Fantasy Basketball Strategy: Punting Blocks
With the preseason 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, assists in Part Four, and steals in Part Five. Today, in Part Six, we take a look at the best and worst places to find value in your draft while punting blocks.
Much like with punting steals, punting blocks is a great strategy on draft day because there are so few guys in the league that qualify as elite in the category. There are only 12 or 13 true block specialists in fantasy hoops and the first 10 or so typically go in the first three to four rounds. That results in drafters reaching for blocks in the middle rounds if they whiff on the main guys, often foregoing real overall value in the process. This is where the block-punter can really pounce on the competition and grab guys that can outshine their average draft position (ADP) in this particular build.
Punting blocks will obviously devalue most bigs and pump up a lot of small guards, but there are also bigger wings and bigs that get their fantasy value in areas other than swats. Those guys should be primary targets in the early- to mid-rounds as a way to compensate for the hit in rebounds and field goal percentage that you're all but certain to feel by going small.
Primary targets are explained even more in depth below, but one way to approach this build is to target bigs like Kevin Love, Dirk Nowlitzki, and Blake Griffin in the early rounds in order to sure up some big man categories with guys who don't get many blocks. After that, your focus can easily shift to all the guards that get a bump in a swat-punt from there on out. Otherwise, you could get the most elite guards you can in the first few rounds, then fill out your power forward and center slots with low-block centers like Nikola Pekovic and Zach Randolph later on. Whichever way you choose to go is up to you, but both could result in very strong teams in categories like threes, assists, steals, and free throw percentage, with points and rebounds still entirely possible to stack if not forgotten about entirely.
PG Russell Westbrook
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 22 (2)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 12 (1)
Ranking Difference: +10
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 9
Current ESPN Projection: 6
With the injury news concerning Kevin Durant's foot coming out just before most fantasy drafts, you'll see Russell Westbrook going off the board even earlier than usual if you're drafting in the next two weeks. That's perfectly reasonable in any kind of draft now, but it was already a given in a block-punt build. Westbrook saw his minutes per game decrease from around 35 to 31 last season and his numbers dipped ever so slightly. The combination of even more healing time for his ailing knee and more touches in the absence of Durant should mean a huge resurgence for Westbrook this year. If you don't need his 0.2 blocks per contest and want an excellent source of points, threes, rebounds (for the position), assists, steals, and free throw percentage, Russ is your man. The high-volume drain on field goal percentage and oodles of turnovers are a bummer, but you can recover in the later rounds.
PG Mike Conley
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 34 (3)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 24 (2)
Ranking Difference: +10
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 31
Current ESPN Projection: 25
Mike Conley is one of the most consistent "near-elite" fantasy point guards on the market every year. He won't compete with the Chris Paul's and Stephen Curry's of the world, but he's a solid and durable third-round selection that should always be in the range of playing close to all 82 games every season. On top of being reliable, Conley gets an extra boost when punting his negligible 0.2 blocks per contest. He hit career-bests in scoring (17.2) and threes (1.4) last year, while keeping his assists and low turnovers right in the sweet spot for a starting point guard in fantasy. His 1.5 steals last year were a dip from his 2.2 in each of the two seasons that preceded it, so it was likely the outlier of the three and could see a jump back this season. He's always a threat to lead the league in that category, so he makes for an excellent stacking option there.
Other Targets: PG Chris Paul, PF/C Kevin Love, PF/C Dirk Nowitzki, PG Kyle Lowry, PF/C Blake Griffin, PF/C Ryan Anderson, PG/SG Goran Dragic, SF/PF Thaddeus Young, PG Ty Lawson, SF/PF Chandler Parsons.
Mid- to Late-Round Targets
PF/C David Lee
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 59 (5)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 49 (5)
Ranking Difference: +10
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 67
Current ESPN Projection: 59
David Lee is one of the best examples of a mid-round center to grab if you go for elite guards early and need to fill your roster out with bigs who don't depend on blocks for their value a little later on. He's currently got an ADP in and around the 6th round, but he's been an early round play in each of the last six seasons without blocks as part of the equation. As mentioned in the intro, you're going to be missing out on rebounds and field goal percentage if you avoid blocks outright, so Lee's elite level in those categories is practically a must-get in this build. The decent scoring and great free throw percentage certainly don't hurt either, especially coming from someone who's center eligible
SG/SF Trevor Ariza
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 26 (3)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 16 (2)
Ranking Difference: +10
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 70
Current ESPN Projection: 63
Trevor Ariza had somewhat of a breakout year in 2013-14 at age 28, which was late enough in his 10-year career to have people screaming for a regression. That - along with the fact that he has a bit of a history of overachieving in contract years - has him getting drafted in the sixth or seventh round, despite the fact that he finished last season as the 26th-ranked fantasy player (remove blocks from the equation and he even jumps all the way up to 16th). People might be even further scared off by the idea of drafting a player in new surroundings with an uncertain role, but that just further aids your ability to absolutely steal Ariza in the mid-rounds this season. Slotting into the hole left by the departed Chandler Parsons in Houston, there's little reason to believe that Ariza can't repeat last season's numbers or at least come somewhere close to it. If you're punting blocks, he's an excellent stacking source of threes, steals, and even rebounds from the shooting guard position, all while giving you serviceable percentages and turnovers.
SF/PF Luol Deng
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 105 (9)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 82 (7)
Ranking Difference: +23
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 75
Current ESPN Projection: 80
Luol Deng had a down year last season, splitting time between a Chicago Bulls team that he was generally dissatisfied with and the post/pre-LeBron disaster that once was the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now in Miami, Deng is tasked with once again filling a King-sized hole at small forward and will absorb a lot of the touches and responsibilities left over from LBJ. If you can remove the declining blocks, the chance to get the solid all-around production he gives in seven of the remaining eight areas of a standard nine-category stat line (with field goal percentage being the lone exception) is hard to pass on at his ADP. He makes for a great mid-round glue guy with early-round upside in any draft and a fantastic pick for this build.
SG/SF Lance Stephenson
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 111 (10)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 84 (7)
Ranking Difference: +27
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 77
Current ESPN Projection: 69
Lance Stephenson had a career year last season and turned it into a sweet deal with the Charlotte Hornets, but he might fall a little short of the hype on the fantasy side of things. He finished as the 110th-ranked player last season, but all the attention he received in the playoffs is putting him in the 6th or 7th round in both Yahoo and ESPN leagues. While shying away from him in standard scoring is probably a smart idea at that ADP, one could certainly make the case for him in a block-punting build. He swatted a grand total of 7 shots last season in 78 games, so practically none of his value came from that area. Instead, he gives you pretty great rebounding and assists from the hybrid shooting guard and small forward position, while chipping in decent points, threes, and field goal percentage. As previously mentioned, rebounding and field goal percentage are easy to miss when punting blocks, so grabbing Lance is a great way to fill them up on your wings.
SF/PF DeMarre Carroll
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 53 (5)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 39 (4)
Ranking Difference: +14
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 112
Current ESPN Projection: 108
DeMarre Carroll was one of fantasy basketball's most under-appreciated assets last season. He finished the year ranked 53rd in nine-category leagues, yet was still barely owned and rarely started. The thing that generally deters potential owners from looking Carroll's way is that his strongest categories are steals and low turnovers - not exactly the sexiest of stats to chase. In the punting game, however, underrated categories like the aforementioned are exactly the kind you should be targeting for stacking purposes. This marks the third recommendation for Carroll in this series, to go along with nods in punting points and rebounds. His well-rounded stat line is a great glue piece for punters in the way it gives you a bit of everything. Considering his biggest weakness is blocks, this is yet another good build in which to draft him around his current ADP or even a little before.
Other Targets: PG Ricky Rubio, SG/SF Kyle Korver, SG/SG Kevin Martin, C Nikola Pekovic, SG J.J. Redick, PG Jeff Teague, PG Jose Calderon, PF/C Zach Randolph.
Players to Avoid
PF/C Serge Ibaka
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 10 (1)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 57 (5)
Ranking Difference: -47
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 13
Current ESPN Projection: 10
This probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to anyone reading this, but it's generally a good idea to avoid the league leaders in a given category if you're punting it in your fantasy basketball draft. Serge Ibaka may be a no-brainer in the first round this year in standard leagues, but if you don't care about blocks, you don't care about Serge. So much of the guy's value is tied up in that one place, that even the solid rebounding, percentages, and low turnovers don't make up for losing his elite-level swatting capabilities. You'll never get him at a reasonable price with this strategy, so just leave him off your board.
C DeAndre Jordan
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 33 (3)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 130 (11)
Ranking Difference: -97
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 40
Current ESPN Projection: 32
DeAndre Jordan absolutely hemorrhages fantasy value if you take away his 2.5 blocks per game, dropping a whole 97 spots in nine-category, standard league rankings. The rebounds and field goal percentage are still elite, of course, and the low turnovers are always nice, but the massive hit in free throw percentage and general lack of scoring make him an absolute never-draft in the block punting game. Stay far away.
PF/C Tim Duncan
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 39 (4)
Punting Blocks Rank (Round): 101 (9)
Ranking Difference: -62
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 43
Current ESPN Projection: 65
Tim Duncan continues to defy his age, having been a top-50 fantasy asset for each and every one of his 17 seasons in the NBA. We can keep calling for the decline and avoiding him in drafts over the fear of random DNP-Olds and getting randomly "Popped", but Duncan will continue to be a high-ceiling fantasy guy until the day he finally decides to hang up his Chucks. That said, you can safely leave him alone when punting blocks, as it has easily been the most valuable part of his fantasy line over the last two seasons. The rebounds and field goal percentage are still solid, but everything else has declined far enough that you don't want him if you don't care about his seemingly never-ending swatting ability.