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Welcome to fantasy draft season for the 2017-18 NBA season! It's time to start thinking about how you're going to win your league this year. RotoBaller will be here with rankings, sleepers, players to avoid, and much more.

Before we dive too deep into individual players, though, let's take a step back and look at strategy. One of the best ways to win in head-to-head category leagues is by doing a little bit of losing. Punting has become a household word in fantasy basketball circles, because it's such a potent strategy in these kind of leagues.

This is my third year writing this broad overview of punting, and many of the basics will remain the same from previous columns.  Player names and projected first round picks have been updated for the 2017-18 season, while the strategy itself is adjusted slightly based on where my head is at in September 2017.

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Intro

I see new and casual players on Reddit's fantasy basketball subreddit asking all the time "How do I punt?" or "What categories should I punt?"  Or even more advanced players asking "What should I punt with this player?"  My answer is usually "it depends on your league" (number of categories, what your opponents are doing, what players your basing your team around).  But I will try my best here to give a general answer to the question of how in the name of British gamblers do you punt?

 

What is punting?

First things first, something that may seem obvious to experienced managers, but isn't so clear if you've never punted before.  Punting is a strategy of completely giving up on one or more categories in a head to head category league in order to select players who maximize your team's strengths in other categories.  For example, by electing to give up on winning FT%, you can build a team that features Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, and Dwight Howard to absolutely dominate in rebounds, blocks, and FG%.  Likewise, you could punt FG% and crush a league in points, assists, and threes with a team featuring Kevin Love, Nicolas Batum, and D'Angelo Russell.

 

Can I punt if I'm not in a H2H category league?

In roto leagues you should almost never punt.  It's almost always better to try to compete in every category.  Even if you're not great somewhere, getting 4 or 5 points instead of 1 point for a category is a big deal in the final standings.  I did say "almost" in those sentences because I can see a scenario in an extremely strong league where a punting gambit could work.  But I'm talking a god-level expert league where everyone fights and scraps for points in the standings to the bitter end.  High-level roto punting strategies have been famously pulled off in baseball before, and it's fascinating to read about when they've been pulled off.  But such strategies absolutely require top-to-bottom active owners to work -- they will backfire spectacularly if just one or two owners get lazy about their teams allowing your domination everywhere else to be not-so-dominant over competitive owners.  It's best to ignore punting as a strategy in roto leagues.

Meanwhile, you literally cannot punt in a points league.  Points leagues may seem like they have lots of "categories" because they use the same stats you see in category leagues (points, assists, steals, etc.) to figure out the scoring.  But really, the only have one category -- fantasy points.  It doesn't matter how you get them, but you obviously should not punt them if you are hoping to achieve winning results.

For more about other types of scoring, check out my column from two weeks ago, Why Your Fantasy Basketball Rankings are Wrong.

 

How many categories should I punt?

First, it depends on how many categories you have.  If you play in a 15-cat league, by all means, punt 5 categories if you want.  But for the purposes of this column, I'm going to assume the standard 9 categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, threes, FG%, FT%, and turnovers).  Many owners (myself included) have had success punting three or four categories in a league, but you should really know what you're doing before trying to pull that off.  You aren't left with any margin for error if you don't crush it, so your league has to be perfect for it.  As a punting beginner, I'd suggest punting just one or two categories, while attempting to be extremely strong in five and competitive in the other two or three as fallback options.

 

How do I decide what categories to punt?

Let's say you are getting ready for your head-to-head category league snake draft this weekend and you want to try to employ a punting strategy.

If you were doing an auction draft, you could practically pick what you wanted to punt before the draft, if you knew other people weren't going to employ the same strategy and bid up key players.  In a snake draft, though, you can't just decide you're going to punt FT% then end up taking DeAndre Jordan with your 1st round pick.  He may technically have have top 10 value to team punting FT%, but it's a massive waste of draft capital.

Even if you aim to punt categories, your goal in the draft is still to maximize the value of your picks by taking guys close to their overall value (within a round or so of their ADP), then getting surplus value based on how they fit into your punt strategy.  So your first round pick should still be a guy who's going in the first round.  That said, you can slightly adjust your first round rankings based how easy a guy is to punt with.  It's a big reason I still prefer Westbrook and Harden over Durant, for example, because it's so easy to punt around their FG% and TO.

You should be deciding on what to punt based on your first pick, with your second and third picks really committing you on a punt strategy.  To that effect, let's take a look at a typical first round and what categories you could choose to punt with each player.  Please note that the draft order is based on current Yahoo! default rankings as of 9/4/2017, and second round pick suggestions are made with the default rankings in mind.  This column is to get you into the thought process of punting, not show off any custom player rankings.

 

A punting strategy for every first round pick

1) Russell Westbrook (PG, OKC)

Aim to punt: FG%, TO
Sometimes punt: BLK
Never punt: PTS, AST, REB, STL, FT%, 3PM

Maybe we shouldn't count on a triple double for the season again now that Paul George is on the Thunder ready to take some of the load off of Westbrook.  His FG% probably won't be that bad either... after falling from a solid .454 in his last season with Durant to .425 in last year's do-it-all season, I'd expect it to rebound close to, or higher than, his career rate of .433 with George in town.  Nevertheless, he's still going to be putting up monster stats alongside a lot of turnovers and a low, high-volume FG%. Last year's underappreciated improvement for Westbrook is in the 6th category, 3PM, where he almost doubled his career high from the season before while hitting them at a career high 34.3% -- I've moved the category from "rarely punt" to "never punt" for this column.

I love him as a #1 overall pick in H2H leagues, despite what a lot of expert ranking sites will tell you, because he's such a no brainer, easy punt who brings pure domination in 6 categories. In addition, this year's rankings shake out extremely well for pursuing such a punt around Westbrook at #1 overall. Draymond (ranked 21st) is an excellent choice in 10 team leagues and will fall in some 12-teamers. You can really lock down monstrous across the board contributions with him and Westbrook. In most 12 teamers (and as your 3rd round pick in a 10-teamer), your targets should be a pair of young centers out of the group of Kristaps Porzingis (26th), Joel Embiid (27th), and Myles Turner (31st). Center is an extremely difficult position to fill in a FG%/TO punt, because so much of the value of most centers is in those categories. Not so with that trio, who can fill your C spots with elite scoring and help lock down competitive status in the blocks category, so you don't wind up punting three cats by mistake.

2) Kevin Durant (SF/PF, GSW)

Sometimes punt: STL
Rarely punt: REB, TO
Never punt: PTS, AST, BLK, 3PM, FT%, FG%

For the same reason Durant's such a roto-friendly guy -- across the stat-line contributions -- he's also one of the hardest guys to build a punt around. And he's only made it more difficult in Golden State, by upping his blocks to a career high 1.6 and lowering his turnovers to a career low 2.2.  Pretty much the only category you can try to punt based solely on drafting him is steals. He's not terrible there, but it's one of the lowest totals of any projected first rounder.  The trouble is that steals are typically undervalued as a category anyway, so it's hard get a lot of profit out of punting them.  I am personally just skipping over Durant in my H2H leagues to select someone like Harden or Giannis who are better fantasy players if you punt their weaknesses, not to mention less likely to be resting or injured during the fantasy playoffs.

If Durant was my first round pick, I wouldn't start targeting a punt immediately.  I'd just go best player available in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, and see where that lands me.  If I've ended up with a well-rounded team, then so be it -- you don't have to punt in order to win your league, especially if you have Kevin Durant.

3) James Harden (PG/SG, HOU)

Aim to punt: TO, FG%
Sometimes punt: BLK
Never punt: PTS, REB, FT%, 3PM, STL, AST

Harden was so good last year he has a lot of room to fall and still be one of the elite fantasy options, especially in a FG%/TO punt. It's definitely true that the events of this offseason have dealt an enormous blow to The Beard's fantasy value, though. The Chris Paul trade is one thing -- it'll cut into his usage and drop his assist numbers from a league-leading 11.2 back down to a more ordinarily great number. But perhaps even more damaging to  potential punt builds is that he's finally not eligible in the SF or F lineup spots.

That's a pretty big deal when you're punting FG% and TO, since it's one less spot where you can play a high-usage guard, and one more of the rare FG%/TO friendly forwards you have to come up with later in the draft.  This makes a big difference in what you can do with your 2nd round pick -- instead of being able to happily select Damian Lillard (ranked 20th) or Kemba Walker (22nd), you're under a lot more pressure to fill a F or C spot by selecting someone like Draymond Green (21st) or Kristaps Porzingis (26th). In a situation where he's available in the 2nd round, I think I'd still take Lillard over a forward, but not Kemba. But with Lillard and Harden in two guard spots and no F/C to speak of, I'm feeling a little nervous about things, and really hoping the right F/C fall to me in rounds 3-6.

4) Stephen Curry (PG/SG, GSW)

Sometimes punt: BLK, FT%, REB
Rarely punt: FG%, TO
Never punt: STL, AST, 3PM, PTS

Curry was a disappointment last year when it came to my favorite strategy of using him to lead a FT% punting team that could compete in three pointers without costing FG%. As expected, the addition of Durant cost him points, threes, and rebounds from his MVP season in 2015-16. But on top of that, he also lost FG% efficiency. A reduced number of two-point attempts combined with a career low 41% on three point attempts (incredible) to create a fairly ordinary .468 FG%. Still exceptional for someone who attempts an insane number of threes, but not the .487 or .504 from the prior two seasons.

While Curry's FG% should rebound a little if his 3P% returns closer to the mid-40s, it seems unlikely his pre-Durant volume of juicy interior shots is coming back.  He still works as a nice choice for a FT% punt, but he's been surpassed by Giannis as the Cadillac option for that punt.  And between Giannis and LeBron owners, there could be some serious competition for a FT% punt this year.  I'm inclined to look at other punts with Curry this season.

One option would be to skip on blocks, which allows you to take a flyer on bigs with interesting offensive games like Blake Griffin or waiting a bit on centers to grab some interesting guys who fall to later rounds because they aren't elite in blocks, namely the Willies - Cauley-Stein and Hernangomez. You could take it one step further and punt REB, too, but that requires walking a tight rope not to also end up punting FG% and TO.  Four-way punts like that are doable sometimes, but dangerous and it defeats the purpose of taking Curry, the hyper-efficient PG, and then not fielding an efficient team.

5) Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF/PF, MIL)

Aim to punt: FT%, 3PM
Sometimes punt: PTS
Rarely punt: TO
Never punt: REB, AST, STL, BLK, FG%

As I alluded to above, Giannis is a premium selection as if you're punting FT% -- the best player in fantasy basketball for that. For that reason -- in addition with his seemingly safe status to play every game deep into the season -- I'm taking him in the top 3 group with Westbrook and Harden in my H2H category leagues, rather than spending the pick on one of the more efficient Golden State players who are harder to punt with and bigger risks to see rest games in the fantasy playoffs.

The only question is if you're going to punt just FTs with him, or do a dual-punt of FT% and 3PM. The dual punt will allow you to focus a bit more on assists -- nabbing guys like Elfrid Payton and Rajon Rondo to team with Giannis to lock things up there. It also secures FG% that much more for you -- fewer 3PA means a higher FG%. The drawback is you also typically end up very weak in points as a result. You'll be winning a lot of games 6-3 or 5-4. Staying competitive in threes will make you less dominant in FG% and AST, but you'll win more contests in points and it will also help you in turnovers. Depends on how strong you like your punts.

A dream start with Giannis in a 12 team league would be to land Draymond in the 2nd round, before taking DeAndre Jordan with your 3rd round pick. That might seem early for Jordan, but he's pre-ranked 49 on Yahoo, and if you took Giannis in the top 5, your 4th round pick will land in the range of 44-48. At that point, you risk another FT punting hopeful -- namely the guy who took LeBron -- poaching him from you with their late third or early fourth round pick. You really don't want to risk missing out on Jordan if you're set up to punt FTs after your two first picks, so just spend the 3rd rounder. He's worth it to you.

6) Anthony Davis (PF/C, NOP)

Aim to punt: AST
Sometimes punt:
3PM, STL
Rarely punt: FT%
Never punt: FG%, REB, BLK, TO, PTS

There's one obvious punt with Davis, but you could just punt one or two of the typical guard stats (AST, 3PM, or STL), depending on your 2nd rounder. I like the idea of punting assists with him. It's just hard in a snake draft, given most of the default 2nd round is guys with decent assist numbers for their position. You'll just have to throw those default rankings out the window like a boss. Hassan Whiteside (ranked 19th) is the only real assist punt player in Yahoo's default 2nd round, but I actually like Myles Turner (ranked 31st) better and am more than willing to make the reach in the middle of the 2nd. If you aren't all-in on Turner like I am and also hate Whiteside, you could also consider reaching on C.J. McCollum (ranked 25th) to be your all-score assist-punting starting "PG." In the third round, I'd aim for Klay Thompson or Bradley Beal for some additional scoring at guard.

If Jimmy Butler is there in the 2nd round for you, punting 3s is the better choice. You can then hope Turner falls to you in the 3rd round, or spend the pick on DeMar DeRozan (ranked 32nd) or Blake Griffin (ranked 37th).

7) Karl-Anthony Towns (C, MIN)

Aim to punt: STL
Sometimes punt: AST
Never punt: FG%, FT%, 3PM, PTS, REB, BLK, TO

The prognosis on punting with Towns is somewhat similar to doing so with Anthony Davis, however Towns is hits more threes. At over a 3 per game from the C position, you should be reluctant to punt the category. On the other hand, Towns is well below average in steals, so that could be an opportunity to punt. If Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving fall into your lap in the 2nd round, they're excellent options to shore up your assists and give you a dominant scoring duo at the top of your team, while putting you in position for a full-on punt of steals.

Alternately, the potential reach on C.J. McCollum I mentioned above becomes even more intriguing for a dual punt of 3PM and AST. If you love Towns enough to take him much earlier (I'd personally take him 3rd or 4th overall), McCollum is not even a reach anymore, and you can pair him with another elite big like Myles Turner or Kristaps Porzingis (ranked 26th) with your early third round pick.

8) Kawhi Leonard (SG/SF, SAS)

Aim to punt: AST
Sometimes punt: BLK
Rarely punt: REB
Never punt: PTS, 3PM, FG%, FT%, STL, TO

I'm going to say exactly what I said last year with Kawhi is extremely well-rounded, so he's not a great basis for hardcore multi-category punts.  But he is a great fit in a single-category punt of assist.  He maximizes the overall value of one of your starting guard spots outside of assists.  If you combine strong two wings with low assists, you've got two of your guard spots filled with all kinds of stats, with only point guard to go.  You can then draft big after big after big to fill the forward, center, and utility spots, while snagging a more shot-happy PG-eligible player in the mid-to-late rounds.

This year my game plan if I were to punt assists with Kawhi will be to go for Myles Turner in the 2nd, unless Rudy Gobert (13th) or Paul George (14th) falls to me, then hope to grab a wing like Klay, Beal, DeRozan in the 3rd, if possible (based on pre-rankings it might not be, but stranger things have happened). Of course, all this assumes he doesn't make a leap in assists, on a Spurs team minus Tony Parker for the first few months of the year. Kawhi also used to be a FT% punt at one time, remember? Then last year he provided more value in the FT% category than Kevin Durant.

If you think he might take another leap in assists or you're not as sold on Turner, it might be better to go well-rounded with Kawhi, or punt blocks despite his decent totals if the stars don't align on big men for you.

9) John Wall (PG, WAS)

Sometimes punt: BLK, FG%, REB, 3PM, FT%, TO, PTS
Never punt: AST, STL

I wouldn't draft Wall in the first round at all, much less ahead of Jokic and LeBron. But to each their own -- and you do have options punting with him. He has the vast majority of his value in just two categories, but boy is he dominant in those categories. What you do punt with him depends on your picks in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. With Cousins it might be FG% and TO, with Rudy Gobert possibly PTS and/or FT%, with Paul George BLK and maybe FG%.

I don't think teams built around Wall have much upside. He can't lead a well-rounded team to victory -- you'll need to hit all your later picks out the park or pick a good punt and execute it well.

10) LeBron James (SF/PF, CLE)

Aim to punt: BLK, FT%
Sometimes punt: REB, 3PM, TO
Rarely punt: STL
Never punt: PTS, FG%, AST

LeBron works well out of a PF/F spot when you're punting blocks (or even rebounds if you're going all-in on small stats).  Pair him with a guard in the second round -- he and Kyrie Irving (17th) can still work really well together in fantasy basketball! Better yet, if you're punting blocks, Kevin Love (42nd) would then make a very decent late 3rd or early 4th round pick. If it's a good enough trio to beat the 74-win Warriors, it should be good enough to win your fantasy league. I'd also be very tempted to pair LeBron with Chris Paul (15th) in a blocks punt, too. Since Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade also do not get blocks, Team Banana Boat is an excellent punting strategy.

The other main avenue with LeBron -- especially looking at last year's career low number in the category -- is to punt FT%. Rudy Gobert (13th) seems like the obvious 2nd round pairing for that route, and he's a decent choice if he is there. Though I think it's also decent, once again, to go with Chris Paul to secure a PG who can complement LeBron in assists, bring high steals totals, and not drag down your FG%. This also allows you to straddle the line between deciding on punting FT% or blocks. If the Giannis owner doesn't grab DeAndre Jordan, you can take him in the 3rd round and commit to the punt. But if Jordan's off the board, you can switch gears and go someone like Love or Blake Griffin (or both) to address the center spot in your blocks punt.

11) Nikola Jokic (PF/C, DEN)

Aim to punt: BLK
Sometimes punt: PTS, 3PM, TO, STL
Never punt: FG%, REB, AST, FT%

Jokic has pretty anemic shot-blocking totals for a center, while being fairly well-rounded elsewhere. Most of the same guys you'd pair with LeBron on a blocks punt apply here, too -- a PG like Paul, Kyrie, or Lillard, then a big in the third round who can add more scoring and passing. A curveball is if Cousins happens to be available with your 2nd rounder (something more plausible in a 10-teamer). I'd jump at the chance. In that circumstance, my main punt becomes turnovers, though I'm likely still remaining weak in blocks.

If you happen to land Gobert in the 2nd, on the other hand, you can obviously throw the idea of a blocks punt out the window, and instead go for a PTS or a dual PTS/3PM punt. Taking a duo like Ricky Rubio and Al Horford in the 3rd and 4th would lock that in.

12) DeMarcus Cousins (PF/C, NOP)

Aim to punt: FG%, TO
Sometimes punt: FT%, BLK
Never punt: PTS, REB, AST, 3PM, STL

Almost as nice as the FG% and TO punt at the start of the first with Westbrook is the one at the end with DeMarcus Cousins. To me, Cousins and Damian Lillard makes for a no-brainer 1-2 punch making you super-elite in points (a category almost everybody is hoping to win), while Lillard's elite FT% shores up where Cousins is only so-so for his position. If you prefer only to commit to a TO punt, Kyrie can bring much of what Lillard does, with a higher FG%.

 

Okay, I have my 1st rounder and a complementary 2nd rounder -- now what?

In the mid rounds, you generally attack players at the core positions who fit your strategies.  If you're not finding a great value based on ADP at a given pick, don't be afraid to reach on someone a little higher than their rank suggests.  Players that fit your punt are worth more to you in this strategy and the absolute difference in value between picks gets lower the later you get in the draft. Don't hope to make value picks then trade for the guys you want for your punt build -- because there's a good chance the owner who does take those punt-friendly players is punting themselves, and will be unwilling to part ways with their key players.

Here is a list of some players whose values rise significantly when punting each stat:

Points

Otto Porter, Robert Covington, Al Horford, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, Trevor Ariza, Nerlens Noel, Malcolm Brogdon, Rajon Rondo, Patrick Beverley, Lonzo Ball

Threes

Ricky Rubio, DeMar DeRozan, Elfrid Payton, Thaddeus Young, T.J. Warren, Ben Simmons, Rajon Rondo, traditional PF/Cs

Rebounds

Khris Middleton, Klay Thompson, Gary Harris, Al Horford, Danilo Gallinari, Tim Hardaway Jr., most PG

Assists

Bradley Beal, Robert Covington, Gary Harris, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, Harrison Barnes, J.J. Redick, Patrick Beverley, Seth Curry, Allen Crabbe, most PF/C

Steals

Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Serge Ibaka, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Pau Gasol, Tobias Harris, J.J. Redick, Buddy Hield, Eric Gordon, Devin Booker, Lou Williams, Milos Teodosic

Blocks

Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Harrison Barnes, Khris Middleton, Trevor Ariza, Ben Simmons, Danilo Gallinari, Ryan Anderson, Jae Crowder, Willy Hernangomez, Willie Cauley-Stein, most PG/SG

FG%

Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, Dennis Schroder, D'Angelo Russell, Devin Booker, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Smart, Rodney Hood, Ryan Anderson, Dirk Nowitzki

FT%

Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, Jusuf Nurkic, Clint Capela, Steven Adams, Elfrid Payton, Goran Dragic, Rajon Rondo, Marquese Chriss, Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz

Turnovers

Nicolas Batum, Jusuf Nurkic, Khris Middleton, Ben Simmons, DeMar DeRozan Andrew Wiggins, almost all PG

Once you have the basis of your team, you can either fill empty spots with specialists in the weakest categories you're still competing in, or snag interesting late rounder who are worthless if you aren't punting.  But the bottom of your roster isn't a big deal in the draft, since you'll be using it to snag breakout stars or stream players in good match-ups.  At the very end of the draft, you can even still draft for maximum upside regardless of how well a guy fits if you see a late round deep sleeper you're convinced will break out. You either didn't spend much, or you have an asset actually worth trading.

So that's it!  You've got a team built to punt.  Welcome to world of losing a little to win it all in fantasy basketball.

 

More 2017-18 Fantasy Basketball Analysis