Fantasy Basketball Strategy: Punting Points
Fantasy basketball isn’t quite as ripe with draft strategies as say its football or baseball brethren. Positions of players and when to draft them are the crux of many a fantasy football debate, but that’s not quite as important in basketball, where most players play multiple positions. In baseball, there are two completely different sets of players (hitters and pitchers) that affect completely different sets of statistical categories, while in basketball it’s every man for every stat.
With fewer positional advantages to be found and exploited and with greater accumulation, variance, and chaos within a larger number of statistical categories, fantasy hoops becomes a hard game to strategize for.
The one tried and true method that many managers use to success (and often swear by), however, is to “punt” one or more categories. By punting something, you basically decide that you’re willing to forego an area of the stat line or two at a chance to be elite in others. That way, rather than leaving too much up to chance by being fairly even in all areas and risking finishing anywhere from 9-0 to 0-9 in a week, you aim to “stack” in certain categories to increase your odds of winning those stats on a regular basis. The most popular example of this is to draft Dwight Howard, say to hell with free throw percentage, and stack players that are good in rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage (like Dwight) in hopes of always having a good chance to win those areas every week.
Punting allows owners to better predict how they will stack up against their opponents and generally results in fewer lopsided losses. It also gives them an advantage on draft day, because it completely alters the landscape of value among available players, making it easier to grab targets long before others would think of drafting them.
This article is the first in a series of nine where I will explore top targets and players to avoid on draft day for each possible single-category punt strategy. I will be using last season’s final rankings (according to basketballmonster.com), highlighting the most notable risers and fallers if the punted category were removed from everyone’s statistical profile, and comparing that data with the current Yahoo and ESPN projections for this coming season.
These lists are by no means exhaustive, but are meant to give you an idea of the kinds of players you want and those you don't in drafts if you intend on playing the punting game. If you do take the plunge and punt a category, basketballmonster.com’s Player Rankings tool and its punt function will be your best friend.
Enough blah-blahing, let’s look at how to build a team if you’re punting points.
The concept of punting points in fantasy hoops tends to make people uncomfortable. Points are the most needed stat in real basketball to win games and most of the biggest stars in the league are well known because of their scoring prowess above almost everything else. Look at the Top 10 league leaders in any category and points is the only one filled to the brim with household names.
That’s why punting points is one of the most interesting strategies out there. The team you pick will make people squirm. They might even think you’ve lost your mind. All the while, you’re filling up on pass-first point guards, three-point specialists, and big men who specialize in blocking, rebounding, and posting a high field-goal percentage – all without giving into the allure of a player that scores 20 a game and does little else. Not scoring a lot of points also generally means having the ball less at the end of possessions and therefore fewer turnovers.
Essentially, punting points allows you to focus your stack on pretty much any category you choose. The possibilities are practically endless and all worth exploring in mock drafts.
PF/C Serge Ibaka
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 10 (1)
Punting Points Rank (Round): 5 (1)
Ranking Difference: +5
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 13
Current ESPN Projection: 12
It’s only a jump of five spots in the rankings, but it’s extra significant because it happens in the first round. Last year, when punting points, only Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry ranked ahead of Serge Ibaka. You’ll notice that list doesn’t include names like LeBron James and Kevin Love. Ibaka is one of the most valuable shot blockers in the league and is well above average in rebounding and field goal percentage as well. Throw in a low turnover rate, an improving percentage at the line, and the occasional long ball, and absorbing Serge’s low assist and steal numbers suddenly becomes a lot easier without the need for scoring. Drafting him in the mid- to late-first round wouldn’t be unheard of if you whiff on one of your top targets and don’t like the remaining options very much.
SG/SF Kawhi Leonard
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 15 (2)
Punting Points Rank (Round): 8 (1)
Ranking Difference: +7
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 20
Current ESPN Projection: 24
We are all officially on Kawhi Leonard breakout watch. Coach Gregg Popovich admitted that he never draws up plays for Leonard after the 22-year-old won the Finals MVP a few months ago and that it might be time to start doing so. Kawhi managed to be a top-15 play last year with only a 18.3% usage rate and with that bound to go up, his current ranking on Yahoo and ESPN could make him an absolute steal in the second round (even more so if you’re punting points). Ignore that 12.8 scoring average and Kawhi is about as elite as they come, contributing positively to seven of the nine standard categories. He rebounds the ball very well for a wing and can contribute one or more threes, blocks, and steals every game (a rare commodity). High percentages and low turnover rates are often overlooked in fantasy, but Kawhi rocks in all three areas. His only “weaknesses” are scoring and assists and an increased usage rate this year could even bring those up. Draft. This. Man.
Mid- to Late-Round Targets
SG/SF Kyle Korver
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 38 (4)
Punting PTS Rank (Round): 23 (2)
Ranking Difference: +15
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 73
Current ESPN Projection: 97
Kyle Korver has been a draft-day steal in his two seasons in Atlanta, having a preseason ranking well worse than 100 both years in Yahoo and ESPN formats and finishing as an early-round value. He’s ranked in the top 100 in both formats this year, but still might be undervalued. If you take points out of the equation, Korver becomes an even more enticing target after finishing as a second-round value without scoring last year. His percentages and turnover rate are top notch and he’s a sure thing to be a top-five three-point shooter. Considering his rebound, assist, and steal numbers are also adequate for someone not known for any of those things, the only thing he really lacks outside of points is the ability to block shots.
C Robin Lopez
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 40 (4)
Punting Points Rank (Round): 24 (2)
Ranking Difference: +16
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 76
Current ESPN Projection: 88
Robin Lopez is far from the sexiest name in fantasy basketball, but he certainly made waves last season. There were plenty of other guys on the Trail Blazers to handle the scoring load, so RoLo managed to focus on everything else. If you’re punting points, he’s a perfect guy to grab late to stack rebounds and blocks without having to worry at all about your percentages and turnovers.
C Andrew Bogut
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 51 (5)
Punting Points Rank (Round): 19 (2)
Ranking Difference: +32
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 104
Current ESPN Projection: 100
Andrew Bogut will always be an injury concern above all else, but when his minutes are managed properly and he can stay on the floor, he has the potential to be a top-20 play for people punting scoring. Much like Lopez, his rebound and block numbers that late in the draft are a steal. His field goal percentage is off-the-charts good and he doesn’t turn the ball over very much. You don’t even really need to be scared of the free throw percentage either, as he only goes to the line about once per game on average.
PG Ricky Rubio
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 57 (5)
Punting Points Rank (Round): 29 (3)
Ranking Difference: +28
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 50
Current ESPN Projection: 49
Ricky Rubio is one of the more polarizing fantasy players out there. His low scoring, terrible field goal percentage, and high turnovers can be a drag, but the tradeoff is that his steal, assist, and free throw numbers are elite. The decent rebounding is also an excellent bonus from the point guard position. If you’re in the punting game for any of Rubio’s weak categories, he becomes a prime target. With Kevin Love out of town and a lot of youth now filling out Minnesota’s roster, Ricky will likely become more of a leader with a bigger workload and even fatter numbers.
SG/SF Andre Iguodala
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 78 (7)
Punting Points Rank (Round): 56 (5)
Ranking Difference: +22
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 86
Current ESPN Projection: 123
Andre Iguodala may never reach the heights of his Philly days again, when he was an early-round staple, but he can still be an effective fantasy asset as a late-round grab. Iggy has the potential to put up great all-around stat lines, peppered with a bit of everything. His only real weaknesses in his first season as a Warrior were his mediocre free throw percentage and low scoring output. Take either out of the equation and he becomes a much nicer play.
Players to Avoid
SG/SF DeMar DeRozan
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 56 (5)
Punting Points Rank (Round): 125 (11)
Ranking Difference: -69
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 59
Current ESPN Projection: 58
DeMar DeRozan is coming off a breakout season in which he was named an All-Star for the first time, but a large part of his success was based on finishing 10th in the NBA in points per game. Take away scoring and nothing about DeRozan’s stat line really jumps off the page to make him a must-grab, especially not at his mid-round price tag. His line sans points is eerily similar to Iggy’s, just a little worse in every area other than free throw percentage. Skip DeMar in the middle and grab Iggy late instead.
SG/SF Kevin Martin
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 64 (6)
Punting Points Rank (Round): 100 (9)
Ranking Difference: -44
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 72
Current ESPN Projection: 54
With Kevin Love out of town and a relative lack of certainty surrounding the scoring abilities of rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, Kevin Martin should continue to put up close to 20 points per contest. The thing is, if you’re punting points, the only other things Martin really gives you are decent threes and a good free throw percentage. At a mid-round price tag, you can do a lot better.
SG/SF Arron Afflalo
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 100 (9)
Punting Points Rank (Round): 170 (15)
Ranking Difference: -70
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 84
Current ESPN Projection: 62
Arron Afflalo continues to get better every single year and looks like he’ll be the primary option on offense for his new/old team the Denver Nuggets this season. That might mean more scoring and threes, but likely the status quo in other areas. People punting points should be frightened off by the 70-spot plummet Afflalo takes in value without scoring. The threes and percentages are nice, but not elite enough to warrant picking him up if you're a point punter.