Fantasy Basketball Strategy: Punting Free Throw Percentage
With the preseason going strong and the regular season just a few short days away, most fantasy hoops drafts are going down this weekend. One tried and true method that many people swear by in fake basketball is the concept of "punting" one or more of the standard 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, steals in Part Five, blocks in Part Six, and field goal percentage in Part Seven. Today, in Part Eight, we take a look at the best and worst places to find value in your draft while punting free throw percentage.
Here it is, the granddaddy of all the punting strategies. The idea of punting free throw percentage is the most obvious of the nine standard categories, because having one of the guys who's horrible from the line is way more detrimental to your team than any of the other statistical deficiencies that you could face. Having a player that doesn't get a lot of blocks, for instance, doesn't mean you can't win that category certain weeks if your team is built in a way that covers it up. Owning Dwight Howard, on the other hand, means you're practically never going to be competitive in free throw percentage based on the insane volume of freebies he takes at such a low success rate.
Considering having just one player with a bad free throw percentage all but sinks you in that category anyway, it becomes possibly the easiest one to punt entirely. There are plenty of players (bigs in particular) that are major drains on free throw percentage, but give you oodles of goodies in other categories. If you go into a draft with the strategy to punt it, you could very well put your hands on several first-round values (based on this build) over your first few selections. By doing so, you can pretty much corner the market on big-man stats like rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage, and low turnovers early, then spend some time later on focusing on points, threes, assists, and steals. Then, as you get to the end of your draft, you'll realize there's still lots of value left on the board for you that others are hesitant to touch at the risk of harpooning the strong free throw percentage they've already built.
Out of the first-round targets, LeBron James gets the biggest boost by removing free throw percentage from the equation, as he's a surprisingly pedestrian shooter from the line (75.0% last season). Being able to grab either him or Anthony Davis in the first, opens up your chance to consider this build seriously. Then, if you can manage to grab one of the three players listed below under "Early-Round Targets" in the second and another in the third, you'll basically start your draft with three guys with first-round upside for your purposes. Land the third and final of these guys in the fourth round and you're all but sure to dominate a minimum of four categories after only your first few picks of the draft.
PF/C Dwight Howard
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 124 (11)
Punting FT% Rank (Round): 13 (2)
Ranking Difference: +111
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 39
Current ESPN Projection: 34
Dwight is pretty much the whole reason the idea of punting free throw percentage is still so prominent in fantasy hoops nowadays (props to the Shaquille O'Neal for being the first to make it a necessity), so he's a perfect target in this build. Some drafters shy away from him at his 35-40 ranking in Yahoo/ESPN for the fear of never winning free throw percentage, but others get more aggressive and take him in the second round for all his juicy peripherals. If he goes earlier than you wanted to take him, shift your focus to the two guys below (more on them in a minute).
Otherwise, if Dwight's still sitting there in the third or fourth and you've already got two guys that fit this strategy, pounce on his elite rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage, and enjoy his serviceable points and steals as well. There's a lot of buzz around him having a huge year in Houston now that he's completely healthy, so it would be hard to fault you for being the aggressor and taking him in the second (or even late first) yourself.
PF/C Andre Drummond
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 30 (3)
Punting FT% Rank (Round): 6 (1)
Ranking Difference: +24
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 22
Current ESPN Projection: 29
Andre Drummond has emerged as the new darling for free throw punters and his average draft position (ADP) is rising at such an alarming rate that you may have no choice but to take him in the second round if you want him. Considering he was the sixth-ranked fantasy player sans free throw percentage in only his second year, he's worth that price tag.
Things are a little crowded in the Detroit frontcourt, but the elite upside and defensive prowess should make Drummond Stan Van Gundy's new play thing in the mold of Shaq and Dwight before him. For his potential as the team's budding superstar and defensive anchor, you can bet Drummond will get the lion's share of minutes at the center position while Greg Monroe and Josh Smith duke it out for time at power forward.
Drummond may score less than Dwight, but the rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage are similarly elite, while he contributes higher steals and lower turnovers on top of it. Which one you go with in round two is up to you, but I'm all in on Drummond's ridiculous upside at only 21 years of age. Sign me up.
C DeAndre Jordan
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 33 (3)
Punting FG% Rank (Round): 5 (1)
Ranking Difference: +28
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 30
Current ESPN Projection: 33
If you have nailed this strategy in rounds one and two by selecting LeBron or AD in the first and Drummond or Dwight in the second, DeAndre Jordan makes for the perfect complement in round three. He should still be available there if you're not up against some other free throw punter in your draft room, because non-punters will either shy away from his low freebie success rate or not be so high on him because he's only the third option on the Clippers. Most people are still hunting for "stars" in that range and might overlook fantasy gold in guys that aren't real-life All-Stars.
Make them pay by grabbing the guy who was the 5th-ranked player last year with free throw percentage out of the equation. Read that again: DJ was the 5th-ranked fantasy player without free throw percentage in 2013-14. That's what happens when you lead the league in rebounding and field goal percentage and you're third in blocked shots per game. Throw in decent steals, low turnovers, and a rising scoring average and you have someone who makes this strategy worth doing just to have him on your team and to appreciate him properly.
Mid- to Late-Round Targets
PG Rajon Rondo
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 141 (12)
Punting FT% Rank (Round): 100 (9)
Ranking Difference: +41
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 50
Current ESPN Projection: 56
If you nailed this strategy in the first three or four rounds, then you're absolutely set at your starting power forward and center spots. The middle rounds should now be spent stacking up in the guard and wing positions and the associated categories you're missing, like assists, steals, and three-pointers. Rajon Rondo won't give you many threes, but there are few better stacking options for assists and steals in this build than Rondo.
I'm not usually an advocate for drafting Rondo at his current fifth-round ADP, but in this kind of build he's one of your best options at point guard. His free throw percentage is pretty mediocre for the position, so he gains value when you punt it anyway. Add in the fact that he might slip in the draft as a result of his current hand injury and you can probably get him for dirt cheap (with his return coming in just a few weeks).
It's also worth noting that his field goal percentage was at a career-low level last season, his first back from an ACL tear. Generally, the second year back from such an injury is much better than the first, so there's hope that he'll creep up closer to his career 47.5% and help you there as well.
PF Kenneth Faried
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 81 (7)
Punting FT% Rank (Round): 50 (5)
Ranking Difference: +31
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 53
Current ESPN Projection: 46
Many people are onto Kenneth Faried as someone who's set to have a monster season, but he's even more valuable to you if you're punting free throw percentage. Freebies constitute the Manimal's biggest weakness as a fantasy option, so taking them out of the equation gives him early-round upside. His rebounds, blocks, field goal percentage, and low turnovers are what get him there, but the steals and points are serviceable as well.
What's more, he only played 27.2 minutes per game last year in his third season. If coach Brian Shaw decides to give him the full complement of starter minutes this year, a boost in his counting stats will only make him that much more valuable. Over the last two months of last season, while receiving a more fantasy-friendly 31.2 minutes per game, Faried was the 28th-ranked player sans free throws for his 18.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game and 54.6% shooting from the floor. With that ceiling possible as the norm this year, he's a prime target in this build (or any draft, for that matter).
PG Michael Carter-Williams
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 96 (8)
Punting FT% Rank (Round): 70 (6)
Ranking Difference: +26
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 58
Current ESPN Projection: 54
Like Rondo, Michael Carter-Williams is generally not a point guard that I'm big on drafting at his current ADP, because of the huge drain he presents in certain categories. If you remove any one of field goal percentage, free throw percentage, or turnovers from the equation, however, his inflated counting stats make him a good target for stacking. In the case of punting free throws, MCW is actually one of very few point guards who is actually more valuable without them, making him a decent target in this build to fill out that position.
The crazy pace at which the Sixers play tends to lead to gaudy counting stats, so Carter-Williams managed to put up great numbers in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, and even blocks in his first NBA season. Add a year of an experience and somehow an even worse team around him than he had last year, and he should be a lock to produce similar numbers once he returns from injury. Speaking of which, the mystery surrounding his bum shoulder and projected return date will likely cause him to slip to a more affordable spot in drafts. If you are still without a point guard late, snatch him up and hope for a return to action reasonably soon.
SG/SF Andre Iguodala
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 78 (7)
Punting FT% Rank (Round): 67 (6)
Ranking Difference: +11
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 115
Current ESPN Projection: 113
Andre Iguodala is not quite the nine-category machine or early-round value he once was, but he's still good enough to warrant an ADP within the top 100. He's currently ranked 115 and 113 on Yahoo and ESPN, respectively, despite a 78th-ranked finish last season, so he looks like a prime sleeper target no matter how you build your team. In a free throw percentage punt, he's even more valuable and a perfect player to fill in one of your wing positions with late in the draft.
There's talk of Iggy moving to the bench in Golden State, but his defensive prowess and distributing abilities should still warrant him his normal full complement of minutes or at least something close to it. The scoring average under 10 per contest often scares people off, but don't sleep on his contributions in threes, rebounds, assists, steals, field goal percentage, and turnovers. He was even close to the league average in blocks only two seasons ago.
Other Targets: PF/C Derrick Favors, C Marcin Gortat, SF/PF Terrence Jones, SF/PF Josh Smith, PF/C Larry Sanders (editor's note: LARRY SANDERS!), PF/C Greg Monroe, C Tyson Chandler, C Andrew Bogut, SG/SF J.R. Smith, PF/C Nene.
Players to Avoid
SG/SF James Harden
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 8 (1)
Punting FT% Rank (Round): 18 (2)
Ranking Difference: -10
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 4
Current ESPN Projection: 5
James Harden is not only an accurate free throw shooter, but he also shot the second most attempts per game in the NBA last season at 9.1, trailing only Kevin Durant's 9.9. He's still a stud in scoring, threes, rebounds (for his position), assists, and steals, but his free throw contributions just might be his most valuable asset of his stat line. Considering he's typically a top five selection, you can leave him off your draft board entirely in this build without regretting it.
PF/C LaMarcus Aldridge
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 13 (2)
Punting FT% Rank (Round): 22 (2)
Ranking Difference: -9
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 11
Current ESPN Projection: 13
LaMarcus Aldridge is basically the only PF/C in fantasy that gives you typical big-man stats like rebounding, blocks, and reasonable turnovers, yet hurts you in field goal percentage and helps you in the free throw department. Stacking those big-man categories is one of the primary goals once you punt free throw accuracy, so he makes no sense as a first or second round target, even if he falls to you late in round two. If you made up your mind on this punting strategy pre-draft or in round one, let someone else take LMA and focus on the guys listed in "Early-Round Targets" above instead.
SG/SF DeMar DeRozan
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 56 (5)
Punting FT% Rank (Round): 82 (7)
Ranking Difference: -26
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 43
Current ESPN Projection: 52
DeMar DeRozan's scoring is typically viewed as his biggest asset fantasy-wise, but his hitting 82.4% on a robust 8.0 free throw attempts per contest is right up there in value with points. Punting free throw percentage, as you know, fills in the power forward and center positions very easily, but leaves gaps at point guard and on the wings. Yes, well-rounded lines like DeRozan's might seem attractive in this build to sure up a strong starting lineup or to stack scoring if you missed out on it early. Don't let that cloud your judgement, though, as DeMar won't be valuable enough to you on a team that has no chance of winning free throw percentage. Look elsewhere for your shooting guard or small forward.