By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Separating players into tiers is a popular method of draft prep, and it de-emphasizes the idea that you must draft a player because his projections come out slightly more favorably than those of another player. Often, the difference between a player ranked, say, 30th, and a player ranked 45th is smaller than you think.
Tiers help account for those discrepancies by grouping together players with similar risk/reward profiles, empowering the fantasy gamer to choose for themselves.
Some notes on methodology:
Tiers take into account players with top-120 upside. Essentially, players that could reasonably come off the board in a standard draft.
Players within tiers are not ranked in a specific order. Ideally, everyone in a tier has an argument to be taken over anyone else in that tier.
Plenty of players are multi-position eligible, but to avoid confusion and redundancy, each player only appears at what we assume to be their primary position
Tiers are based on 8-category, rotisserie scoring
Tier 1: Established Superstars
After 15 years of being one of the most durable superstars in NBA history, James showed signs of wear in 2018-19, missing a career-high 27 games. When James was on the floor last season, his production spoke for itself. But James will need to stay healthy — and engaged — for his fantasy potential to come to fruition. The addition of Anthony Davis should help breathe new life into the four-time MVP, and reports that he may end up serving as the Lakers' starting point guard will only boost his already gaudy assists numbers.
The Thunder’s season ended in disappointing fashion, but not long ago George was considered a serious contender for the MVP award. The 29 year old had easily the best season of his career in 2018-19, averaging 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and a league-leading 2.2 steals in 77 games. He moves on to a better basketball situation in Los Angeles, but teaming up with Kawhi Leonard, and a more well-rounded supporting cast, figures to result in George’s numbers regressing closer to his four-year averages. With that said, as long as a pair of offseason shoulder injuries don’t cost him too much time to begin the season, George will remain among the elite fantasy options at his position.
Tier 2: High-Upside Star
Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Doncic had one of the best rookie campaigns in NBA history, and the Mavericks are already comfortable handing him the keys to the offense. Heading into his second season, fantasy gamers will look for the 6-foot-7 playmaker to increase his efficiency, as he shot 42.7 percent from the field and just 32.7 percent from three. If Doncic can bump those percentages up and continue to progress as a passer, he’s a candidate to move up a tier by season’s end.
Tier 3: High-End Starters
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
While he was arguably less productive than in 2017-18, Middleton made his first All-Star team in 2018-19. While his workload decreased as Milwaukee cruised to the best record in the East, Middleton did manage to secure career-highs in assists (4.3), rebounds (6.0) and made threes (2.3). Playing next to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton's ceiling is relatively low, though the loss of Malcolm Brogdon may force him to take on a larger share of the half-court playmaking.
Tobias Harris, Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers traded for Harris at the 2018-19 deadline, and he went on to average 18.2 points on 46.9% shooting to go with 7.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.6 threes. Though Harris spent the vast majority of his minutes at power forward last season, the arrival of Al Horford all but ensures he’ll shift down to small forward. It's possible Harris might grab slightly fewer rebounds, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism with Jimmy Butler no longer encroaching on Harris’ touches.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Much was expected of Tatum in his sophomore season, but the returns of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward appeared to hamper Tatum's development. Still, he ended the year with a slight uptick in points, rebounds, and assists over his rookie-year numbers. With Irving out of the picture, Tatum is poised to function as the Celtics’ No. 2 option behind Kemba Walker, making him one of the season’s most popular breakout candidates.
Tier 4: Reliable Veterans
Robert Covington, Minnesota Timberwolves
One of the better three-and-D wings in the league, Covington was a key piece in the Jimmy Butler trade, but he was injured in December and ended up missing 47 games. When Covington was on the floor, however, he was on pace for a career year, and he’ll now be positioned for a bounce-back campaign after posting averages of 14.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 made threes, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks in 22 games for the Timberwolves.
Otto Porter, Chicago Bulls
After struggling through 41 games with the Wizards, Porter played arguably the best basketball of his career after arriving in Chicago via trade. He tallied career-high averages in points (17.5), assists (2.7), and made threes (2.6) while seeing nearly 33 minutes per game on the wing. Chicago's key additions (Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young) are both low-usage players, so Porter should be able to maintain a healthy workload this season.
Tier 5: Mid-Level Starters
Kelly Oubre, Phoenix Suns
Last season, Oubre was already on pace to set career-highs across most categories through 29 appearances with the Wizards, and things only improved following a trade to the Suns. He turned it up another notch after the All-Star break, pouring in 20.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 1.9 threes and 1.6 assists in 12 games. Sure, it’s a limited sample, but Oubre's second-half surge provided plenty of reason for optimism.
Caris LeVert, Brooklyn Nets
The 2018-19 season was shaping up as a breakout campaign for LeVert, but disaster struck in the form of a dislocated right foot on Nov. 12. The versatile wing was back in action by Feb. 8 after missing 42 games, but it naturally took some time for LeVert to look like himself again. However, the 24 year old picked up the pace significantly over the last three weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs, averaging 15.7 points, 4.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds over his final 16 contests.
Miles Bridges, Charlotte Hornets
The 2018 lottery pick had an up-and-down rookie year, but he’s firmly entrenched as a breakout candidate this season almost by default. After losing their top two scorers, the Hornets will look to Bridges and a host of other young players for increased roles, and there’s a chance Bridges emerges as the second or third option. If things break right in Year 2, Bridges could be a solid source of points, rebounds, and threes who adds value in both defensive categories.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah Jazz
Last season, Bogdanovic averaged career-highs in points (18.0), rebounds (4.1) and assists (2.0) as he helped fill the void left by Victor Oladipo’s injury. He also knocked down 2.0 threes and shot 42.5% from deep — both career-highs — but Bogdanovic is now playing on a loaded team with Mike Conley, Joe Ingles, Donovan Mitchell, and Rudy Gobert. He may be able to maintain his efficiency, but a regression in scoring volume is coming.
Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
Hayward returned to the starting lineup in October after essentially missing all of 2017-18 to a gruesome ankle injury. But after 15 starts, it was clear that Hayward had yet to return to his pre-injury form, and he spent most of last season struggling to fit into his new role. Now two years removed from the injury, there’s reason to believe Hayward will look more like his former self, but he remains a risky fantasy commodity.
Tier 6: Low-End Starters
T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers
Warren’s biggest drawback continues to be his inability to stay healthy. But when he played last season, he averaged 18.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting a career-best 42.8% from behind the arc. In Indiana, Warren will be surrounded by more offensive talent than ever before. But with star guard Victor Oladipo not expected to return until December while he recovers from knee surgery, Warren will be leaned upon in the first half of the season.
Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
Ingram played in only 52 games last season, and that came on the heels of him playing 59 games in 2017-18. When he was on the floor, he flashed an improved offensive package, but he’s still fallen short of the massive expectations placed on him as a former No. 2 overall pick. A change of scenery could help Ingram, though he spent much of the offseason recovering from a blood clot issue and he’ll have to compete for minutes within a deep Pelicans’ rotation.
Terrance Ross, Orlando Magic
Ross is a quintessential high-volume three-point specialist who also tacks on value at the free-throw line. After inking a new deal with the Magic this summer, his role as a gunner off the bench should remain secure.
Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings
Barnes is possibly the least-sexy fantasy pick in NBA history, but he offers a consistent profile of scoring, rebounding, and three-pointers. His numbers dipped last season after being dealt to Sacramento, but he should again hold down the starting small forward spot. The question is whether veteran addition Trevor Ariza will cut into Barnes’ workload enough to impact his value.
Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns
Bridges is coming off a healthy and productive rookie season in which he appeared in all 82 games and made 56 stars. Heading into his second season, Bridges is likely looking at a bench role, and he’ll compete against the likes of Kelly Oubre, Tyler Johnson and Cameron Johnson for playing time. Still, he may reach the 29.5 minutes per game he garnered last season, which were enough to result in averages of 8.3 points, 2.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 threes.
Kent Bazemore, Portland Trail Blazers
Last season with the Hawks, Bazemore compiled his second-best scoring (11.6) and rebounding (3.9) averages of his career, despite shooting just 40.2% from the floor and 32.0% from three — his worst marks since his rookie season. In Portland, Bazemore will have a chance at an expanded role, as he and Rodney Hood will battle for minutes on the wing. Even if Bazemore’s shooting doesn’t come around, he can be counted on as a reliable source of defensive statistics, with a handful of rebounds and assists sprinkled in.
Other Players to Monitor
Jae Crowder, Grizzlies
Cedi Osman, Cavaliers
Josh Jackson, Grizzlies
Taurean Prince, Nets
Kyle Anderson, Grizzlies
Michael Porter, Jr., Nuggets
De’Andre Hunter, Hawks
Trevor Ariza, Kings
Kevin Knox, Knicks