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NBA Punt Guide: Common Pitfalls of Punting

With the 2018-2019 season approaching, we're ready to start rolling out NBA preview content for you guys, our readers. I believe that H2H Fantasy Basketball is right up there with Roto Baseball as the most skill-testing fantasy format and punting strategies are a huge reason why - they are simple to learn, hard to master, and are incredibly rewarding when you execute them properly.

Welcome to Part 2 of the RotoBaller Guide to Punting in Fantasy Basketball. This is 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.

Now that we've covered the basics of what punting is, let's dive into some of the common pitfalls players face when punting in fantasy basketball.

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Common Pitfalls of Punting in Fantasy Basketball

At this point, most players who have any experience with the game know about punting, and have their own idea what it entails, but a surprisingly large amount are not aware of what exactly it means to execute a punt strategy as they fall for these common pitfalls and end up with teams that might sound like they work on paper, but come up short time and time again.

The Concept of Punting is Not Actively Trying to Lose a Category, but Rather, Trying to Create Surplus Value Through Ignoring a Category During Team-Building

This is easily the number one pitfall that new players taking their first swipe at punting fall for. Punting does not mean you are actively trying to lose the category you decide to punt. What punting does mean, is ignoring that category to build the strongest team you can in the other categories you are not punting, even if it means drafting a player who is not an obvious candidate for the specific build you are going for if it makes sense from a value and team building perspective. That means not reaching for players that seem like perfect fits for your strategy and surrendering value in the process.

The reason why punt strategies are the defining strategies in fantasy basketball is because punting allows you to create artificial surplus value where it otherwise wouldn't exist. The secret to being successful in fantasy is really simple, as it boils down to creating the most value using a constrained set of resources (draft capital), a basic economics problem. What punting does for you is create a situation where a player can give you value beyond the draft pick or auction dollars you spend to acquire them simply because they contribute more to your build than they do to others'. By reaching for players who "fit your build" earlier, you are essentially giving that value right back. The easiest example is someone like DeAndre Jordan, who would not be drafted at all by a team that isn't punting FT%. If you are the only player in your league drafting that strategy, you can land Jordan in the 4th/5th round, meaning you are getting a player who will return borderline 1st/2nd round value in your build for the investment of a 4th/5th round pick - 2-3 rounds of surplus value.

If you were to take Jordan in round 2 just because you decide "I am punt FT%", you are not only giving that value right back, but also narrowing your flexibility going forward, as spending your second round pick on a player who almost definitively puts you into a specific strategy greatly limits your options going forward. This leads really neatly into our next pitfall.


Committing Too Early and Not Using Signals

The draft is a spectacle in itself, and probably the biggest contributor in determining your fate in a league. Every draft is a different animal - a game within a game that needs to adjusted to and controlled in order for you to gain an edge over your competition. In leagues where most players will be playing a punt strategy, it is almost always incorrect to commit to your strategy after the first round without having idea of what your opponents are doing. That is because the entire pool of roster worthy players in fantasy basketball is only large enough that it can only support so many teams of a certain strategy before the overlap causes a significant drop in the teams trying top execute that strategy. For example, if there are 3 players building a punt Assists team, each of those teams will be relatively weaker simply due to the fact that they will all be fighting over the same targets for the entirety of the draft.

That is why I am a huge believer in staying open early until you have an idea of what strategies your opponents are running before committing to your own, usually around the 3rd or 4th round. From this, we need to take a look at signals, and the importance they have on drafting a punt strategy.

signal  is when a player falls below a certain threshold in draft position (or auction dollars), strongly indicating, or signalling, that a certain punt position is open. The easiest example of this would be someone like Andre Drummond falling to the 4th round - if there was another punt FT% player in your league, Drummond would have been taken in the 2nd or 3rd by that player so seeing him there in round 4 means nobody else is drafting that strategy. I prioritize being in an open strategy over forcing one that my first round pick fits in better just because I know that my overall team will be stronger, and it is much easier to trade your first round pick for other top tier players who fit your build than it is to make up the lost depth because you've been fighting all draft and all season for the same players as 2 other teams.

That being said, it doesn't hurt to have your first round pick fall perfectly into the open punt strategy you find yourself in after round 3, and that is why I like flexibility from my first rounders and prefer to rate players who fit neatly into a multitude of different punt strategies higher. The true studs in the game are usually so strong in so many different categories that you really have a few different directions you can go and can defer that decision for after you have a feel for what your league-mates are doing.

Also, note that auction drafts are a different animal all together, and signals will be a lot easier to read than in snake, but auction requires a more top down view and knowing exactly what each and every one of your opponents is drafting and why. Even though signals are more obvious, you need a better grasp of your opponents thought process and strategy to gain an edge, and being in the open strategy is even more important than it is in snake.


Focusing Too Much on Complementary Stats and not Contrary Stats

Some definitions first:

complimentary stat is a stat that fits naturally into a punt build, such as FG% and REB for a punt FT% strategy due to the fact that low FT% bigs happen to be good contributors in those categories. It means that these are the stats you will be naturally strong in just by virtue of being in that strategy.

A contrary stat is a stat that you'll be naturally weak in if you are in a specific punt build, such as STL and AST for that same FT% build due to the fact that the highest contributors in FT% are usually guards who also provide high STL and AST rates. You still need to be competitive in these categories but need to work in order to do so.

One of the biggest mistakes newer punt players make is putting all their focus into players who provide complimentary stats, rather than players who can patch up their contrary ones. The result of this is teams that end up great to dominant in their complementary stats but so weak in their contraries despite still needing to compete in those stats, causing their team to fall apart in weeks where things don't go according to plan such as when they suffer an injury to a key player or their opponent happens to be extremely strong in or greatly over-perform in one of their complimentary stats.

Having strong contrary stats allows you to have a buffer during those tough weeks, and gives your team a level of consistency that ensures your strategy can withstand the bad weeks and dominate the good ones. It is the foundation upon which strong punt teams are built, and underscores the importance of pivots, or players who have increased significance in certain builds due to the coverage they provide for contrary stats. During our series, we will go over pivots that are valuable for certain builds, and when to target them.

Finally, taking the pivot concept to the extreme is the most specialized pivot, the punt-breaker, or a player who can swing your punt cat in a matchup against a team punting, or just generally very weak in that stat. Punt-breakers can be useful to steal a win here and there during the regular season but they can be absolutely back breaking in a one week playoff if deployed correctly.


Next: Ranking the Degree of Difficulty of Punt Strategies

The RotoBaller Guide to Punting in Fantasy Basketball

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