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2021 Fantasy basketball mock draft: Don’t panic edition

Proving that even if you tank your draft, you still could end up with a good team.

New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Fantasy basketball draft season is a time of stress and inspiration. Which players do you believe in? Which players do you have your heart set on but get picked right before your turn? Which players are you avoiding like a hypothetical plague?

Every year I like to do a Worst Case Scenario Draft: An exercise in drafting a good team even with a substantial handicap. This season will be strange because of COVID-19 shut downs and DNPs, so depth might matter a lot more than in other years, but we’re going to stick with our method: Each of our picks must be used on players whose average draft position on ESPN draft boards is, at least, 12 picks later than ours. So, for our first pick, 12th overall, we can only select from players who are being drafted later than 24th overall. With our second pick, 24th overall, we can only select from the 36th and later, and so on.

The important thing to remember is that you can build a good team even if you screw up your first round. Granted, you’ll probably need to get lucky and/or make a trade or two in order to be a force in the playoffs, but there are players who exceed their ADP every season, and players who don’t meet expectations. Don’t panic!

Pick 1.12 (12 overall): Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans

The 25th player on ESPN draft boards right now is Bam Adebayo, big man for the Miami Heat. Not bad! Our other possibilities are Paul George, Brandon Ingram, Ja Morant, Deandre Ayton, Jamal Murray, Rudy Gobert, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and D’Angelo Russell.

I like Bam here, he was the 12th best player in ESPN basic last season, so this would be actual first round value from a second round pick. PG13 started last year injured, but I’m a little leery of the Clippers’ chemistry this year; I have no doubt that Paul George will be good, but I don’t really want to risk anything with my first pick, since we’re already handicapping ourselves.

I love Brandon Ingram this year, though. He ended last season as the 14th best player on the player rater (he was the Most Improved Player last year), and now he’s arguably the best player on the Pelicans, as well as their best (only?) real shooter (39% from three last year) in the starting five if Bledsoe starts in place of JJ Redick. Nola will be focused on Zion Williamson, but I still think Ingram has the bona fides to be one of the best offensive players in the game.

Pick 2.12 (24 overall): Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

This one’s easy. Chris Paul, the Point God, was 9th on the Player Rater last year, and he’s on a team where his Point God talents will truly shine. His current ADP is 38. CP3 and the Devin Booker Suns are a match made in heaven. (He’s a Point Godsend for Deandre Ayton, too.) We could have a top 10 player with our second pick, despite limiting ourselves to third round choices. Not bad.

Pick 3.12 (36th overall): Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis Grizzlies

We have a wing and a guard, so it would be nice to have a big here. Unfortunately, a lot of the players from 48 to 60 have question marks. How big will TJ Warren’s role be in Indiana with a healthy Victor Oladipo? When will Kristaps Porzingis be healthy? How will Kelly Oubre do on the Warriors next to Andrew Wiggins? What will Clint Capela look like on a crowded Hawks roster with John Collins already in the front court?

We wanted a big, and I think this is a round filled with danger, so let’s play it safe: Jonas Valanciunas, center for Memphis, was 31st in ESPN last year. He’s technically going 61st in drafts right now, but that just means we’re getting even better value for drafting him with our third round pick (since he produced third round value last year).

Pick 4.12 (48th overall): Gordon Hayward, Charlotte Hornets

The 4th round is where you can shoot your shot and take big risks. Presumably, you have three really good players already, and hopefully you’ve drafted a variety of positions so that you can start filling out the rest of the roster. With our fourth pick, we’re gonna shoot for the moon and draft a player who I think could have a huge year on volume: Gordon Hayward in Charlotte.

Hayward’s had a bunch of bad/freak injuries, and his stock has dropped precipitously, but he will be The Man in Charlotte (maybe even approaching his Utah Jazz levels), and I think the amount of minutes and shots he’ll accumulate negate any kind of injury worry. (Also, LaMelo Ball maybe can’t shoot, so Hayward should get most of his shots.) Consider me high on Hayward this year.

Pick 5.12 (60th overall): Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

This is another easy pick. If you’ve read Fake Teams over the past few seasons or listen to The Long 2 Podcast, you’ll know that we’re big Marcus Smart fans. Smart’s improved every year, including his infamous three point efficiency. His combination of counting stats, especially steals, makes him a wonderful complement on a fantasy squad. He’s also only 26 years old, he may have to play more with Kemba Walker being injured, and he’s absolutely one of Boston’s closers, so you know he’ll get his minutes no matter what.

Pick 6.12 (72nd overall): Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons

Since we have our starting five, we can basically do whatever we want. That’s nice because this is another round with question marks. Is Christian Wood for real, and will he be playing next to Harden in Houston or not? What’s Kevin Love’s role in Cleveland, and how healthy is he? Can Brook Lopez regain his shooting prowess from outside, along with his exceptional value as a Blocks + 3PM fantasy stud? Can you trust anyone on Orlando?

I’m going to take a risk with this one and go for all out potential. The player with the 100 ADP is Blake Griffin (go Pistons), and he’s someone who played at an All NBA level just two seasons ago. If Point Blake is back and healthy, then this pick could be the difference between my team being an actual contender and not. Point Blake gets you buckets, dimes, and boards, and while the Pistons are bad, they at least make more sense this season. Blake could be an absolute steal.

Pick 7.12 (84th overall): Miles Bridges, Hornets

Miles Bridges may be a bit of a stretch with this pick, but he was a top 100 player last year despite suffering a sophomore slump in efficiency. I have sky high hopes for him entering his third year, and now having Hayward to help on the wing, along with the supposedly best playmaker in the draft in LaMelo Ball, makes me wonder if he could be in line for ups in efficiency AND ups in volume. He has tons of potential, and he was top 100 in his second year. I’m a believer.

Pick 8.12 (96th overall): Duncan Robinson, Miami Heat

With the 96th overall pick, we’ll draft the 68th best player last year, and one of the best outside shooters in the NBA: Duncan Robinson. Robinson’s elite-elite outside shot should mesh well with the rest of our team. While he may not bring much more than shooting to the table, the value of that shooting is so high that it doesn’t really matter. I mean, get real, he was a top 75 player last year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be again this season. Tyler Herro may have a sophomore slump, and the Heat still need perimeter shooting since Jimmy Buckets has no outside shot anymore. (I actually feel great drafting one of the best shooters in the NBA with my 8th pick.)

Pick 9.12 (108th overall): PJ Washington, Hornets

Here’s who we can consider with our 9th pick: Thomas Bryant, Carmelo Anthony (!), PJ Washington, and Davis Bertans aka the Latvian Laser. Thomas Bryant is one of the better young bigs, and he does indeed have a developing outside shot, which should make life easier in Washington with Russell Westbrook now in town. Carmelo is another old fantasy flame, but he’s probably coming off the bench this year. PJ Washington is my favorite young player. And, Davis Bertans is another guy who’s one of the best three point shooters in the league.

We could definitely use another center since Valanciunas is our only true C right now. But, I think we get boards with these guys at an above-average rate, so I’m not sweating it too much just yet. The choice is really between PJ Washington (who actually will play some center this year when the Hornets go small) or Bertans, who will be catching passes from a penetrating Russell Westbrook, or a double-teamed Bradley Beal.

I believe the correct answer here is PJ Washington, but HOT DAMN do I want to draft the Latvian Laser. There’s a chance that defenses sag off Bertans’s wing mate, the young Rui Hachimura, since Rui can’t shoot, which would mean Bertans won’t benefit as much, so yeah, we’ll go with PJ, who again, will probably gain C eligibility at some point this season. Three Hornets. Jesus, when’s the last time that happened.

Since this is a Worst Case Scenario, we’re going to further our handicap with our last five picks, and extend it to 24 picks later than the current pick. So, we can only draft players with an ADP of 144 or worse with the 120th overall pick. Savvy?

Pick 10.12 (120th overall): OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors

Easy pick. OG Anunoby is actually the 144th player off the board on ESPN drafts, and since he was the 71st best player in fantasy last year, we’ll DEFINITELY take that. I love the Raptors for fantasy this year, so I’m extremely psyched to get OG. He’s turning into a two-way force in Toronto. I have no idea why his ADP is so low.

Pick 11.12 (132nd overall): Norman Powell, Raptors

Just read this:

Pick 12.12 (144th overall): PJ Tucker, Houston Rockets

PJ Tucker was a top 100 player last year. That’s reason enough with a 12th round pick. Is his role really going to be that diminished this year? He’ll probably start in the front court with Wood most games. Tucker’s a good shooter, and he proved that he can play inside against waaay bigger bigs. What’s not to like, aside from everything that’s going on in Houston right now?

Picks 13-15

Now, we’re in the dregs, and we’re just drafting players we think can have an impact this year.

Eric Gordon, when healthy, is still a player who can get you stats. The fact that he’ll be a starter in a possibly Harden-less Houston should mean his ADP is higher (currently outside the top 200). He averaged 18+ points per game when he was healthy in the playoffs, which is production I’ll definitely take this late in the draft.

Isaiah Joe (SG, PHI) was one of my favorite rookies in this year’s draft, and he’s hopefully going to fit right in with Philly as a 3-and-D complementary player, who could gain a big role right away if he outplays some of the other wings.

And, finally, I’m going to suggest everyone try and draft Facundo Campazzo of the Denver Nuggets. This guy, nicknamed the Magician, is an overseas legend. He’s older, 29 years old, but he’s seen a ton of big games playing for Argentina & big international games, and he’s one of the best passers in the world. The tandem of him and Nikola Jokic, one of the best passing bigs in the league, should be a sight to see. And, if it doesn’t work out, well you only wasted a 15th round pick on him, so NBD.

All and all, not a bad squad for forcing my hand to be as bad as possible. So if you draw a bad draft pick or tank a few picks, don’t worry, you can still draft a stellar fantasy basketball team.