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NBA Punt Guide: How to Punt Categories


Welcome to fantasy draft season for the 2018-19 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 fourth year putting together this guide, but now it's being done a little differently -- as just part of a large RotoBaller series on Punting in Head-to-Head fantasy basketball leagues -- the RotoBaller Guide to Punting in Fantasy Basketball. I'm now joined on the punt coverage team by fellow RotoBaller expert Kent Shen who will be diving much deeper into strategies than we've gone with this guide in the past. This will be our most ambitious NBA project yet, a multi-part deep dive into every standard punt strategy in fantasy basketball with advanced punting strategies.

Over the next little while (or long while!), we will look at how to approach first round picks, move on to separate guides for each of the eight standard punt strategies (FG%, FT%, 3PM, PTS, REB, AST, STL, BLK), and get you ready to move into each and every one of these builds should the opportunity present itself. Before taking a deep dive into strategies for each individual build, we'll be presenting a primer and looking at the concept of punting from a more general angle for those inexperienced with the concepts, and hoping to create a solid landing point for newer fantasy basketball players, showing anyone new to the game how to begin effectively utilizing the defining strategy of the game we all love. Let's get right to it!

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Intro to Punting

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 Damian Lillard, Paul George, and Kemba Walker.

 

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

In roto leagues you should basically 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 worked.  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 last year, 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 almost 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 take 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 rankings based how easy a guy is to punt with.  For example, it's perfectly reasonable to take Giannis Antetokounmpo (Yahoo ADP 4.7) over Kevin Durant (Yahoo ADP 3.8), because you believe Giannis is easier to build a punt around (and likely to play more games).

Your first round pick can narrow your punt but not decide it. It's your second and third picks that will start to commit you on a punt strategy. The key in making those picks is to find a complementary piece that fits a similar punt, while building up strengths and filling positions that will be hard to come by later in the draft. Let's consider a couple of first round picks, and some popular punt builds for those players.

Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James - punt FT%

It's common to think about punting FT% with one of these stars, since they give you such a head start in assists, which are a category your DeAndre Jordan and Jusuf Nurkic picks aren't going to help you with later in the draft. The key in a 2nd rounder is to look to build on the typically hard-to-win-with-bigs categories such as assists and steals, ideally filling your PG position with someone who won't compromise your utter dominance in FG%. Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving, and Jrue Holiday, all star PGs with high FG%, are ideal fits if they slide back around to you. With that base, you can then look to score Andre Drummond or Rudy Gobert at their 3rd round ADP to fully commit to a FT% punt build.

Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard - punt FG% / TO

If you end up with one of these star high usage point guards, it's a good strategy to stack up other high usage "sloppy" guards later in the draft -- D'Angelo Russell, Jeremy Lin, Spencer Dinwiddie, basically you can't go wrong with any past or present Nets point guards. The key to doing it well is accumulating enough bigs in the early/mid rounds so that you aren't also punting rebounds and blocks. The nice thing is that there are a handful of high usage bigs in the 2nd and 3rd rounds with tons of excellent counting stats who fit well with a these very punts. Joel Embiid is the perfect center for your build, and with an ADP at 18 is usually available to teams who pick Westbrook or Lillard in the back end of the first round. Paul George is also a fine option if you think Embiid is too risky. Back around in the 3rd, you can then go for Kevin Love or Marc Gasol (both with an ADP around 34) to further shore up your big man spots -- I might even continue with Al Horford or Blake Griffin to really solidify things in the 4th before diving into all those point guards on bad teams for the rest of your roster.

Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns - punt AST

Assists are a tricky category to win, and are often dominated by teams that take a star facilitator in the first and build around him. If you take Davis or Towns early then watch all the good point guards, point forwards, and Jokic disappear before you pick again, it's obviously tempting to just throw up your hands and not bother with the category. Luckily, fantasy basketball rewards you for getting frustrated and giving up, unlike most of the rest of life. Counter-intuitively, Kyrie Irving can still be a good pick -- since it's hard to fill your PG spot with someone super-useful in an AST punt. C.J. McCollum is also a fine pick at the turn if you went AD first overall. You can also target wings like Jimmy Butler. Best of all might be to target another elite source of blocks and rebounds like Gobert and utterly dominate the category -- you can then shore up your guard spots with shooting/scoring specialists as the draft goes on (wings are deep!).

Of course, there are other strategies where you may not want to let your first rounder define your punt at all, but I'll let Kent get into that in the next part of the primer.

 

Okay, I have my 1st rounder and complementary 2nd and 3rd rounders -- 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 a round 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 a "value pick" based on your draft site's rankings, then try to trade for the guys you actually 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.

Once you have the basis of your team, you could just fill the back end of your roster with specialists in the weakest categories you're still competing in. Or you can just draft for maximum upside regardless of how well a guy fits your punt. If you see a late round deep sleeper you're convinced will break out, grab him -- you either didn't spend much, or you have an asset actually worth trading for a lot more. The bottom of your roster isn't a big deal, since you'll be using it to snag breakout stars or stream players in good match-ups.

So that's it!  You've got the basic concept of punting down.  Welcome to world of losing a little to win it all in fantasy basketball. In the rest of this series, we'll take a look at the pitfalls of punting, how to find value when more and more people are punting categories, in depth punting guides by category, and more.

 

Next: Common Pitfalls of Punting

The RotoBaller Guide to Punting in Fantasy Basketball




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