Fantasy Basketball Strategy: Punting Turnovers
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, field goal percentage in Part Seven, and free throw percentage in Part Eight. Today, in Part Nine, we finish the series with a look at the best and worst places to find value in your draft while punting turnovers.
Some Closing Thoughts on Punting
Here we are at the end of the series about punting categories in fantasy basketball. Before we start talking about turnovers, this seems like a good time to remind you of a few important guidelines when it comes to the art of punting.
First of all, punting is a strategy that only works in head-to-head leagues. Rotisserie formats strongly favor balanced teams, and you're doing yourself a disservice if you stack your team in a way that makes you very weak in any one area.
Also, the fundamental principal underlying these punting strategies is that your goal shouldn't be to target players categorically who are terrible in the stat you are punting. Instead, you should be mindful of who loses or gains value in your particular choice of build and target or avoid certain players accordingly. You might still have to select guys who are relatively good or at least come out even in your punted stat in order to fill out your roster, and this shouldn't be looked at as a problem. Trying to construct a team exclusively of players that are bad in one area can be challenging and make building up strength in the other stats more difficult than it has to be.
Finally, don't be afraid to adopt a punting strategy during your draft. You can prepare for proper balance all you want, but your plans can quickly go out the window if you make your first three to four selections and realize you've completely whiffed on a certain category. This is often when people start reaching down the draft board for specialists and it often leads to you having to leave much better players on the board for your competition to grab. Having cheat sheets handy for the different punting strategies (like this series of articles) can save you in a draft room when things go differently than you planned. I personally keep them open during each of my own drafts for quick reference. I would've done this research for my own purposes anyway, but it's been an absolute pleasure sharing it with you, dear reader, and I hope you've found them helpful.
A good way to prepare for punting turnovers is to find a rankings website you trust that has both nine-category and eight-category lists and to study the differences. You'll notice that there is a lot of movement in the earlier rounds, because so many star players and fantasy studs tend to rack up a lot of turnovers as a natural extension of high usage rates.
Honestly, one of the easiest guidelines to follow for punting turnovers is to target known stars that get big minutes and rack up all kinds of counting stats. Efficiency matters a little less here, since the two percentage categories are the only ones left that really measure it when you take turnovers out. Three quarters of the remaining stats that affect you will be volume-based (points, threes, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks), so that's where you should look to do your stacking and let the percentages play out as they may.
Be warned that you'll have many enticing options in the early rounds in this build, but that things get a little thinner near the end when low turnover glue guys and specialists typically make the best selections for balanced teams in nine-category leagues. You might have to get creative near the end or simply trust what you've built up to that point and start grabbing the best available guys with your last few picks, regardless of turnover rate.
SF/PF Kevin Durant
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 1 (1)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 1 (1)
Ranking Difference: even
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 16
Current ESPN Projection: 22
The injury to Kevin Durant throws an interesting wrench into fantasy drafts this weekend. In a nine-category league, his value is close enough to some of the other guys in the first round that you could justify letting him slip down the board for the time he'll miss at the beginning of the season. If you punt turnovers, however, Durant becomes the one guy you simply can't pass up.
He's the only player in all of fantasy basketball that contributes positively in all eight of the remaining categories without hurting you anywhere at all. Even with the time missed, he's the cornerstone of any turnover-punting team. If this is your strategy of choice, this might be the only year he'll ever be gettable from any draft slot, so you can feel justified in selecting him whenever you like.
PF/C DeMarcus Cousins
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 21 (2)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 11 (1)
Ranking Difference: +10
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 9
Current ESPN Projection: 9
The most turnover-prone guys in basketball tend to be ball-dominant guards and wings. The majority of big men, on the other hand, typically have a low turnover rate as one of their most valuable assets in nine-category leagues. DeMarcus Cousins is one glaring exception to this rule, so he's the perfect center to target in this build.
Boogie is growing into a fantasy beast, contributing flashy numbers in points, rebounds, assists (for a big), steals, and blocks. He doesn't give you any threes of course, and his percentages aren't exactly mind-boggling, but turnovers are really his only weakness. He was second in the entire NBA in usage rate last season at 32.7, so being the worst center for turnovers was a natural extension of that. Take them out, though, and he's a veritable bank of counting stats and could be the perfect complement to KD (or any of the guys listed below) if you're near the turn of your draft and can nail them both down.
Other Targets: PG/SG Stephen Curry, SG/SF James Harden, PG Russell Westbrook, PF/C Kevin Love, PG John Wall, PF/C Blake Griffin, PG/SG Kyrie Irving, PF/C Paul Millsap, SG/SF Nicolas Batum, PF/C Joakim Noah, PG/SG Goran Dragic, PG/SG Eric Bledsoe, PG Ty Lawson, PG/SG Monta Ellis, SF/PF Rudy Gay, PF/C Dwight Howard, PG/SG Dwyane Wade.
Mid- to Late-Round Targets
SG/SF Gordon Hayward
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 65 (6)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 45 (4)
Ranking Difference: +20
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 46
Current ESPN Projection: 47
Gordon Hayward is one of the worst wings in the league when it comes to amassing turnovers because he runs so much of the offense for the Utah Jazz (even if Trey Burke and Dante Exum take some of that responsibility this year, Hayward's still likely going to turn the ball over enough to take a hit in value for it in nine-category leagues).
Punt turnovers, however, and his generally solid all-around line becomes even more intriguing than usual. Yes, the field goal percentage is still much lower than you'd like it to be, but the points, threes, rebounds, assists, steals, and even blocks for his position lend themselves nicely to the preferable volume-based stacks for this build. The great free throw shooting is a nice bonus as well, making him one of the best wing targets for this strategy, hands down.
PG Jrue Holiday
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 54 (5)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 33 (3)
Ranking Difference: +21
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 55
Current ESPN Projection: 48
Jrue Holiday was an All-Star only two seasons ago, but is being a little forgotten in drafts this year after missing a large part of last season due to injury. If he can get back near his Philly form this year, he'll go back to being one of the best scoring, assisting, and stealing combos in the game. Those good-to-elite categories combined with decent threes and serviceable percentages would make Jrue a top-tier point guard in fantasy, if it weren't for the huge turnover rate getting in his way.
Go ahead and remove turnovers from the equation and Holiday suddenly becomes a top-30 player with upside beyond that. At his current 50ish average draft position (ADP), he's an ideal point guard for this build if you go wings and bigs early.
PF/C Zach Randolph
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 108 (9)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 85 (8)
Ranking Difference: +23
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 75
Current ESPN Projection: 83
Zach Randolph is a bit of an over-drafted fantasy player who gets by mostly on name recognition and flashy scoring and rebounding numbers. Sure, he's always a threat to go for 20 and 10, but he simply doesn't give you much else. The percentages are fairly middle-of-the-road, and the turnovers are far too high for someone who doesn't generate a lot of assists, regardless of the fact that last season's 2.5 were a career-high.
But Z-Bo is one of the rare big men who gets a value boost in this build, so he's a reasonable late-round target if you're all-in on the turnover punt. You'll need to stack up your defensive stats and threes elsewhere, but you won't find many better scoring and rebounding boosts this late in the draft.
PG Isaiah Thomas
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 32 (3)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 24 (2)
Ranking Difference: +8
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 99
Current ESPN Projection: 101
Isaiah Thomas was a candidate for the best waiver wire or late-round pickup last season, as a mid-season trade made way for him to start in Sacramento and break out in a big way. His early-round value at the end of last year would've made him a hot target early in drafts this season, but he's back to being a backup now that he's on a Phoenix Suns team that already has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe manning the starting guard positions.
Even so, IT2 is likely in for a starter's complement of minutes spelling both guys and should thrive in Phoenix's guard-dominant, fast-paced system. He might slip in drafts because of his new role, so he's starting to look like a sleeper pick if preseason returns are any indication of his future fantasy impact (he's the league's 27th-ranked player through five preseason games in only 22.2 minutes per contest). Take the high turnover rate away and he's even more tantalizing at his late-round price tag.
PG/SG Jeremy Lin
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 140 (12)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 101 (9)
Ranking Difference: +39
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 102
Current ESPN Projection: 89
Jeremy Lin is another guy like Isaiah Thomas that is slipping in drafts because the uncertainty surrounding his role on his new team has been frightening people off. With news that Steve Nash is already done for the season, however, Lin has a clear path to be the Lakers starting point guard for the whole season in a contract year.
That means you want him as a sleeper in fantasy drafts regardless of your build, but especially if you're removing Lin's kryptonite (turnovers) from your value assessment. Just two years ago, when Lin was the starter for the Rockets for all 82 games of the 2012-13 season, he was the 55th-ranked player in eight-category leagues. That means, without turnovers, that kind of season is well within reach again. If this is your strategy of choice, grabbing Thomas or Lin around the 100 mark of the draft could be a steal.
Players to Avoid
PF/C Ryan Anderson
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 18 (2)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 42 (4)
Ranking Difference: -24
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 64
Current ESPN Projection: 78
Believe it or not, Ryan Anderson was the 18th-ranked player in nine-category leagues last season over 22 games before going out with a season-ending neck injury. Two years before that, in 2011-12, he was the 8th-ranked player. A large part of his value comes from elite three-point shooting and decent scoring, rebounding, and free throws, but a surprisingly underrated part of his game is his tendency to average less than a turnover per game. That's what happens when you chuck a three every time you touch the ball instead of dribbling or passing.
He'll still be a valuable asset without turnovers at his current ADP, but with the uncertainty of his role (likely off the bench behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik), he might not be worth it if you're punting one of his biggest strengths as a fantasy option.
PG Jose Calderon
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 69 (6)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 84 (7)
Ranking Difference: -15
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 65
Current ESPN Projection: 91
The act of punting turnovers upgrades the vast majority of point guards, but Jose Calderon butters his bread with a fantastic assist-to-turnover ratio and actually becomes less valuable in this instance. The three-pointers, assists, and free throw percentage are still useful for stacking purposes if he falls to you in a reasonable range, but don't get too agressive for his services. He might not be as valuable to you as he is to others in your draft room if you're using this strategy, while just about any other point guard would qualify for the opposite.
PG/SG George Hill
Reg. 2013-14 Rank (Round): 95 (8)
Punting TO Rank (Round): 123 (11)
Ranking Difference: -28
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 71
Current ESPN Projection: 94
Another floor general that falls into the Calderon group of point guards that are actually less valuable in a turnover punt is George Hill (with Patrick Beverley rounding out the most prominent trio that this applies to). Hill has mostly been an off-ball point guard for the last few years with Lance Stephenson and Paul George around to share the ball-handling duties, but with those two lost to free agency and injury respectively, Hill's workload is set to increase this season.
That means this could be a very nice year for Hill in fantasy hoops, but the turnover rate is still bound to stay relatively low (he's never averaged more than 1.5 per game in his six-year career). For that reason, he's not the ideal point guard in this build and and can safely be left for someone else who is expecting a big season out of him.
Other Avoids: SG/SF Kawhi Leonard, PF/C Dirk Nowitzki, SF/PF Thaddeus Young, SG/SF Klay Thompson, SG/SF Wesley Matthews, PF/C Larry Sanders, SG J.J. Redick, C Robin Lopez, SF/PF Terrence Jones, PG Patrick Beverley, PF/C Jordan Hill.