2013 Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: Bench options and strategies
The starting lineup is one thing, but there's a science to building a good bench. Our Joe Polito explains in his look at the top bench options and strategies.
If a list exists of over-analyzed sports terms, the label "starter" might very well be on it. It's often used to describe the kind of guy who's the best on his team at a certain position, but technically it only refers to a guy who's in on the very first play.
Just because a guy isn't a starter, doesn't mean he doesn't produce in the middle or at the end of games. Some players, like Manu Giniboli, Jamaal Crawford and Lamar Odom have had some of their best years coming off the bench. So don't leave a guy off your draft board just because he's not typically on the court at tipoff.
In most Fantasy leagues, it's impossible to fill out your team with 15 starters. So here are some sparks off the bench you might consider as well as some starters you can probably ignore on Draft Day.
Bench players worth drafting
Jarrett Jack , Cavaliers: Klay Thompson , Jose Calderon , Joe Johnson -- these are starting guards who played 70-plus games and still finished behind Jarrett Jack in Fantasy points last season. Jack has since changed teams, relocating from Golden State to Cleveland in the offseason, but his role as dependable bench dude should remain. The Cavs will likely look for Jack to do for Kyrie Irving what he did for Steph Curry: allow an extremely talented scorer to be himself rather than fit the classic point guard mold. Irving's questionable durability will also come into play, as Cleveland's young star has yet to play more than 60 games in his first two years. Look for Jack in the later rounds of your draft to benefit from veteran production on a young Cavs team.
Andray Blatche , Nets: If the Nets are serious about their title aspirations, then there is going to be a lot of minutes to go around in a long NBA regular season. Averaging a measly 18.9 minutes per game last season, Andray Blatche was still able to outscore DeAndre Jordan and Kosta Koufos in total Fantasy points last season. He played all 82 games and put up a stellar 19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes last year. He's Brook Lopez's primary backup, and will likely see some minutes filling in for Kevin Garnett as well when Reggie Evans offensive ineptness isn't cutting it. His game defies convention for a 6-foot-11 player, often opting for crossovers and step-back jumpers instead of post-ups and hook shots, but Blatche is as effective as he is unorthodox and worthy of a late round selection.
Harrison Barnes , Warriors: A breakout performance in last years' playoffs would have been enough to earn Harrison Barnes a starting job – that is if his team hadn't signed Andre Iguodala in the offseason. During Golden State's improbable playoff run, Barnes averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds and showed that he's comfortable operating in the paint – something you don't often see from a 20-year-old rookie. His knack for scoring down low and snatching rebounds allows the Warriors to toy with smaller lineups that could include both Iguodala and Barnes on the floor at the same time. His regular season stats were nothing to write home about, but if Barnes can build on the confidence he gained while thriving in his team's most important 12 games, he'll be well worth a late round pick for his upside.
Isaiah Thomas / Greivis Vasquez , Kings: The battle for starting point guard in Sacramento could go either way. On one hand you have the 5-foot-9 incumbent Isaiah Thomas , who started 62 games for the Kings last season and is of the Nick Van Exel, shoot-first variety of point guard. On the other hand, you have the 6-foot-6 trade acquisition Greivis Vasquez , who did a successful Jason Kidd impression for New Orleans last year, finishing first in the league in total assists while still averaging 13.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Whether the Kings opt for Thomas' instant offense or Vasquez's court vision in the starting lineup, you should think of both as good options for Draft Day.
Either one is capable of providing solid production, albeit in entirely different ways. Right now, it would seem Thomas has the upper hand, being the healthier and more productive of the two during preseason. Still, it seems obvious that the Kings would choose to start Vazquez because he makes his teammates better, with Thomas coming in for instant offense off the bench. There's also a slim chance that both end up starting, with Vasquez being tall enough to cover shooting guards and Thomas' 18.7 points per 36 minutes being too much to pass up. But no matter who ends up starting, either one would be a nice contributor to your Fantasy team.
Starters you can probably ignore
Kendrick Perkins , Thunder: If you could somehow quantify toughness and scowling into Fantasy stats, Perkins' value would be off the charts. Unfortunately, you have to rely on your players getting points, rebounds, assists and other countable basketball things to win in Fantasy. That's why Perkins doesn't quite make the cut. He played 78 games last season and still finished behind Boris Diaw and Jason Maxiell in total Fantasy points. His role on the team also seems to be in doubt, with the Thunder experimenting with smaller lineups last season and drafting center Steven Adams as an eventual replacement down the road. Perkins' experience and defensive leadership should still earn him a starting spot, but you'd be smart to leave him off your Fantasy radar.
Udonis Haslem , Heat: Here's another example of a guy who's basically on the court to be an enforcer and to scrap for rebounds. The Heat struggle mightily with grabbing basketballs after missed shots, so they really have no choice but to start a guy who's good at only that. Plus, Haslem just seems to play better when he gets to start the game, so the Heat will likely stick with the starting lineup that's produced back-to-back championships. For a rebounding specialist, Haslem's statistics aren't very impressive, averaging just 5.4 boards while playing 18.9 minutes per game last year. He's a player willing to dive after loose balls and get his hands dirty every now and then, but for Fantasy purposes he's a pretty consistent non-factor.
Tayshaun Prince , Grizzlies: There's a reason small forward is the shallowest position in Fantasy Basketball this year. That's because teams like to put defensive minded guys who do the little things that coaches want at that position. Tayshaun Prince played that role well for the Grizzlies, as they were able to contain Kevin Durant in the second round of the playoffs. But he averaged only 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game playing for Memphis, making him a no-go for Fantasy this year. At least Tony Allen has some stats to show for his defensive reputation. Prince has never averaged more than one steal nor one block per game for any of his 11 seasons. Even if he starts again this year over Quincy Pondexter , go ahead and ignore Prince on draft day.
Gerald Wallace , Celtics: Here's another small forward who might earn a starting role for non-stat things. Wallace's skill set basically boils down to being good at jumping. Sometimes that talent turns into rebounds, blocks and steals, but it doesn't happen often enough to make him Fantasy relevant. Wallace had one of the worst seasons of his career last year in Brooklyn, averaging just 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting below 40 percent per game (though playing alongside Joe Johnson couldn't have helped). He's a good candidate to start in Boston simply because he's been playing a lot longer than most the guys on the team. There's a glimmer of hope that Wallace bounces back this year, as he has been fairly productive on bad teams in the past, but given the fact that his game relies on athleticism and he's turning 32 this year, it's probably safe to let Wallace go undrafted this year.
Richard Jefferson , Jazz: Let's toss in one more not-so-exciting small forward. Richard Jefferson will provide veteran leadership to Utah's rebooted starting lineup, but since you don't get Fantasy points for that either, Jefferson's just another starter who doesn't deserve Fantasy attention. He'll definitely be up from the 3.1 points and 1.5 rebounds he averaged last year for the Warriors, but don't expect him to get back to his Nets days either. Jefferson hasn't averaged more than 10 points per game since 2010, so don't give him a spot on your roster simply because he's back in a starting lineup.