By Nick Whalen / 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 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-120ish upside. Essentially, players who 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. Without further ado, here are the point guards.
Steph Curry, Warriors
Curry is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in which he led the league in scoring (32.0 PPG). He’ll have more help this season, but he’s still worthy of a top-five pick in any fantasy league. The advantage he provides as a three-point shooter is unparalleled.
Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers
Lillard’s elite production and impressive health have led to him ranking in the top 7 in total fantasy production in each of the past three seasons. The trade rumors have been flying, but wherever Lillard plays, he’ll put up top-tier numbers.
Luka Doncic, Mavericks
Doncic is the odds-on favorite to win MVP this season. Over the past two years, he’s averaged 28.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and 1.0 steals in 34.0 minutes. He’s heading into his age-22 campaign and should continue to make all-around strides in his game.
Trae Young, Hawks
Young’s counting stats took a step back last season with better teammates put around him, and that led to the Hawks making the Eastern Conference Finals. Atlanta made no drastic roster changes, so we can expect Young to again be a nightly 25-and-10.
Fred VanVleet, Raptors
Kyle Lowry’s departure means VanVleet should take over as the true point guard in Toronto. He averaged 19.6 points, 6.3 assists and 1.7 steals last season, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see both his points and assists increase.
LaMelo Ball, Hornets
Ball is coming off an impressive Rookie of the Year campaign where he averaged 17.9 points, 6.1 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals after being named the starting point guard. He’ll continue to be the main cog in the Hornets’ offense, and the sky appears to be the limit for the electric, 20-year-old playmaker.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Thunder
Gilgeous-Alexander is the focal point of the Thunder’s deep rebuild, and the point guard put up a great, albeit little-discussed 2020-21 campaign where he averaged 23.7 points and 5.9 assists on 51/42/81 shooting splits. The 23-year-old has room to improve as both a passer and volume shooter and Oklahoma City is the perfect opportunity for him to work on both skills.
Kyrie Irving, Nets
Irving is one of the best guards in the NBA, but he’s dealt with injuries for his entire career and gets downgraded in fantasy for that reason. When healthy, he can produce top-10 numbers, but his upside is also relatively capped on a Nets team that also features Kevin Durant and James Harden. Efficiency-wise, not many guards can measure up to Irving, but the missed time is a virtual lock at this point.
De’Aaron Fox, Kings
Fox is one of the more promising young point guards in the NBA, but he’s hit a developmental wall since his sophomore campaign. Over the past three seasons, he’s averaged 21.2 points, 7.1 assists, and 1.5 steals, but his inconsistent three-point shooting (33.3%) and free-throw shooting (71.6%) are holding him back.
Dejounte Murray, Spurs
With the Spurs looking to be in a legitimate rebuild, Murray has a real opportunity to claim the NBA’s Most Improved Player award if coach Gregg Popovich trusts him to run the offense. A work-in-progress jumper caused him to have up-and-down performances last season, but he still ranked 65th in fantasy on a per-game basis behind 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 steals in 31.9 minutes.
Chris Paul, Suns
Paul has been shockingly healthy over the past two seasons, and he was able to take the Suns to the NBA Finals last year on the strength of 16.4 points, 8.9 assists, and 1.4 steals while shooting 50/40/93. Drafting a 36-year-old point guard is inherently risky, but Paul can still put up top-25 numbers in fantasy.
Jrue Holiday, Bucks
Holiday took on a reduced offensive role in Milwaukee last season, but the gravity of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton allowed him to have the most efficient season of his career (59.2 TS%). Nothing should change for the 31-year-old this season, though the Bucks could be more protective of Holiday’s workload following a title run and the Olympics.
Kyle Lowry, Heat
Lowry ended his time in Toronto with eight season averages of 18.3 points, 7.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.4 steals. He’ll join Miami in what could be a different stage of his career as a 35-year-old, and there are valid questions about what his usage rate will be playing alongside Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and other talented playmakers on the Heat including Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo.
Ja Morant, Grizzlies
Morant’s numbers haven’t translated particularly well in fantasy due to a lack of defensive numbers and poor shooting from both the three-point line and free-throw line. However, at just 22 years old with legitimate playoff experience — he averaged 30.2 points and 8.2 assists in Round 1 against the Jazz last season — Morant has as much upside as almost any guard his age.
Russell Westbrook, Lakers
Season to season, Westbrook has likely gone through the most team context changes of any star over the past half-decade, beginning with Kevin Durant leaving OKC and now leading to Westbrook joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles. Last season was Westbrook’s lowest usage rate (30.2%) of the decade, but he still managed to average 22/12/12. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see his rebounds and assists production drop playing alongside James and Davis, but it’s hard to predict exactly how the Lakers will handle having this new Big 3.
Lonzo Ball, Bulls
Though Ball’s first four seasons have been marred by injuries, he’s been making steady strides and averaged 13.2 points, 6.3 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and a combined 2.0 steals-plus-blocks in his two years with the Pelicans. He’ll be joining the revamped Bulls this season but should continue to act as a great distributor with a high volume diet of three-pointers despite high-usage players around him like Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.
Malcolm Brogdon, Pacers
Brogdon scored a career-high 21.2 points per game last season and distributed well, averaging 5.9 assists. He’ll have to continue sharing possessions with Domantas Sabonis and Caris LeVert, but he figures to still put up fringe-All-Star numbers, especially when taking into account his quality efficiency and low turnovers.
Ben Simmons, 76ers
It’s hard to accurately predict Simmons’ production this season until we know where he’ll be playing, but he should at least be able to replicate his numbers from last year, when he averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists, and 2.2 combined steals-plus-blocks. He has much more upside if he lands on a team that would feature him as the No. 1 creator.
D’Angelo Russell, Timberwolves
Injuries limited Russell’s impact last season, and he also was relegated to a bench role at points as the struggling Wolves searched for winning lineup combinations. He figures to start every game this season, but his upside is relatively capped being surrounded by Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and Malik Beasley.
Darius Garland, Cavaliers
Garland made sweeping improvements as a sophomore and ranked 82nd in per-game fantasy production behind 17.4 points and 6.1 assists while notably shooting 39.5 percent from three. Increased weapons around Garland should help him flesh out his game even more this season, especially in the assists category.
Mike Conley, Jazz
After a rough first season in Utah, Conley got more comfortable last season and averaged 16.2 points and 6.0 assists in 29.4 minutes. The 34-year-old’s role should remain stagnant for a team that made few offseason moves.
Cade Cunningham, Pistons
Cunningham enters his first NBA season as the clear-cut Rookie of the Year favorite. He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.6 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game at Oklahoma State last season. An excellent decision-maker and facilitator with prototypical size (6-8, 220lbs), Cunningham is also an efficient scorer who drilled 40 percent of his 5.7 three-point attempts per game at Oklahoma State. Given that he'll likely be handed the keys to the Pistons' franchise from Day 1, Cunningham projects to be the first rookie off the board in most standard leagues.
Jamal Murray, Nuggets
Normally, Murray would be a no-brainer in the third or fourth round, but he’ll miss a large chunk of the 2021-22 regular season while recovering from an April ACL tear. At this point, it’s unclear when Murray could be back, but at some point later in the draft, he’ll be worth a flier as a long-term IR stash.
Next up: Devonte’ Graham, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kemba Walker, John Wall, Dennis Schroder, Markelle Fultz, Killian Hayes, Jamal Murray, Cole Anthony, Reggie Jackson