Fantasy All-Stars: Murray, LeBron, Durant Headline Alex Rikleen's Team

Fantasy All-Stars: Murray, LeBron, Durant Headline Alex Rikleen's Team

It's one of my favorite times of the year – time to make arbitrary lists that no one asked for!

With the NBA All-Star break barely a month away, the biggest debate in the NBA talkosphere (am I using that right?) is who should earn an invite to the annual exhibition game. Well, no reason us Fantasy enthusiasts can't get in on the fun! Rebooting an old tradition, we're picking the Fantasy Basketball All-Stars for the 2021-22 season. 

It's supposed to be fun, but there is some real value in making these lists. The Fantasy All-Stars are, in most cases, the players determining which rosters are on track to win their leagues. Identifying those players correctly is necessary to understanding why your team is good or bad, and what changes you'll need to make to stay good or get better.

The Rules

14 players: 3 G, 3 F, 2 C, 2 Utility, 4 bench

Just like a normal Fantasy roster, we're picking a 14-man squad with 10 starters and four bench players. For the starters, we're keeping things relatively flexible: three guards, three forwards, two centers, two utility spots. Those are the default settings on some host sites, so it's not a totally arbitrary starting point. Though many Fantasy leagues have 13-man rosters, we're taking advantage of this opportunity to remind league managers that snake drafts should always have an even number of rounds. Hence, 14-man squads.

Per-game Production Over Everything

Per-game production is king in Fantasy, and this article

It's one of my favorite times of the year – time to make arbitrary lists that no one asked for!

With the NBA All-Star break barely a month away, the biggest debate in the NBA talkosphere (am I using that right?) is who should earn an invite to the annual exhibition game. Well, no reason us Fantasy enthusiasts can't get in on the fun! Rebooting an old tradition, we're picking the Fantasy Basketball All-Stars for the 2021-22 season. 

It's supposed to be fun, but there is some real value in making these lists. The Fantasy All-Stars are, in most cases, the players determining which rosters are on track to win their leagues. Identifying those players correctly is necessary to understanding why your team is good or bad, and what changes you'll need to make to stay good or get better.

The Rules

14 players: 3 G, 3 F, 2 C, 2 Utility, 4 bench

Just like a normal Fantasy roster, we're picking a 14-man squad with 10 starters and four bench players. For the starters, we're keeping things relatively flexible: three guards, three forwards, two centers, two utility spots. Those are the default settings on some host sites, so it's not a totally arbitrary starting point. Though many Fantasy leagues have 13-man rosters, we're taking advantage of this opportunity to remind league managers that snake drafts should always have an even number of rounds. Hence, 14-man squads.

Per-game Production Over Everything

Per-game production is king in Fantasy, and this article recognizes that fact. Most Fantasy leagues allow managers to set lineups daily, meaning that even if a player is hurt, most managers can sub someone else in and get some production. Basically everyone has missed games, and we need a better reason than games played when deciding between Evan Mobley (34) and Al Horford (32). And we're certainly not going to let the things beyond a player's control – like that the Raptors have played 6 games fewer than the Kings – impact us.

Conferences Don't Matter – Categories Do

Conferences are irrelevant to Fantasy Basketball, and they are irrelevant to this exercise. Categories, on the other hand, are hugely relevant to Fantasy. While we're not picking players to represent each category – as I did in previous iterations of this article – they do still play a role. Whenever it was close between two players, the advantage went to the player who helped across the most and the scarcest categories. 

What Makes a Fantasy All-Star?

Fantasy All-Stars are the players that are the reason their rosters are winning. 

Fantasy All-Stars are not a list of the top-14 players. If you want that, you don't need an article, you just need this page.

To be a Fantasy All-Star, you have to outperform your draft spot (measured by Average Draft Position, or ADP). If a Fantasy manager regrets picking a player, then that player is not an All-Star. Period.

There are two possible exceptions to the "must outperform ADP" rule. First, if you were picked at the very top of drafts – roughly top three-to-five, then you can be eligible as long as you are still a top three-to-five player.

Second, if most managers draft you expecting to punt a category, then their overall ranking is misleading. For example, Rudy Gobert had one of the worst free-throw impacts in the league last season, and managers who drafted at the top of the third round (ADP of 25) expected that drafting him meant punting free throw percentage. In terms of punt-free-throw value, he currently ranks ninth in eight category leagues (8-cat) and fourth in nine category leagues (9-cat). That is absolutely All-Star worthy. 

The Snubs

Miles Bridges – Look, there are only 14 spots, some people have to get left out. Bridges was the biggest story over the first month of the season, ranking in the top-25 despite an ADP outside the top 100. He was incredible. And he's still good. But his production has fallen since that fast start. He's fallen to outside the top-60 over his past 15 games.

That's still an excellent return on ADP, but lot's of managers are probably wishing they traded him away when his value was skyrocketing – if your managers regret keeping you, it's tough to argue you belong above any of the candidates who made the final cut.

Anthony Edwards – I was one of the highest pre-draft rankers of Edwards, per FantasyPros ECR, and I was still too low on him. He's blowing away his 40th ADP with top-20 production. But there are a couple of players who made the jump from an ADP in the 40s to roughly top-20 production, and we had to make some difficult cuts.

Lonzo Ball – His ADP was seven spots lower than Edwards (which helps Ball here), and their current ranks are almost identical – Edwards has a two-spot edge in 8-cat, Ball has a seven-spot advantage in 9-cat. The problem for Ball is that one of his biggest improvements (FG%) is in a category his managers were probably planning on punting, rendering it effectively useless for many.

Jonas Valanciunas I have an algorithm I use to help identify candidates for this article – using math to try to answer "what's more valuable, getting top-10 production out of the 15th pick, or getting 40th production out of the 80th pick?". According to that algorithm, only two players who made the final All-Star team are more deserving than Valanciunas. 

The problem for JV is that his ADP (63) was inexplicably stupid. His stats are almost identical to what they were last year. Many experts, myself included, were too low on him, overrating the potential harm of a new team. But his "expert consensus rank" was 50, and the gap between that and his current top-35 numbers is not enough at Fantasy's most top-heavy position.

Starting Guards

Dejounte Murray – This is Dejounte Murray's season. If he maintains anything close to his current pace, this breakout season from Murray is going to impact the Fantasy landscape for years to come. Much in the way managers spent years looking for "the next Linsanity" after 2011-12 or "the next Draymond Green" after 2014-15, I anticipate a barrage of tweets and Reddit threads searching for "the next Dejounte Murray" this offseason. He's the only top-15 player who wasn't already a blue chip Fantasy prospect (unless you include the next player, but I had the next play in my preseason top-15).

Fred VanVleet – A third-round draft pick putting up not just first round numbers, but top-half of the first round numbers. He's seventh in 8-cat and sixth in 9-cat, despite an ADP of 28. This is not a sell-high situation, either. I had VanVleet 14th on my pre-season big board, which is to say I absolutely think he can maintain this production.

Darius Garland – Another easy choice here. Worth noting that, in the five games he's played since the Ricky Rubio injury, Garland's assists are up – from 7.3 to 9.2 per game. Small sample size, but a positive sign nonetheless. I think he's pretty properly valued in the Fantasy community, but if forced to advise whether you should sell-high or buy-low, I'd pick the latter.

Starting Forwards

LeBron James – Trivia time. How many times in his 18-year career has James finished a season No. 1 in either 8-cat or 9-cat? Only three, with the most recent one coming back in 2011-12, his second season with the Heat. Well, he's currently on track to make that four. Just an unbelievable first half of the season for a man so old that he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before some current NBA players were born. I'm still a little worried about the potential for injury or the wheels falling off, but that hasn't happened yet, and he's easily earned a spot on this fake roster.

Kevin Durant – The Fantasy community correctly placed Nikola Jokic as the consensus No. 1 overall pick last offseason. After that, however, the first round was an abomination, especially the early picks. Durant, Jokic, and Steph Curry are the only three first round picks whose current rank matches or exceeds their ADP. Curry has just recently moved into fourth place in both 8-cat and 9-cat, just ahead of his fifth overall ADP. Durant's jump is much larger, from an ADP of six to a production rank of third. Teams that managed to avoid the surrounding pitfalls and come away with Durant should be sitting pretty near the top of the standings. 

Kristaps Porzingis – Missed games almost knocked Porzingis out of consideration here. At the end of the day, the jump from a mid-40s ADP to being the 11th best player in 9-cat (18th in 8-cat) was too much to ignore. Also, I'm a sucker for a redemption story. And getting back into the top 10 for blocks helps, too.

Starting Centers 

Nikola Jokic – Delivering as expected. Technically the No. 1 overall pick has slipped to second in 8-cat, but he's only barely behind James and has a considerable lead over Durant and the rest of the field, so I think we can forgive him. When so many first-round picks have flopped, Jokic's ability to meet his lofty expectations makes him an easy choice for the Fantasy All-Stars.

Jarrett Allen – The center position is absolutely loaded right now, at least at the top. Centers make up half of the Fantasy All-Star roster's utility/bench spots. Allen gets the starting nod with one of the biggest jumps from ADP to actual rank – from 66 ADP to ranking 30th/22nd (8-cat/9-cat). He has by far the most positive impact on field goal percentage, shooting 70% on 10 attempts per game. He's in the top 15 in blocks, top 10 in rebounds, and has made big leaps in points and steals. 

Starting Utility

Cole Anthony – It feels fitting for the starting utility players to be guys who weren't on fantasy rosters on opening night. Cole Anthony's ADP of 147 means that he was drafted in the final rounds of a lot of standard leagues, but definitely not every league – and many of those managers probably dropped him after starting the season with 10 points in consecutive games. He's now in the top 45, the highest rank among players who were widely available on waivers. If you're the best waiver wire pickup of the season, you are definitely a Fantasy All-Star. That said, Anthony is probably someone to consider trading away while his value is still high.

Desmond Bane – If we want to get nitpicky about whether or not Anthony counts as the best waiver wire pickup of the season, then Bane is the logical counter-argument. Bane was so far off the preseason radar that he didn't even register an ADP on FantasyPros, which collects the publicly available data from ESPN, CBS and Yahoo. And while Anthony ranks ahead of Bane in 8-cat, Bane has the edge in 9-cat, and Bane is trending up. 

Bench

Robert Williams – On the merits, Williams probably deserves the starting spot ahead of Allen. My aforementioned algorithm values Williams' jump – from ADP of 118 to top 50 in the ranks – as nearly twice as valuable as Allen's. But that feels like cheating. I don't know of a single fantasy analyst who had Williams outside the top 60, and multiple people wrote about how his default rank in multiple draft platforms was absurd.

If you're into Fantasy enough to be reading this article, you drafted Williams long before pick 118. But regardless of when you snatched him you're probably pretty glad you did. He's third in blocks and FG% and has made a big leap in rebounding.

Rudy Gobert – His current ranks are basically break-even with his ADP, but most managers who drafted him did so with the intention of punting FT%. If that's the case, congratulations, because you effectively turned your third round pick into a top-five player. There are plenty of players who, once drafted, inspire a manager to shift to a deliberate punt build. But, as of right now, none of them are producing anywhere near the effective profit margin of Gobert.

Stephen Curry – As discussed with Jokic and Durant, most managers lost value with their first-round pick, and Curry is the third and final exception. 

Evan Mobley – Top 10 in blocks for a rookie ain't too shabby. Nor is his top-60 production with a 99 ADP. I'm a massive wet blanket when it comes to the top rookies during Fantasy draft season, so it's good to try and balance that out by celebrating what has been an awesome coming out party for 2021's No. 3 pick.

It was tough deciding between Mobley, Mo Bamba, and Al Horford for this last spot, but the latter two are trending down while Mobley still has room to improve. Add in the fun factor of getting to roster the likely Rookie of the Year, and congratulations Evan Mobley, you're our final 2021-22 Fantasy All-Star.

Honorable Mentions: Bobby Portis; Mo Bamba; Al Horford; Gary Trent; Matisse Thybulle; Anfernee Simons

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Rikleen
Rikleen writes the NBA column "Numbers Game," which decodes the math that underpins fantasy basketball and was a nominee for the 2016 FSWA Newcomer of the Year Award. A certified math teacher, Rikleen decided the field of education pays too well, so he left it for writing. He is a Boston College graduate living outside Boston.
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