Fantasy Basketball Strategy: Punting Steals
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. Then, we talked about punting three-pointers in Part Two, rebounds in Part Three, and assists in Part Four. Today, in Part Five, we take a look at the best and worst places to find value in your draft while punting steals.
Much like punting points and assists, punting steals is a great way to find value on your draft board. As previously stated in this series, punting three-pointers and rebounds tends to lead to a league that's split right down the middle in terms of value, with guards and wings on one side and big men distinctively on the other. Steals, on the other hand, are not as positionally exclusive as threes and boards, so it's easier to isolate players to target and to avoid to build a strong team.
Another thing that makes punting steals so desirable is that there is such a limited number of players that could be considered elite in the category. Avoiding the guys that derive a large portion of their value from steals is quite simple, as you can identify them pre-draft and just leave them off your board entirely from the start. Meanwhile, there are a good many players in the early- to mid-rounds that have steals as a bit of an understated weakness, so recognizing their considerable value bumps beforehand and jumping on them when opportunities arise can create a great advantage for you in other categories.
Since there are so few good options to strengthen steals, you'll often find people reaching for leftover specialists in the category once they've whiffed on the seven to eight guys who pay their fantasy bills with thefts. You can avoid that temptation entirely in this kind of build and focus on just about any stack you feel like. The guys with the biggest pilfer deficiencies tend to be big men, so you'll find that rebounds, field goal percentage, blocks, and low turnovers are the easiest stacks to make here. Those things are likely to come naturally when using this strategy, so make sure you place your focus on grabbing guys who give you value in assists, three-pointers, and free throw percentage when you can as well. As always, don't categorically avoid steals, just be aware of where the risers and fallers land and act accordingly.
PF/C Kevin Love
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 6 (1)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 3 (1)
Ranking Difference: +3
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 7
Current ESPN Projection: 15
There's reason to believe that Kevin Love will see a dip in scoring this season, now that he has to share the ball with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland. While that's certainly a possibility, there's little reason to believe his other strengths will take a hit as well. The elite rebounds should still be there, as should the solid threes and assists that you don't often get from guys that are eligible to play the center position. If anything, you could certainly see Love's assists and field goal percentage going up, now that he's no longer the only focal point for opposing defenses on his team and has better people to whom he can defer.
Love's main weaknesses have always been in his lack of defensive stats (steals and blocks), so eliminate one of those and he's an excellent first-round selection. In fact, if you punted steals from last year's final fantasy rankings, only Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis finished better than Love in the whole league. People might shy away from the uncertainty that comes with his playing in a new environment, so you might even be able to get him late in the first for the first time in years and reap the benefits.
PG Damian Lillard
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 29 (3)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 17 (2)
Ranking Difference: +12
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 16
Current ESPN Projection: 17
Damian Lillard is a rising superstar going into his third NBA season, so you can expect even bigger and better things from him this year. His points, three-pointers, assists, and free throw percentage are extremely valuable, and he gives you decent rebounding and turnovers from the point guard position as well. His main sources of weakness are in his field goal percentage and general lack of steals and blocks, making his second-round price tag this season a little risky. For punters of either of those categories, however, Dame makes a great pick as someone who could see his strong areas get even stronger as he continues to develop.
Mid- to Late-Round Targets
PG Tony Parker
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 119 (10)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 84 (7)
Ranking Difference: +35
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 53
Current ESPN Projection: 59
Tony Parker has become a bit of an overrated fantasy player, now heading into his 14th NBA season. He has generally had an early-round average draft position (ADP) for the better part of his career, despite only finishing as a first-round value once in 13 seasons (2012-13, surprisingly). This is one of the better cases of a player being drafted based on his real-life hooping ability, rather than his possible fantasy value.
The problem with Parker is that he gives you next to nothing in threes, steals, and blocks, while his strong areas are relatively mild. That's all without even mentioning the possibility of him getting "Popped" into missing random games here and there. Now, after all those words spent telling you why Parker might be one of the bigger busts on the draft board this year, it's hard not to concede that punting one of his weak areas gives him a major value bump and might make drafting him justifiable in a reasonable mid-round range. After all, his 2012-13 season was an 18th-ranked finish if you punted steals, so you have to believe that upside is still achievable.
PF/C Pau Gasol
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 48 (4)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 21 (2)
Ranking Difference: +27
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 64
Current ESPN Projection: 61
Like Kevin Love, Pau Gasol represents a player that's a little hard to project for the 2014-15 season because of his change of scenery and role from last year. Going from being the focal point of a Kobe-less Lakers squad to being one of many talented cogs on a stacked Chicago Bulls team probably means a slight dip in production for the Spaniard. Even so, the Bulls have shown over the last few years that offense is one of their glaring deficiencies, and Pau can certainly help in that regard. The frontcourt might be a little crowded, but reports suggest that Pau is the starter alongside Joakim Noah, while Taj Gibson will come off the bench and likely resume his role as defensive specialist in late-game situations.
A slight dip across the board for Gasol is a likely outcome, but he still finished as a solid mid-round value last year with early-round upside when punting steals. He has shown that he can still be very productive at age 34, and an injury to any of the other Bulls would likely mean more Pau touches and more fantasy value. His ADP is slipping into the latter parts of the mid-rounds, so grabbing the chance of solid scoring, rebounds, assists (for a big man), blocks, and percentages around that point would be a solid get in this philosophy, where Pau's lack of steals would not be a hindrance.
C Marcin Gortat
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 45 (4)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 22 (2)
Ranking Difference: +23
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 68
Current ESPN Projection: 63
The Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, had a fantastic 2013-14 campaign, finishing as an early-round value. He's a pretty middle-of-the-road option for scoring, but he'll quietly bolsters your rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage, while keeping your turnovers low. His lack of steals is one of the only major drains on his otherwise solid value, so punting thefts bounces him up all the way to being a second-round play. At the mid-round price tag, he could be an absolute steal in this kind of build.
SG/SF Arron Afflalo
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 100 (9)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 59 (5)
Ranking Difference: +41
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 84
Current ESPN Projection: 88
Arron Afflalo has a reputation for being an excellent perimeter defender, but his raw stats on the defensive end (steals and blocks) don't reflect that. Because of those low numbers, he barely finished in the top 100 in fantasy value last season. If you punt steals, however, he takes a major leap into the top 60. He gives you solid scoring, threes, and free throw percentage, while throwing in decent rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage for someone you can slot into your shooting guard or small forward slot. The steal-punting build favors big men quite a bit, but Afflalo is a prime wing target in the later rounds as someone whose value doesn't rely even remotely on swiping the ball from the other team.
C Jonas Valanciunas
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 126 (11)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 72 (6)
Ranking Difference: +54
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 102
Current ESPN Projection: 72
Jonas Valanciunas has barely clung to late-round value over his first two seasons in the NBA, but that comes mostly from his low minutes (26.3) and usage rate (17.9%). Headed into his third season as an entrenched starter on the Toronto Raptors, those things should continue to rise and his fantasy value is likely to go along with it. You're not looking to the big Lithuanian for scoring just yet, but he's an excellent source of rebounding, blocks, field goal percentage, free throw percentage (for a center), and low turnovers already. It's not very often you can find that many positives in the late rounds and many of those things should only continue to trend upwards this season for the 22-year-old.
If you punted the negligent 0.3 steals per contest from last season, he would've finished as the 72nd-ranked player (compared to 126th in 9-category leagues). Add another year of a experience, a great FIBA World Cup tournament, and his relatively cheap ADP this season, and you've got a high upside target worth pouncing on late in a steal-punting draft.
Players to Avoid
PF/C Paul Millsap
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 20 (2)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 40 (4)
Ranking Difference: -20
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 27
Current ESPN Projection: 28
Paul Millsap is one of the most perpetually underrated players in both real life and fantasy hoops, finishing as a top-25 value in three of the last four seasons (and 41st in the other). He does it all, racking up decent to excellent value across the board in all nine standard-league categories. The only problem in a steal-punting build is that he's one of the league leaders in that category and it is the largest contributor to his overall value. There are so many power forwards and centers that get low steal numbers and get a major bump with this strategy, so this is one of the rare times when you should feel free to leave Millsap off your draft board entirely.
SF/PF Thaddeus Young
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 31 (3)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 99 (9)
Ranking Difference: -68
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 41
Current ESPN Projection: 43
Thaddeus Young had a statistically solid season playing for the hapless Sixers last year and there's no reason to think he can't keep up those stellar numbers in a Timberwolves uniform. He's a reliable scorer, rebounder, and three-point shooter and his percentages are both within range of league average. The problem in this kind of build is that Young was one of only three players to average more than 2.0 steals per game last season, so a large part of his value comes from that. If you remove thefts from the equation, he plummets 68 whole spots and barely stays in the top 100 in terms of fantasy value. In other words, if you're punting steals, you want nothing to do with him at his early-round ADP.
PG Ricky Rubio
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 57 (5)
Punting Steals Rank (Round): 183 (16)
Ranking Difference: -126
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 50
Current ESPN Projection: 50
Ricky Rubio is one of the more divisive fantasy options out there in standard leagues, but there's plenty of clarity when it comes to punting. At the tail-end of the early rounds, he's as elite as they come as a source of steals and assists, while providing a favorable free throw percentage and decent rebounds for a point guard. When you consider how pedestrian his scoring, three-pointers, blocks, free throw percentage, and turnovers are, however, he becomes absolutely undraftable if you punt one of his strengths. Taking steals out of the equation from last year would've caused him to drop a ludicrous 126 spots in the rankings, well out of standard-league value. Feel free to forget about him entirely in this kind of build, but continue to target him as an assist or steal stacking gem in others.