Go in with a plan.
That alone will put you ahead of most people these days.
Between work, school, kids and other daily commitments in our busy lives, the reality is many people are going into fantasy drafts simply hoping for the best, relying on the default fantasy rankings ... no plan in sight. In other words, pretty much the opposite of what Steve Kerr or Gregg Popovich would do.
If you want any chance of building a championship-caliber roster and challenging for your league title, you need to be better than that.
So find the time.
Whether you take part in a mock draft or spend an hour or two studying rosters and devising strategies, I challenge you to come up with your own approach.
Maybe you have a favorite player who has helped your team in recent years whom you can plan to draft again.
Maybe you like building around guards and surrounding them with shot-blocking rebounders.
Maybe you seek out high-volume players who consistently log heavy minutes.
The point is, having a plan -- even if it isn't a perfect one -- is better than going into the fantasy draft unprepared. Then, once you've done the work to come up with your own draft-day approach, the next part is just as important: stick to it.
Here's a look at my ultimate draft board and my favorite targets by round for this year's draft. Use this to help formulate your own approach and make sure you consider what type of format your league uses -- e.g., in many points leagues it isn't as necessary to find well-rounded versatile players who positively impact all the categories.
OK, on to the good stuff ...
You might need the No. 1 pick to get Antetokounmpo. He's the top player on my board in category leagues after making big strides in virtually every aspect of his game last season and, unlike other top-rated players like Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the Bucks star doesn't have a future Hall of Famer (or two) joining his team and eating into his stats this season. Instead, he will get an even heavier usage than normal while Jabari Parker misses time recovering from ACL surgery. The Greek Freak is a major contributor in virtually every category aside from 3-pointers, helps in the shooting percentage categories and provides five-plus assists per game as a forward. He also qualifies at power forward, which is far and away the thinnest position in fantasy hoops this season, boosting his value even more.
If I miss on Antetokounmpo and have a pick in the middle of the first round, Davis is the guy I want. He is being taken with the sixth or seventh pick on average in ESPN leagues, to give you an idea of the range where you can land him. He's more of a risk than Antetokounmpo because of his injury history, but it's worth pointing out that Davis played a career-high 75 games last season and has an even higher ceiling in several categories (points, rebounds, blocks, 3-pointers, free throw percentage) than Antetokounmpo. And no, if you're wondering, the presence of DeMarcus Cousins in the Pelicans' frontcourt doesn't scare me away from Davis.
If I get Antetokounmpo or Davis with my first pick, it's unlikely that I can get Jokic in Round 2. The only scenario where this makes sense is if I'm in a 10-team league and Davis slides to pick seven or eight and Jokic is still there at pick 13 or 14. Jokic has an ADP of 13.9, so this is the range he's going in, but it's not a reach to see him going a pick or two earlier than that. Like Antetokounmpo and Davis, Jokic positively impacts virtually all the categories -- including assists -- but what sets him apart is for him to do that as a center. Only 22, he averaged 16.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG and 4.9 APG in under 28 minutes a game in his second year in the league last season. Continued improvement and more minutes are expected for this rising star in 2017-18.
Irving (13.3 ADP) is being taken a little higher than I'd like, and he plays a point guard position that's far and away the deepest in fantasy hoops this season. Neither of those are necessarily good things, but Irving has a chance to take his game to a new level in Boston now that he's finally out of the shadow of LeBron James. Irving will be the Celtics' go-to-guy, especially now that Gordon Hayward is sidelined. If I can land Davis in the middle of Round 1 and Irving in the middle of Round 2, I'm thrilled with that nucleus.
Drafting the best player available, regardless of position, is often a wise strategy; you don't want to overdraft an inferior talent simply to address a position of need. That being said, Porzingis (26.2 ADP) is one of the elite power forwards this season and stands to see his shot attempts and scoring numbers rise considerably now that the Carmelo Anthony era is over in New York. His contributions as a scorer, rebounder, shot-blocker and 3-point shooter make him one of the rarest talents in fantasy hoops, and if I can get him in Round 3, I'm thrilled.
Every season, I ask myself why I didn't make a point to draft Middleton. Last season, I had a reason: He was injured and expected to miss most of the season due to a torn hamstring suffered in the preseason. He managed to return to play 29 games, starting 23 of them, and amazingly, he showed no ill-effects from the injury. Middleton is one of the most versatile players in the NBA, averaging 14.7 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 SPG and 1.6 3PG last season, and he's someone I want to get either late in Round 3 or -- ideally -- early in Round 4.
Having passed on point guards in the earlier rounds (unless I'm able to get Irving) Schroder is a guy I have my eye on in this range of the draft because I love the way he took his game to a new level last season after finally getting his chance to start once Jeff Teague left for Indiana. Schroder averaged 17.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 6.3 APG, 0.9 SPG and 1.3 3PG in his fourth year in the league, and I expect him to continue to build on those numbers while seeing his playing time increase from the 31.5 MPG of a season ago.
Simmons (51.2 ADP) is currently going in Round 5 in most ESPN drafts, but the way he's looked in the preseason, and as much upside as he has as a point-forward who can rack up assists, I know I probably have to take him at the end of Round 4 if I want him. Of course, drafting Simmons means taking on risk -- he missed all of last season to fully recover from foot surgery, and also may have to share playing time with Dario Saric, who was mighty impressive as a rookie. It's that tantalizing upside that makes all the risk worth it, at least to me.
The middle rounds
Round 5 player I want: Lonzo Ball
Whether you're a fan of Ball and his family or not, know this: If you draft him, you're a fan. He is being compared to a young Jason Kidd because of his special passing ability and his knack for making everyone around him better. I don't like buying into hype, but I have to admit it'd be fun to have Ball this season and ride the wave to see where he can take my team. Taking Ball likely means passing on players such as Jrue Holiday and D'Angelo Russell, two other point guards with a similar ADP, so that's something to consider. It's also further evidence of the depth at point guard this season.
In one of my leagues, a new manager came in and dominated the early part of the draft, and just when I thought he might start filling the rest of his roster with conservative, safe players, he boldly selected Thomas. Talk about an awesome move! (Nice job, Seth; you can play in my league any time.) Bottom line, here, is Thomas is expected to miss about half the season recovering from a hip injury, with talk of a January return, and taking him is a gamble, because in some leagues you can't stash him without it taking up a roster spot. But in keeper leagues or in drafts where you've crushed the early rounds and can afford to wait for Thomas, he could very well be your ticket to winning it all this season if he comes back and plays like the Thomas of old. I'm going into drafts with this as my mindset.
Oladipo's star has faded in the eyes of many who play fantasy hoops, but a return to the state of Indiana -- where he starred as a Hoosier in college -- gives him a chance to be one of the key offensive pieces on a Pacers team that will need him to be one of the main scorers along with Myles Turner. His ADP of 65.3 is below where he should be, considering that even in a bad situation on the Thunder last season he still managed to average 15.9 PPG, 1.2 SPG and 1.9 3PG while shooting better than 44 percent from the field. I like Oladipo more than most and am happy if I can get him in this range, as I think he'll benefit from the team change.
It feels like I've written a lot about Randle this season, but rarely do you see a triple-double threat like himself at the power forward position be as overlooked as Randle is this season. His ADP of 69.5 screams "too low" to me when you consider the improvement he made as a shooter last season. The concern with Randle -- other than a lack of steals and blocks -- is how much playing time he might have to share with Larry Nance Jr. and impressive rookie first-rounder Kyle Kuzma, who has looked terrific all preseason.
Chris started 75 games as a 19-year-old rookie last season and held his own, averaging 9.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG and contributing in the blocks, steals and 3-point categories. I expect his minutes to rise well past the 21.3 MPG he averaged as a rookie, and I can see Chriss becoming a top-20 fantasy talent in another couple years. If you're looking for a mid-round player to draft in keeper leagues, this could be your guy.
Hernangomez was one of the most impressive rookies in the league last season, despite continually having to share minutes behind Joakim Noah in New York. This season, it'll likely be Enes Kanter who he shares time with more than the rapidly aging Noah, but in any case there's a lot to like about Hernangomez's future after he averaged 8.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG and shot 52.9 percent in 18.4 MPG as a rookie. If he gets on the court for 25 minutes a game, we're talking about an extremely efficient youngster with double-double potential.
The late-round fliers
It wasn't long ago that Jackson was considered a top-60 type of player but after an injury-marred 2016-17 season, he is slipping past pick 100 in most drafts. Being one of the main offensive options on the Pistons this season along with Drummond, Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley, getting Jackson in this range makes him a strong value that I'd like to have on my team. And with point guard being such a deep position, Jackson is a good option to solidify my backcourt with if I missed out on the point guards I coveted in the early rounds.
Ingram's 95.2 ADP indicates that most people aren't as high on him as they were heading into last season, when he was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft. Here's the thing with Ingram, though. He got a ton of playing time as a rookie, for better or worse. Not only did he play 79 games, he started 40 of them, and averaged 28.8 minutes. He just turned 20 years old last month and he has the upside to make a big leap from Year 1 to Year 2. I'm also a big believer in Lakers coach Luke Walton in the way he works with young players like Ingram and uses them in a way where they can excel.
After pick 120
Take a look at the Hawks' roster and you'll see a lot of new, unproven faces. In fact, several of them (Taurean Prince, Dewayne Dedmon, John Collins) you probably haven't heard of unless you follow the NBA closely, and each of those three listed above are expected to play prominent roles this season. That's what makes a proven veteran scorer, 3-point shooter and rebounder like Ilyasova an attractive option in the later rounds. Someone aside from Schroder is going to have to score for this team, and there's a good chance that's going to be the 30-year-old Ilyasova (13.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.7 3PG in 2016-17). Sign me up!
Murray was a steal in the 2016 NBA draft, falling all the way to the Spurs with the 29th pick, and he already looks like the team's point guard of the future. With Tony Parker expected to be sidelined until December as he recovers from a torn quadriceps tendon, Murray has the inside track at the starting job for the first month-and-half of the season. If he builds off an impressive rookie season and plays well, Murray could carve out a role even after Parker returns, since Patty Mills is better served as instant offense off the bench. Murray is a deep sleeper I'm high on.
There it is -- the players I am looking to draft in fantasy basketball this season while taking ADP into consideration. Feel free to use this information to dominate your league and take home the championship this season.