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Punt FG%

I’ve been playing fantasy basketball for over a decade now and each year I become more and more convinced of one thing; how you build your team is every bit as important as who is on your team.

In a competitive head-to-head league, it is nearly impossible to be consistently competitive in every category and that’s OK. In fact, you shouldn’t try to be competitive in every category. Why make yourself vulnerable in numerous categories for the sake of being slightly less bad in one? Some shy away from punting as they see it as giving their opponent as advantage. The opposite is true. H2H leagues are about winning five categories and punting gives you a better shot at doing that consistently than a balanced team building strategy does.

Punting is also the answer the biggest problem with fantasy basketball; the players available at the beginning of the first round are much, much more valuable than the players available at the end of the first round. Managers who do not own Anthony Davis or Steph Curry will still be at a disadvantage when facing the teams that do, but punting can minimize the disadvantage. That’s not to say that Davis or Curry owners should shy away from punting. No matter who your first-round pick is, you can enhance that player’s value through punting.

The best advice that I can give you regarding punting is to be creative. The best answers are not always the most obvious answers. To a novice punter, DeAndre Jordan may seem like the ideal punt FT% anchor. He’s not. The player that gives you the best chance of pulling off a successful FT% punt is Steph Curry. Curry, despite having the second largest positive impact on FT% in 2014-2015, is the best building block for the punt FT% build because he allows you to be competitive in the categories that determine the success of the build. The categories that determine the success of a build are not the categories that are easy to obtain. In punt FT%, the easy to obtain categories will be FG%, rebounds, and blocks as poor free-throw shooters tend to be strong in these categories. Whether or not you build a strong punt FT% team comes down to how strong you are in the other categories (points, threes, assists, steals, turnovers), and Steph is dominant in four of the five.

I’m starting my punting guide series with punt FG% for two reasons. It’s fairly simple to implement, and it can be absolutely deadly when done properly. Players who shoot poorly from the field tend to be guards so a punt FG% team is almost always going to be very strong in points, threes, assists, steals and FT%. Although that’s five categories, and you only need to prevail in five categories to win your week, you still want to be competitive in as many of the big man categories as possible. Blocks, as always, are limited to a handful of players. What makes blocks extra difficult to find is that players who block a lot of shots tend to be poor free-throw shooters. You need to be very careful to not add too many bad free-throw shooters to your team. Even one player can absolutely ruin your FT%. A team with James Harden and his league leading FT% impact will still be a bad FT% shooting team if DeAndre Jordan is it’s starting center. Aggressively targeting big men who block shots but don’t hurt you from the line is a necessity. Rebounds is a trickier category to be competitive in but you’re not aiming to be dominant in boards. Grabbing enough rebounds to win the category every other week should be the goal. Turnovers also need to monitored as it’s the easiest category to lose control of when implementing this strategy. Many of the guard targets for this build struggle to take good care of the ball. Like rebounds, this will be a category you want to chase, but not to the point where you a favorite to win the category each week.

Note: 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 draft. All punting guides are for standard, 9-category leagues. 

Categories to target: Rebounds, Blocks, Turnovers

First-round targets: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler

R2) Serge Ibaka – Ibaka is by far the best option in the second round if your first-round pick is a guard. Serge gives you everything you need for this build (7.8 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 1.5 TOPG), and if he continues to shoot threes (1.2 3PG), the big man no longer loses much value when punting FG% (47.6 FG%). His weaknesses (0.9 APG, 0.5 SPG) are easily handled in this build as dimes and steals are two of the categories that this build is naturally strong in.

R2) John Wall – I prefer Lowry in the third to Wall in the second, but those picking late in the first may not have the option of selecting Lowry once it’s their turn to pick in the third round. Wall isn’t a perfect fit for this build due to his 3.8 TOPG, but his 10.0 APG and 1.7 SPG are outstanding H2H weapons. The All-Star also provides useful out-of-position blocks (0.6 BPG).

R2) Carmelo Anthony – There’s no denying that Melo is a major injury risk, but the Knicks’ star is only a year removed from a top-6 finish in this build. Anthony’s elite scoring (24.2 PPG) allows you to target lower-scoring big men who give you the blocks that you need later. Melo is also an above-average rebounder for his position (6.6 RPG) and doesn’t turn the ball over as much as other high usage players do (2.2 TOPG).

R2) Damian Lillard – Lillard posted top-10 numbers in this build in 2014-2015 and has a chance to repeat that finish this coming season. He will receive significantly more defensive attention now that he is surrounded by a suddenly terrible supporting cast, but the impact of that additional attention will be mostly be absorbed by his already low FG% (43.4%). Lillard could see his FG% drop below 40%, but it’s very reasonable to expect his impressive counting stats (21.0 PPG, 2.4 3PG, 6.2 APG) to either stay the same or improve. Expect his 2.7 TOPG to rise due to his increased usage and owners will need to be open to trading Lillard at the trade deadline. The Blazers are the early favorite to finish at the bottom of the West and could look to strengthen their tank by shutting Lillard down early.

R3) Kyle Lowry – Lowry is in the best shape of his life and his line’s only weakness (41.2 FG%) doesn’t matter in this build. The All-Star starter is an excellent source of points (17.8 PPG), threes (1.9 3PG), assists (6.8 APG), and steals (1.6 SPG). The suddenly slim point guard is also an above-average rebounder for his position (4.7 RPG) and takes relatively good care of the ball (2.5 TOPG).

R3) Paul George – PG was a top-8 option in this build in 2013-2014 and could approach that season’s counting stats (21.7 PPG, 2.3 3PG, 6.8 RPG, 1.9 SPG) due to the Pacers upping their pace and his potential move to the four. Where George’s rustiness is likely to be felt is his efficiency (42.4 FG%). I don’t love George in the second as I would prefer to start this build with one high-assist player and one big man, but as long as he stays healthy, it’s hard to see George not returning value in punt FG% if taken outside of the first two rounds.

R3) Nerlens Noel – Nerlens is a solid backup plan for those who miss out on Ibaka, but his poor FT% (66.9%) needs to be counterbalanced later in the draft.  Noel averaged 9.1 RPG, 2.0 SPG, and 2.2 BPG over the last three months of his rookie campaign. He’s an ideal fit for those grabbing James Harden and his league leading FT% impact in the first round.

R3) Draymond Green – Dray is great option for almost every punting build, but his unique line is an especially good fit for the punt FG% strategy (44.3 FG%). The Warrior is an outstanding source of rebounds (8.2 RPG), steals (1.6 SPG), and blocks (1.3 BPG). His only weakness in this build is his poor free-throw shooting (66.0 FT%). Without FG%, Draymond was a top-16 player in 2014-2015.

R3) Marc Gasol – Marc hasn’t shot over 50% since 2010-2011 and is one of the strong free-throw shooting (79.5 FT%) big men who are needed to properly pull off this strategy. Gasol has improved his scoring recently (17.4 PPG) and continues to be a very good source of rebounds (7.8 RPG), blocks (1.6 BPG), and out-of-position assists (3.8 APG).

R4) Trevor Ariza – The 3 and D specialist is another player with a long track record of usefulness to this build. Ariza has returned second-round value without FG% two seasons in a row and there’s no reason why he can’t complete the hat trick. His 2.4 3PG and 1.9 SPG and a great help for any team, but are even more attractive when they don’t come with his 40.3 FG%.

R4) Tim Duncan – The Big Fundamental will slip into the fifth in many drafts and is a must-grab if he does. In the fourth, he is still a reasonable pick due to his rebounds (9.2 RPG), blocks (1.9 BPG), and out-of-position assists (3.0 APG). Duncan still has plenty left in the tank but his poor playoff schedule and the possibility of Popovich resting his starters down the stretch limit his appeal.

R4) Kemba Walker – Next to Ibaka, Walker is perhaps the most obvious target in the draft. Kemba has provided second-round value in this build three seasons in a row. Walker’s appeal is not just due to the bump he receives from ignoring his poor FG% (38.5%). The diminutive lead guard also takes excellent care of the ball (1.6 TOPG). The only other point guard to average at least 5.0 APG and less than 2.0 TOPG last season was George Hill.

R5) Danilo Gallinari – Gallo was a top-7 player in this build over the final two months of the 2014-2015 season. When that kind of upside is available in the middle-rounds, it’s hard to pass up. Over that stretch Danilo averaged 18.6 PPG, 2.8 3PG, 4.8 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 0.5 BPG, and 1.3 TOPG. Gallo is falling into the sixth in most mocks, but is still a reasonable target in fifth, even with his injury history.

R5) Nikola Mirotic – The Bulls seem desperate to find more minutes for Mirotic and are reportedly even considering starting him at small forward. It would be preferable if the sophomore began the game at four, but regardless of where he plays, Mirotic is a prime breakout candidate who fits very well into the punt FG% build (40.5 FG%). The 24-year-old is likely to play close to 30 MPG and posted some very impressive per minute numbers in his rookie year (18.2 PP36, 2.2 3P36, 8.8 RP36, 1.2 SP36, 1.2 BPG). Not many players available in the middle-rounds have the type of upside that Mirotic has.

R6) Nicolas Batum – The newest member of the Hornets is looking like a good bet to bounce-back in 2015-2016 as his role and previous low usage (14.6%) are set to increase. Batum is still only 26 and his disappointing 2014-2015 campaign should be ignored as nothing more than an aberration caused by a serious wrist injury. Batum is only one year removed from a top-35 finish in this build and provides owners with out-of-position rebounding (7.5 RPG in 2013-2014) and blocks (0.7 BPG in 2013-2014). When you add in his excellent guard stats (1.8 3PG, 5.1 APG in 2013-2014), you have one of the best mid-round targets for the punt FG% strategy.

R6) DeMar DeRozan – DeRozan only has two holes in line. Threes and FG%. So it should come as no surprise that the Raptor posted top-35 numbers without FG% in 2013-2014, his last healthy season. That season DeMar averaged a very impressive 22.7 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 1.1 SPG on only 42.9% shooting. The former All-Star is an excellent mid-round target for managers who chose Cousins or Noel in the early rounds and need a FT% boost (82.4 FT% on 8.0 FTA in 2013-2014).

R7) Ricky Rubio – The flashy Spaniard is still one of the most exciting players in the league to watch but just can’t stay healthy. 2014-2015 was a lost season for Rubio but despite the injury woes, he remains a strong target for those punting FG%. Ricky’s per game numbers were down last season but the point guard still managed to return top-45 value in this build. As always, he’ll be an excellent source of assists (8.8 APG), steals (1.8 SPG), and out-of-position rebounds (5.7 RPG) who drags down your points (10.3 PPG) and threes (0.6 3PG).

R7) Isaiah Thomas – IT is good value at his current seventh-round price and while he’s not a perfect fit for this build due to his lack of rebounding (2.3 RPG), he is a better value than many of the point guards ranked before him. Thomas’ main selling points are his scoring (16.4 PPG) and threes (1.9 3PG), but the little man is also a very good source of FT% impact (86.8 FT% on 5.2 FTA).

R7) Deron Williams – Deron’s Utah production is long gone, but for the first time in years, the former Net is in a spot where he could return value on his managers’ investment. Williams should be rejuvenated playing beside one of the best P&R big men ever and should see his 2014-2015 averages of 1.3 3PG and 6.6 APG improve. While things are looking up for Williams, he still carries with him serious injury risk, and isn’t the scorer he used to be (13.0 PPG on 38.7 FG%).

R7) Kobe Bryant – If you draft the Mamba you are punting FG%. That may not be the plan, but like DeAndre Jordan and his FT%, there’s no working around the all-time great’s poor efficiency (37.3 FG% on 20.4 FGA). Kobe didn’t crack the top 100 on a per game basis in 2014-2015, but was still a top-30 asset in this build. Bryant’s only statistical weakness in this build is his penchant for giving the ball to the other team (3.7 TOPG). Kobe is a dream everywhere else with averages of 22.3 PPG, 1.5 2PG, 5.7 RPG, 5.6 APG, and 1.3 SPG. Of course, the biggest problem with Kobe has nothing to do with his stats. The Lakers are likely to be very bad once again, and even if Kobe somehow manages to stay relatively healthy this season, a late-season shutdown is very possible.

R8) Robert Covington – Even though Covington is easily the most talented wing on the Sixers’ roster, he’s not a lock to start as Coach Brown wants to improve his starting unit’s defense. I actually like this news as it deflates Covington’s price without harming his outlook. The Sixer should see close to the 27.9 MPG he saw in 2014-2015 regardless of where he starts the game and will continue to be a very good source of threes (2.4 3PG) and steals (1.4 SPG). Those averages helped Covington return top-45 value in this build last season.

R8) Gorgui Dieng – The (temporary) presence of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Garnett will only slow, not stop, the Dieng train this season. The Senegalese center has very little of his value tied up in FG% (50.6%) and gives you exactly what you need to build a dominant punt FG% team (8.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG). As an added bonus, Dieng helps you minimize your turnovers (1.7 TOPG) and doesn’t cut into that FT% advantage that you gained by taking Harden, Westbrook, or Butler in the first round (78.3 FT%).

R9) Markieff Morris – It’s looking more and more likely that Morris will begin his season in a Suns jersey. Markieff was a top-80 option in this build in 2014-2015 and provides owners with above-average scoring (15.3 PPG) on below-average efficiency (46.5 FG%), serviceable rebounding (6.2 RPG), and very useful out-of-position threes (0.7 3PG) and steals (1.2 SPG). Morris isn’t the answer to your rebounding or blocks (0.5 BPG) conundrum but the versatile big man does help reinforce the natural advantages that this build has.

R9) Al-Farouq Aminu – Aminu has received an annoying bump on Yahoo but is still good value at his current ninth-round price, especially in the punt FG% build (41.2 FG%). Over his last three months in Dallas, Aminu posted exciting per numbers that included 2.2 SP36 and 1.7 BPG. The former Maverick should see close to 30 MPG and averages of 1.5 SPG and over a block a night are very obtainable. Those defensive stats, and his above-average rebounding rate (9.0 RP36), make the popular sleeper a perfect fit for this build.

R9) Ryan Anderson – Despite his poor shooting from the field (39.9 FG%), Anderson isn’t a ideal fit for this build due to his lack of blocks (0.3 BPG) and underwhelming rebounding ability (4.8 RPG). What makes Anderson worth a look late is his upside in Alvin Gentry’s offense. Anthony Davis is expected to play quite a bit of center this season which should open up additional minutes for the sharpshooter (27.5 MPG). If you need a top up of points (13.7 PPG) and threes (2.0 3PG) late, the stretch four is one of the best options available.

R10) Roy Hibbert – Hibbert is a natural fit for this build due to his soft offensive game (44.6 FG%) and decent big man stats (7.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG). Expect a bounce-back season from Hibbert as he’s in a contract year and is surrounded by strong playmakers in Kobe, D’Angelo Russell, and Jordan Clarkson.

R10) J.R. Smith – After the trade to Cleveland, Smith was a top-25 asset in the punt FG% build. That success is not a fluke. Smith hasn’t fallen out of the top-80 in punt FG% since 2008-2009. Targeting bigs in the middle rounds can be a drain on your points and grabbing J.R. late is one of the best solutions to that problem (12.1 PPG). After putting on a Cavalier jersey for the first time, Smith averaged an outstanding 2.9 3PG and 1.4 SPG.

R11) Jusuf Nurkic – Nurk posted some mind-boggling per minute numbers in his rookie year. The Nuggets’ center produced 12.5 RP36, 1.7 SP36, and 2.2 BP36. He’ll likely struggle with foul trouble once again, but the inefficient young big (44.6 FG%) could be a monster even if he only plays 25 MPG. If you protected your FT% early (63.6 FT%), Nurk should be your top big man target in the late rounds of the draft.

R11) Jared Sullinger – There’s a good chance that Sullinger starts the season behind Amir Johnson and David Lee. Even if does, he has too much upside and is too good of a fit for this build to not at least be considered late in drafts. If you need blocks late, look elsewhere (0.7 BPG), but the hefty big man is a good source of rebounds (7.6 RPG) and provides out-of-position threes (0.9 3PG) on low efficiency (44.0 FG%).

R11) Jarrett Jack – Jack’s upside is limited due to his lack of threes (0.5 3PG) but is a good target for owners building around Cousins or Noel due to his underrated FT% impact (88.1 FT% on 2.8 FTA). As a starter in 2014-2015, Jack averaged a very useful 15.9 PPG, 6.6 APG, 1.2 APG, and 3.4 FTA. If you started you build with Westbrook or Harden, look elsewhere.

R12) Otto Porter – Otto is one of my favorite sleepers this season and gets a bump in a build that doesn’t require efficient scoring (45.0 FG%). Expect a three, steal, and over half a block a game from the third-year player. It’s unlikely that he scores much (11.2 PP36), so make sure you lock up points early if you plan on targeting Porter.

R12) Trey Burke – Burke still has quite a few holes in his line even when his atrocious FG% (36.8%) is discounted. The former Wolverine hurts you on the boards (2.7 RPG), drags down your swipes (0.9 SPG), and saw his assists drop from 5.7 APG in 2013-2014 to 4.3 APG in 2014-2015. While that 4.3 APG won’t blow anyone away, it does only come with 1.6 TOPG. He’s a very flawed player but Burke was a top-100 asset in this build last season.

R13) Lou Williams – The Sixth Man of the Year was a borderline top-50 asset in this build in 2014-2015 and should still be useful despite the move to the Lakers. Lou is another solid target for those struggling with their FT% as he is a contact magnet (4.9 FTA) and coverts his freebies at an excellent rate (86.1 FT%). His teammates’ usage limits his upside but don’t forget that Lou posted his impressive 2014-2015 numbers in only 25.2 MPG.

R13) Zaza Pachulia – The former Buck is the unquestioned starter in Dallas and a great target for those who struggled to find boards earlier in the draft (6.8 RPG). Zaza is a nice fit for this build as he is mediocre from the field (45.5 FG%) and a sneaky source of both assists (2.4 APG) and steals (1.1 SPG). Pachulia, unlike most bigs, can also help you at the line (78.8 FT%).

R13) Mo Williams – Iman Shumpert and Kyrie Irving are both looking at extended absences to start the year and Mo will likely take advantage of that opportunity in a big way. Last season, as a starter, Williams averaged 17.8 PPG, 2.3 3PG, and 7.6 APG. Expect a very hot start from Williams who will likely flirt with top-50 value until Kyrie returns.

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