Travis drafts a fantasy team
… and David Thorpe offers his critique
BY TRAVIS MORAN and DAVID THORPE
Before we get started, I just have to say:
That’s right: After five years of falling short, the East Harlem Hustle (where I recently relocated from Riga, Latvia) capped off the 2021-2022 season with a title. This year, I’m aiming for back-to-back rings and a second helping of pool winnings.
But first ... the draft.
Last year, I benefited—profoundly, some might argue—from the randomized draft order landing me Nikola Jokić, who delivered his second-straight monster MVP season.
Mistakes? Michael Porter Jr. in the third round and Christian Wood in the fourth. Luckily, I was able to snag Evan Mobley off waivers in October; Gary Trent Jr. in November; and Desmond Bane (who would become the top-ranked shooting guard in ESPN leagues last season) in December. Those additions—along with draftees Donovan Mitchell (second round) and Khris Middleton (fifth)—gave the Hustle all the raw production needed for supreme bragging rights and cold, hard cash.
This year, though, things are a bit different. Our head-to-head categories league has expanded from 10 teams to 12; rosters have been cut from 12 to 11 players. You can still play eight positional slots for each game: PG, SG, SF, PF, C, plus G, F, and UTIL (any position player). League rules cap games played each week at 32, so deciding between players often comes down to whose team has a higher win probability. Why? Team wins serve as the 11th—and often tie-breaking—scoring category:
Field goal percentage
Free throw percentage
“Why the hell is ‘team wins’ even a category?” is an annual debate in our league’s group chat.
A popular theory: the league’s commissioner, a Stephen Curry addict, has combined the two 3-point categories with team wins to make Curry the league’s fantasy unicorn. Indeed, the commish will draft Curry wherever he can (this year, with the second overall pick) and has been known to initiate lopsided, balance-shattering trades to acquire him.
There’s some truth here. Last year’s regular-season leader (my wonderful, shit-talking brother) drafted Curry with the third overall pick. He resisted outlandish offers all season. The result? He held pole position from opening day to the start of fantasy playoffs.
However, there are some holes in that theory: For one, Curry’s undeniable influence on the game has yielded players whose stats aspire to his own. We’re not talking about on-court influence—though that absolutely figures into team wins (all Warriors benefit from this boost). We’re talking about a league full of shooters. If you’re looking to replicate Curry’s 3-point numbers (4.7 makes per game on 38 percent last year), targeting efficient shooters on winning teams (like Bane) can help close a wide gap. Still, very few can go on a hot streak like Steph can; in this league, he can carry your squad for weeks.
Subjectivity is the real curse. We all fall victim to our biases. Mine kept me from drafting Trae Young with my first-round pick this year. David Thorpe believes that was an objective mistake.
Let’s take a closer look at my fantasy draft, along with Coach Thorpe’s thoughts on each pick, and some bonus insights on players you might have drafted or those you might be weighing before the NBA regular season commences on October 18.
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