Fantasy Hoops Strategy: 2015-16 Draft Targets When Punting Assists
Punting is a staple strategy in head-to-head fantasy basketball leagues. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but some owners find great success in devaluing a category (or two) with the goal of stacking in the remaining stats.
Whether you believe in punting or prefer building a balanced team is completely up to you. If you want to make use of punting in your fantasy drafts this year, however, we've got you covered.
This is Part 4 of 9 in a series in which we are taking a look at punting in each of the nine standard-league stat categories (points, threes, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and turnovers). In each installment, we'll briefly discuss each strategy, then give you an "All-Punt" team, where we point out the best target at each position for the build in question (with a couple bonus targets to boot). When possible, we'll try to make sure the targets at each position don't overlap in terms of average draft position (ADP), so that you can conceivably grab all five guys (or at least fill out a full lineup by using the "additional options").
Always remember: punting doesn't mean you're actively trying to be bad in a category, just that you don't mind not being successful in it. The goal is always to target players that bring lots of value outside of the punting category in question, while avoiding guys that draw a large portion of their value from it.
All stats, rankings, and punt values come from the incomparable BasketballMonster.com.
In the last two installments of this series (punting threes and punting rebounds), we saw how certain punts can place a clear divide down the middle of the league, separating guards and wings from the big men. The thing that makes punting assists a bit easier than either of those expert-level punting strategies is that it only downgrades one position: pass-happy point guards.
In this build, it is a given that you will have a hard time filling your point guard position, but it's not impossible. Don't be afraid to grab a player that still gives you some assists to go there, as long as he helps you a lot in other areas that point guards tend to excel, such as steals, threes, and free throw percentage (which thankfully you can find on the wing as well). At the very least, there are plenty of combo guards that play mostly shooting guard but are eligible at point guard in fantasy.
The best thing about this strategy is that it eliminates the need to scramble and reach for assists 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 12 tend to go in the first 50 picks), you can easily stick a combo guard or late-round sleeper there and focus more on stacking in your strengths. You'll be pleasantly surprised by how much value you can find in the middle rounds while other people are frantically trying to make up ground in the assist department.
Point Guard - PG/SG Victor Oladipo
Reg. 2014-15 Rank (Round): 59 (5)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 71 (6)
Ranking Difference: -12
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 34
Current ESPN Projection: 32
In his rookie season, Victor Oladipo played 59% of his time at point guard, but that dropped to 29% last year with the arrival of Elfrid Payton. Thankfully for assist punters, though, he's still eligible there for fantasy purposes. 'Dipo's assists per game stayed exactly the same at 4.1 last year (albeit in more minutes per contest), but that's not where he draws most of his value anyway -- particularly not if you're slotting him in as your point guard. His points (17.9), threes (1.2), steals (1.7), and free throw percentage (81.9%) are all great gets in a build that downgrades point guards, and his rebounds (4.2), blocks (0.3), and field goal percentage (43.6%) are average to good for the position. Toss in the continued uptick in production that should come with another year of experience under his belt, and this could be a big year for him. You can forget the fact that his rank from last year drops a bit with the assist punt as well, since it's much less of a dive than most other point guards.
Shooting Guard - SG/SF Robert Covington
Reg. 2014-15 Rank (Round): 66 (6)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 53 (5)
Ranking Difference: +13
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 80
Current ESPN Projection: 140
Robert Covington might be a bit overlooked as a fantasy player this year, regardless of format, but fantasy managers punting assists should especially have him on their radars. He looks like he'll be the starting small forward for the Philadelphia 76ers (for what that's worth) and could see some time at power forward as well. In which case, his 27.9 minutes per game from last year seems safe as a floor, as does his production. He only averaged 1.5 assists per contest last year, but his 2.4 triples, 1.4 steals, and 82.0% free throw percentage all make up for the ground you lose in those areas by punting assists and therefore devaluing most of the league's point guards. The 4.5 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, and 1.8 turnovers don't hurt much either, and the lowly 39.6% mark from the field will basically disappear with all the efficient bigs you'll be grabbing in this build.
Small Forward - SF/PF Terrence Jones
Reg. 2014-15 Rank (Round): 68 (6)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 52 (5)
Ranking Difference: +16
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 89
Current ESPN Projection: 98
Terrence Jones only managed to play in 33 games last season due to injury, and that might scare people away from drafting him this year. You can't, however, sleep on the fact that the departures of Josh Smith and Kostas Papanikolaou will clear up the logjam that Houston had at power forward, particularly if you're punting assists. With Jones projected to start for Houston after putting up mid-round value in only 27.0 minutes per game last season, he could be in for a big breakout in his fourth NBA campaign. His averages of 11.7 points, 0.4 threes, 6.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 0.5 steals, 1.8 blocks, mere 1.1 turnovers, and 52.8% field goal percentage last season offer plenty of value if you remove his negligible 1.1 assists per contest. His 60.6% free throw percentage is a bit of a bummer, but it was only on 2.8 attempts per game and there are other ways to build that up (or have it as a secondary punt, since bad free throw-shooting bigs get a big boost in this build).
Power Forward - PF/C Serge Ibaka
Reg. 2014-15 Rank (Round): 18 (2)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 11 (1)
Ranking Difference: +7
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 16
Current ESPN Projection: 17
Serge Ibaka is a fantastic fantasy asset and a gem at his current ADP, but he's a must-have in the second round if you're punting his 0.9 assists per contest. His 2.4 blocks per game will pretty much assure you a win in that category every single week, while the 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 turnovers, and 47.6% shooting from the field don't hurt either. His 1.2 triples and 83.6% shooting from the line are particularly nice bonuses in this build, since you won't be loading up as much on point guards that help you stack in those areas. He's got first-round upside as it is, but he's practically a lock to be there if you punt assists.
Center - C Hassan Whiteside
Reg. 2014-15 Rank (Round): 34 (3)
Punting Assists Rank (Round): 15 (2)
Ranking Difference: +19
Current Yahoo O-Rank: 29
Current ESPN Projection: 28
Hassan Whiteside is a risky pick in fantasy leagues this year, as it's hard to tell if last season's out-of-nowhere breakout was for real. If he comes close to the same production, however, he borders on a first-round play when punting assists. In 1,142 minutes last year, Whiteside totaled only six helpers (impressively low, when you think about it), so he was basically made for this build. Similar to Ibaka, the 2.5 blocks per game are elite and grabbing both players could help you corner the market in that category and all but guarantee a win there on a weekly basis, while his 10.0 rebounds, 1.2 turnovers, and 62.8% shooting from the field serve as top-notch stacking options as well. The 50.0% free throw mark is tough to swallow, but that category kind of becomes collateral damage in this build and somewhat of a secondary punt. Grabbing high-end free throw percentage guys like Oladipo, Redick, and Ibaka can help counterbalance that, though.