This article is part of our NBA Draft Kit series.
Below are the best and worst values in standard ESPN fantasy basketball auction leagues, otherwise known as salary cap drafts. Salary cap leagues are more challenging than snake drafts, but understanding the best auction strategies, plus having your lists of sleepers and busts, gives you way more of an edge than in snake drafts.
Ultimately, one strategy rules them all...
Build a Balanced and Flexible Roster
Spread Your Money Around
What you're worried about, assuming you're in a roto league or points league, is accumulating the most total stats. If you spend more than half your money on Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum and they miss significant time, it will be next to impossible for the rest of your roster to make up for the loss.
If you spent $117 combined for both, your remaining eight starters have roughly a $10 average. Meanwhile, the person whose best players are Bam Adebayo and Darius Garland for a combined $49 has an $18 average for their remaining eight starters. Your next-best starters are Demond Bane and Jakob Poeltl. Their next-best starters are Jimmy Butler and Jaylen Brown.
The more balanced roster will easily sustain injuries to key players while having similar upside. It's also easier to handle the best players being on short (two-game) weeks, since you can sub in a comparable player on a four-game week.
Target Multi-Position Players
Construct as many viable lineups as possible. If you're in a standard ESPN league, you need to start 1 PG, 1 SG, 1 G, 1 SF, 1 PF, 1 F, 1 C, 3 UTIL.
Like spreading your money around, targeting multi-position players reduces injury impact. The most valuable players in fantasy are SG/SF eligible. They can play four positions (SG, SF, G, F) -- the most of anyone besides LeBron James (PG, SF, PF, G, F), who will be discussed in the Best Values section. Players eligible at PF/C are the next-most valuable due to the scarcity of the center position. After that, it's the PG/SGs and SF/PFs.
With a roster of multi-position players, it will be rare to run into a situation due to injury where you don't have a player eligible for a specific position. It will also make it easier to sub out players on two-game weeks for players on four-game weeks. Combined with a balanced roster, you should tear through your fantasy league. The balance and flexibility also allows you to take risks on injury-prone players with upside.
Projected Values are based on RotoWire's Fantasy Basketball Projections. They assume eight-category roto.
Jimmy Butler (SG, SF) -- Heat
Average Auction Value: $19
Projected Value: $31
Butler is four-position eligible. He's dealt with injury issues throughout his career, so you should view 65 games as his ceiling. Still, he's the Heat's No. 1 option and provides balanced two-way stats. Securing him ensures you have a robust statistical baseline, aside from three-pointers. See where Butler was drafted in RotoWire's Expert NBA Fantasy Mock Draft Results.
Jaylen Brown (SG, SF) -- Celtics
Projected Value: $28
Like Butler, Brown is four-position eligible. Free-throw percentage is a rough spot for him, but he's the Celtics' No. 2 option and provides strong scoring and three-point shooting while flashing upside as a defender.
Kristaps Porzingis (PF, C) -- Wizards
Projected Value: $26
Porzingis' injury issues are well-documented, so hope for 65 games and accept 50. But he's one of the best fantasy options at center when healthy. Over the past four years, he's averaged 20.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.0 threes, 1.8 blocks and 1.7 assists.
Myles Turner (PF, C) -- Pacers
Projected Value: $23
There seems to be a panic about Turner's potential to get traded. If he does, he should still start, and he's always been a low-usage option. That's never stopped him from being a third-round value multiple times in his career. He's averaged 2.8 blocks in the past four years.
Evan Mobley (PF, C) -- Cavaliers
Projected Value: $31
His upside as a rebounder and shot-blocker is capped playing next to Jarrett Allen, but Mobley is still one of the most promising young bigs in the NBA. He'll still get plenty of deflections, and if he can improve his three-pointer, the sky's the limit.
Bonus: LeBron James (PG, SF, PF) -- Lakers
Projected Value: $54
You're paying up for LeBron because he's LeBron, but he's the only player in ESPN fantasy eligible at five positions. If you're going to spend up, spend up on flexibility.
Most of these players aren't projected to be as valuable as their AAV, even before factoring in inflexible position eligibility.
Ja Morant (PG) -- Grizzlies
Projected Value: $35
As much as I love Morant as a real-life player, I don't endorse spending 1/4 of your budget on him. He has the ninth-highest AAV after ranking 30th in per-game fantasy production last season. Maybe he leaps forward, but his poor free-throw percentage and weak three-point shot are still a concern, and he's a weak defensive player.
Nikola Vucevic (C) -- Bulls
Projected Value: $19
Vucevic has the 25th-most expensive AAV after ranking 37th last season. Maybe he can bounce back a bit, but he's on the wrong side of 30 and is the third option on offense, not to mention he's only eligible at center.
LaMelo Ball (PG) -- Hornets
Projected Value: $43
Ball needs to be discounted a little due to his Grade 2 ankle sprain -- it's conceivable he misses the first couple weeks of the season and/or needs to be eased back into a full workload. He has the sixth-highest AAV after ranking 15th last season. Sans Miles Bridges, Ball may need to take on more usage, but he's now also without his favorite passing target. I'm also worried about his efficiency with increased shot attempts; he was already prone to bad looks.
Joel Embiid (C) -- 76ers
Projected Value: $51
My reservations about Embiid aren't much different than they have been for his entire career -- injuries. To his credit, he played a career-high 68 games last year and ranked third in fantasy. His downside is too much of a concern for me to hand out $60+, and he's one-position eligible.
Rudy Gobert (C) -- Timberwolves
Projected Value: $22
I don't have huge concerns about Gobert, but I think his rebounding and scoring could decrease playing alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell. At $32, you're paying for him to reach his past ceiling, which I'd prefer not to bank on. Myles Turner has the same upside at $8.
All players listed below have an AAV of $3 or fewer
Devin Vassell (SG, SF) -- Spurs
Wendell Carter (PF, C) -- Magic
Jerami Grant (SF, PF) -- Trail Blazers
Draymond Green (PF) -- Warriors
Jaren Jackson (PF, C) -- Grizzlies
P.J. Washington (PF, C) -- Hornets
Josh Hart (SG, SF) -- Trail Blazers
Will Barton (SG, SF) -- Wizards
Dillon Brooks (SF, SF) -- Grizzlies
Luguentz Dort (SG, SF) -- Thunder
Kelly Oubre (SG, PF [not a typo]) -- Hornets
Al Horford (PF, C) -- Celtics