Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
I'm not saying the NBA fantasy scene is like Mean Girls ... but kinda.
Hear me out.
We all know cliques consume the high school social landscape. Any number of John Hughes films in the 1980s would confirm this.
And though Regina George is hardly the LeBron James of ... well anything, the paradigm still exists that not all fantasy players are created equal. And much like in high school, both real and fictional, there is a pecking order. Most players know their roles but some don't, which makes it a little difficult to determine which fantasy groups they belong in.
To give you a clearer picture, here are some of the groups you may encounter on fantasy draft day in a few weeks.
You already know who they are. LeBron, Kobe, KD, CP3, Melo, Dwight, Harden ... basically anyone that Michael Jordan thinks he can still beat in a game of one- on-one (Incredible. A decade after retiring he's still the cockiest player in the NBA.). These guys are like Breaking Bad. There's rarely a bad episode and every week they have you on the edge of your seat. None of these studs will last long so you better hope your team drafts in the top five.
This group encompasses all the players who would be fantasy mega-stars if they played for lesser teams. Imagine Dwyane Wade if he played for the Raptors or Russell Westbrook if he had the Thunder offense all to himself? Their numbers would be through the roof. Instead, both are kept in check by the presence of even bigger stars in LeBron and Kevin Durant. These guys are strong fantasy selections but not necessarily first-rounders.
The volume wizards:
Consult your league's scoring options before going all in on one of these guys. J.R. Smith (18.1 ppg), Kemba Walker (17.7 ppg), Jrue Holiday (17.7 ppg) and Monta Ellis (19.2 ppg) are scoring machines. Sadly, none of these players have ever bothered to look up the word "efficient" in Webster's Dictionary. That makes them risky business when it comes to your team's field goal percentage.
The good news is that field goal percentage, at least in my experience, isn't a universally accepted fantasy statistic. Some leagues have it, others don't. These players can be both appealing and toxic depending on the setting.
The process of elimination All-Stars:
No one would ever confuse Jeff Green (12.8 ppg) for Julius Erving. But in Boston, where the departures of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have left an emptiness as wide as the Charles River, somebody has to put the ball in the hoop. Same goes for the rapidly-declining Pau Gasol (13.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg), now a prisoner in L.A.'s "I can't believe this isn't the Charlotte Bobcats" cast of flunkies.
Neither would be our first pick for a game of 5-on-5 but in the world of fantasy, it doesn't matter HOW you score as long as you get the points. That's why Green and Gasol, undeserving as they may seem, have a chance to go early in most drafts.
The "this could be our year" guys:
Everybody loves a player with some upside. Sneaky good Wizards guard John Wall (18.5 ppg, 7.6 apg) and Warriors three-point assassin Steph Curry (22.9 ppg, 6.9 apg) are both on the cusp of super-stardom, a place where Pacers swingman Paul George (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg) may already reside. His teammate Roy Hibbert (11.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.6 bpg) is also in that discussion while Brooklyn big guy Brook Lopez (19.4 ppg) carries a similar under-the-radar appeal.
Jeff Teague (14.6 ppg, 7.2 apg), Nikola Vucevic (13.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg) and Chandler Parsons (15.5 ppg), though not as household in nature as Curry or George, present similar breakout potential. These players won't be first- rounders this year but they might be next season, so enjoy the bargain while it lasts.
The question marks:
Derrick Rose is a former MVP and Andrew Bynum was the best center in the NBA not named Dwight Howard a couple years ago. The problem is that neither one played a single game during the 2012-13 season. So if you're looking for a red flag, there's about twenty of 'em right there.
Though present for portions of last season, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love and Danny Granger are mostly in the same boat as Rose and Bynum. If you're willing to put up with a month or two of rust and the risk of re-injury, these five wounded warriors could be right up your alley. Otherwise, the best course of action may be to stand pat and wait for someone else to take the bait.
The new guys:
Fresh starts don't always lead to fantasy success but often they do, which is why Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson and O.J. Mayo will all be worth drafting in a few weeks.
Iguodala (13.0 ppg, 5.4 apg, 5.3 rpg) could be playing in Alaska and he'd still be worth a roster spot: he's a four-category stud (points, rebounds, assists and steals). Al Jefferson (17.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg) is similarly intriguing because unless Michael Jordan comes out of retirement (which is what Jalen Rose fearlessly predicted in his Grantland season preview), he should be the team's main source of offense. O.J. Mayo (15.3 ppg, 4.4 apg) is essentially replacing Monta Ellis in Milwaukee, so take that for what it's worth.
The "I'm older than Brad Stevens" guys:
They say it's a young man's game. So why does it feel like Tim Duncan (17.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 2.7 bpg) is better at age 37 than he was five years ago?
Fantasy basketball, segregated as it may seem, has a place for old-timers like Duncan and KG, but it's not as high up the draft boards as you might think.
Nets coach Jason Kidd has already said that he plans on sitting Garnett in the second game of back-to-backs and Gregg Popovich has been known to do the same with Duncan in San Antonio. Even soon-to-be 36-year-old Paul Pierce will probably be on a minutes limit, a strategy the Lakers have hinted at using with veteran Steve Nash.
These restrictions, though not crippling, definitely lower the ceiling a bit for fantasy success. Pierce, KG and Duncan will still be relevant but wasting anything higher than a mid-round pick on one of them seems like a reach.
So Jesse, this means you've actually seen the movie Mean Girls?