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16/17 Punt Assists

All punting strategies can be pulled off effectively if managers put enough time and thought into them. But there is one strategy that stands above the rest. Punt assists. It is a high-floor, high-ceiling strategy. Punt assists is relatively straight forward, but don’t mistake simplicity for lack of effectiveness. The punt assists build takes advantage of the fantasy basketball community’s insistence on overpaying for dimes. The idea is to load up on value elsewhere while owners are reaching for point guards left and right. To illustrate how overrated point guards tend to be, let’s compare Yahoo’s current rankings of all the point guards who finished outside of the first round in 2015-2016 to the same point guards’ final 2015-2016 ranking.

Player Current Y! Ranking Final 2015-2016 Ranking Notes
Damian Lillard 12 21
John Wall 13 22
Giannis Antetokounmpo* 15 28
Kyrie Irving 21 55
Eric Bledsoe 29 24 Missed 51 games
Kemba Walker 33 17
Isaiah Thomas 39 37
Mike Conley 41 56
Jeff Teague 43 74
Ricky Rubio 44 47
Reggie Jackson 46 90
Rajon Rondo 47 51
George Hill 58 78
Jrue Holiday 59 62 Expected to miss extended time
Dennis Schroder* 60 217
Darren Collison 63 79 Expected to miss extended time
Goran Dragic* 70 101
Deron Williams 83 100
Michael Carter-Williams 96 117
Jeremy Lin* 98 173
Patrick Beverley 100 81
Elfrid Payton 102 194
Derrick Rose 104 206
Tony Parker 105 157
Marcus Smart 115 153
D’Angelo Russell* 125 176
*Indicates that a player’s situation has significantly improved and that a rankings boost is justified

Obviously, you can’t just look at last year’s rankings and assume the exact same result. However, the numbers clearly show that most point guards are being ranked significantly higher than their recent production justifies.

Now let’s look at how to pull it off. Punt assist teams are naturally going to be dominant in turnovers. In fact, it’s easy to have overkill in this category and miss out on value elsewhere. As is the case with every punting build, punting assists is about more than just sorting the rankings without assists and picking the players who receive the largest bump. Don’t be afraid to take two or three high-turnover players as the rest of your roster will more than make up for their shortcomings.

The categories that you are going to want to pay the most attention to when drafting are the categories that point guards usually excel in, aside from assists of course. Those categories are points, threes, steals, and FT%. Luckily, these are also the categories that wings generally excel in. However, most wings, especially the high-scoring options available in the middle rounds, will drag down your FG%. Because of this, your FG% will need to be closely monitored throughout the draft.

Punting assists also works well in tandem with punting FT%. If you are interested in the double-punt, add the usual punt FT% options such as DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond to the list below. This is a great way to solve any FG% issues. Owners attempting the double-punt need to be very vary of not being weak in points as well. The punt FT% build is naturally weak in that area and a poorly done double-punt can easily turn into an unintentional triple-punt. The double-punt is only a good idea with some of the first-round targets. Don’t waste Kevin Durant’s massive FT% impact by pairing him with Jordan or Drummond.

A big advantage of the punt assists build is that it is not naturally weak in a second category like other builds are. If you punt FG%, you’re likely going to struggle with turnovers. If you’re punting FT%, then your points are likely to be below average. Those punting blocks are going to have a hard time finding enough FG% or rebounds to be dominant in either category. If you pull off a perfect punt assists build, there’s a chance that you’ll be above average in eight categories.

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 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 really benefit from a friendly schedule as 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.

Another thing to keep in mind when punting assists is that you want to make sure that you have enough point guard eligible players on your roster. I try to aim for at least three players with point guard eligibility on my punt assists team. Any less than three and you run the risk of not being able to field a full roster at certain points of the season.

If this is your first time attempting to punt a category, or you are new to fantasy basketball, I strongly suggest at least trying the punt assists strategy in a mock. It’s one of the builds where the benefit of punting is very clear and the players to avoid are very obvious. Even if you don’t decide to use this strategy, practicing with it will greatly help your understanding of the theory behind punting.

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 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 9-category leagues. 

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

First-round targets: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, Hassan Whiteside, Paul George

R2) DeMarcus Cousins – Like most big men, Cousins benefits from assists being ignored (3.3 APG), but what makes the mercurial center an especially good fit for this build is not something Cousins himself brings, but is the build’s natural strength in turnovers. This build, when done correctly, can handle a high-turnover player like Cousins. Being able to unleash Cousins without having to worry about his awful turnover rate (3.8 TOPG) is a great feeling. His percentages will never be ideal (45.1 FG%, 71.8 FT%), but no big man in the league comes close to offering the counting stats that Cousins does (26.9 PPG, 1.1 3PG, 11.5 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.4 BPG). His injury struggles don’t get talked about as much as Anthony Davis’ do, but Cousins has actually missed more games over the past three seasons than Davis has.

R2) Paul Millsap – Next to Cousins, who will be going in the first-round of many drafts, Millsap is my favorite second-round target for this build. The Hawk has finished with first-round value in this build two of the past five years and is coming off a top-7 finish in punt assists. Millsap is a phenomenal source of defensive stats (1.8 SPG, 1.7 BPG) and could have an even larger role in the offense now that Al Horford is a Celtic. Expect a small decrease in his rebounding numbers (9.0 RPG) due to the presence of Dwight Howard.

R2) LaMarcus Aldridge – Over the last three months of the 2015-2016 season, only seven players were more valuable in the punt assists build than Aldridge. Before moving to San Antonio, Aldridge had finished within the first-round in this build five years in a row. A surefire first-rounder at a late second-round price is a welcome addition to any team. Aldridge is one the early-round options that makes it possible to be dominant in both percentages. The move to San Antonio was a boon to his FG% (51.3 FG%) and the power forward is always an elite source of FT% impact (85.8 FT% on 4.1 FTA).

R2) Al Horford – Horford is a very good passer for a big man (3.2 APG), but doesn’t derive enough of his value from assists to take himself out of consideration for this build. Like Paul Millsap and LaMarcus Aldridge, Horford offers the possibility of first-round production at a second-round price. The newest Celtic was a top-10 player without assists last season and is moving to a team that played at a faster pace and had a more efficient offense than the Hawks did in 2015-2016. Horford offers across-the-board production that includes excellent percentages (50.4 FG%, 79.8 FT%), strong big man stats (7.3 RPG, 1.5 BPG), and a newly added three-ball (1.1 3PG).

R3) Klay Thompson – The acquisition of Kevin Durant will negatively impact Klay’s numbers more than it will the numbers of the other stars on the roster, but the sharpshooter should continue to provide early-round value in this build. Much of Klay’s values comes from his above-average percentages impact (47.0 FG%, 87.3 FT%). That already impressive efficiency could actually increase now that defenses will be focusing so much attention on Durant. Thompson was a top-10 player in this build in 2015-2016 and even with the expected decrease in touches, should finish within the top-20 when assists are ignored.

R3) Brook Lopez – Lopez appears to have moved past his career-threatening foot issues and has a chance to return first-round value in this build. Last season, the Net finished 13th when assists were ignored and is another big man who scores his points with impressive efficiency (51.1 FG%, 78.7 FT%). Brook is also one of the few big men who scores north of 20 a night (20.6 PPG) and is also a very good source of big man counting stats (7.9 RPG, 1.7 BPG). He’s even improved his steals rate to a point where no longer tanks your swipes (0.8 SPG). My biggest concern surrounding Lopez is the possibility of late-season rest. The Nets will, once again, be terrible and Lopez was rested down the stretch of the 2015-2016 season.

R3) Victor Oladipo  – The Thunder’s second option is one of the few early-round players with point guard eligibility that fit this build. Russell Westbrook is one of the most ball-dominant players ever and Oladipo likely won’t be asked to create for his teammates often. The former Orlando resident has never depended on dimes to boost his value (3.9 APG) and offers potential monster counting stat production. Over the last two months of 2015-2016, Oladipo was a top-10 player in the punt assists build and has that kind of upside if Westbrook’s body fails to handle the increased workload. Even if Westbrook stays healthy, Oladipo should have a large enough role to justify this draft position. He should provide owners with solid scoring (16.0 PPG), threes (1.4 3PG), steals (1.6 SPG), and out-of-position blocks (0.8 BPG).

R3) Nikola Jokic – As mentioned in the introduction, when punting assists, you’ll be aiming to be strong in both percentages. Jokic can help you get there. The Nuggets’ starting center is one of this season’s more tantalizing breakout candidates and should reward owners with healthy averages from both the floor (51.1 FG%) and the line (81.1 FT%). He provides across-the-board production (0.6 3P36, 11.6 RP36, 1.6 SP36, 1.0 BP36) and doesn’t project to have any major holes in his line. On a per minute basis, Jokic was a top-20 player in this build in his rookie year.

R3) Carmelo Anthony – Melo is a scary pick due to his ongoing battle with knee soreness, but the former superstar is a very good fit for a build that requires wing players to provide strong contributions in the traditional point guard categories. Anthony, despite a declining scoring rate, is still one of the league’s better source of points (21.8 PPG) and generates a good chunk of his offense from deep (1.5 3PG) and at the line (82.9 FT% on 5.6 FTA). He is also one of the league’s best rebounding small forwards (7.7 RPG) and is a decent source of out-of-position blocks (0.5 BPG). Owners searching for swipes (0.9 SPG) or positive FG% (43.4 FG%) impact will have to look elsewhere.

R4) C.J. McCollum – Evan Turner should have a small negative impact on McCollum’s numbers, but fortunately for those punting assists, the hit is likely to come in the form of a dimes decrease (4.3 APG). C.J. has point guard eligibility and excels in the categories that point guards are usually strong in. He will once again be a borderline elite contributor in points (20.8 PPG) and threes (2.5 3PG) while providing slightly above-average steals (1.2 SPG). I am skeptical that McCollum will have the same level of success at the line that he had in 2015-2016. The shooting guard’s 82.7% connection rate was over 12% higher than what he averaged in his first two seasons in the league. Some regression in that area would not be surprising.

R4) Gorgui Dieng – Dieng is a fine consolation prize if you miss out on Jokic. Like the Nugget, he provides across-the-board production and has early-round upside in this build (1.7 APG). Over the last two months of 2015-2016, Gorgui was a top-25 option when assists were ignored. He is a very good source of percentages impact (53.3 FG%, 82.7 FT%) and defensive stats (1.1 SPG, 1.2 BPG), and should see a bump in playing time under Tom Thibodeau. Strong performances at the line by your bigs can go a long way in replacing the high-level FT% impact that many point guards have.

R4) Trevor Ariza – There seems to be a lack of quality wing options available in rounds 4 and 5 which makes Ariza even more appealing than usual. Ariza fits very well into almost any build and receives an especially large bump in the punt assists strategy (2.3 APG). He has produced at least third-round value in this build in each of the past three seasons and has more upside than usual now that Mike D’Antoni is behind the Rockets bench. Ariza is one of the league’s best sources of threes (2.3 3PG) and steals (2.0 SPG). Owners just need to watch out for his poor shooting (41.6 FG%).

R5) DeMar DeRozan – DeRozan is easily the best source of points (23.5 PPG) and FT% impact (85.0 FT% on 8.4 FTA) available at this point in the draft and is an ideal target for those who have fallen behind in the scoring categories. The shooting guard is a great fit with DeMarcus Cousins. DeRozan offsets Cousins’ poor FT% and Cousins helps offset DeRozan’s weaknesses (0.6 3PG, 1.1 SPG). DeMar also takes great care of the ball given how large his role is for the Raptors (2.2 TOPG).

R5) Myles Turner – Turner’s exceptional upside is enhanced by the punt assists build (1.1 AP36). The Pacers’ new starting center was a top-90 player in this build in his rookie year despite only playing 22.8 MPG. He should see close to 30 MPG and that is exciting news for a player who averaged 16.3 PP36, 8.8 RP36, and 2.3 BP36 in his first year in the NBA. Don’t worry about Al Jefferson. He has declined badly and is too much of a defensive liability to see extended minutes.

R5) Jae Crowder – Crowder is a reasonable pick starting in the fifth round and has the potential to be an elite option in this build. The Celtic was a top-25 option in the punt assists build in 2015-2016 and won’t be challenged by rookie Jaylen Brown for playing time. Crowder is a “3-and-D” player who doesn’t hurt you anywhere when assists are ignored (1.8 APG). He offers a similar line to Trevor Ariza, except with slightly less threes (1.7 3PG) and steals (1.7 SPG) and improved efficiency (44.2 FG%).

R6) Aaron Gordon – Gordon has been compared to Paul George by his new coach Frank Vogel, and while he won’t come close to matching George this season, he does have top-50 upside in this build. He’ll be given a much larger role in the offense and we should see his numbers improve across the board. Gordon is a jack of all trades who should provide especially useful numbers on the boards (9.8 RP36) and on the defensive end (1.1 SP36, 1.1 BP36). He is also competent from deep (0.8 3P36) which make it possible that he joins the one three, one steal, one block club in his third year in the league. If Gordon can improve at the line (66.8 FT%), he can boost his ceiling into the early rounds.

R6) Evan Fournier – Fournier was buried in Yahoo’s rankings, but is now correctly placed in the sixth round and should go around there in competitive leagues. With Victor Oladipo in Oklahoma City, Fournier should see a significant increase in his shot attempts and could score close to 20 PPG. Those points are likely to come on reasonable efficiency (46.2 FG%, 83.6 FT%) and the shooting guard should be a consistent source of triples (2.0 3PG). Fournier is best paired with the elite big men. He contributes close to nothing on the boards (2.8 RPG) and literally nothing in the blocks column (0.0 BPG).

R6) Danilo Gallinari – I would bump Gallo up a couple rounds if he could just stay healthy. The swingman has played in an average of 56 games over the past two season and has struggled with injuries throughout his career. When he is on the court, he offers elite FT% impact (86.8 FT% on 8.2 FTA) to a build that should be focused on the category. Only Kevin Durant and James Harden had a larger positive impact on FT% in 2015-2016. Gallinari also offers above-average scoring (19.6 PPG) on poor shooting from the field (41.0 FG%) to go along with decent threes (1.6 3PG).

R6) Nikola Mirotic – Mirotic’s role and minutes should be more consistent than they were a year ago now that the Bulls’ starting lineup is almost completely devoid of three-point threats. The stretch four may not end up becoming the early-round weapon that he once looked destined to become, but a top-50 finish in this build is very possible. Last season, despite being infuriatingly terrible for extended stretches, Mirotic managed to be a top-70 player without assists (1.5 APG). Mirotic is going to be an outstanding source of threes (2.0 3PG) and should contribute a smattering of defensive stats (0.9 SPG, 0.7 BPG). The Bull was a top-30 option in the punt assists build over the final month of the 2015-2016 season.