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 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
Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves
After missing just five total games through his first four NBA seasons, Towns played in only 35 games a season ago. By all accounts, Towns is back at full strength heading into 2020-21, but his reputation as an ironman has taken a hit. Even so, Towns is young enough that he should get the benefit of the doubt. Whatever degree of risk there may be, Towns at his best — arguably a top-three fantasy commodity — is well worth it.
Tier 2: Elite Fantasy Bigs
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Jokic isn’t quite the same caliber of athlete as Towns, but he’s been just as durable -- if not more so. Jokic didn’t miss a single game last season, helping him to a career-best ranking of No. 3 overall in total value. Jokic hasn’t fallen below ninth over the last three seasons, as he’s continued to widen the gap between himself as the next-best passing big man (7.0 APG last season).
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Durability is always the primary concern when it comes to Embiid. Last season was no different, as Embiid missed 20 regular-season contests, knocking him out of the top-40 in total value. On a per-game basis, Embiid is easily a high-second-round value, but drafting him will always carry a high degree of risk.
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
The reigning Most Improved Player grew into one of the most versatile bigs in the league last season. Averaging 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.3 blocks, and 1.1 steals per game, Adebayo was among the most well-rounded players in fantasy. It doesn’t seem like he’ll be adding a three-point shot anytime soon, but Adebayo could boost his stock by improving at the free-throw line (69.1% FT last season).
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
After missing the entire regular season, Nurkic returned to action in the bubble and didn’t miss a beat. Sure, it was only an eight-game stretch, but Nurkic put up 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.0 blocks in just under 32 minutes. With Hassan Whiteside out of the picture, Nurkic could push for the first top-30 overall finish of his career.
TIER 3: High-Upside Bigs
Kristaps Porzingis, Dallas Mavericks
Another big man with injury concerns, Porzingis has already been ruled out for the start of the 2020-21 season. Just how much time he’ll miss remains to be seen, but considering he’s missed significant chunks of each of the last three seasons, Porzingis is among the riskiest players in all of fantasy. When healthy, he’s worth a late second-round pick, but an increasingly concerning list of lower-body injuries have prevented him from ever finishing inside the top 40 in total value.
Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Ayton flew under the radar as one of the best big men in fantasy last season. That won’t happen again — especially with Chris Paul handling the ball in pick-and-rolls. Whereas Paul could rob some of Devin Booker’s fantasy value, the future-Hall-of-Famer should help Ayton become an even more efficient finisher around the rim.
Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s the same story for Drummond virtually every year. He’ll average around 17 points, challenge for the league lead in rebounding, and put up elite steals-plus-blocks numbers. But Drummond’s poor free-throw shooting and lack of an outside shot prevent him from reaching his full potential. The stars are aligning for that sequence of events to unfold once again in 2020-21, but that’s not the worst outcome considering Drummond has finished 20th, 21st, and 18th in per-game value over the last three seasons. The more pressing concern is Drummond, who’s on an expiring contract, potentially being traded to an adverse fantasy situation at some point.
Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic
One of the most consistent players in fantasy basketball, Vucevic turned in another strong statistical season in 2019-20. While his scoring and rebounding numbers took slight dips, he countered by hitting a career-high (by far) 1.6 three-pointers per game. If he can continue that trend — and climb over 80 percent at the line — Vucevic could crack the top-30.
Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Like Drummond, Gobert’s strengths and weaknesses are clear. He scores efficiently, rebounds, and blocks shots, but doesn’t shoot threes and is a career 64.9 percent free-throw shooter. Over the last four seasons, Gobert has finished 23rd, 36th, 23rd, and 39th in per-game value.
TIER 4: Solid Starters
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Robinson has a case to sneak into Tier 3, but if there’s one lesson to be learned in fantasy basketball it’s to never, ever, under any circumstances, trust the New York Knicks. On a per-minute basis, Robinson is the best shot-blocker in the league by a fair margin, but he saw only 23.1 minutes per game last season. The hope is that Tom Thibodeau’s staff sets Robinson free, but that’s far from a guarantee.
Hassan Whiteside, Sacramento Kings
Whiteside’s career is a roller coaster every year, and he’s now on the downslope after the best fantasy season of his career in Portland. He’ll have a chance to start for the Kings, but Whiteside will likely be in a timeshare with Richaun Holmes, while Marvin Bagley could also play some center.
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Turner is an annual breakout candidate, but it simply hasn’t happened. He’s essentially been the same player for the last four seasons, though his 2.7 blocks per game in 2018-19 did push him inside the top-40. Don’t expect Turner to make a major leap this season, but he’s a dependable, mid-round value who’s stayed relatively healthy, by big man standards, since entering the league.
Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
One of the most unique players in fantasy, Lopez rebounds and shoots threes like a guard but blocks shots at an elite rate. His shooting numbers fell off of a cliff last season, sending him tumbling to 77th overall in per-game value, the third-lowest finish of his career.
Clint Capela, Atlanta Hawks
Despite coming over from Houston at the trade deadline, Capela never suited up for the Hawks last season. Capela’s field goal percentage, shot-blocking, and elite rebounding give him a high floor, but he could see a slightly reduced workload on a suddenly deep Hawks roster.
Jonas Valanciunas, Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies made almost no roster changes, so Valanciunas should return to a steady role as the starting center. Last season, that equated to 14.9 points, a career-high 11.3 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game en route to the first top-60 finish of his career. Valanciunas will have more value early on while Jaren Jackson Jr. is sidelined.
TIER 5: Low-Level Starters
Thomas Bryant, Washington Wizards
Bryant has a clear path to the starting job, but last season that only equated to 24.9 minutes per game. The fourth-year big man is a good free-throw shooter for a center, and he hit 40.7 percent of his 91 three-point attempts last season.
Al Horford, Oklahoma City Thunder
After a forgettable year in Philadelphia, Horford now finds himself as the grizzled veteran on a rebuilding team. While the Thunder are clearly embracing a youth movement, there’s not a ton of talent behind Horford at center, so he should be able to maintain a steady workload. The concern is how many games Horford might sit out for “load management” purposes as the Thunder set their sights on the 2021 NBA Draft.
Wendell Carter, Chicago Bulls
Injuries have cut short Carter’s first two NBA seasons, so health will again be a concern. But if he can stay on the floor, Carter will be a fantasy breakout candidate. Last season, he averaged 11.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, and 0.8 steals in 29.2 minutes.
Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings
Holmes had some truly impressive stretches early last season and finished inside the top 50 in per-game value. He played in only 44 games but did join the Kings in the Orlando bubble. Holmes has some upside, but the Kings probably put a cap on his ceiling when they signed Hassan Whiteside.
Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets
The 22-year-old is off to a promising start, but he’ll again be forced to split minutes with DeAndre Jordan. In the Orlando bubble, Allen shot 65 percent from the field and averaged 13.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.4 blocks in 33.6 minutes per game.
James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors
Wiseman is in a unique position as a high lottery pick on a very good team. He’s not guaranteed to start right away, but the depth-starved Warriors will need Wiseman to live up to his pedigree. If the minutes are there, Wiseman projects as an efficient interior scorer and a source of rebounds and blocks.
Tier 6: Late-Round Targets
More from Yahoo Fantasy Sports
Explore the Larry O'Brien Trophy winners throughout the years in augmented reality
Explore the championship history of the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Heat and Warriors in augmented reality. Click on the video below and cycle through the four icons on the bottom of the experience to view each teams “trophy case,” which includes all of their NBA championship trophies as well as pictures of the team throughout history. Make sure to turn on your device’s sound to get an analysis of what makes each of these franchises so dominant.
The 3D experience can be viewed on both desktop and mobile.
Click on “View in 3D” above
Use your mouse to zoom and rotate the object
For mobile (optimal experience):
Click on “View in 3D” above
Tap on the camera icon in the upper right-hand corner of the browser
Press “allow” (this prompt should come up multiple times)
Place the object in your space, use your fingers to resize and rotate in augmented reality
To take a photo of what you’re seeing, tap on the screen and a camera icon will appear