Fantasy hoops: Points draft tiers by position

Is Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard in the same fantasy class as Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry? Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Who is No. 1 in a points-based fantasy basketball draft?

For many people, this is the extent of their draft prep. They'll discuss, maybe even read about a few players who could have an argument for the top spot in the draft. Then, they'll pull up their cheat sheets and use them as references to guide their draft picks.

Here's the problem with that strategy -- actually, there are multiple -- but let's highlight a few. First, unless you have the top pick, the "who is No. 1" debate doesn't really help you. More importantly, the best teams will be the ones who find quality all through the draft, not just with their first pick. This requires strategy, but usually drafts tend to move too quickly for a drafter to build a sound strategy on the fly.

Merely taking the highest-rated player in every round will not necessarily build you a balanced team that makes sense and can compete for championships. Every position is different, and often the value proposition for a given position will thus change at different points in the draft. It is important that you be aware of this value landscape, as it may help you choose between two similar caliber prospects based upon the likelihood that you'll be able to fill that position better at another point of the draft.

The following is my breakdown of players into tiers, by position, based upon my preseason projections. It would be worthwhile for you to see how I break things down, but ultimately, you'll get the most benefit out of taking a few minutes for yourself and breaking down the players into your own tiers based upon your own valuation. You would be shocked how much a little exercise like that can do to prepare you for your draft, and how much this 20 minute exercise could set you apart from the other managers in your league.

Point guard

Westbrook, Lillard and Curry make up the top tier in a deep crop of quality point guards. Westbrook almost could have been a tier of his own under normal circumstances, but with questions surrounding his recent knee surgery, he slides back with the other two point guards who carry a first-round grade. ... The second tier all have Tier 1 upside but with more question marks. Wall has to rediscover his form from two seasons ago following the injuries of last season. Simmons has to take the next step in his superstar development. Lowry has to take on more playmaking with DeMar DeRozan gone and hold off the talented young point guards off the bench. ... Paul and Irving both carry third-round grades due to injury question marks, while Walker's production puts him in that range. Conley was a top-50 producer before losing last season to injury, Dragic had a down season but should bounce back, and Rubio seems to be coming into his own in Utah.

Shooting guard

Harden is in a tier by himself, and the reigning NBA MVP has top overall fantasy potential. ... Tier 2 has two players with relocation question marks, as DeRozan will have to show that he can fit in and maintain high volume for the traditionally non-superstar San Antonio Spurs and Butler is rumored to be traded any day now. ... Oladipo and Mitchell are both young players with the upside to move up a tier during the season, while Holiday, Beal and McCollum are second options for their teams and still have superstar upside. ... Booker would have been up at least one tier, maybe two, if he were fully healthy, and could be Tier 1 as soon as next season. Williams maintains his role as a high-impact player without the big name. ... Tier 5 contains the last of the sure-thing impact producers in Thompson, plus two young guys with big upside in Doncic and LaVine.

Small forward

This is a top-heavy position, as Antetokounmpo projects as the top pick overall and James and Durant are easily first-round fantasy prospects, even as they battle in the general public for the title of consensus best player in the league. ... Leonard was Tier 1 the last time he was healthy, and only injury/fit questions keep him from starting this season there. ... George and Middleton are both star producers playing second option to superstar teammates ... Tier 4 is made up of two Celtics teammates and the quietly impressive and improving Harris. ... Tier 5 is comprised of very solid fantasy prospects who generally lack the all-around volume to have superstar upside in Barnes, Barton, Ingram and Porter. All are support players on their teams, with teammates more responsible for creating team offense.

Power forward

The power forward position is sparse compared to the others, though there are enough dual eligible players to supplement value. Davis is in a clear tier by himself, as the primary challenger to Antetokounmpo for the top overall fantasy prospect. ... Tiers 2 and 3 are very similar, as Aldridge could very reasonable be grouped with Love and Green. ... Tier 4 contains an established star in Griffin (whose numbers declined last season once he was traded to Detroit), Randle (a young vet who is starting to prove himself and will be carving out a new niche in a talented Pelicans frontcourt), and a second-year player in Collins (who shows explosive signs of potential breakout). ... Tier 5 has an established vet still proving himself in a new location (Millsap), a young guy on the way up (Kuzma), and a player who flashes star caliber but has trouble staying healthy (Gordon).


Towns and Jokic are both fourth-year centers with immense upside. Towns has never missed an NBA game and has easy 25-point, 12-rebound potential that could increase to 30 and 12 if the Timberwolves do one of the rumored Jimmy Butler trades. Jokic has nightly triple-double potential this season, as he firms his slot as the franchise player for a young and improving Nuggets squad. ... Drummond and Embiid are both dominant producers who have a single weakness that lands them on Tier 2. Drummond is borderline Tier 1 in points leagues, but even though he dramatically improved his free throw shooting last season he's still a notch down in roto leagues. Embiid's only question mark is health, and with his injury history, it's enough to drop him a notch. ... Gasol and Jordan are both veterans who have a long history to suggest their likely output this season. ... Tiers 4 and 5 are deep, with a plethora of center options to be found in the early-middle rounds. The 11 players who make up these two tiers vary from traditional paint-bound bigs to stretch bigs who can knock down the 3-pointer or run an offense. Based on how you've built your team in the early rounds, there are centers to be found in these tiers to complement your strategy.