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17/18 Punt Assists

If you play in H2H leagues, and you’re not punting, you’re not doing it right. Trying to build a team that is competitive in every category might seem like a swell idea on the surface. We all dream about finding that fantasy basketball nirvana. That team that is strong in all nine categories that doesn’t give our opponents an inch. Unfortunately, unless your leaguemates are severely lacking in talent, that’s not a realistic dream. Winning all nine categories isn’t realistic, so why waste our time trying.

The idea behind punting is to sacrifice a category in order to be stronger in the other eight categories than you would have been if you tried to be competitive in all nine categories. The same logic applies to punting multiple categories. If you sacrifice multiple categories and build your team correctly, then you should be stronger in the remaining categories than you would have been if you only punted a single category. The biggest downside to punting more than one category is that it limits your flexibility. Changing strategies mid-season, or close to the fantasy playoffs, is very common and often, the right move. Quality free-agent pickups can change your team’s makeup and sometimes the build that you have chosen doesn’t matchup well with a likely playoff opponent. As a rule, unless I play in a league with more than nine categories, I try not to punt more than two categories at the beginning of the season. That often changes as the fantasy playoffs get closer, but at the beginning of the season, I like to have plenty of flexibility.

One strategy that you should definitely stay away from is punting four categories. I know some are tempted by the thought of locking up five categories every week and squeezing out 5-4 victories all the way through the fantasy playoffs. That strategy is better in theory than it is in reality. You have zero room for error if you try to pull off the quadruple-punt. If you don’t draft properly or an injury puts one of your chosen five categories at risk, you can sink to bottom of the standings fast. Even if you do pull off this strategy relatively well, you can still find yourself in trouble. I played in a league a few years back where a team employing this strategy finished in the top-3 in terms of matchup victories and missed the playoffs. Margin of victory does matter in the regular season, especially if you play in a league where you need to be more than a few games over .500 to make the playoffs.

Let’s start with what I consider the most reliable and simplistic of the punt strategies: Punt Assists. This is a high-floor, high-ceiling strategy that is usually easier to pull off than some of its more famous cousins. If you’re new to punting, this is where you want to start. If you’re a veteran of the art, there’s still a pretty good chance that this is where you’ll end up.

Punting assists is effective for a whole host of reasons. We’ll start with the most obvious. The fantasy basketball community loves point guards. Its obsession with point guards is only surpassed by its obsession with points. Punt assists takes advantage of this love affair. Now don’t get me wrong, point guards are usually very useful fantasy assets. Last season, ten of the top-20 players in fantasy were point guards. If you played in an 8-category league, that number was even higher. But assists is only one category. If we ignore assists, then the value of most point guards drops dramatically. To figure out just how much value they do lose, I took all the point guard eligible players who were ranked within the top-70 last season, as well as the late-round point guards who will be relevant to this year’s drafts, and compared their value with and without assists.

 

Player Ranking with Assists Ranking without Assists Difference Notes
Steph Curry 3 5 -2
Giannis Antetokounmpo 5 6 -1
James Harden 7 24 -17
Russell Westbrook 8 22 -14
Chris Paul 9 15 -6
Isaiah Thomas 11 13 -2
Kyle Lowry 12 17 -5
Damian Lillard 16 20 -4
Kyrie Irving 17 23 -6
John Wall 18 61 -43
Mike Conley 23 33 -10
Kemba Walker 26 38 -12
C.J. McCollum 27 25 2 Punt Assists Target
Eric Bledsoe 38 69 -31
Jeff Teague 44 102 -58
Ricky Rubio 47 132 -85
Jrue Holiday 52 109 -57
Goran Dragic 56 92 -36
Avery Bradley 57 46 11 Punt Assists Target
Patrick Beverley 58 73 -15 Punt Assists Target
George Hill 61 74 -13
Zach LaVine 62 62 0 Punt Assists Target
Lou Williams 71 80 -9 Punt Assists Target
Seth Curry 79 81 -2 Punt Assists Target
Jeremy Lin 80 122 -42
Tyler Johnson 82 91 -9 Punt Assists Target
Victor Oladipo 86 89 -3 Punt Assists Target
Elfrid Payton 95 184 -89
Darren Collison 96 133 -37
D’Angelo Russell 103 150 -47
Dennis Schroder 108 197 -89
Rajon Rondo 127 230 -103
Mean Ranking 50 76 -26

On average, point guards lose about two-and-a-half rounds of value when assists are ignored. This means that if you’re punting assists, and playing against a squad with 3-to-5 point guards on it, you’re playing against a team that has 3-to-5 players who aren’t as effective against your team as their draft position suggests they should be. If you’re not punting assists, then John Wall is an extremely scary player to go up against. If you are punting assists, then Wall is just another mid-round player. Punting assists is a great way to protect yourself against some of your opponents’ best players.

Punt assists is also attractive because it almost always locks up turnovers for its user. Assists are strongly correlated with turnovers so it’s no surprise that this build usually dominates in that category. In fact, managers punting assists will need to be wary of being too strong in turnovers. As is the case with every punting strategy, punting assists is about more than just sorting the rankings without the punted category and picking the players who receive the largest bump. If you just follow the rankings you’ll come away from your draft stronger than you need to be in turnovers and weaker than you should be everywhere else. Don’t be afraid to take a couple of high-turnover players as the rest of your roster will more than make up for their shortcomings.

Another quirk that this build has that separates it from its competition is that it is not naturally weak in a second category. If you punt FG%, you’ll usually struggle with turnovers. If you punt FT%, points are often hard to come by. If you’re punting points, threes can be very tricky to find. Those punting blocks need to watch their rebounds and FG% very close. More than any other build, punt assists makes it possible to strong in the eight non-punted categories.

If you do want to slide punt assists into a double-punt, then it is best matched with the punt FT% build. Ignoring assists and FT% can turn some of the mid-round big men into first-round assets. It’s a great way to lock up FG%, rebounds, and blocks each week. However, bringing the punt FT% big men into the equation does complicate things. Most of these big men struggle in the points and steals columns and don’t hit threes so you’ll need to pay more attention to these categories than you would if you were just punting assists. The double-punt also limits your first-round options. Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant lose a lot of value if you throw out their FT% impact. The double-punt is best paired with Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, or DeMarcus Cousins.

Another reason why the punt assists build can be so deadly is that it is one of the few strategies where it is possible to be very strong in both percentages. Many fantasy players focus on stacking their counting stats at the expense of their team’s percentages. I strongly disagree with this approach. Being strong in the percentages gives your team a higher floor and a higher ceiling. If your team is near the top of the league in both percentages, your team is less likely to struggle during weeks in which the schedule is unfriendly. It also gives your team a higher ceiling because it makes running up the score in weeks where the schedule is in your favor more likely. A team that is strong in counting stats but weak in percentages, won’t benefit as much from a friendly schedule since having more games won’t boost your percentages. Being strong in the percentages in a week in which you have a games advantage is more likely to lead to a blowout win because you’ll be winning the percentages while your slightly weaker counting stats will be receiving a boost from the friendly schedule.

Your first-round targets for this build are familiar ones. Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Kawhi Leonard we’re the four most-valuable players in this build last season. DeMarcus Cousins is another option, but he is much trickier to build around. The Pelican comes with absurd counting stats (27.0 PPG, 1.8 3PG, 11.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.3 BPG) that are somewhat offset by his poor percentages (45.2 FG%, 77.2 FT%). Cousins can still work in the build, but you’ll need to focus more on the percentages in the middle rounds than you would if you took one of the other first-round options. He also can put turnovers in play (3.7 TOPG) if you’re not careful.

Don’t completely ignore your point guard spot when punting assists. Make sure that you have at least two point guard eligible players on your team. I used to suggest three, but with the adjustments the NBA has made to their schedule, you can likely get away with only two now. Any less than two and you run the risk of not being able to field a full roster at certain points of the season.

Finally, don’t stress if you are low on threes and steals after the first three or four rounds. That is going to be a pretty common outcome given who the early-round targets are.  The middle rounds are full of 3-and-D players who can bring both categories back in a hurry. It’s better to focus on points and the percentages early as those are harder to find than threes and steals in the middle rounds.

Note: The below list is not meant to be a complete list of all the players who fit into this build. The round that I recommend taking each player in is based off of Yahoo Fantasy Basketball’s rankings and where I think each player will or could be available in a standard 12-team 9-category draft. 

Categories to target: Points, Threes, Steals, FG%, FT%

First-round targets: Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins

R2) Paul George – George’s counting stats are a lock to decrease this season now that he’ll be sharing the court, and occasionally the ball, with Russell Westbrook. Don’t fret too much over George’s upcoming drop in usage. He has plenty of room to fall. The move to OKC will only bring George back to the second-round pack. In his final season with the Pacers, the swingman was a top-10 option in the punt assists build. He is easily the best non-big man option in the second round thanks to his scoring ability (23.7 PPG), elite threes (2.6 3PG), very useful boards (6.6 RPG), and well above-average swipes (1.6 SPG). He’s best paired with one of efficient first-round bigs as his FG% does have the potential to get ugly. Last season, he shot a very respectable 46.1% from the floor, but the former Pacer’s career average is only 43.2%. Expect Westbrook’s presence to lead to small dips in his scoring and FT% impact (89.9 FT% on 5.0 FTA).

R2) Rudy Gobert

Gobert is one of the reason why the double punt with FT% is an interesting option. Last season, Gobert was a top-8 player without assists. If you discard FT% as well, the only players more valuable than Gobert were Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant. Getting a potential top-3 player in your build in the second round may be worth jettisoning the second category. He can fit into the regular punt assists build, but you’ll be fighting an uphill battle at the line for rest of the draft. Only four players had a larger negative impact on the category in 2016-2017. Gobert provides elite production in three categories (12.8 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 66.3 FG%) and we should see his scoring (14.0 PPG), as well as his minutes (33.9 MPG), increase now that Gordon Hayward has skipped town. Hayward’s move to the Celtics shouldn’t worry prospective owners. Gobert had both a higher usage rate and a higher FG% when Hayward was off the court in 2016-2017.

R2) Hassan Whiteside – Like Gobert, Whiteside forces you to consider the double-punt. The Heat’s center wasn’t quite as destructive at the line due to his lower attempts, but his overall impact wasn’t far off. If you choose Whiteside, expect your FT% to be average at best by the end of the draft. Fortunately, if you choose Whiteside your rebounds (14.2 RPG), blocks (2.1 BPG), and FG% (55.8 FG%) will likely be much better than average. The big man has also improved enough on the offensive end to keep you competitive in points coming out of the second round (17.0 PPG).

R2) Kristaps Porzingis – The Unicorn, along with Myles Turner, is one of your best bets late in the second round if you started your draft with Kevin Durant. Pairing one of the two with Durant gives you a strong start in every category except steals. As mentioned earlier, don’t worry if you are low on steals coming out of the early rounds. That is going to be common with this strategy. There are plenty of 3-and-D wing options available in the middle rounds who can bring your steals back to life in a hurry. Porzingis brings to the table that rare of combination of threes (1.7 3PG) and blocks (2.0 BPG). He should also continue to improve as a scorer and 20 PPG looks achievable (18.1 PPG). His FG% isn’t ideal for a big man (45.0 FG%), but given how good the first-round options are in that category, it shouldn’t be something that scares you away from Porzingis.

Other Round 2 Options: None, but the players listed in Round 3 are reasonable picks at the end of the second round.