Commentary

NBA draft day manifesto

Updated: September 10, 2008, 12:44 PM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

It's not the only way.

It may not even be the best way.

But this much I know: It is a way. A way that works. A way that has worked for years. A way that worked last year to perfection.

I'm the defending champ of the 82games.com fantasy basketball experts league, and I'll tell you why you should care. Last year, Roland Beech, the founder of 82games.com, invited ESPN.com's Eric Karabell, Henry Abbott of TrueHoop and I to compete in a unique type of league. We played against him, NBA.com's Rick Kamla and Jon Loomer, a bunch of experts from Rotowire including Chris Liss, my old friend Brandon Funston who works at … well, I forget where, but he's a good guy, Jeff Ma (the "Bringing Down the House" MIT guy) and a few guys from 82games.com. Twelve owners who know hoops pretty well. Fifteen rounds. In short, a legit expert league.

The only rule was that once you drafted, that was it. No moves, no trades, no nothing. All 15 guys started for each of us, and we saw who was in first place at the end of the season. You had to get lucky in the way of injuries, of course, but the thing I liked about it was that it was a nice test of draft strategy without any in-season management to color the results.

Obviously, you need to be paying attention all year long; you need to make smart pickups, trade smartly and read ESPN.com every single day. That goes without saying. But this isn't called the In-Season Management Manifesto, is it?

The draft strategy I used to win that league is the same one I've written about for almost a decade. And as long as it still works, I'm gonna keep writing it. They don't call me "reasonably competent" for nothing!

It boils down to four words:

Point guards. Power forwards.

Oh, sure, this draft kit has tons of player profiles, rankings, sleepers, stats and the occasional jab at the Rent-A-Celtics, who, along with the refs, managed to beat my beloved Lakers last season. (Bitter NBA Finals reference No. 1)

We have projections, a rookies impact report, offseason moves and coaching changes. We'll add an expert mock draft with analysis and look at all the burning questions, team by team, leading up to the season.

Paul Pierce
AP Photo/Charles KrupaIf you don't go with the point guards and power forwards approach, your team might also need help remaining upright.
My old TMR cohorts, Brian McKitish and Guy Lake, take over the "Love/Hate" mantle because my football duties and "90210" obsession keep me pretty busy.

But you don't actually need them.

Because you're gonna win your league -- with my help -- and you're gonna do it with point guards. And power forwards. Period.

It gets a little more specific; not just any point guard or power forward will do. But if you draft right, you should be able to win your league. So just like Paul Pierce's return to the court 30 seconds after he was helped off the floor by two teammates, let's wander in. (No. 2)

Before the draft

I'm assuming a few things here. First, that you are in a league. And that you know -- at the very least -- the basics of fantasy basketball. If you do not know how to play, please read John Cregan's How to play fantasy basketball.

Reading that piece will make both of our lives easier. Admittedly, it might do a better job of making yours easier than it could make mine, because by the time you read this, I will be scouring Tim Donaghy's phone records to see whether he called any of the refs who called Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Seriously, can we stop for a minute to look at the refs' granting 38 free throws for the Celtics to 10 for the Lakers? Or to look at Leon Powe's getting more free throws (13) than the entire Lakers team combined? Sigh. (No. 3)

If you're in a start-from-scratch or an auction league, we'll get to you in a second. But let's talk about those of you in …

Keeper leagues

Generally, keeper leagues have some sort of penalty and/or cap on players you can keep, whether it's a limit or a hit against a salary cap.

My general rule for whom to keep are players who are so amazing that you could not get them back -- your Kobes and LeBrons -- or players who are very undervalued. Say you had a $10 Kenyon Martin. Martin is a solid power forward, but he's not a guy you would keep unless you had him at well below market value. Otherwise, he's just a middle-of-the-pack forward, and if you don't get him back in the draft, you can get someone just like him.

The thinking is this: Drafting a team -- any team -- in fantasy sports is all about getting the most value out of your team. You win leagues not by picking Shawn Marion in the first round. Instead, you'd have won if you'd picked up a guy like Hedo Turkoglu toward the end of your draft last year. So …

If you have a stud you can't get back -- say, a Dirk Nowitzki in a straight draft league -- you keep him. You will not be able to replace his value in the draft. But in an auction league, if Nowitzki's value is $50 and Lamar Odom's is $7, I'd keep Odom at $7.

Why? Because I will have a shot to pick Nowitzki at some point later in the auction draft, and $50 is about what he's worth in a $200 league. If someone outbids me, I can spend $50 to get a similar stud. But there is no way I'll get Odom's production for seven bucks. It's all about maximizing value.

The only other thing I ever consider is position scarcity. Two positions are rare in fantasy hoops. Center is the obvious one. A point guard who gets 3s is the nonobvious one. You will need both before we are done.

So if you have an Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard or Yao Ming (assuming they qualify at center in your league), keep them if you can. Do not overspend to keep one of them; you can win without a good center.

But if you have a good center or a point guard who gets 3s, like Steve Nash, and you have them at market value, you can keep them.

Kevin Garnett
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaKevin Garnett's value has changed from last season, but he's still worth keeping as a late first-rounder.
Why keep them if they are not a bargain? Because you probably would have to overspend to get them back in the draft (because of their rarity), so having them at market value is actually a good value.

If you have to give up a draft pick to keep a guy, it's all about value comparison. Say you have to give up a No. 1 to keep Kevin Garnett. Well, you know your league, where you pick, your rules, etc. Is KG better or worse than whom you would get if you threw him back? Again, it's all about value. You want the most for each pick.

Say you won your league last year. Well, getting Garnett for your No. 1 draft pick is pretty good because you probably wouldn't get him at the No. 12 draft slot if you threw him back. So you keep KG. But if you finished at the bottom last year, you throw him back.

You might be able to get an even better player with your No. 1 overall pick. LeBron, Chris Paul, etc. And if those guys are protected, you'll still be able to grab Dwyane Wade with your No. 1 pick. So it's a no-brainer -- just like rooting for a team filled with homegrown young talent instead of a bunch of hired-gun malcontents who couldn't win on their original teams. (No. 4)

OK, we have whom we're keeping. Or, if it is a start-from-scratch league, other than enjoying the Celtics-bashing, that last section wasn't relevant.

Either way, before we draft, we'll have to do some draft prep. A lot of it. So let's get going.

First thing we need to do is learn our league's rules. I know, it sounds stupid. But you'd be amazed at how many people make this mistake. It's more than the number of people who think that dominating the lesser Eastern Conference for home-court advantage is an accomplishment, I'll tell you that. (No. 5)

You need to know how you keep score. Do turnovers count, for example? Can you play any kind of guard you want, or is there a PG/SG requirement? How is position eligibility determined? Is there a games-played limit? Every rule -- even the minute ones such as whether you can place an injured guy in an injured reserve slot and replace him without cutting him -- will play a part in how you draft.

Because if, in the example above, you get an IR slot, you can be more liberal with your injury-risk type of picks such as Marcus Camby or Baron Davis than you can with a more stringent policy of "no bench: everyone on your roster plays."

So, get the rules, study them, learn them, devour them. And always keep them in mind when you prepare for your draft.

Dirk Nowitzki
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesCheck your league's rules to see if Dirk Nowitzki is eligible at center. He's a power forward only in ESPN leagues, by the way.
As mentioned above, a huge rule for fantasy basketball is position eligibility. If your league has not set up a way to determine this, you need to do so ASAP. Positions get weird in the NBA -- is Nowitzki a center? He plays on the perimeter but may line up at center.

What is Kobe? Besides the best player on the planet, of course. Is he only a guard? Or a guard/forward? Your league needs to decide and needs to have a definitive no-ifs-ands-or-buts list and stick to it. Personally, I would use the one we have for you here at ESPN.com, he said pimpingly. It's part of our new free game with free live scoring and auction-draft capability. My hate for the Celtics is matched by my love for ESPN. (No. 6)

Whichever list or eligibility rules you choose, you need to know what it is. This will help you determine who you'll pick in your draft. How many players are eligible at center? A lot or a little? Knowing which positions are scarce and which are in abundance will guide you when you draft those positions. Knowing the eligibility rules also will help you realize how early you need to be concerned with filling those slots with producers as opposed to filling them with guys who perform poorly.

OK, let's prepare for the draft. Obviously, you should be reading as much as possible. I would be checking ESPN.com at least once a day, but that's just me. I like to win. And I wouldn't just read our fantasy content, either; I also suggest you read columnists such as John Hollinger and Henry Abbott. Web sites for the newspapers of local NBA teams are other good sources. And TMZ.com is another terrific site, although, to be fair, it usually has photos of Lindsay Lohan throwing up over fantasy sports content.

Don't read only fantasy sites. Read the NBA section on ESPN.com, and watch "SportsCenter" and actual games. That's right. Actual games.

See how a guy gets his 20 and 10. Was he grinding it out play after play with Shane Battier all up in his business? Or was it just garbage time?

When you watch a game, watch it from a fantasy standpoint. Who touches the ball the most on offense? Where do players stand when they have the ball and when they don't have the ball?

Tony Parker doesn't earn as many assists as other upper-tier point guards not because isn't any good -- he's actually a terrific player -- but because of the way the Spurs run their offense. Specifically, through Tim Duncan starting with his back to the glass or on the perimeter. Duncan likes to put the ball on the floor before doing anything, and then, just as the ref whistles when Kobe drives the lane and gets hacked by three Celtics, your assist disappears into thin air. (No. 7)

I'll let you check out other places and explore. There are tons of Web sites devoted to fantasy basketball. See which columnists you like, which ones you trust, whom you agree with, who are morons. It's all speculation -- some are more informed than others -- but at the end of the day, we're all just making educated guesses.

In any case, knowledge is power. The more you know -- about players, lineups, injuries, sleepers, coaching changes and schedules -- the better shape you are in. So prepare as if you are testing to get into Harvard Medical School, because the only thing worse than screwing up on draft day and listening to your buddies tell you you're an ass for the next six months is having to sit in front of a TV at night and say, "Come on, Dikembe Mutombo!"

So with draft day quickly approaching, you'll need to do some paperwork before the draft to make it easier and more efficient for yourself.

First, get yourself an up-to-the minute depth chart for every team in the NBA. And when the draft nears its end and you need another point guard or a starting small forward, the depth charts will come in very handy. Trust me.

Whichever list/magazine/book you choose to go with, just bring one. Too much info can clutter things up. Read the ones you have, decide who suggests ideas that are most similar to what you think, and go with that. The truth is, most of them are generally the same. If one has LeBron James ahead of Chris Paul and the other one has them reversed … well, so what? They both rock.

Personally, I like to make my own list. But whichever list you have, you need to prepare it. I like to group players. As an easy example, you'll group your point guards.

Andre Miller
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesAndre Miller may not score as much in '08-09, but could see his assist total rise.
Paul, Nash, Allen Iverson, Gilbert Arenas, Deron Williams, Baron Davis, etc. They're the elite. The next tier has about eight guys. You may say to yourself, "I don't want a No. 1 point guard lower than, say, Chauncey Billups."

Say the entire list goes, plus Jose Calderon. But you don't freak out because you look at your list and see that Tony Parker and Jason Kidd are still left, and it's your turn in two picks. You are guaranteed to get one of those guys.

During the draft, it's especially important not to get hung up on one particular player. By dividing your list like this, you'll be better able to see where there is scarcity in the draft and where there is surplus. Even if you don't get Andre Miller, you're not screwed. Mo Williams will be just fine.

Doing all this work ensures you'll keep your cool during the draft, especially as it goes on.

Another thing you want to do before the draft is prepare a draft sheet for every team in the league. I cannot stress how important this is. As the draft progresses, you will want to be able to know who everyone has, which positions they have filled and which they still need to fill. If it's a keeper league, fill in who has been kept. This sheet lists every team in your league and every position your opponents need to fill.

For example, let's say Team 1 takes Chris Paul. You write down "Paul" in Team 1's G slot. This way, you can see at a glance what you need in comparison to every other team. Say it's Round 8 and you need a fourth power forward. But there's a sleeper point guard you want to grab as well.

You look at your sheet, see that mostly everyone else has three forwards and that, according to your power forward sheet, Paul Millsap, Boris Diaw, Nick Collison and Chris Wilcox are still out there. So you should be OK when it comes around to you next; you don't need to burn the pick here.

Conversely, let's say the three guys who pick after you all need point guards. In that case, you'd better grab the guy now, else you'll never get him. You grab the point guard and pick a decent No. 4 power forward the next time you pick.

This sheet will save your butt more than once toward the end of the draft -- and that's where leagues are won and lost,not in the first few rounds.

Anyway, I always like to have a list of sleepers I want to target; late-round guys who, when you're four hours in and can't think anymore, you can glance at the sheet and go, "Oh yeah, I wanted to take a gamble on Acie Law. Or Thabo Sefolosha. Or Donyell Marshall." Then you grab them instead of saying, "Oh hell, I can't think of anybody. … I'll just take Jeff Foster."

Drafting

OK, it's game day, baby. Time for the big show. Don't bother cramming on the way in or anything stupid like that. It's like a test. You know it or you don't. And if you don't, the next 10 minutes won't change that.

You want to project an air of confidence, even if you don't feel it. Make others sweat. That's my first draft day hint.

Never show fear. Just be confident. You don't have to be cocky or a jerk. But occasionally sighing a breath of relief when the guy before you picks, as if to say, "Thank God you didn't grab the correct guy," will do wonders to rattle most of your league mates.

Assuming a standard 10-man starting roster, here's what I want your starting lineup to look like:

Two centers, three power forwards, one small forward who gets a lot of 3s, and four point guards (ideally who get a lot of 3s). Get this lineup, stay healthy, read ESPN and win, baby.

(Quick points here: This isn't about getting specific positions, it's about getting players who earn stats like those. So even though someone like Lamar Odom is eligible at small forward, he gets power forward numbers in terms of boards and blocks.)

You must understand that fantasy basketball is about categories. And basketball has many fewer players than baseball, so you need to maximize every category. My theory -- which has proven to be very reliable in hoops -- is to build on strength.

Here's what I mean. Say you get Dwight Howard early on. He's a rebound machine, a block machine, and he even gets almost a steal per game. Pretty decent stats for a big man.

Dwight Howard
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty ImagesEven if you drafted your Superman on the glass in Dwight Howard, it's no slam dunk you'll win the category.
OK, by picking a guy like him, you automatically have a chance to compete in those three areas. But what a lot of people do is say, "Well, I have Howard, I have rebounds taken care of" and draft a bunch of small forwards. Three months later, they're middle of the pack in everything and screwed.

By surrounding Howard with rebounders, you guarantee you'll win that category. You can always trade surplus. So we'll build on strength. OK, this gets a little hairy, but stay with me. It'll be worth it.

Hoops plays mainly in eight categories, right? Points, rebounds, steals, blocks, 3s, assists and field-goal and free-throw percentage. Turnovers are the ninth category; we'll deal with that in a bit.

The first things we want to target on draft day are the rare categories, those that fewer players succeed in than other categories. Most players score, most rebound; we can worry about that later. Every player has a shooting percentage. We'll get to that in a moment as well.

But who gets assists, blocks, steals and 3s? Who racks up enough of them to make a difference? Not that many. You could take my word for it, but let me show you, just like a healthy Andrew Bynum will show what a healthy Lakers squad would have done last season. (No. 8)

Thirty teams are in the NBA. Each has two starting guards. Know how many players averaged seven assists a game or more last season?

Ten. That's right. Just 10.

In order: Paul (11.6), Nash (11.1), Deron Williams (10.5), Kidd (10.1), Jamaal Tinsley (8.4), Calderon (8.3), Davis (7.6), Raymond Felton (7.4), James (7.2) and Iverson (7.1). That's it.

Dwyane Wade averaged 6.9, and getting a full season with a guy who runs like Shawn Marion can only help, so I assume he'll get over the seven-assist hump. And Ramon Sessions averaged 7.5 assists last season but played in only 17 games, so he didn't count. Miller averaged 6.9, and both Earl Watson and Chauncey Billups averaged 6.8.

So let's round up, be generous and call it 15, OK? Fifteen players get above-average assists.

OK, compare that with points. You know how many players averaged 15 or more points last season?

Sixty-five. I won't list them, but No. 66, Rashad McCants, averaged 14.9.

You see where I'm going, right? More than four times as many players get above-average points as compared with above-average assists. I'm sure you're willing to trust me, but doing this for every category will help.

Francisco Rodriguez/Marcus Camby
US Presswire/Getty ImagesFrancisco Rodriguez's dominance in saves this season is only slightly greater than what Marcus Camby did in blocks last season.
OK, back to the rare categories.

Blocks: Only 20 players averaged 1.5 blocks per game or more. That includes guys you wouldn't really want in your lineup, like Alonzo Mourning. Only nine averaged two or more a game.

Steals: Only 19 guys averaged 1.5 steals per game last season.

3-pointers: By far the most available of the "rare" categories, only 35 players had at least 130 3s.

Contrast that with the 51 players who grabbed at least seven boards a game last season, the 53 qualified players who shot better than .470 from the floor last season, or the 44 qualified players who shot better than .820 from the line last season (and 61 shot at least .800).

So we'll agree that four categories have fewer producers than others. It's kind of like saves in baseball. More pitchers get wins than saves, which makes closers more valuable.

Well, some fantasy logic applies to all sports, and the biggest one is that you need guys who touch the ball. Just like you want a running back and a quarterback in football, you want the guy who touches the ball in hoops the most: the point guard.

Point guard is the only position that earns assists. Yes, some non-point guards get a nice number of assists, like Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant, for example. LeBron defies description. We'll talk about those guys in a second.

But assists in any kind of numbers, for all intents and purposes, will come from point guards. But if you get one point guard or even two, what good does that do you? You probably won't have enough to finish better than in the middle of the pack. That doesn't help you.

We play to win. We play to build on strength. And if we can build our strength in categories that few players get, all the better. They make for easier categories to dominate and cause other teams to scramble. So -- and I promise you this -- if you have four point guards, you will win the assists category or come damned close. It's like having three closers in baseball.

Now, if we have four point guards, you say, "OK, we win assists." But what about everything else? Well, that's why we have to be careful with whom we draft. We need point guards who get 3s. We have to be selective. We have to be smart. Because we are working a very specific strategy.

OK, 35 players averaged at least five assists last year:

Paul, Nash, Deron Williams, Kidd, Tinsley, Calderon, Davis, Sessions (17 games), Felton, James, Iverson, Wade, Andre Miller, Watson, Billups, Mo Williams, T.J. Ford, Mike Bibby, Kirk Hinrich, Parker, Sebastian Telfair, Tracy McGrady, Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Anthony Carter, Bryant, Rafer Alston, Carter, Rajon Rondo, Steve Blake, Arenas (13 games), Turkoglu and Jamal Crawford.

I'll drop from this list everyone who didn't get at least 100 3s last season.

This list is now: Nash (179), Crawford (176), Davis (173), Johnson (169), Turkoglu (166), Bryant (150), Alston (143), Billups (137), Blake (121), Kidd (119) and James (113).

I'll also note that Vince Carter had 98, Iverson had 95, Bibby had 93 and Paul had 92. And given a full season, Arenas easily would have surpassed the mark.

So if we expand it to "at least 92 3-pointers" and forget the injury to Hibachi, we're at 16 guys. That's it. 16 guys. You need at least two and preferably three guys from this list.

Joe Johnson
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesJoe Johnson is among a handful of players who made 150 3-pointers and averaged five assists and a steal per game last season.
Let's say we pick two or three on this list (plus a small forward type who makes 3s) and we are well on our way to wrapping up 3s and assists. So we move to steals. The only downside of Nash (He's soooo dreamy!) is that he gets no steals. But most of these point guards also steal.

Here's a list of guys who show up on the above assists and 3s lists and also averaged at least one steal a game: Paul (2.7), Davis (2.3), Iverson (1.9), Bryant (1.8), James (1.8), Arenas (1.7), Kidd (1.7), Alston (1.3), Billups (1.3), Carter (1.2), Bibby (1.2), Johnson (1.0) and Crawford (1.0).

Thirteen. That is it, kids, 13 guys. And frankly, we shouldn't even count Alston, whose playing time figures to get lessened significantly this season.

Selecting two or three of these guys for your team is very sweet.

(FYI: Wade, Tinsley, Rajon Rondo, Anthony Carter, Miller, Felton, Mo Williams, Deron Williams, T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon all make the assists and steals list but not the 3s list. Which means you need a small forward who guns 3s -- Rashard Lewis, anyone? -- if you get "stuck" with one of them.)

The point is, point guards steal a lot more than, say, forwards. But we'll come back to steals in a sec.

This is a generality, but guys who are point guards usually have good free-throw percentages. Guys such as Billups, Calderon, Nash, Ford, Crawford, Mo Williams, Paul, Bryant, Joe Johnson, Kidd, Iverson, Deron Williams and Felton all shot at least .800 from the line last season.

So, in conclusion, if you get point guards -- all point guards -- and make sure at least two of them show up on the upper part of the 3s and steals lists, you should be set to compete in steals and 3s. You also should win assists while helping your free-throw percentage quite a bit.

If you play in a league that requires you to start shooting guards, that is fine. You just have to divide the list up a bit more and do a little more research.

THIS IS AN IMPORTANT POINT, SO I'M GOING TO TYPE IN ALL CAPS TO MAKE SURE YOU PAY ATTENTION TO IT:

When I say "point guards," what I am really talking about are players who play like point guards, at least from a fantasy perspective. Guys like James, Bryant, Turkoglu, Carter, etc. are not point guards in the traditional sense. But the statistics they put up, for our purposes, are point guard-like. I already mentioned this when I brought up Lamar Odom, but I want to re-emphasize this.

When I say you win with point guards and power forwards, I'm referring to players who produce numbers like point guards and power forwards. The categories I refer to are assists, steals, 3s and good free-throw percentage for point guards; blocks, boards and good field-goal percentage for power forwards.

Guys like Johnson and Carter, not to mention the Paul Pierces or Tracy McGradys of the world, help us, especially in leagues in which you have to play with guys who qualify at shooting guard or small forward.

In general, you want to make sure your shooting guard gets a ton of 3s and steals while making sure your point guards are huge assist guys. Or grab guys like Iverson or Jason Terry who probably qualify at both slots. But the principles are the same. With our guard slots, we must win the assists category and look to be in the upper tier in 3s and steals while shooting well from the line.

So, you say, what about the other categories? That's where my power forwards come in. We'll have a total of five power forward types: three power forwards and two centers. I like to think of centers in terms of power forwards for fantasy purposes and, specifically, this system.

Rebounds are the easiest category to get; everyone gets a rebound. So to compete in this category, we need a lot of big men. Any five decent guys who produce at least double-digit points and seven boards will do as long as they are big power forward types. No Richard Hamilton types who don't get rebounds.

LaMarcus Aldridge
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesLaMarcus Aldridge shoots and rebounds well enough to make TMR's "list," and he nearly blocked 100 shots in '07-08, too.
Unless he is a true big man who gets blocks and boards, I don't want him. We want five big guys who all average at least seven boards a game or so. You won't win rebounds like this (unless you get a Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard-type combo thing going), but you will finish in the middle of the pack, and that's all we need.

The nice thing is that the big guys almost always have a high field-goal percentage -- they're close to the rim and all that -- so five good big men with good field-goal percentage (this is a must!) will go a long way toward balancing out the damage your shotgunning point guards will do.

You must, must, must pay attention to field-goal percentage! This is key. Do not -- I mean do not -- draft any big man who has a field-goal percentage worse than, say, .470. Trust me here. Picking all those point guards who get 3s does not come without a price.

That price is field-goal percentage.

You can mitigate the damage, however, if you have five "big men" (two centers, three power forwards) who are all shooting .470 or above.

So with our five C/PF combo, we should be in the middle of the pack in boards and at least in the middle of the pack in field-goal percentage.

That brings us to blocks. Of course, only PF/C types get blocks anyway, so if we have five guys who get some, we should be fine in that category, especially because so few guys get them. Because centers are so rare and they'll go early while you are trying to lock up your elite point guards, center is a great position to get a monster shot-blocker who can single-handedly help you compete in that category.

One other thing specific to centers: If you have a liberal league policy -- one that allows Nowitzki, Duncan and Rasheed Wallace to be centers -- then never mind. You'll be fine if you pick a quality center. And center is a fairly deep position this year. But if you have a fairly strict policy and/or a league filled with guys who go nuts grabbing centers, a late-round, one-category guy is the way to go.

Look, instead of getting a "hole" -- a guy who will just sit in your lineup and not do a lot -- I would rather pick a guy like Erick Dampier who will earn for me five points, five boards and two blocks per game.

Getting a pure shot-blocker like Dampier, a guy who won't hurt you in any one category but will help a huge deal in another category that very few people get, is a nice way around the "there are no centers" thing in leagues with strict position eligibility.

So, are we up to date so far? Pick four point guards who will get assists, 3s and steals. That takes care of those three categories. Then take five big men who will get us boards, blocks and good field-goal percentage. We're looking good.

Rashad Lewis
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty ImagesRashard Lewis' 200-plus 3-pointers and nearly 100 steals bring a smile to the face of the TMR.
But because point guards are more rare, it's nice to back up a few of the things we need them to do. That's why you leave one, and only one, slot for a small forward. Specifically, a small forward who gets 3s and steals. In an ideal world, you have a guy like Rashard Lewis here.

I want you to make sure the small forward you pick gets 3s and steals in as significant a way as he can with good percentages. If you can't find one, don't force it. Go with another power forward. You can always find 3s on the waiver wire.

The last category I will talk about is points. Everyone gets points. It's a very hard category to target, especially in this system, because so many of the guys who get a lot of points (think Ray Allen or Carmelo Anthony) are great players but are not good fits for this strategy. So I don't worry about points at the draft, and I'll tell you why:

You won't win points in this system. Not even close. Don't bother trying.

But, say you get the four point guards as we talked about, a small forward who gets 3s and some steals, plus five power forward/center types. You'll finish in the middle of the pack in points and boards. Points are the glamour category -- it's what you see at halftime on ESPN or TNT, and it's what scrolls across the Bottom Line on "SportsCenter" -- but in fantasy basketball, it counts the same as boring ol' blocks or free-throw percentage.

Worry about drafting the lineup I've talked about, and you'll get enough points that it will take care of itself for you to compete.

Now, a few quick things before we finally move on.

Use your head! Don't just go down your list and grab four point guards, five power forwards and a small forward. Know who is who. Read all the player profiles we've drafted. Make sure -- I'll say this again, make sure -- before you draft a guy that he is solid in the percentages and that he gets 3s and/or steals and assists.

That he gets boards.

If he isn't solid in, say, field-goal percentage, remember that you need to go higher up in that category with the next people you draft to compensate. It is all about getting the most production out of each player and, more importantly, taking advantage of the strengths you have.

Oh, and to do this strategy properly, you need to avoid Shaquille O'Neal) at all costs.

Head-to-head leagues

This system actually works even better if you play in a head-to-head league. In many H2H leagues, you get points for various stats (two for every block, for example), so what that means to me is that you don't have to compete in every category. If you get two points per block and your whole team is all shot-blockers, it still would work.

If you get a ton of points for your blocks, you don't need those points to come from elsewhere. That's because the fantasy player with the most points at the end of the week wins that week's game, just like in fantasy football.

It doesn't matter if you get the points from a star running back or an obscure tight end -- they count either way. So by building on strength, especially in the rare categories, you should win quite a few weeks. Be prepared to blow off categories in H2H just so you can get even more guys who qualify.

The other type of scoring for H2H leagues is the same roto category style we spoke of, but instead of your competing all year long against everyone, you compete each week against one team in categories such as steals, 3s, points, etc. If you get more blocks in a category than your opponent does, you win that category. If you have more category wins than your opponent, like 5-3, you win the game for that week.

It is super, super easy to use this system to win. By getting all the rare categories, you'll win every week in steals, assists, 3s, blocks and hopefully free-throw percentage. You don't care about points, boards or field-goal percentage. It will be an ugly-looking team, but it will win. Every week.

You just need to make sure in that system that your big men shoot well from the line. You'll probably want to add another small forward who gets a lot of 3s instead of one of your power forwards. (That's because in this system for H2H, all you really need big men for is blocks. Get yourself a few Samuel Dalembert types and you'll be all set there).

Turnovers

Steve Nash
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriSteve Nash is apparently not enamored with leagues that count negative stats such as turnovers, either.
I hate leagues that count turnovers. It's a negative stat. You're, in effect, rewarding someone for not touching the ball, which is insane. And it's just not a fun stat; roto should be fun. I blow off turnovers for the same reason I gave above: Most of the guys who are good turnover guys are poor candidates for our system. The more a player touches the ball, the more he turns it over.

Let me name some guys for you. Steve Nash. Deron Williams. Jason Kidd. Dwight Howard. Kobe Bryant. LeBron James.

That's a pretty good list, wouldn't you say? Well, those are the six guys who made the most turnovers last season.

So if you count turnovers, LeBron James has a negative. But is there anyone out there -- fantasy player or NBA exec -- who wouldn't want this guy?

I generally think if you are smart when you draft, you can finish in the middle of the pack, and that will be OK. But if you're not, don't worry about it. A lot of point guards have big turnover numbers, and there's nothing you can do about it. It dilutes my plan a little, but it still works. You just have to be more careful in drafting.

Speaking of drafting …

Here are some more draft day hints:

1. If you do an auction (which you can do online for free on ESPN.com, by the way): Pay for studs. The more, the better. More so than in any other type of fantasy game, the studs are truly a cut above the rest. After you get past the LeBrons, Kobes and Dirks, it's really all the same. After the first three rounds, some are better than others, but it's not a huge difference. The difference between, say, Amare Stoudemire and Brendan Haywood is huge, while the difference between Jermaine O'Neal) (13.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game) and Al Harrington (13.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is not very much, but one will go for a lot more than the other.

You will be able to field a solid team with a bunch of $1 forwards. So pay for as many studs as you can, then wait. There is so much talent in the NBA that the secret is to get as many difference-makers as possible.

2. If you find yourself getting screwed out of a position, don't panic! Say you have pick No. 11 in a 12-team league and you find yourself on the short end of a point guard run later in the draft. Instead of reaching for a guy like Sam Cassell just to have someone, grab another center. Or a stud small forward. Give yourself something to trade for a guy.

Cassell will still be there a round later, trust me. But by cornering the market on a scarce commodity rather than just grabbing a warm body, you'll be a lot happier.

3. If you are in a snake draft, especially at one end of one, grab what you need when you can. Say it's your turn to pick and you really want a strong No. 1 point guard. You see that at least 12 are left. So you grab a second power forward. But one good run and you're screwed. It's 20 picks until you get to choose again if not more. Don't wait. Grab what you need, get surplus later (unless you're in a situation like I described above).

4. Don't listen to anyone else at the draft! First -- and this is the secret that we fantasy "experts" hold tightly to our chests -- no one knows anything! That's a quote from screenwriter William Goldman about Hollywood, but it's appropriate here as well.

Yes, we experts probably spend a lot more time looking at stats, trends, players and teams and the like than you do, but that's because you have a life. And we've probably been playing a bit longer. I've been playing fantasy sports since I was 14.

But again, that's because you have a life. So we probably have a more-informed opinion. But that's all it is, an opinion. A well-educated guess, but a guess nonetheless.

So, if I'm telling you experts aren't always right, other people in your league sure as hell aren't. If they mock your pick or sneer at your team, who cares? Screw them. Don't let it rattle you! I often find the loudest guy at the draft is usually the stupidest. I've seen too many good drafts screwed up because someone listened to some loud jerk rather than trusting his own opinion.

Listen, you've done the research. You've played the game. You've read this far. You're into it. And your opinion is as good as, if not better, than anyone's in that room.

5. Have fun. Remember, we do this for leisure. We all (especially me) take it very seriously, and I play to win, but it's not worth ruining friendships.

6. Finally, remember, we at ESPN.com are here to help. Columns, advice, analysis, everything you need and more. So come on by, say hi. Unless you are a bandwagon supporter of the Rent-A-Celtics. Then you can keep moving.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is ESPN's senior director of fantasy. He was just as surprised as you to find out it's a real job. He is a multiple award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site which combines a bunch of well known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off.

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• Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of "Fantasy Life"