Nothing is more exciting than the first mock draft of the season, especially when it's available to all to pick apart! Ten of us at ESPN Fantasy -- Josh Whitling, John Cregan, Seth Landman, Eric Karabell, Brian McKitish, yours truly, Neil Tardy, Keith Lipscomb, Matthew Berry and Tom Carpenter, in order of first-round selections -- took part in our first NBA mock draft, a standard 10-team, eight-category head-to-head league (no turnovers).
In a league with 10 highly knowledgeable players, no player stays a sleeper for long, and it was interesting to see just how early (or late) some of our favorites ended up going. This was also my first NBA draft of the year, so it was particularly interesting to see the trends unfold in real time. As John Cregan noted early on, one difference from last season was a steep drop-off at shooting guard. There was also a fair bit of hoarding going on, as the popular "point guards and power forwards" strategy was well in effect; Keith Lipscomb took a point guard or big man with eight of his first nine picks; Matthew Berry and Neil Tardy both followed suit with six of their first seven picks going to big men or point guards, and I also took power forwards and point guards with my first four picks.
My strategy: I immediately hated picking sixth, as I felt there was no clear-cut choice. In the first round I am risk-averse, and did not feel comfortable paying for Danny Granger's career season. More so than that, however, I dislike picking a swingman in the first round; I want to go big or go small. Dirk Nowitzki was the safest choice on board, and I also like the Mavericks team in general this season, as they should run a lot more than they did last season, when they finished 16th in possessions per game.
What I liked: Dwyane Wade just keeps improving, and it must feel great to have a shooting guard who snatches more than two steals and one block per game. He even set a career high in 3-pointers attempted and made, and if his supporting cast -- Michael Beasley, mostly -- can step up, he could get more open looks from long range. I feel he's neck-and-neck with Chris Paul and LeBron James for the No. 1 overall fantasy player.
What I didn't like: It's the first round, so we're arguing semantics here, but I believe Chris Bosh and Al Jefferson are slightly safer picks than Amar'e Stoudemire. Everyone had a good first pick, though; I wouldn't even bat an eye at Dwight Howard considering this is a head-to-head league.
My strategy: I was slightly annoyed at having two players on the same team, but just like last year, I really like Jason Kidd as a safe top-3 point guard. Now that he's learned to shoot from long range, he is a threat for two-plus 3-pointers per game, as I really expect the Mavs to run quite a bit more; in turn, those extra possessions would also boost his assists and steals. I don't worry about points so much, as it's not particularly difficult to find scorers, and I almost always select a power forward and point guard with my first two picks.
What I liked: Al Jefferson was a smart pick, as his worst category is free-throw percentage, a category Lipscomb already decided to punt by taking Howard. Berry has always had a thing for Nash, and while I'm not the biggest fan of Nash himself -- he's definitely on the downside of his career -- it was a fairly prescient pick, as I was later shocked at the number of quality power forwards available in the fourth and fifth rounds.
What I didn't like: I thought Cregan missed a golden opportunity to double up on elite point guards, selecting Joe Johnson over the likes of Rajon Rondo, Devin Harris, Jose Calderon and Gilbert Arenas. There's nothing wrong with Johnson, but I believe elite point guards are the anchor of any great fantasy team. It's tough to get value on a shooting guard with the 19th pick in the draft; if you must get a swingman, I would have selected Andre Iguodala, who at least has a lot of room for growth in multiple categories.
My strategy: I was pleasantly surprised when KG fell into my lap; I was just shopping for value at this point, and Garnett is the type of do-everything player who, even with a diminished offensive role, contributes well above the average for his position in assists and steals. He's insanely competitive and is no doubt feeling as though he has a chip on his shoulder. I anticipate a strong comeback season. I'm not in love with him, however; I would have grabbed Rajon Rondo or Devin Harris if they had fallen to me.
What I liked: It must've hurt to have Rondo and Harris go off the board right before McKitish picked, but after disappointing last season, I like Jose Calderon to have one of those classic post-hype seasons that entrenches him as an elite point guard. Landman and Karabell also have the beginnings of a superb team; hindsight being what it is, I would love to enter the middle rounds looking for a power forward with the likes of Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo on my team, as Landman is. Kevin Martin is also perennially underrated; players who can pour in points, 3-pointers and free throws and deliver quality percentages are rare, and Martin should shoot better than 42.1 percent this season.
What I didn't like: This is where philosophies start to differ; there's no way I would take Tim Duncan or David West over Rondo, Harris or Calderon. If Duncan could shoot free throws, sure, but it's hard to see him finishing in the top 25 with such a low free-throw percentage, and chances are Rondo and Harris have more trade value regardless. I'm not the biggest fan of Baron Davis, either, although I do see some reason for optimism if you assume that an improved supporting cast can increase his motivation and field goal percentage. I also don't see much upside with Paul Pierce; he's nice, but no longer a difference-maker in fantasy, as I fully expect Rajon Rondo and a healthy Garnett to continue eating into his numbers.
My strategy: Once again I was just looking for value, and it was a tough choice between Monta Ellis and Russell Westbrook, who went seven picks later. But I was quite excited to nab Ellis, as he showed me a lot in his successful return from injury last season. He dramatically improved his free-throw percentage, shooting better than 86 percent from the line after the All-Star break. As he matures, he'll learn to get into the paint at will and could be primed for a Devin Harris-type breakout.
What I liked: Even though Landman playfully chastised himself for selecting Elton Brand, a part of me really wants to believe in Brand's hopes this season. I really think he could excel as a floor-burning center for the up-tempo Sixers, and hopefully the team employs him as such. He's also attractive because he's one of the few power forwards who could approach two blocks per game; remember, he's still only 30 and has always been one of the league's hardest workers. Josh Smith was also a sexy upside pick. Word is, he worked hard on his game this summer, and if he focused on attacking the basket more, he would be a superstar.
What I didn't like: Karabell set himself up to target a power forward here, but I hate the Troy Murphy selection. It's a huge roll of the dice to expect a slightly above-average player to cash in on two consecutive monster fantasy seasons, and at pick 37 -- only 14 picks lower than where he finished on last season's Player Rater -- there's not much margin for error. There is just no way he shoots 45 percent from long range again. I also question Berry's selecting Derrick Rose. A round later and he becomes a nice value, but at No. 32, you don't leave yourself much wiggle room. In his defense, he was considering Smith, and figured with three high-quality point guards, he'll have a surplus to trade.
My strategy: Cregan wasn't kidding when he said shooting guards fall off, and I found myself scrambling in this round. But as I said with regard to Kevin Martin, it's quite difficult to find players who can carry you in points, 3-pointers and free-throw percentage and still shoot a high percentage from the field, and Ben Gordon has been extremely consistent the past three seasons; it also helps that you can count on him to stay healthy.
What I liked: I am a huge Russell Westbrook fan. Getting to the line 5.2 times per game as a rookie indicates a lot of explosiveness, and also suggests his field goal percentage will improve dramatically. And while no one in the draft wanted him -- including Berry himself, who croaked, "And now … I hate myself" after the selection -- Carlos Boozer at 49 looks like solid value. Rudy Gay is also a good example of a post-hype "sleeper." Do you really expect him to do worse than last season, when he finished 49th on the Player Rater? As we remarked in the draft chat many times, the Grizzlies are awfully difficult to project, but that pick has upside.
What I didn't like: A trap I think many people fall into -- see Gay last season -- is assuming a rookie or sophomore player will automatically improve on his numbers, and I just don't think Eric Gordon has much more to improve on. Gordon may have averaged 19 points after the break last season, but that was in a perfect situation in the midst of a lost season. Coach Mike Dunleavy does not have his team run a ton, so there's no extra value to be poached there, and the Clippers, simply by regressing to the mean, should be much healthier than last season. Toss in improved seasons from Baron Davis and Chris Kaman -- not to mention the addition of Blake Griffin, and the fact that the selfish Al Thornton is still around -- and shots won't be nearly as plentiful this time around. That demands Gordon remaining just as efficient as he was last season, and since shooting percentages can fluctuate greatly year-to-year, that leaves little upside left when you take him with the 43rd pick.
My strategy: In hindsight, this was by far my worst pick of the draft; I should've selected Andrew Bynum and called it a day. Instead, I panicked, taking all but a second or two of my allotted time as I was caught with my pants down after Jameer Nelson and Andris Biedrins were selected right before me. I tried to get too cute, hoping to maximize value by waiting on Bynum one more round. This is a great example of why you should constantly load your queue with guys you like and who balance your team. I'm fairly neutral on Mayo overall, but this one stung because he didn't even fill a need.
What I liked: If I was too apprehensive to pull the trigger on Bynum, then my boy Andrea Bargnani is who I should have picked. There is a fairly large chance that Chris Bosh gets dumped if the Raptors don't turn into a contender in the East, which would make Bargnani the huge beneficiary. Even if Bosh stays all season, I still like Bargnani at least to repeat what he did last season, when he finished 51st on the Player Rater. Charlie Villanueva also has oodles of potential -- top-30, if you want me to put a number on it -- if he can ever cut down his foul rate.
What I didn't like: Carpenter's selection of Michael Redd over Jameer Nelson may go down as the worst pick of the draft, considering he already had Andre Iguodala, Kevin Martin and Rudy Gay and desperately needed a point guard. Now he'll have to barter with one of us scoundrels if he wants a shot at an elite point guard. Marcus Camby was also an overdraft by a round or so considering the plethora of big men on the Clips, although you don't have to tell that to Berry ("As long as I hate myself already, might as well take Camby and make it a clean sweep.").
My strategy: I was unsure of who to pick around this time, so I went sifting through the list of available players, and my eyes lit up when I saw Andrei Kirilenko, whom I have always had a soft spot for. Sure, there's not supposed to be emotion in fantasy, but it goes deeper than that; with AK-47's history as a top-20 fantasy player and reports that he focused on his strength and conditioning this summer, putting on 20 pounds in the process, Kirilenko has a high ceiling. He would also be a beneficiary if Boozer should be traded sometime during the season, which looks likely if the Jazz aren't serious title contenders. They would effectively be paying double Boozer's $12.6 million salary if they keep him, since they are in luxury-tax territory. During the draft I kicked myself for selecting Kirilenko over Bynum, but in hindsight it was the O.J. Mayo pick that buried me, not AK.
What I liked: Al Horford was also near the top of my queue. Since we start only one center, dependable Al was looking mighty appealing. If the Sixers go small-ball with Thaddeus Young as the 4, the 21-year-old could have a massive breakout. Tyrus Thomas and Boris Diaw are fabulous values at this point if you didn't get one of the earlier studs at power forward. And while I'm not the biggest Hedo Turkoglu fan, this is about right where he should go, and will be even more useful if he can get shooting guard eligibility.
What I didn't like: Zach Randolph is just one of those dudes you don't want to go near unless you absolutely have to. Will he really be able to put up his usual 20-plus points with all the firepower the Grizzlies possess? Honestly though, it's tough to find fault with any of these picks. A very solid round all-around.
My strategy: I needed a center, and Bogut was the best one left. The plan all along was to pair Bynum and Bogut, two high-quality centers who produce when healthy but whose health is often in question. Instead, I am more reliant on Bogut than I wanted to be. I was also ticked that Manu Ginobili went off the board one pick before mine.
What I liked: We had to all be asleep at the wheel, as Mo Williams finished 19th on the Player Rater last season but lasted all the way to 76th here. Ditto with Shawn Marion, who could have a revival in an up-tempo Mavs offense directed by Jason Kidd. Ramon Sessions is also a very sneaky value pick, as he should have no problem asserting himself in Minnesota; I'm not a big Jonny Flynn fan, as rookie point guards tend to have quite the learning curve. And considering he went off the board after Jason Richardson, Ginobili was a steal: a highly efficient shooting guard who doesn't hurt you anywhere? Sign me up. I would trade Mayo straight-up for Ginobili if I could. Also, Ray Allen fell quite far considering he finished a ridiculous 14th on last season's Player Rater. He's difficult to project considering his current productivity and the fact that he'll have to deal with both the return of Kevin Garnett and emergence of Rajon Rondo, but it looks as though Berry may have gotten a steal.
What I didn't like: With all the offensive firepower in Los Angeles, I'm not very high on Ron Artest. He's an inefficient offensive player who needs the ball in his hands to operate, which he obviously isn't going to get with Kobe around. Karabell must be counting on Phil Jackson coaching him up, which, if it happens, could end up boosting his field goal percentage, steals and possibly assists. No. 80 overall is also too high for Francisco Garcia, who performs much better in rotisserie formats, where his multi-categorical goodness has all season to add up. On a week-to-week basis, it's not hard to replicate most of Garcia's production, especially since it's doubtful he'll see a ton of minutes because he's kind of a marginal starter in real life.
My strategy: Anthony Randolph is one of "my guys," and I anticipate huge things from him this season. He reminds me of Kirilenko before his breakout. I'm not sure anyone in the league has more upside than Randolph. He's one of those players I would not hesitate to stake an entire draft on. Athletically, he can do it all, and he surprised everyone by being productive in his rookie season, as he was thought of as a very raw 19-year-old prospect. The Warriors -- which mostly means coach Don Nelson -- love him, too, and if he can cut down on his fouls (a very big if, however), we will see him blossom into a fantasy superstar as soon as this season.
What I liked: You really start to see how shallow a 10-team league really is, as there were just a ton of great picks to choose from at this point. I was very sad to see Kevin Love go, as he's also one of my guys. T.J. Ford was also a great pick; although many people (including myself) expected more from him last season, he still finished 63rd overall on the Player Rater, and with Jarrett Jack gone, he could be a big surprise on a team that loves to run. If Luis Scola gains center eligibility -- which he definitely could -- he's an ideal value late, as he has to be considered a favorite to average a double-double without Yao Ming around. And now that Eddie Jordan told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he will give Lou Williams "every opportunity to be a 38-minute-a-game player," there is no way Williams will ever fall this far again.
What I didn't like: I've never been the biggest fan of Wilson Chandler, as he's a marginal starter in real life who could see a decrease in minutes if something better comes along. He's a decent fantasy option until then, but he strikes me as a stopgap when there was still a ton of talent on the board. And this is where you see why picking point guards early is important; you don't want to have to settle for the corpse of Mike Bibby, who has zero room for growth, especially with Jamal Crawford joining the fray for the Hawks. The fact that he's a decent third point guard is beside the point; you want your third point guard to be better, if for no other reason than it affords you the opportunity to select guys with more potential, like the aforementioned Randolph or Love.
My strategy: I needed a small forward badly -- how many times will I kick myself for drafting Mayo? -- but I was jumping for joy to grab Trevor Ariza, whom I am quite high on. All Ariza has to do is keep nabbing steals at his career rate -- in 20 starts, he nabbed 1.9 per game in just 28 minutes last season -- and he'll more than cover his draft position. He should get his minutes into the range of 33 or so this season, giving him more offensive potential to boot, especially if he can continue improving from beyond the arc. One thing to note, though, is that many players who shoulder more of the offensive load -- think Devin Harris or Russell Westbrook -- tend to have their steal rate drop as they play more minutes. Steals are more of an "effort" stat, and it's difficult constantly to go full-bore on the defensive end if you have more of a responsibility on offense. So while I'm not projecting Ariza for a crazy amount of steals, I still think a floor of 1.5 per game should be easily attainable.
What I liked: Carpenter stole my pick by selecting Greg Oden, whom I absolutely adore. Oden is a supreme talent who should grow into a beast on the defensive end, and boards and blocks were exactly what I needed. Thankfully, Oden didn't rest on his laurels after disappointing last season, with reports that he worked extremely hard over the summer, and I wouldn't be surprised if he turned into a top-5 center this season. Spencer Hawes and Rodney Stuckey are also the definition of great value picks at this point.
What I didn't like: After Allen Iverson was selected, I claimed that might go down as the worst pick in the draft. In hindsight a fairly hyperbolic statement, but the fact remains that I really don't like AI. Let's be real: do you honestly expect the Grizzlies to give Iverson more than 30 minutes per game when they have a plethora of superb young talent to develop? Since when do Rudy Gay (37 minutes per game last season) and O.J. Mayo (38 minutes) need a breather? What does AI do offensively that isn't made redundant by Conley, Gay and Mayo, especially since all three are capable ball handlers? And the diminutive Iverson is never going to be used as a defensive stopper. It is a 10-team league, so it will be easy to drop him to the waiver wire and find a capable replacement, but the opportunity cost of selecting Iverson over a guy like Michael Beasley may come back to bite Berry. Frankly, assuming health from all involved, if Iverson averages more than 25 minutes per game, it's just more evidence that the Grizzlies might be the worst-run franchise in basketball.
My strategy: Again, we're just sifting for upside and value here, and once Leandro Barbosa went off the board, Mike Conley was my no-brainer selection. Conley averaged 5.6 assists, 1.7 3-pointers and 1.7 steals in 36 minutes per game after the All-Star break, numbers I think he could definitely approach this season. If so, that would make him one of the most valuable third point guards in all of fantasy.
What I liked: Barbosa would have been my selection if he had been still on the board, as I like him for a pretty strong bounce-back this season. The Suns ran more than ever under new coach Alvin Gentry last season, a style Barbosa obviously excels in. Josh Howard was also nothing but value, especially since his game seems well suited to an up-tempo style; he also has a lot to prove since this is a contract year for him, as the Mavs possess an $11.8 million team option.
What I didn't like: I'm not feeling the sleeper love for Aaron Brooks, who can't shoot or pass. Watching his selfish play makes my head hurt, and he's already 24 years old, so it's not going to be easy for him to learn to play any differently. Since he's so small (6-0, 160), he's already a defensive liability, so he really has to turn into an offensive asset if he wants to stay around the league. No matter how thin the Rockets are on solid players, I find it hard to believe coach Rick Adelman would ever give significant starter's minutes to Brooks without Brooks showing significant improvement. Yeah, it's the 11th round, so who cares, you might say, but every pick counts, and there are too many solid players on board to throw away a pick.
My strategy: It could be summed up in two words: Michael Beasley. After Beasley went, I quickly shed a tear and moved on to Luol Deng, who fit a need and who I also felt was the best value at this point. Without Ben Gordon around, I expect Deng to reassert himself after a couple of disappointing seasons. Remember, he's just 24, so there's still a little room for growth. I can really use his scoring, too, as that is the category I usually end up most in need of by the time my team is assembled.
What I liked: Michael Beasley. Many times, people have to hit rock bottom in order to motivate themselves, and Beasley, who already has two strikes against him in the NBA's substance-abuse program, was pretty darn close, after all, he did call it his "lowest hour." He's immensely talented and should be a fantasy gold mine once he earns 33-plus minutes per game, which I expect to happen this season, as the Heat really need him to compete. He's one of those players I would feel comfortable picking half a dozen rounds earlier if I had to; I like him that much. Beasley's maturity can be questioned, but I trust Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade to get him in gear and for Beasley to follow suit with a breakout season. Also, the Stephen Curry selection could end being prophetic; he has point guard eligibility and could add shooting guard eligibility as well, and coach Don Nelson is already in love with him and wants to start him.
What I didn't like: I can be nit-picky, but the final two rounds in a 10-team league hardly matter. In a head-to-head league, I often stream two roster spots anyway. So long shots like Mike Dunleavy or Tracy McGrady, even if I don't really believe in them, really aren't worth criticizing, either. If anything, I'll go with Al Thornton, who is one of my least favorite players in both real life and fantasy. The 37-plus minutes he logged last season may very well end up being a career high, as this 26-year-old is a finished product. And what can he do? Little else besides score in the mid-teens on a poor team, we learned.
My strategy: Tyson Chandler has been in my queue for a few rounds, as I was looking for a decent backup center to Bogut for rebounds and blocks. It puzzles me that a player as big and athletic as Chandler still can't consistently average two blocks per game, but in my rationalization for this pick, I figured there's a chance coach Larry Brown can work some magic, plant Chandler in the middle of the lane and make it a no-man's-land for all forays into the lane. Or so I hope, anyway. If not, I'll end up dropping him in a few weeks, if not immediately.
What I liked: I am a big fan of the Courtney Lee pick, as I think it might be too early to just write him off as a one-trick pony, his trick being a defensive stopper. Maybe he has some offensive potential to be unlocked, which, if he does, will be needed on the Nets. If nothing else, maybe he can become like Raja Bell, a somewhat decent offensive threat who can pour in 3-pointers, and the steals are nice, too. I also think Richard Jefferson went way too low. As our very own John Hollinger notes, he could end up pouring in a ton of 3-pointers from the corner this season.
What I didn't like: Um, Shaquille O'Neal? In actuality, the only thing I didn't like was not seeing the likes of Danilo Gallinari, whom I love as a deep sleeper, selected. We knew he would be a non-factor in his rookie season, but now that he knows what the rigors of the NBA season entails -- and is hopefully over his annoying back problems -- he could really surprise. Coach Mike D'Antoni knows how to use the skills of his players, and there's no question Gallinari is an incredibly skilled offensive player. On a team that likes to get up and down the court, he has a lot of upside.
Adam Madison is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.