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Major League Pickleball

Five Strategies GMs Could Implement in the Upcoming MLP Premier Level Draft

by Erik Tice on

It's been a long and anxious wait, but the 2024 Major League Pickleball Draft is taking place next Tuesday, April 2 at 6 p.m. ET.

It's very different from all of the previous drafts because this is an auction draft. Don't worry, we've got all the draft logistics covered for you.

Typically when we talk strategy, it revolves around what order to draft, in terms of gender. Do you draft a dominant left-side guy first? Do you get one of the highest level women and then follow that up with another woman to have the best women’s team?

The most common gender order in the last draft was MFFM (Male, Female, Female, Male) or FFMM. The gender order strategy is still very much in play even though this time around it's an auction draft.

There is a ton of added strategy in having each draft slot auctioned off. Just a reminder: the auction part is for each draft slot. General Managers need to be thinking about where they want to make their first pick, who they are targeting, etc...

A snake draft is much easier for GMs because they know their draft slots and they have an idea of who they can target around that pick. In this scenario, they'll need to figure out who they are targeting out of the entire field while also not overpaying for a draft slot and not missing out on the players they want.

Here are five strategies that I could see being implemented on draft day.

The One and Done

Someone is going to blow their whole budget to get Ben Johns.

That could very much cost them the rest of their draft dollars, giving them the 46th, 47th, and 48th picks. Ben is definitely the best player in the world right now, so he could still probably win matches for his team even if he plays with those players who are drafted last.

The crazy part is that this strategy won’t be used only with Ben Johns. Once he is off the table, is someone going to basically spend nearly their whole budget on Jack Sock, Riley Newman, or Anna Leigh Waters?

Quick Top Two

This strategy would probably need to happen somewhere between the 8th and 18th draft slots. There are two scenarios where I can see this working out:

  • Take a really strong guy and a top 10 woman or ...
  • Get two top 10 women 

Granted, the auction values that other teams pay for each draft slot need to be conducive for this strategy to work. If the draft slot values are extremely high, GMs may need to dump most of their budget on these two spots and then be fine drafting closer to the bottom of the draft.

Here are some combos of players I could see using this strategy:

  • Dylan Frazier and Hurricane Tyra Black
  • Catherine Parenteau and Tyson McGuffin
  • Etta Wright and Meghan Dizon
  • Anna Bright and Rachel Rohrabacher

The trick becomes not overpaying for that second person, while also ensuring you get them before someone else scoops them up.

Play the Waiting Game

This strategy is not for the faint of heart.

If a GM has the courage to wait it out, I believe draft slots will significantly drop around pick 14. The teams that buy a late first round draft slot (10, 11, 12) may want to use our "Quick Top Two" strategy, so someone may overpay for slot 13. If a GM believes they could build a team around a player they can get at 14, the price may not be nearly as steep as getting someone at 11. 

Players who might be available around the 14th slot:

  • Andrei Daescu
  • Tyson McGuffin
  • Etta Wright
  • Hurricane Tyra Black

In order to make this strategy work, a GM would need to be very confident they could get their best player even after a couple of teams have taken two players.

The Middling Strategy 

Bear with me, I know this already sounds terrible. We know some teams are definitely going to overpay to ensure they get their star player (or two). This strategy is similar to the "Play the Waiting Game" strategy, but has more focus on the backend of the draft. 

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Paying attention to how much money you have for your third and fourth picks is critical. If you can save a little more money and have the most amount of money available for your fourth pick, you could be looking at making that last pick around draft slots 32-36.

This means your last player picked is really a third rounder. If you are willing to give up a little value on the front end of the roster, you can create a really well-rounded team from top to bottom.

Here are a couple of examples of teams I could see if a GM implemented this strategy:

  • Pick 11: Andrei Daescu
  • Pick 16: Rachel Rohrabacher
  • Pick 25: Meghan Dizon
  • Pick 31: Zane Navratil

Obviously any of these picks could go higher in the draft order, but this is one mock draft example.

Here is another:

  • Pick 12: Catherine Parenteau
  • Pick 13: Tyson McGuffin
  • Pick 21: Dekel Bar
  • Pick 22: Lacy Schneemann

Again, any of these players could go sooner, but if GMs are able to wait until later in the first round or early second round to buy their first draft slot, the easier this strategy becomes.

The Friends Game

This has been hinted at throughout here, but being a good teammate is key in MLP.

Drafting players who already get along and/or have played together helps a ton. It doesn’t always happen, but getting two or three players who are extremely familiar with others is important. 

Obviously this isn’t always an option, especially for the most elite players. For example, Riley Newman and Thomas Wilson have been playing together this year on the PPA Tour. However, having enough draft capital for one team to be able to afford both of them on one MLP team seems impossible. 

Usually, the first player drafted has quite a bit of say in who gets drafted to the team after them. Some pundits have said that the players have too much say in this, but I heavily disagree.

Some of those pundits have compared the draft to an NFL GM asking the current players to help them pick players in the draft. This is just not an apples to apples comparison. 

In football, there are 53 players on a roster and several practice squad players, with a whole front office team dedicated to the draft. With so many players, having some personality issues amongst them isn’t a huge deal (and it's impossible to avoid). 

With four players on an MLP team, team chemistry is of the utmost importance. Ensuring players have a say in the later picks is very important. GMs that just go it alone with no input from the players will most likely pay the price in the long run.

Being Adaptable

The most important strategy that GMs will have to implement is being flexible and adaptable.

Every Premier Level GM needs to have two draft boards: One board with player values and one that places values on every draft slot. If the draft slot values are going at a higher or lower price than the GM’s value, a change in strategy may be necessary.

Also, for example,  if there is a huge run of women who play the left side, and you are planning on drafting a lefty guy with your last pick, you may need to spend some more money on your next pick to ensure you get your left-sided woman. 

If I were a GM, I would be running through a bunch of mock drafts with different scenarios related to draft slot pricing and different players getting taken at different slots. Just like playing in an actual game of pickleball, the GMs that can adapt their strategy the quickest will more than likely be the most successful building their teams.

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