NBA Fantasy Draft Pairings

You might think it’s springtime down under, but a different season is upon us right now …. one of the most anticipated times of the year – Fantasy Draft Season!

That’s right – get your lists, ranks and spread sheets out and get yourself ready to dominate that draft. You’ve been talking smack all off-season, so now it’s time to put your basketballs on the line and show what you’re made of.

Of course, having a list is not enough. You need a plan. You need …. a strategy.

They say you can’t win your league in the first round, but you sure can lose it there. Just as important though is that next pick you make. It can set the tone for the rest of your draft as you start to form the construction of your squad. Getting that first pairing right can be as critical as firing good questions at Gregg Popovich; you’ll live to fight another day.

Last year I explained the different strategies for drafting in a rotisserie or head-to-head format. If you haven’t read that, it might be five minutes well spent.

Below, I take you through the best way to implement that at the start of your draft.

These are my tips for the best pairings in a standard 12-team, 9-cat head-to-head league, with adjustments for roto leagues.

I’ve ranked the top 12 players based on current Yahoo and ESPN ADPs (averaged).Pick 1 – Anthony Davis (F/C)

Strengths: FG%, Points, Rebounds, Blocks

The Pairing: Pau Gasol

There are a few ways you can go here given the Brow’s obvious supremacy in so many areas, further muddled by his lack of weaknesses (besides 3s and assists). However, if it were me, I’d want to build dominance in a few categories right away. Focusing on blocks, points and rebounds, at pick 24 on the way back you’re looking at a Vucevic, Gobert (if he lasts) or a Gasol brother.

Vooch doesn’t block shots, so you’d be missing an opportunity there, Gobert would be perfect as he helps in FG%, Blocks and Rebounds (you could make up points later), but he’s going earlier than 24 in most drafts, which leaves the starting All-Star brothers from last year. Marc is ranked higher and may not last, but if he’s there, part of his value comes from assists (not a focus) and nearly a steal per game (which is handy with AD). However, Pau rebounds more and blocks and scores a little more than his younger bro and is a better fit for that reason. This includes roto leagues, where you can address other categories in subsequent rounds.


Pick 2 – James Harden (G/F)

Strengths: Points, Threes, FT%, Assists, Steals

The Pairing: Kevin Love

At pick 23, you’re staring down the barrel of a similar list of guys as bigs tend to dominate ADPs in the early 20s. Marc Gasol is actually a nice option here in roto formats in terms of building on assists, some steals and decent FT%, but you’re not building strengths which should be your focus in head-to-head leagues. Instead, give Paul George or Jimmy Butler a look if they fall that far.

Harden is tough to pair given the lack of guards in this range so short of reaching for Kyle Lowry or Eric Bledsoe, you could consider another player with a nice all-around game like Paul Millsap, Draymond Green or Gordon Hayward (another reach); guys who all complement the Beard nicely. However, if you want to pick a couple cats to really focus on, then Kevin Love is the pick here. He’ll be available and will help in points, triples and FT%. If Kyrie falls due to injury concerns, grab him, but otherwise take his teammate who seems to be a forgotten man in this range.


Pick 3 – Stephen Curry (PG)

Strengths: Threes, FT%, Steals, Assists, Points

The Pairing: Draymond Green

Same cats as Harden, but ranked in a different order. The reigning MVP led the league in triples last season and out of any players with fantasy relevance not named Meyers Leonard, he was tops in FT% too. So focusing on those cats along with steals is the best way to build dominance right away.

At pick 22, you’re going to be in a similar bind to the Harden owner, only you get to pick first. Again, if a PG-13 or Butler falls, you’re grabbing them faster than Steph chews through mouthguards, but if not, you want a volume 3-pt shooter or a dominant thief. Draymond Green may be the best play here. He hit nearly 1.5 triples and swiped 1.6 steals last season and while his FT% isn’t great, Curry counters that. Draymond also chips in a nice 3.7 dimes and should increase his scoring a little this year. K-Love is worth a look here too.


Pick 4 – LeBron James (SF, PF)

Strengths: Points, FG%, Assists, Rebounds

The Pairing: Marc GasolThe King may play less minutes this season, but he’s still one of the best all-around players to build your squad around. There are several directions you can go if you grab LeBron in the first (as I did in the recent Superstars of Fantasy draft), and pairing him with someone is more about what categories you’re punting than focusing on building strengths. I paired him with Jimmy Butler in that league, but that may not always be possible as it’s unlikely he’d fall to 21.

I always like to focus on the categories LeBron gives you that you don’t expect to get from the SF (or PF) spot and those are assists, FG% and rebounds. For that reason, finding another player who can help there – whether you’d expect it from their position or not – is the way to go. So adding more rebounds and dimes while ensuring you remain competitive in FG% and points makes the most sense and Marc Gasol is an ideal target here.

His 3.8 assists from the five spot ranked 3rd among C eligible players behind Blake Griffin (who’s unlikely to be there at 20) and Joakim Noah, while the bonus of his blocks can help you in any format.

Pick 5 – Kevin Durant (SF, PF)

Strengths: Points, Threes, FT%, FG%

The Pairing: Paul George

If he stays healthy, then picking him at 5 is already putting you in a winning position, but getting that first pairing right becomes increasingly important in case he misses any time. At pick 20 you also have a few ways you can go. Big guys such as Marc Gasol, Rudy Gobert or Paul Millsap provide support for KD’s rebounding and FG%, but don’t build on his core strengths. Those core strengths boil down to putting the ball in the basket in a variety of ways and you need to find someone else who can help there.

Paul George and Kyrie Irving are two first round talents that are falling due to concern over injury and while that’s not a great combo with Durant’s recent foot issues, either one provides you with the dominance in points, FT% and threes that will give you a great head start in those cats each week. George is the safer option right now given he’s playing and looks to be healthy, but don’t be afraid to give Kyrie a look if he’s there, especially if a positive update on his return emerges shortly.


Pick 6 – Russell Westbrook (PG)

Strengths: Points, Assists, FT%, Steals, Recovering from broken faces

The Pairing: Jimmy Butler

What Westbrook did post All-Star break last season won a lot of people their fantasy leagues. He was a nightly threat for a triple double and clearly enjoyed being the main man in OKC. It’s a new season and along with a new coach, Russ’ MVP running mate is back, which means a slightly reduced usage rate. He will still score, dime, steal and get to the line a ton, so those are the areas you want to focus on when building your strengths.In 9-cat leagues, owning Westbrook means punting FG% and TOs, so keep that in mind when making your second round pick. At 19, you’re in Millsap, Gobert, Aldridge, Ibaka and maybe Carmelo range, but the guy you should hope to grab here is Jimmy Butler. If Melo falls, great, but if not, then Butler will get you points, likely 4-5 dimes this year, a rock-solid FT% and also close to 2 steals per game. Perfect.


Pick 7 – Chris Paul (PG)

Strengths: Assists, Steals, FT%, Points

The Pairing: LaMarcus Aldridge

CP3 is one of the most reliable first-round picks you can make. He might miss a few games here and there, but you know what he’s going to produce and he does so really efficiently. At pick 18, you’re not going to find someone else who will help you in dimes or steals unless you want to gamble on Kyrie’s health (again if he falls), so you’re likely going to go bigger. You could start addressing other categories, which is the right play at this point in roto leagues, but in head-to-head, you need to pick someone who will add to at least two of those categories for you. That can likely be achieved by focusing on a combination of steals, FT% and points, meaning you’re choosing between Butler, Anthony, Aldridge or Millsap. My preference here would be Aldridge for his points and FT%, but if he isn’t available, then Millsap is a nice fall-back option.


Pick 8 – DeMarcus Cousins (F/C)

Strengths: Rebounds, Points, Blocks, Steals

The Pairing: Rudy Gobert

Boogie is being drafted as high as 6th in some leagues, but wherever he’s grabbed, you’re getting the second most dominant big man in the game behind the Brow. He’ll score, rebound has become a much-improved shot-blocker and has quick hands for a big man allowing him to swipe 1.5 steals last year too. His FG% is not great for a big and he’ll turn it over a lot, so those are two cats you could consider punting with him, but he passes it quite well also.At pick 17, we’re in the range of a few guys who are 2 to 3 cat players at best. If Blake Griffin falls, he makes for a great pairing given his scoring, rebounding and handy dimes. Similarly, Carmelo Anthony provides scoring, rebounding and decent assists without a great FG%. However, it’s unlikely either of those guys will be there and you’re more likely to be able to get a Serge Ibaka or a Rudy Gobert. If you’re faced with that choice, Ibaka’s rebounding is solid and he’s obviously a great shot-blocker, but his scoring is not solid enough to move the needle as a strength category. Gobert provides dominant numbers in blocks, rebounds and FG% (which is important with Cousins’ less than stellar %), while the Stifle Tower also chips in a handy 0.8 steals per game to add to Boogie’s gift for burglary.


Pick 9 – Damian Lillard (PG)

Strengths: Points, Assists, Threes, FT%

The Pairing: Carmelo Anthony

Rip City is Lillard’s now with LMA gone and he instantly replaces his former teammate as a top-10 pick this year. Expect Lillard’s points and threes totals to increase, along with his FTAs, but I’d also be surprised if his FG% and TOs didn’t take a hit with the heavier load he’ll be carrying.

In any event, Thrillard should be paired with another scorer and someone who can either dime or hit 3s. So we’re talking Griffin or Anthony here. I prefer Melo purely cos of the strength in triples you can build right away and the stronger FT% which can matter. Melo will slide to the mid to late teens given his injury and New York’s struggles so pick 16 is the right range where he’ll be available.


Pick 10 – Kawhi Leonard (G/F)

Strengths: Steals, Rebounds, FT%, Turnovers

The Pairing: Serge Ibaka

The reigning DPOY has a game better suited to roto leagues, but is still being grabbed towards the end of the first round in 12-team head-to-head leagues. His strong defensive numbers (2.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 5.9 d-rebs) make for a nice match with another strong defender, while he doesn’t hurt you anywhere. His low turnovers should be utilised too, which is why grabbing someone else who is efficient and provides strong rebounding and defensive stats makes sense. Pick 15 is not too early for Serge Ibaka and if he doesn’t go here, he could slide into the late teens. Ibaka’s solid FT%, low TOs, strong blocks and the odd 3-ball are handy and a great complement for what the Claw provides.

 Pick 11 – Klay Thompson (G/F)

Strengths: Threes, Points, FT%

The Pairing: Kyrie Irving

The other Splash Brother is a better fit for head-to-head formats as he doesn’t contribute much outside of these three cats. He’ll get some steals and a few dimes as well, but his core strengths are his range from downtown and his scoring.

At pick 14, it’s a struggle to find someone else to pair with those strengths unless you reached for Melo or Jimmy Butler, so if you’re not inclined to take that leap, then guys typically in that range include Blake Griffin, Kyrie Irving or possibly an Al Horford if you think he’s worthy of a pick that high again.

Griffin gives you scoring but otherwise doesn’t mesh that well with Klay, which is why I’d recommend that if you hear a positive update about Uncle Drew, he’d be the best fit at this spot. He’ll be available at 14, so if you think you can stomach the wait and uncertainty, make that pick, otherwise reach for Melo, Butler or even Paul George.


Pick 12 – John Wall (PG)

Strengths: Assists, Steals, Points

The Pairing: Blake Griffin

In addition to those key strengths, Wall rebounds well for a guard. He’s not a high volume three-point shooter and he’ll turn it over a lot, so you’re really looking for dimes, steals, points or rebounds. There’s one player who in the right formats could be a top 12 pick himself. In the playoffs he did a little of everything, but he earns his paycheck by scoring, rebounding and passing for a big guy. He also grabs just under a steal per game. Blake Griffin.

Griffin complements the speedy Wiz point god beautifully. Griffin’s game is evolving too, so you’re getting the potential for growth and development with this pairing, while grabbing two guys who both have something to prove this season after again failing to get out of the second round.


You need to go in with a plan for each scenario as your draft unfolds. I like to have options listed for the second, third and fourth rounds to complement the three or four guys I think I’ll be choosing between in the first round.

These exact pairings may not always be possible, but if you know what categories you’re targeting and have a strategy ready, then you can ensure that when you call in that second round pick, you’re setting your squad on the path to fantasy glory and will have time to stop and smell the roses. It is springtime after all.


Author of the article

When you’re introduced to the NBA as a 6 year old in 1984, staying up late to watch Bird, Magic and Dr. J, it’s pretty hard not to fall in love with the game. I became consumed with the Association, and as my own game was developing, I tried to emulate as much as I could at an early age and learn how to play “the right way”. I have memories as a teenager of being glued to Saturday Basketball on TV and spending every spare cent I had on basketball cards and replica jerseys and so began my obsession with NBA knowledge and stats. I played my first season of Fantasy Hoops in 2002, as my serious playing days were slowing down. I now play in 5 or 6 leagues every year. To say I’m obsessed with Fantasy Hoops would be an understatement. To say I love nothing more than sharing my opinion on a player’s value would be entirely accurate, and I guess, the reason why I’m here. Follow me on twitter: @tomhersz @downtownball

Please comment with your real name using good manners.

Leave a Reply