Riskiest picks in first two rounds of fantasy basketball drafts

Chris Paul has been one of the most reliable fantasy point guards for more than a decade. Can you count on him again in 2018-19? AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

You can't win your league in the first two rounds of your fantasy basketball draft, but you can certainly lose it. That's why it's so important to put some thought into the first 20 to 24 picks of the draft. No matter how you look at it, missing the mark on one of your stars puts you at a huge disadvantage, regardless of your league's scoring system.

Any player with an injury history, an elevated age (32 or older,) on a downward trend, or in a new situation (a different coach, team or new team dynamic) is someone who should give you pause.

The question is: How much risk are you willing to take?

If you land a safer player with your first pick -- someone who has always produced huge numbers and avoided serious injury, like a James Harden or LeBron James -- it could be worth gambling a little bit with a high-risk, high-reward type of player in Round 2. If you roll the dice with that type of risky player in the first round, however, a safer option is probably the way to go with your second pick.

Entering the 2018-19 season, these are the players who are the riskiest picks in the first two rounds:

Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans

There isn't a bigger boom-or-bust player in fantasy hoops this season than Davis, who many see as the No. 1 overall pick. He has all the ability, fills all the stat categories and should have a clear path to even better numbers due to the departure of fellow frontcourt star DeMarcus Cousins, but the question continues to be whether he can stay healthy for the entire season.

After back-to-back seasons of 75 games played, Davis has gone a long way toward answering his critics, and it's important to remember that he's never played fewer than 61 games in a season, but you can't completely overlook Davis' lengthy injury history that caused him to miss 68 games during his first four NBA seasons.

Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers

Embiid is a low first-round pick in most leagues, going in the 9-12 range. He has the talent to back it up, providing not only points and rebounds from the center position but also blocks (his 1.76 BPG ranked fourth in the league last season), assists and 3s (3.2 APG and 1.0 3PG last season).

Paired with Ben Simmons in Philadelphia, this is an electric and confident duo who are extremely fun to watch.

However, just like Davis, you have to be concerned about all the games Embiid has missed since being drafted No. 3 overall in 2014. Not only did he sit out his first two years in the league, he played only 31 games in 2016-17 and managed just 63 last season. Whether you can really count on him to play 70-plus games over the course of a full season remains a real question, because it has yet to happen.

Chris Paul, PG, Houston Rockets

Paul agreed to a new four-year, $160 million deal during the offseason. In other words, CP3 got paid. It's easy to look at that, see how invested the Rockets are in their veteran point guard and buy into Paul putting up the vintage numbers we've come to expect out of him over the years.

The problem is that CP3 is 33 years old and entering his 14th NBA season. If you look back over the course of NBA history, this is a very dangerous place to be for a point guard, as virtually all of them other than Steve Nash have seen their production plummet around this time.

Already, we've seen some troubling trends, as Paul's 46.0 FG% last season was his lowest since 2006-07, his 7.9 APG was his lowest since his rookie campaign of 2005-06, and his 1.7 SPG was the lowest of his career. Paul has also missed 45 games the past two seasons.

Kawhi Leonard, SF, Toronto Raptors

Speaking of missed games, Leonard knows a thing or two about that after playing only nine games in 2017-18 due to a mysterious right quad injury that ultimately led to his departure from San Antonio.

On a new team, in a new situation, it's impossible to know exactly what type of player Leonard will be this season. Yes, he's still only 27, but will the injury prevent him from being the same star two-way player he was all those years with the Spurs? And could he re-aggravate the injury and miss more time? These are real concerns.

It also goes overlooked just how many games Leonard has missed during the course of his career; he has never played in more than 74 games and has reached the 70-game mark only twice (2015-16 and 2016-17).

Kyrie Irving, PG, Boston Celtics

Irving's knee issues have been a lingering problem throughout his career, and it's what limited him to 60 games in his first season in Boston. If you draft Irving, you have to know there's a real chance this could creep up again and force him to be shut down, like he was at the end of last season.

When at his best, Irving is one of the league's most unstoppable scorers; he shoots at a high percentage from the field, 3-point range and the free throw line. He's also good for at least 3.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game. These are the types of numbers that make him difficult to pass up if he's sitting there at the end of the second round.

Just be sure you measure the risk before rolling the dice on Irving. We're talking about someone who has missed 61 regular-season games during the past three seasons.

Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City

I'm not overly concerned about Westbrook. We're talking about a player who has reached 80 games seven times in his 10-year career. That's unheard of in today's game. That being said, if you get Westbrook, you're going to have to spend a top-five pick to get him, and he could miss the early part of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Sept. 12.