Fantasy Basketball Strategy: Punting Assists
With training camps underway and the regular season just around the corner, now is the perfect time to get ahead of the competition and start honing your fantasy hoops draft strategy. One tried and true method that many people swear by is the concept of "punting" one or more of the standard fantasy basketball categories in order to "stack" the others. In Part One of this series, we explored the pros and cons of punting in general and then dived right in by looking at how to build a team while punting points. In Part Two, we looked at ways to put together your squad without three-pointers. In Part Three, the focus was rebounds. Today, in Part Four, we take a look at the best and worst places to find value in your draft while punting assists.
Of the punting strategies we've discussed in this series so far, punting three-pointers and rebounds are the most difficult to pull off. They present stacking obstacles that can be difficult to overcome and removing either category from your build results in what is essentially a split right down the middle of the player pool in terms of value, with big post players on one side and guards and wings on the other. We'll consider those the expert-level punting strategies, as they take a lot of planning to make successful and you have to stray from the plan a bit too often to fill out your roster. They're not impossible to use, but they're in no way for the faint of heart.
Punting assists, much like building a team without points, is a much easier way to find value in your draft and even those who are brand new to the punting game can find success in doing it with proper planning. Yes, punting assists gives most big men a boost (much in the same way removing three-pointers does), but the vast majority of downgrades are attributed almost exclusively to high-assist point guards. Removing fantasy value mostly from only one position certainly opens up your draft board more than when you do it to approximately half the league! Unlike in punting three-pointers, this kind of build also creates extra value in off-ball shooting guards, for example.
Another thing that makes punting assists such a formidable strategy is that it gives you the option of stacking every other category at your discretion. The advantages in big man categories like rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage are a given, but wing specialists in points, threes, free throw percentage, and steals are also very much in play and more valuable than they would normally be with assists in the equation. Furthermore, punting assists almost guarantees you a low turnover stack as well, as the worst turnover guys are more or less the high assist ones. In other words, you basically get a free category with the chance to stack in as many of the remaining seven as you see fit. Pretty good deal.
Finally, one of the most convenient things about this strategy is that it eliminates the need to reach for a point guard if you grab bigs you like with your first few picks. If you've already established that your starting point guard will be one of the lowest rated in your league (the top 10 to 15 typically go in the first two to three rounds), why not just fill that spot with a shooting guard that has point guard eligibility (like Kobe Bryant, for example) or grab a low-assist sleeper to plug in there later on? Try it out in a mock draft. You might be surprised how much value you can find in the middle rounds while other people are frantically trying to make up ground in the assist department.
Convinced? Good. Here are some players to target and avoid throughout the draft.
PF/C Dirk Nowitzki
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 9 (1)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 5 (1)
Ranking Difference: +4
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 18
Current ESPN Projection: 15
Dirk Nowitzki is into his late 30s, but he doesn't seem to be aging the way we've come to expect basketball players to age (must be that German engineering). He finished last season as a first-round value (the 13th time he's done so in the last 14 seasons), but the fear of the inevitable decline keeps causing him to slip to the second and sometimes third rounds of fantasy drafts these days. Perhaps it's time we stop trying to predict the drop off and just ride his solid-until-proven-otherwise stats to the fantasy bank.
He has the potential to be an excellent value at his current average draft position (ADP) as it is, but he becomes an even more tantalizing target when you punt one of his weaker categories (assists, steals, and blocks). Whenever he takes the floor, you can count on Dirk for elite scoring, threes, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and low turnovers to go with a smattering of rebounds, which makes him great for a wide variety of stacks. As long as you believe in the chances of his continued health and something close to last season's 80 games, he represents a nice cornerstone for this particular build.
PF/C Chris Bosh
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 25 (3)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 18 (2)
Ranking Difference: +7
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 25
Current ESPN Projection: 38
Chris Bosh is about as safe of a pick as you'll find in the second or third round of standard drafts, as he safely helps you in every single category outside of a negligible number of assists. He's one of the only guys in the league that can give you 20 and 10 in points and boards on any given night while supplying one or more each of threes, steals, and blocks. His percentages are solid and his turnovers are about as low as you'll find among early-rounders. With LeBron James out of Miami, Bosh's usage is bound to go up too, resulting in even juicier counting stats. Throw all that together and you'll have a hard time finding a better guy to grab early in an assist-punting build. You could make a play for someone who is eligible at point guard and not too assist-dependent here (Damian Lillard, Dwyane Wade, Eric Bledsoe, etc.), but you're probably better off starting your stacks early and filling out your point guard spot late (tackled below).
Mid- to Late-Round Targets
PF/C Derrick Favors
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 58 (5)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 34 (3)
Ranking Difference: +24
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 65
Current ESPN Projection: 63
When Utah let both Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk last summer, it cleared the way for a Derrick Favors breakout. He didn't necessarily gain All-Star buzz for putting up quietly solid numbers for the hapless Jazz, but he had a great fantasy season nonetheless. Heading into his fifth year at age 23, the stage is set for further development and even bigger numbers from Favors. That could mean more points and rebounds to go with an already robust line of stable steals, blocks, field goal percentage, and low turnovers. He's still a bit of a drain in free throw percentage and doesn't hit any threes, but if you remove one of the low parts of his line (in this case assists), he jumps up into the early rounds in value with upside.
C Nikola Pekovic
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 68 (6)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 42 (4)
Ranking Difference: +26
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 71
Current ESPN Projection: 71
Nikola Pekovic has been a consistent mid-rounder over the last two seasons, playing as Kevin Love's frontcourt sidekick. Now that Love is gone to Cleveland, look for Pekovic to get more touches in the post and score more points as a result. His rebounding numbers should go up as well, considering Love isn't around to grab his usual 12.5 per contest. Pek's percentages and turnover rate are excellent, but he doesn't offer much in terms of assists, steals, and blocks. If your team is built well enough in the defensive categories and you're punting assists, however, Pekovic has early-round upside this season.
SG/SF Gerald Green
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 66 (6)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 45 (4)
Ranking Difference: +21
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 83
Current ESPN Projection: 105
Gerald Green had spent his entire career as fantasy hoops waiver fodder until this past season, when he skyrocketed up to finish the season as the 66th-ranked player in 9-category leagues. The reliable scoring, free throw percentage, and low turnovers were nice, but Green's fantasy value bread was buttered with three-pointers. The 2.5 he made last season (on 40% shooting from behind the arc, no less) was the seventh highest per-game average in the league. He might fall short of repeating that performance this season with Isaiah Thomas and rookie T.J. Warren around to take some of his minutes, but he should continue to hit his fair share of threes when on the floor to help you stack in that area. He's a risky play in standard builds, but if you're punting one of his weak areas like assists, he has some upside as a specialist pick in the late rounds.
PG/SG Patrick Beverley
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 74 (7)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 73 (7)
Ranking Difference: +1
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 103
Current ESPN Projection: 116
If you're waiting until late to fill your point guard slot, Patrick Beverley represents a near perfect choice as a rare point guard who gets his value from areas other than assists. He doesn't score the ball very much and his rebounds and field goal percentage are admittedly low, but what he brings to the table in three-point shooting, steals, free throw percentage, turnovers, and even blocks (relative to his position) makes him well worth the pick. Considering the fact that the Rockets lost a lot of their depth this past offseason, it's easy to imagine a scenario where Beverley takes on an increased role and starts putting up even more in the counting stat department. That makes him a nice sleeper pick in general, but even more so if you are punting assists and looking for a point guard that doesn't need them to make an impact.
PG/SG Avery Bradley
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 129 (11)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 106 (9)
Ranking Difference: +23
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 140
Current ESPN Projection: 121
Another serviceable late-round point guard option is Avery Bradley of the Boston Celtics. He may not be worth the $8 million average annual salary he signed on for this offseason just yet, but he's still only 23 years old and entering his fifth season with plenty of room to grow. His stat line is incredibly similar to that of Beverley, but with more scoring. With that in mind, if you whiff on Beverley in the 100 pick range, rest easy knowing that Bradley should be yours for the taking in the last couple rounds.
Other Targets: C Marcin Gortat, SG/SF Kevin Martin, PF Kenneth Faried, C Robin Lopez, SG J.J. Redick, SF/PF Tobias Harris, PF/C Channing Frye, SF/PF Terrence Jones, SG Jodie Meeks, SG/SF Danny Green, SF/PF Marvin Williams, PF/C Andrea Bargnani.
Players to Avoid
PF/C Joakim Noah
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 19 (2)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 28 (3)
Ranking Difference: -9
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 24
Current ESPN Projection: 16
Joakim Noah is one of the most versatile fantasy players available on the draft board if you're looking to build a balanced team. The scoring is a little low, the turnovers a little high, and the threes nonexistent, but everything else is top notch. One thing that sets him apart from the rest is that he leads all NBA big men in assists, and it stands as the most valuable part of his stat line outside of rebounds and blocks. With that in mind, there are a lot better big men for you to target in an assist-punting build. He's still good for stacking in certain areas, but you want to focus on players that see an increase in value with the punt, not guys like Noah that drop down. There are a plethora of centers that have increased value without assists (see above), so you should have no trouble finding better options.
PG Ty Lawson
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 43 (4)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 136 (12)
Ranking Difference: -93
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 30
Current ESPN Projection: 23
As you can imagine, there are a lot of point guards that absolutely plummet down the rankings when you take away their assists. Ty Lawson is one of the most underrated point guards in fantasy and is well worth an early-round grab in standard builds, but if you're punting helpers you want nothing to do with him and his 93-place drop in value to replacement level. He would still give you decent points, steals, threes, and free throw percentages, but without assists there's not nearly enough going on in those categories to justify the hits in rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage, and turnovers. It makes perfect sense to avoid any of the league leaders in assists in this situation and Lawson serves as the poster boy for such a point.
SG/SF Gordon Hayward
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 65 (6)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 90 (8)
Ranking Difference: -25
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 60
Current ESPN Projection: 64
Like Joakim Noah, Gordon Hayward is a player that derives a decent amount of his value from the way he gives fantasy owners assists from places outside of the point guard position. That makes him a great target for stacking assists in other punting builds, but an absolute avoid for our purposes of punting assists. His stat line still offers some goodies in a few other places, but you're better off grabbing scoring, three-point, steal, and low turnover specialists for your shooting guard and small forward spots.