubles the average production for his position)? Or does a position spread the wealth a bit more evenly, with several players being granted elite status (to me, an elite player is someone who averages 1.5 times the average production for his position)?
Finally, I note which players are underowned (players who are producing higher value than their percent owned would suggest) and overowned (players producing less value). I find this to be helpful because it lets me get over preseason misconceptions of player value.
(Remember, the Player Rater is ruthless when it comes to injuries; no matter how elite a certain name might be, if you're sitting, you're losing value. So normally elite players such as Dwyane Wade and Stephen Curry are going to take a hit in value.)
1. Small forward
Number owned in top 130: 27
Range: Kevin Durant to Dorell Wright
Average PR value: 6.34
Average player: Boris Diaw
Super-elites: two (Kevin Durant, LeBron James)
Elites: two (Danilo Gallinari, Carmelo Anthony)
Underowned: Boris Diaw, Matt Barnes, Brandon Rush
Overowned: John Salmons, Trevor Ariza
Just as in previous seasons, small forwards represent the cream of the pure production crop. It's not just that they deliver numbers, but numbers in a wide categorical variety. You can find a little bit of everything in the small forward pool. Need assists? Try Diaw. Need help in the defensive categories? Try Josh Smith or even James Johnson.
Best of all, you won't find many players who qualify only at SF. There are just nine pure SFs in the top 130 overall, which means you can take that rich, diverse small forward production and slide it into other lineup spots as needed.
2. Point guard
Number owned in top 130: 36
Range: Kyle Lowry to Rodney Stuckey
Average PR value: 5.88
Average player: Andre Miller
Super-elites: two (Kyle Lowry, Derrick Rose)
Elites: three (Jose Calderon, Ty Lawson, Russell Westbrook)
Underowned: Luke Ridnour, George Hill
Overowned: Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Rodney Stuckey, Toney Douglas
No big surprise here; we all like our point guards. There is no more heavily picked-over group of players by position.
What's striking about the point guard position to date is the relative flatness of the distribution of production. In seasons past, point guard has been more top-heavy, with a greater amount of haves and have-nots. This season, there's a new, emerging middle class in the Lawson to Miller range, a group of about 15 PGs posting average-to-better-than-average numbers.
3. Power forward
Number owned in top 130: 38
Range: Kevin Love to Andray Blatche
Average PR value: 5.77
Average player: Gerald Wallace
Super-elites: one (Kevin Love)
Elites: five (Danilo Gallinari, Ryan Anderson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe, Pau Gasol)
Underowned: Boris Diaw, Shawn Marion, Thaddeus Young
Overowned: Andray Blatche
This is the first time I can remember ranking power forwards ahead of centers. While it's true that there isn't a heck of a lot of distinction between the two positions (there are a lot of PF/Cs out there), there are so many center-eligible players in 2011-12 that value has shifted slightly to the power forward spot. Conversely, there are a few SF/PF players adding additional value to power forward (Gallinari, Smith, Wallace and Diaw).
Note that Gallinari qualifies as elite at small forward and power forward, another reason that to date I'd rather have him on my fantasy team than Anthony. He's offering slightly better production and has the added benefit of multipositional eligibility.
Number owned in top 130: 33
Range: Pau Gasol to Andray Blatche
Average PR value: 5.49
Average player: Andrea Bargnani
Elites: six (Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Monroe, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler)
Underowned: Boris Diaw
Overowned: Andray Blatche, Brandon Bass, Emeka Okafor
So center drops a spot. Just like with point guard, there's a shift toward the middle class at the center position. There's not a lot of distinction between the 10th-best and 20th-best center, just as there isn't much between the second-best and eighth-best center.
5. Shooting guard
Number owned in top 130: 33
Range: Kobe Bryant to Eric Gordon
Average PR value: 4.80
Average player: Marcus Thornton
Super-elites: one (Kobe Bryant)
Elites: seven (Joe Johnson, Andre Iguodala, James Harden, Monta Ellis, Jason Terry, D.J. Augustin, Jarrett Jack)
Underowned: Luke Ridnour, Brandon Rush, Kawhi Leonard, Thabo Sefolosha
Overowned: John Salmons, Trevor Ariza, Jimmer Fredette, Jason Richardson
As always, there is no less impactful position than shooting guard. They're the yang to the small forwards yin, giving little production and little diversity. Inexplicably, they're owned at a higher rate than small forwards.
1. Build your team this season around an elite shooting guard
I know I just trashed the shooting guard spot, but hear me out. When I was doing my pre-draft number-crunching this season, something jumped out at me, which has been supported in this analysis. There's such a dearth of quality at SG that you're better off taking care of that position early (instead of center, as previous seasons might have proscribed).
There's no greater fantasy asset this season than owning an elite-to-super-elite SG. If you can carry one stud SG to lock down that position and carry one or two other players you can slide over in case of injury, you're in good shape. If you can't have Kobe, go for one or two multi-eligible players who qualify at SG (Joe Johnson, Monta Ellis and D.J. Augustin). A Jack/Augustin backcourt would be the ideal.
If you're carrying a pure SG, just make sure he's in the Thornton-to-Harden range. If you're running out DeMar DeRozan as your everyday SG (as opposed to a bench or utility player), it's a sign your lineup might be in the need of an adjustment.
2. There's less pressure to own one super-elite point guard
It's still nice to have a Lowry or Rose, but thanks to the new PG middle class, you can overcome not having a top-five floor general by going for volume. Stack enough quality PGs at the G and UTIL spots, and you can overcome not having a Calderon, who is nearly super-elite this season.
3. The days of being starved at center are over
We may have reached a point at which we've become a bit too forgiving about doling out center eligibility. What was once the scarcest of positions has been diluted to the dime-a-dozen feeling usually reserved for power forwards. The jump from Marcin Gortat (ninth-ranked center) to Pau Gasol (first) is only about 2.5 Player Rater points. It's nice not to have to worry so much about having a dominant No. 1 center, but it's almost gotten too easy to manage the position.
I also wonder if the lack of overall quality in offense throughout the NBA this season has hurt the position. It's harder for a center to flourish on an offense-starved, slow-paced team, which has made Monroe's production on the Pistons all the more impressive.
4. Andray Blatche is the most overrated player in fantasy basketball
I just had to get that off my chest.
John Cregan is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @JPCregan.