By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
In nearly any fantasy draft, nailing your early round selections is the easiest path to competing for a league title. Round 1 is arguably the most important, but Rounds 2 and 3 can also make or break your season.
The goal, of course, is to take the most productive player available at each selection, but the NBA is unpredictable, and hitting on each of those picks is no guarantee. However, risks can be mitigated by sticking with proven, safer options and avoiding players with regression potential.
Beginning at the top, let’s take a look at the safest, most underrated and most overrated players likely to come off the board in each round this season, starting with the first three:
Safest Pick: Anyone in the consensus Top Five (ADP 1-5)
(James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Stephen Curry)
Harden has been a top-five fantasy player for the last seven years and has three straight No. 1 finishes. Antetokounmpo has been top-seven for three years and finished third last season. Davis has been top-eight for six years and has put together back-to-back No. 2 seasons. Towns has been top-eight for three years and finished sixth last season. Curry has been top-10 in every season since his rookie year and has two No. 1 finishes.
These are truly the proven, elite-of-the-elite fantasy options. Picking in the top-five is not the time to call your shot with someone unproven.
Underrated Pick: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers (ADP: 8)
While Lillard hasn’t reached truly elite fantasy levels — his best finish was 9th in 2017-18 — he’s been extremely reliable. Since 2014-15, he’s missed only 25 total games, and he’s held an average rank of 13.8 overall. He’s the closest you’ll get to Stephen Curry, as Lillard provides top-level production in points, threes, assists, and free-throw percentage. And this season, as the Blazers trot out a new supporting cast, it will be up to Lillard to keep the ship stable.
Overrated Pick: Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers (ADP: 13)
There isn’t much optimism regarding George’s availability for the start of the 2019-20 campaign after he underwent surgery on both shoulders during the offseason. As a result, it’s possible George could be working with a ceiling of about 72 games, which isn’t ideal for a first-round draft pick. And that doesn’t take into account potential rustiness once he returns, additional injuries, and the potential for a reduced role on a deep Clippers team.
Plus, it doesn’t seem likely George will be asked to play the 36.9 minutes per game he saw with the Thunder last season when he finished as the eighth-ranked player. All things considered, last season may have been George’s absolute peak, and it may be best to wait on George until the second round.
Safest Pick: Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets (ADP: 16)
From a fantasy pedigree perspective, Westbrook is the guy to look for in Round 2. He had a “down year” in 2018-19 and still finished as the 15th-ranked player. He also finished top-10 from 2010-11 through 2016-17. Going from the Thunder to the Rockets complicates things, as Westbrook and James Harden will presumably make up the highest-usage backcourt of all time.
But they’ll likely spend as little time on the court together as possible, and the improved spacing of the Rockets’ offense, compared to that of the Thunder, could help Westbrook. If he can even moderately improve his rapidly diminishing free-throw percentage (65.6% last season), we could see him crack the top-10 again.
Underrated Pick: Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans (ADP: 18)
As Holiday has transitioned into more of a scoring role over the past two years, he’s seen his fantasy value increase. He ranked 19th two years ago and 17th last season, setting new career highs in scoring in each season. Anthony Davis’ departure from New Orleans opens up nearly 20 shots per game for the Pelicans, and Holiday figures to take a decent chunk as the unquestioned best player on the roster. While he has a spotty injury history, Holiday carries plenty of upside for what should be a fast-paced Pelicans team.
Overrated Pick: Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics (ADP: 17)
Walker is coming off the best season of his career, which he finished with an overall ranking of 18th. It also marked his fourth straight season at a top-30 level. But his usage could be reduced significantly with the Celtics, who have plenty of other offensive options compared to the Hornets teams Walker had previously been carrying. He may not need to play 34 minutes per game, either, which is a mark he’s surpassed in every season since 2012-13. Given those factors, Walker's value may slip into the low-30s, which is still very good, but not the level of production you’re hoping for with a second-round pick.
Safest Pick: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns (ADP: 25)
Booker has finished in the top-five in usage rate in each of the past two years, putting together back-to-back top-25 seasons in the process. The addition of Ricky Rubio could take the ball out of Booker’s hands more often, so it’s quite possible Booker won’t reach the 6.8 assists per game he dished out last season.
However, that could also set Booker free as a scorer, and he’s already shown tremendous upside in that department, despite the lack of a quality set-up man in recent seasons. He’s raised his scoring average in each year of his career, topping out at 26.6 points per game last season. There’s reason to believe that number could climb even higher, considering Booker hit just 32.6% of his threes — by far a career-low.
Underrated Pick: Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (ADP: 32)
Sure, Green’s offensive contributions have been on the decline since his stellar 2015-16 campaign, when he shot a career-best 38.8% from three. But even as his shooting has waned, he’s remained an ultra-valuable source of out-of-position assists, in addition to being a solid rebounder and defensive contributor.
With Kevin Durant in Brooklyn and Klay Thompson sidelined through at least the All-Star break, Green is in position to take on his largest offensive burden since the pre-Durant days. D’Angelo Russell will be Steph Curry’s No. 1 sidekick, but one glance at the Warriors’ depth chart tells you Green will have no choice but to function as the third option, which should lead to a bump in usage. Green’s usage rate sunk to a career-low 13.1% last season after hovering around 17-18% in each of the previous four seasons.
Green finished 2018-19 ranked just 49th overall in eight-category leagues, but prior to that he’d finished 24th, 20th, and 13th, respectively, over the previous three seasons.
Overrated Pick: Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks (ADP: 27)
Robinson is an incredibly efficient finisher and the best shot-blocker in the league, but taking him near the top of Round 3 (currently a 26.7 ADP) is a risky proposition. While there’s a world in which Robinson meets that value, a top-30 finish feels like the best-case scenario for the second-year center.
As a rookie, Robinson needed only 20.6 minutes to reach 2.4 blocks per game, and while the expectation is that he’ll continue to progress, there’s a good chance the Knicks’ roster situation puts a cap on his upside. New York brought in Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Julius Randle, and Marcus Morris in free agency, adding significant depth but at the same time clouding Robinson’s path to a 30-minute workload.
Roster concerns aside, as elite as Robinson’s shot-blocking is, he’s a good-but-not-elite rebounder, and he doesn’t add value in assists, three-pointers or free throw percentage (60% FT).