20/21 At what point in the draft does each category become scarce? (ESPN)

 In Draft Strategy, Statistical Analysis

After you figure out which draft strategy you want to roll with, and the categories that you want to target, take some time to sit down and figure out how the placement of the different categories in the draft will affect your strategy. Not all categories are neatly spread out over the first seven rounds. Quality production in each category will disappear at different points in the draft. Some categories you will be able to wait until the later rounds to focus on, while other categories will require multiple early-round investments. This is especially true if you play in a league on ESPN. ESPN’s 2020-2021 rankings are exactly what you’d expect. Respectable in some spots, but mostly full-on wacky, which will make drafts on their platform feel much different than drafts on Yahoo or Fantrax.

To figure out when we need to target each category, I looked at the average z-score and average raw numbers of the remaining players (up to player 156) both before and after each round. For example, I looked at the average numbers and z-scores of players 13-to-156 (post-round 1) and the average numbers and z-scores of players 25-to-156 (post-round 2). This method allows us to determine which rounds contain an abundance of each category, how much of each category is left after each round, and if a point of no return exists for each category.


Pre-Round 1 Numbers 

Pre-Round 1 Z-Scores

This is our starting point. The above numbers and z-scores are based on EFB’s projections for the top-156 players on ESPN.


Post-Round 1 Numbers

Post-Round 1 Z-Scores

As always, points are heavily concentrated in the early rounds, especially in the first. If you come out of the first-round without one of the higher-scoring first-round players and want to be competitive in the category, you need to make points a priority in the second and third round. This is especially true for the punt FT% build due to its natural weakness in the category. There are a ton of dimes in the first-round this year, as you can see from the difference in z-score from before the first round and after the first round. It’s not as important to focus on assists early, but you don’t want to wait too long, especially on ESPN. Assists is not a category that you can come back in late in the draft and assists dry up much earlier on ESPN than they do on Yahoo. On ESPN, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any dimes after round 5, and there is a noticeable drop after round 4. There are not many big men in first-round this year, so if you come out of the first light on FG% impact and blocks, don’t worry about it. There’s plenty of each left. The big drop in threes is not something to worry about. Threes can be found throughout the draft.


Post-Round 2 Numbers

Post-Round 2 Z-Scores

Points continue to dry up quickly. If you come out of the second round with two relatively low-scoring players on your roster, you will need to start considering punting points. Even though we are only 24 picks into the draft, most of the difference-makers in the points category are already off the board. The defensive categories haven’t shifted much since the beginning of the draft. You can still make up ground if you are weak in one or both of the categories after the second round, especially blocks. Assists’ availability continues to steadily drop, and if you want to be competitive in the category, you likely need to grab at least two strong sources of dimes in the first four rounds. On ESPN there is a cliff after the fourth round. There are a ton of strong FT% options in the second this year. If you are trying to win the category, make sure you come out the first two rounds with at least one player who is dominant in the category. Like points, it is a very difficult category to come back in late. As mentioned earlier, if there is one category where it is OK to be behind schedule in, it is threes. It’s one of the easiest categories to find on the wire, and there are plenty of strong triples options available in the later rounds.


Post-Round 3 Numbers

Post-Round 3 Z-Scores

There are a lot of very strong sources of rebounds between the third round and the fifth round on ESPN. Because of this, and where points and assists are located, it is going to be very tempting to start small and pick up your bigs after the first couple of rounds. Blocks are more spread out on ESPN than they are on Yahoo and are easier to wait on. There is a major cliff after round 7, but you will have some decent options up to that point. Threes continue to hold steady, and so do steals. Points and assists availability continues to drop, although the drops were less drastic this round.


Post-Round 4 Numbers

Post-Round 4 Z-Scores

Rounds 4 is the last round with a handful of very strong points options. If you are struggling in the category, don’t wait any longer. The availability of steals is declining at a slow but steady pace. Keep an eye on the category, but don’t prioritize it over points and assists. There are more steals available late than points, and the steals cliff doesn’t come until round 7. There are a ton of point guards in round 4 on ESPN, which means assists are flying off the board in this round. If you come out of the first three rounds with only one good assists source and don’t want to punt assists, you almost have to take a point guard in the fourth. Blocks continue to be relatively easy to find.


Post-Round 5 Numbers

Post-Round 5 Z-Scores

The last call for points takes place in the fifth round on ESPN. Or at least points that are accompanied by something useful. The fifth round is also when the last of the interesting mid-round point guards go off the board. As noted early, there are a ton of quality big men around the fifth-round, which makes it a good round for those chasing FG%, rebounds, and blocks. Mitchell RobinsonKristaps PorzingisClint CapelaDraymond Green, and Jonas Valanciunas are all situated in the fifth round on ESPN.


Post-Round 6 Numbers

Post-Round 6 Z-Scores

Points are gone. If you are in a rough spot in the category after round 6, I would consider punting the category. Threes remain available in abundance. This makes sense since the later rounds have a lot more useful guards and swingmen in them than big men. If you are trying to win assists, I hope you went heavy on them early because there are only a couple of decent starting point guards on the board after this point. If you’re not where you need to be in the category, you’re going to find yourself depending on risky bets like LaMelo Ball and R.J. Barrett to keep you competitive. FT% impact becomes very hard to find after this point in the draft as well. There are many solid free throw shooters available late in the draft, but few get to the line enough to be much help in the category.


Post-Round 7 Numbers

Post-Round 7 Z-Scores

There are some very solid big men like Serge IbakaThomas BryantBrandon Clarke, and Christian Wood ranked in the later rounds on ESPN. That’s great news, but I would not bank on these bigs being available to bail you out in the big-man categories. If you play in a competitive league, these players will be snatched up much earlier than their rankings suggest. Assuming these intriguing bigs are off the board, there’s not a lot of useful FG%, rebounds, and blocks available after the seventh round. Use the seventh to ensure that your big-man numbers are in a healthy place going into the final rounds. Besides the players likely to be reached for, most of the quality big-man numbers in the final rounds come from mediocre all-around options like DeAndre Jordan.


Round 8-to-13 Category Availability 


Threes are the easiest category to find after round 7. There’s not a ton of top-end three-point options, but there are quite a few players available late who are above average in the category and do enough elsewhere to be worth rostering. For the millionth time, if you’re going to wait on a category, make it threes. The average FT% of players available after round 7 is deceptive. The late rounds are heavy on guards who shoot a decent percentage from the line but have an immaterial impact on the category due to their lack of attempts. There are no dimes available after round 7, and points availability is going to be even less than the above numbers suggest since many of the poorly ranked players that boost those numbers will be taken in the sixth or seventh round.



Points: Most of the best sources of points are found in the first two rounds. If you are down in points after the fourth or fifth round, it is going to be very hard to come back in the category without hurting yourself elsewhere. 

Threes: Threes are found throughout the draft. There are lots of threes available late, and they do not all belong to specialists. Threes are also an easy category to find on the wire, so if you come away from your draft lighter on threes than you planned, that’s OK.

Rebounds: The availability of rebounds steadily declines until the end of round 7. After that, it becomes very difficult to find double-double threats if you play in a competitive league. If you don’t, then you may be able to find some very strong rebounding options late thanks to ESPN doing what ESPN does and placing no-brainer mid-round players in the final rounds.

Assists: Assists are mostly found in the early rounds and come off the board even earlier than they do on Yahoo. On ESPN, the overwhelming majority of assists are situated inside of the first four rounds. If you want to be competitive in the category, you need at least two strong assists options on your roster after round 4, and in most cases, I would aim for three.

Steals: The best steals options are found in the first four rounds. This makes sense as most of the top point guards are ranked inside of the top-48 on ESPN. After that, the availability of steals declines steadily. Steals can be found late, but again, it depends on the competitiveness of your league. In a for-fun league, you will be able to get players like O.G. Anunoby in the later rounds. That’s not happening if you play with managers who know what they are doing.

Blocks: There are not a lot of blocks in the first two rounds on ESPN. It is OK to be below average in the category through two. Rounds 3 through 7 are where most of the swats are. After round 7, it will be very hard to find difference-makers in the category if you play in a competitive league.

Field goal percentage: FG% impact is more spread out on ESPN than it is on Yahoo. There’s not a lot of it in the first couple of rounds since those rounds are dominated by guards and wings, but there are plenty of quality sources of FG% impact between rounds 3 and 7. Make sure you are in a good spot in the category after round 7 because unless your league is really sleeping on players like Thomas Bryant and Christian Wood, it is going to be a very hard category to come back in late.

Free throw percentage: You’ll find most of the best sources of FT% impact inside of the first two rounds. FT% becomes difficult to find after round 4 when most of the useful point guards go off the board. This is not a category you can come back in late as very few of the strong free throw shooters available in the final round get to the line a notable amount. 

Follow me on Twitter @AdamGStock for the latest fantasy basketball news and analysis. I will gladly answer any fantasy basketball questions that you may have. 

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