Commentary

Mock Draft 1.0

Top three picks predictable, intrigue begins at No. 4

Updated: December 6, 2011, 3:34 PM ET
By Neil Tardy | Special to ESPN.com

So what if we don't yet know where the free-agent players will land? So what if training camps aren't actually open? So what if the NBA lockout isn't even "officially" over? The fantasy hoops season starts in three weeks and you've waited long enough. So have we.

The ESPN.com fantasy hoops team conducted its first mock draft -- 10 teams, head-to-head (H2H) format -- on Dec. 1. Participants, in addition to yours truly, were fantasy hoops analysts Tom Carpenter, John Cregan, Seth Landman, Brian McKitish, Adam Stanco and Josh Whitling, Fantasy Insider Eric Karabell and Fantasy Focus Basketball podcast co-hosts Keith Lipscomb and Mike Yam.

For as much as can and will change during the next three weeks, I think one draft question will consistently dog fantasy owners: What do you do with the fourth pick? At least No. 4 was a hot topic during this mock. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are pretty much universally slated for the top two spots. Divergence of opinion starts with the third pick, though Chris Paul seems like the consensus choice there. At least that's how it went down with us. With the first pick, McKitish took Durant. Then Stanco got LeBron and Landman opted for Paul. After that, it got interesting.

Round 1 breakdown: Cregan tackled the No. 4 teaser by selecting Williams, and it's tough to argue with that call. But a case could also be made for taking Wade, Love, Rose or (in H2H) Howard in that spot. Or perhaps someone else. Here's how Landman put it: "I think it's the worst place to pick in the entire draft if you're in a standard snake-draft situation. I'd go with Love because the combination of numbers he put up last year hasn't been seen since Moses Malone was winning MVP awards, and Love makes 3s, too. On the other hand, it'd be nice to get a guy who gives you a little more in blocks or steals that early. Williams, Wade, Rose, Howard, Westbrook, Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Stephen Curry or Amare Stoudemire could all have gone fourth in our mock and I wouldn't have batted an eyelash."

My strategy: I was thrilled that Westbrook fell this far. Well, it's only a mock draft, so thrilled is probably too strong a word. Still, it was the easiest decision I had all night. To me Westbrook was clearly the best player available at No. 10.

Round 2 breakdown: I admit I'm a bit concerned how older players will fare under the compressed NBA schedule. Will more stars get the Tim Duncan treatment and receive nights off during the season? Depending on your perspective, established stars are either potential risks or potential bargains on draft day. That brings us to Bryant being selected 14th overall. Too low? McKitish seems to think so: "Before the draft, I did a spot check on players like Bryant and Paul Pierce and found that they performed better than average on the second night of back-to-backs. Is there a risk that these guys might sit out a few games to rest up? Sure, but the risk is not big enough to pass up on the talent."

Round 2 seemed to set point guard hierarchy. With Curry's selection by Lipscomb, six point guards went in our top 13 (keeping in mind Monta Ellis' dual eligibility). Six picks later, Stanco tabbed Rondo: "Yes, there's Paul, Williams, Rose, Ellis, Westbrook and Curry, but when they're off the board, where do you go next? I went with Rondo, but John Wall and Steve Nash are going to have very good seasons."

My strategy: Played it safe. Gasol provides outstanding field goal percentage, 10 boards, 1.5 blocks and center eligibility. Now I sit tight 'til pick 30.

Round 3 breakdown: Granger and Nash were generally viewed as bargains at their draft positions. Yam, in particular, was disappointed to miss out on Nash by a single pick. At the top of the round, Stanco grabbed Griffin after some deliberation: "I could have taken Horford, but went with Griffin instead. He will be even better than he was last year, because he is a maniac about improving during every offseason, but I still love Horford. Rarely do big men improve their passing skills after a few years in the league, but that's just what he did last year. No reason to think his numbers won't continue to surge this year."

My strategy: I was disappointed Gordon didn't slide all the way to the end of the third round, but that was probably too much to expect. Instead, I bulked up on boards with Lee. I expect him to produce like he did in last season's second half (17.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.2 steals).

Round 4 breakdown: Holiday and Noah were coveted picks. Whitling snubbed Karabell and Carpenter with his selection of Holiday, while Carpenter frustrated Cregan with his selection of Noah. "I was happy to get Noah in the fourth -- I think he's going to be a monster this season -- but I really wanted Holiday," Carpenter said.

Despite all that, Ibaka was the talk of Round 4. McKitish felt this was his best selection of the night, joking that Ibaka could block eight shots a game. At least I think B-Mac was joking: "[Ibaka] had 3.1 blocks per game in 17 playoff games and has shown incredible progress in each of his NBA seasons. I'm expecting big, big things from him in his third professional season."

My strategy: The shooting guard position is thin, and I hadn't addressed 3-pointers, so Martin seemed a solid pick. Pairing him and Westbrook would make any head-to-head owner tough to beat in free throw percentage.

Round 5 breakdown: Three more point guards were taken with consecutive picks, starting with Irving at No. 55. Unsurprisingly, he was the first rookie selected. And what was I saying about shooting guard depth? I'll let Lipscomb elaborate: "The shooting guard position continues to emaciate. There are very few sure things, and a solid option like Manu Ginobili could be subject to even more rest than usual if Gregg Popovich continues to emphasize keeping his aging stars as fresh as possible in looking at the big picture."

My strategy: I hesitated here. Jackson is 33 now, and it's tough to imagine him meshing with his new coach, the prickly Scott Skiles. Plus S-Jax dipped to 1.2 steals per game last season, his lowest since 2006-07. But he's actually been very consistent, numbers-wise, during his tumultuous career.

Round 6 breakdown: While McKitish liked Carpenter's pick of Lawson, most of us went big. Yam, in particular, was pleased with the outcome: "JaVale McGee isn't my best player, but I love that I got him in the sixth round. He's a double-double type player who averaged 2.4 blocks per game last season. He's going to get major PT considering the Wizards don't have a ton of depth at the 4 and 5."

My strategy: I'd just taken Jackson, so I guess it seemed natural to go back-to-back with enigmatic talents. Seriously though, I couldn't pass on Cousins' upside.

Round 7 breakdown: Interesting group. Carpenter savored his selection of Bargnani, and I concur. Supposedly the former first overall pick went all-out in the offseason. All I know is that a 20-point scorer who was going comfortably in the top 50 a year ago is a bargain in the seventh round. Karabell was less certain with his pick of the free agent West, while Landman called Jennings his worst pick. "He's going to have to make major improvements to justify my taking him here," Landman said. "Darren Collison or Mike Conley would have been the safer pick if I was desperate for a backup point guard (which I was)."

My strategy: I was a bit desperate for a backup point guard, too, and was targeting Parker. But the young scorer Matthews is a nice consolation.

Round 8 breakdown: Though the incoming rookie class has been widely panned, our group took a number of first-year players. Derrick Williams was the second to go, to Stanco at 89th overall. Meanwhile, Whitling felt Lipscomb got a bargain with Deng: "He's the type of player that people sleep on because he's been around awhile and they're bored of him, but he was 46th on the Player Rater last year."

My strategy: Seek more upside. And for what it's worth, this is quite the group when it comes to free throws. I already had Westbrook and Martin, and Gallinari was a scorching 86.4 percent from the line with the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets last season.

Round 9 breakdown: Three more point guards went off the board, starting with last season's fantasy flop, Collison. "I wasn't happy having to take Darren Collison at 81st overall after his poor season last year," McKitish said. "That said, he still has talent and he could provide nice dividends if he bounces back."

My strategy: I should have added a second point guard by now, but I kept missing out. At least I got a young enigma to back up Cousins in Beasley. Honestly, I don't hate this pick. Beasley turns 23 in a month and is capable of averaging 20 points, a 3-pointer, a steal and a block. Let's see what happens.

Round 10 breakdown: More point guard uncertainty. I'll let Yam go first: "I tend to favor point guards when I draft and I thought I needed depth and pulled the trigger on D.J. Augustin, with his 111 3s and 6.0 assists as my reasoning. But I'm nervous he won't be able to duplicate last season and I question his role with Kemba Walker in the mix. Playing those guys together will be dangerous for [head coach Paul] Silas on the defensive end."

My strategy: Stuckey is probably my worst pick, particularly with Brandon Knight looming. I'd have probably been better off with Rubio, though I fear he could be a field goal percentage killer with not that many steals. However, I already had Beasley, and as a Minnesota Timberwolves fan, I can tell you that two Wolves on one fantasy roster is too many.

Round 11 breakdown: I really was surprised at the number of rookies picked. Karabell himself says he tends to lean toward veterans, but he had no problem scooping up Walker here. "Kemba Walker might shoot 42 percent from the field, but he'll play a ton of minutes and fill up a box score," Karabell said.

My strategy: Like I said, I need help behind Westbrook, so I made a speculative play for Jack. He really could be the New Orleans Hornets' starting point guard at some point this season.

Round 12 breakdown: Not a lot to say, though Allen could be a bargain if the Memphis Grizzlies can find minutes for him.

My strategy: For all my talk about shooting guard depth, I actually ended up with some. I was happy with Miles here.

Round 13 breakdown: More speculation, as you would expect in the final round. Stanco admitted that Fredette is only borderline draft-worthy given the Sacramento Kings' crowded backcourt, but he was nonetheless intrigued. Yam added, "Be aware of guys who could be big because of trades. I really believe if Dwight Howard gets moved, Bass is going to be a beast."

My strategy: In 15 starts last season, Dudley averaged 16.3 points, 2.1 steals and 1.7 3s. I'll take that for the 130th pick.

Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.

Neil Tardy | email

Fantasy Basketball
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com

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