By Nick Whalen and 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 manager to choose for themselves. Tiers are also a great way to stay organized and disciplined while drafting. The default queue is a good place to start, but tiers add a personal touch and allow for more precise roster management as a draft plays out.
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 by 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: Possible No. 1 Overall Pick
James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden continued his elite production in 2019-20, finishing as the No. 1 fantasy player for the fourth time in six seasons. Heading into 2020-21, a lot could change for Harden. The Rockets already swapped Russell Westbrook for John Wall, and it remains to be seen if that will be their only move. If Harden stays with the Rockets, the situation could turn combustible, at best -- especially if Wall doesn't look like his old self coming off of an Achilles injury. Plus, the Rockets have a new coach in Steven Silas, who will at least attempt to diffuse an offense that grew stagnant under Mike D'Antoni. If Houston eventually caves and Harden heads somewhere else — like Philadelphia or Brooklyn — he would almost certainly have to take a step back from a usage standpoint. This is all to say that drafting Harden this season is riskier than any other, but there's still a good chance he'll be a top-3 fantasy option.
Tier 2: Elite Stars
Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns
Booker made his first All-Star game in 2019-20. The 24-year-old is now in a position to push for the playoffs in 2020-21 alongside teammates Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul. With the addition of Paul, Booker may play more off-ball. That could result in fewer assists, but increased scoring, and/or increased efficiency, is also on the table. Even if he takes a slight hit in usage, Booker still figures to be worth a second-round selection in most fantasy formats.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Beal had the best season of his career in 2019-20, but his role could see a slight reduction in 2020-21, with John Wall making his return after a 24-month absence due to an Achilles injury. It remains to be seen how ready Wall will be to resume his All-Star-level usage and performance, but his return means Beal won't be the only reliable scorer and playmaker. Still, Beal figures to be an excellent source of fantasy production worthy of a late-first to early second-round selection.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls
LaVine continued to take steps forward during his third season in Chicago, increasing his production almost across the board. His usage rate (31.7 percent) ranked ninth in the league. LaVine may continue improving, as he's entering his prime (25 years old) and has a new coach in Billy Donovan, who could be more open to using a run-and-gun system. That would only serve to help LaVine given that he's one of the most athletic players in the league. He could be a force in a system tailored to his strengths.
D’Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves
Coming off a 2019-20 campaign with nearly identical production to 2018-19, Russell will look to make the playoffs for just the second time in his career. With the Timberwolves, we’ll see how Russell fares while paired with one of the best offensive centers in the league. The Wolves adding Ricky Rubio and No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards could cut into Russell's usage slightly, but it shouldn't be enough to result in a drastic dip in fantasy value.
Tier 3: High-Floor Stars
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
With Kawhi Leonard leaving the Raptors for the Clippers last season, VanVleet took on an expanded role in a contract year. In 2020-21, he could expand his role even more, as the Raptors lost both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in free agency, and Kyle Lowry is another year older. At the very least, VanVleet should meet his production from last season, making him a strong second-to-third-round option in most fantasy leagues.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Mitchell continues to make only marginal strides to his game since his excellent rookie debut in 2017-18. However, his playoff performance against the Nuggets in the first round was one for the history books. Mitchell's durability is also a selling point, as he's missed just 11 games in his career. Conservative fantasy managers can bank on his high floor, while those on the more aggressive side can point to his excellent playoff performance as a reason to take the plunge early. As a result, he'll likely be highly sought after in most fantasy leagues.
DeMar DeRozan, San Antonio Spurs
While it largely fell under the radar, DeRozan had arguably his best season as a pro in 2019-20. On one hand, DeRozan's strong 2019-20 campaign implies he could be drafted as high as the late second round in fantasy, but there should be some concern if he is truly on the trading block, since there's a fair chance he'd go to a team that wouldn't be featuring him as a co-No. 1 option like the Spurs do with him and LaMarcus Aldridge.
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers
The 2019-20 season was business as usual for one half of Portland's dynamic backcourt duo, with McCollum averaging at least 20 points for the fifth straight season. McCollum has been one of the most consistent and durable guards in the NBA over the last four seasons, posting similar numbers year-in and year-out and appearing in at least 70 games for five straight campaigns.
Tier 4: Solid Starters
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Smart improved across the board in 2019-20, posting career highs in points, assists, three-pointers, and blocks per game. Expect that trend to continue with Gordon Hayward leaving for Charlotte. Hayward's departure leaves the door wide open for Smart to be a regular starter for Boston — a role he filled during Hayward's various past injuries. If he can combine improved shooting with 2+ steals-and-blocks per game, Smart will be a late-round steal.
Buddy Hield, Sacramento Kings
Hield's reputation as an elite three-point shooter continued in 2019-20. However, Hield's role changed dramatically late in the season. Prior to the All-Star break, he started 44 of 54 games, averaging 20.4 points in 33.4 minutes. After the break, he started none of his 18 appearances, averaging 15.6 points in 22.9 minutes as he fell out of favor with coach Luke Walton. The situation makes it tough to gauge Hield's draft stock for 2020-21, as there has been no clarification regarding what we can expect playing-time wise.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Atlanta Hawks
Bogdanovic's 2019-20 campaign was very similar to his 2018-19 season, with the versatile wing averaging 15.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.7 threes, and 1.0 steals in 29.0 minutes. Heading into 2020-21, the 28-year-old finds himself on a new team, joining the Hawks. Bogdanovic is likely to start at shooting guard for the revamped Hawks, who clearly have playoff aspirations. Given how much the Hawks paid to get Bogdanovic on the roster, we shouldn't be surprised if he crosses the 30-minute threshold with the team.
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs
After starting 55 games in his second career NBA season, White started just 20 times last year, though he remained a significant part of the Spurs' rotation. This season, he figures to start alongside Dejounte Murray in the backcourt, and with Bryn Forbes now in Milwaukee, White could have a path to 30 minutes per game. However, keep in mind he’s expected to miss some time early on due to a toe injury.
Tier 5: Low-Level Starters
Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
After tearing his quad in 2018-19, Oladipo made his return to the court last season in January. Overall, he appeared in 19 games (16 starts), averaging a modest 14.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 27.8 minutes. Despite rumors that Oladipo wants out of Indiana, it appears he’ll start the season there. His season has a wide range of outcomes depending on how well he’s recovered from his quad injury with not much time off since the end of last season. Oladipo was a two-time All-Star before the injury.
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Sexton is coming off a great second season in the league, in which he improved across the board. The guard has been reliable, failing to miss a single game entering his third season. It would be ideal to see a little improvement from Sexton in dishing out assists, but Cleveland looks like one of the worst rosters in the league, so Sexton should get plenty of opportunities as he looks to continue to prove himself as a young emerging player in the league.
Andrew Wiggins, Golden State Warriors
Wiggins finished out his 2019-20 campaign relatively strong with the Warriors last season, playing better team basketball and showing defensive improvement, racking up 2.7 combined steals-plus-blocks. If Wiggins can continue honing in his shot selection while keeping those defensive stats stagnant, he could be in for one of his better fantasy campaigns this season. The Warriors will need whatever Wiggins can provide given how few legitimate scoring options are on the roster.
Terry Rozier, Charlotte Hornets
Handed a full-time starting role for the first time in his five NBA seasons, Rozier responded with a major breakout in 2019-20. However, he may remain stagnant this season or take a small step back. The Hornets selected guard LaMelo Ball with the third overall pick in the draft, and the team also signed Gordon Hayward to a huge contract. That could mean fewer minutes and less usage for Rozier overall.
Norman Powell, Toronto Raptors
Coming off a breakout season that included several big-time performances in the playoffs, Powell's arrow is pointing up as we enter the 2020-21 campaign. With both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol departing in free agency, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby may have to spend more time at power forward. That should open up more opportunities for Powell to see action at small forward and shooting guard, so an uptick in minutes and usage could be on the horizon.
Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Herro is heading into his sophomore NBA season with considerable momentum after averaging 16.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 3.7 assists during the Heat's run to the NBA Finals. Whether he starts or not this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if Miami aimed for Herro to see 30 minutes per game after averaging 27.4 MPG as a rookie. His fantasy value is capped to some degree by his relative lack of secondary stats outside the shooting categories, but at just 20 years old, Herro has plenty of room to grow his game.
Eric Bledsoe, New Orleans Pelicans
During the offseason, Bledsoe was dealt from the Bucks to the Pelicans in the deal that brought Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Despite a questionable fit with New Orleans, we shouldn't be surprised if Bledsoe finds himself in a sixth-man role. Last season with the Bucks, he saw 27.0 minutes per game, averaging 14.9 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.6 rebounds. That kind of workload seems possible with New Orleans, so his fantasy stock might not take a huge dip.
Tier 6: Late-Round Targets