By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Separating players into tiers is a popular method of draft prep, and it de-emphasizes the idea that you must draft a player because his projections come out slightly more favorably than those of another player. Often, the difference between a player ranked, say, 30th, and a player ranked 45th is smaller than you think.
Tiers help account for those discrepancies by grouping together players with similar risk/reward profiles, empowering the fantasy gamer to choose for themselves.
Some notes on methodology:
Tiers take into account players with top-120 upside. Essentially, players that could reasonably come off the board in a standard draft.
Players within tiers are not ranked in a specific order. Ideally, everyone in a tier has an argument to be taken over anyone else in that tier.
Plenty of players are multi-position eligible, but to avoid confusion and redundancy, each player only appears at what we assume to be their primary position
Tiers are based on 8-category, rotisserie scoring
Tier 1: Elite Superstars
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
Over the past two seasons, Towns is averaging 22.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.5 blocks. But what makes him so incredibly valuable is his efficiency. Over that span, Towns is shooting 53.1 percent from the field, 40.9 percent from deep and 84.6 percent from the free-throw line. Health is also extremely valuable in fantasy, and Towns has missed only five games since entering the league, all of which came last season due to a car accident.
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Jokic finished fourth in MVP voting last season, firmly establishing himself as one of the best passing big men in NBA history. Jokic averaged 7.3 dimes per game to go along with 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.4 steals. Combine that with great percentages for a center (51/31/82 shooting splits), and you have an elite fantasy asset.
Tier 2: Superstar with a Catch
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers overhauled the roster over the summer, signing Al Horford away from Boston and trading Jimmy Butler to the Heat. The addition of another big man to the starting lineup has the potential to affect Embiid's production, but even if there’s a marginal decrease, Embiid still figures to be an All-NBA selection and fringe MVP candidate, assuming he stays relatively healthy. While drafting Embiid practically guarantees elite production at center, the fact that he might never play more than 65 games in a season keeps him a tier below the uber-elite at his position.
Tier 3: Borderline-elite Starters
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
Vucevic made his first All-Star team last season, setting career-highs nearly across the board. Considering the Magic have one of the thinnest point guard rotations in the league, much of the offense runs through Vucevic, and he was one of only six players qualifying at center last season to have a usage rate of at least 25%. Heading into 2019-20, Orlando's roster is essentially the same, so Vucevic's role should be secure.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Drummond is coming off another quality season in which he set career-highs in points (17.3) and steals (1.7) while leading the NBA in total rebounds (1,232) for a fourth-straight year. While Drummond falls below the elite tier of centers due to poor free-throw shooting and a narrow offensive skillset, he's undoubtedly one of the most dominant one-category fantasy players in the league. Drummond may not be exciting, but he’s among the NBA’s most consistent and predictable producers.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Gobert is coming off his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award, and he's posted 2.4 blocks per game across the past five seasons. Gobert also led the NBA in field goal percentage (66.9) last season, and while he may have tapped out his potential, that shouldn’t scare away fantasy gamers in the slightest.
Tier 4: High-End Starters
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Along with swatting a career-best 2.7 blocks per game, Turner also chipped in career-highs in made threes per game (1.0), three-point shooting percentage (38.8) and assists (1.6) last season. The fact that the Pacers are expected to start another traditional big man (Domantas Sabonis) alongside Turner won't help him improve his mediocre rebounding average (7.2), but he still has plenty of room to grow as a passer and outside shooter.
DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
The No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Ayton became just the second player in NBA history 20 years old or younger to average at least 16 points and 10 rebounds on 55% shooting. While it's possible he's never a true impact player defensively, Ayton has the physical tools to get there if things click. Overall, Ayton is already a walking double-double, and fantasy gamers should expect improvement heading into Year 2.
Clint Capela, Houston Rockets
Even as the cast around him changes, Capela should continue to be among the league’s best pick-and-roll big men. While he’s shown no signs of developing a jumper, Capela finishes at a 65% clip, and he notched a career-best 12.7 rebounds per game last season.
Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
Lopez played a unique role for the Bucks last season, averaging 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and career-highs in blocks (2.2), threes (2.3), three-point percentage (36.5%) and free-throw percentage (84.2%). In Year 2 under Mike Budenholzer, Lopez should continue to provide quality, out-of-position three-point stats, as well as blocks and double-digit scoring.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Despite playing in just 66 games and seeing only 20.6 minutes per contest, Robinson ranked fourth in the league in total blocks (161), averaging 2.4 per game and a whopping 4.3 per 36 minutes. In the 10 contests in which he saw at least 30 minutes, Robinson put up 12.6 points on 73.1% shooting to go with 13.0 rebounds, 3.4 blocks, and 1.4 steals. Under normal circumstances, Robinson would be set for a significant leap in Year 2, with a great chance to lead the league in blocks. But the Knicks stocked up on so many frontcourt free agents this summer that Robinson’s upside will likely be lower than it should be.
Tier 5: Mid-Level Starters
Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors
Gasol’s numbers took a hit after he arrived in Toronto last season, and it remains to be seen just how much the veteran has left in the tank. But for the Raptors to remain competitive in the East, they’ll need Gasol to look more like the player he was in Memphis prior to the trade. In that 53-game sample, Gasol averaged 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks.
Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
A candidate for Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year, Harrell had a breakout campaign in 2018-19, averaging 16.6 points on 61.5% shooting, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.3 blocks. Heading into this season, Harrell's role should be safe, though his ceiling is relatively low as a backup; a non-shooting center who isn’t expected to reach 30 minutes per game.
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Adebayo started 22 of the final 23 games of the season, and that's a role he should occupy full-time in 2019-20 with Hassan Whiteside out of the picture. A freak athlete who does everything but shoot threes, Adebayo is positioned to be one of the biggest year-over-year risers in all of fantasy basketball.
Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last season, Adams matched a career-high with 13.9 points per game and set new career-highs with 9.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 2.5 combined blocks/steals. Adams' role and production have grown each of the last three seasons, and with Russell Westbrook gone, there’s a chance he reaches a new level as a rebounder.
Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers
The 2018-19 campaign wasn't kind to Whiteside — he lost his starting role to Bam Adebayo late in the year, and he was shipped off to Portland over the summer. It’s a risky move for the Blazers, but Whiteside figures to immediately slot in as the starting center, and he shouldn't have too much competition for playing time while Jusuf Nurkic recovers from a devastating leg injury. Whiteside carries some red flags for a reason, but when healthy and engaged he’s an elite shot-blocker and rebound vacuum. Over the last five seasons, Whiteside holds averages of 14.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks.
Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis Grizzlies
In a 19-game run for Memphis at the end of last season, Valanciunas reminded fantasy gamers that he’s a nightly double-double threat when the minutes are there. Expect the 27 year old to be a quality source of points, rebounds, and blocks, making him likely one of the top-75 players off the board in most fantasy formats this season.
Thomas Bryant, Washington Wizards
Bryant rocketed onto the fantasy radar last season as a fill-in for Dwight Howard, playing 20.8 minutes per contest and averaging 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.2 blocks. Washington has now committed to Bryant as its starter at center, and the Indiana product should be set for a fairly significant increase in playing time on an otherwise-uninspiring roster. He averaged 18.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.2 combined blocks/steals per 36 minutes last season.
Derrick Favors, New Orleans Pelicans
Favors wore out his welcome in Utah, but he’ll head to New Orleans for greener pastures and, likely, a larger role. The 28 year old saw only 23.2 minutes per game a year ago, but he still managed 11.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks. If he can climb closer to 30 minutes per game, Favors could be among the best mid-to-late-round values of draft season.
Enes Kanter, Boston Celtics
With Al Horford packing his bags for Philadelphia, Kanter now stands as the lone starting center option in Boston, with the opportunity to continue posting double-doubles. There are even offseason whispers of Kanter improving his three-point shooting under coach Brad Stevens' tutelage. Kanter’s defense remains suspect at best, but his strong inside scoring and high-volume rebounding should satisfy fantasy gamers.
Tier 6: Low-end Starters
Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets
Allen saw improvement across the board in his sophomore campaign, emerging as the Nets' full-time starting center. But Allen will have to earn every minute he plays this season while facing legitimate competition at center from veteran DeAndre Jordan. While it's certainly not an ideal situation for either player’s value, Allen should maintain last year’s value in a timeshare, at the very least.
Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
Carter's rookie campaign was cut short by injury, with the seventh overall pick appearing in just 44 games. His outside shooting didn’t translate to the NBA, but Carter managed 1.3 blocks per game to go with 1.8 assists and 7.0 rebounds. If the outside shot comes around and Carter can stay healthy, he’ll have a chance to be the rare center who doesn’t hurt you in any one category.
JaVale McGee, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers’ primary starter at center last season, McGee played 22.3 minutes per game, which represented a seven-year high. The additions of Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard will cut into McGee’s playing time, but if he can garner close to 20 minutes per game, he’ll still be a fairly useful fantasy asset.
DeAndre Jordan, Brooklyn Nets
While Jordan has lost a step defensively, he concluded the 2018-19 campaign averaging 11.0 points and 13.1 boards, finishing among the top five in the league in total rebounds for the sixth straight season. He’ll battle Jarrett Allen for the starting job in Brooklyn, but regardless of who wins out, the two will likely split minutes relatively evenly and work against each other’s fantasy value in the process.
Dewayne Dedmon, Sacramento Kings
Dedmon was in and out of the lineup last season, but his injury issues overshadowed a strong statistical year in which he posted 10.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 1.1 blocks and 1.3 made threes per game. Now the expected starter in Sacramento, Dedmon’s toughest competition for playing time comes in the form of Harry Giles. The former top recruit showed flashes last season, but when healthy Dedmon should have no trouble holding down the starting job.
Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers
Portland’s decision to acquire Hassan Whiteside leaves Collins' outlook rather murky. But given that Collins showed huge improvement as a floor spacer last season, the two may be asked to start together. While there's risk involved, it's hard to argue against taking a late-round flier on Collins for the chance he gets real minutes at power forward while also backing up Whiteside at center.
Alex Len, Atlanta Hawks
After flaming out in Phoenix, Len found refuge in Atlanta, where he appeared in 77 games and posted a career-high 11.1 points per game. With Dewayne Dedmon out of the picture, Len will step in as the starter this season, and his diverse stat profile, combined with increased minutes, should make him a popular sleeper pick.
Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers
Howard's 16th NBA season is going to be make-or-break, as the former All-Star has plenty to prove in terms of both health and production. Howard is on a non-guaranteed contract, which doesn't make him a lock to make the final roster, especially if he isn't healthy. But assuming the big man is in shape and the team believes he can contribute, Howard should play a decent-sized role in Los Angeles, likely splitting time at center with JaVale McGee.
Other Players to Monitor
Willie Cauley-Stein, Warriors
Dwight Powell, Mavericks
Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers
Kevon Looney, Warriors
Mason Plumlee, Nuggets
Nerlens Noel, Thunder
Cody Zeller, Hornets