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NBA Punt Guide: First Rounders - Viewing The Game's Elite From A Punt Perspective

DraftKings FanDuel daily fantasy basketball

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 4 of a large RotoBaller series on Punting in Head-to-Head fantasy basketball leagues. 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.

Now that we've covered some of the basics of punting as well as common pitfalls managers face when punting and the degree of difficulty of punting different categories, it's time to get down to first round picks, and how they should affect your punting strategy in a competitive league.

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Viewing the Game's Elite from a Punt Perspective

I won't sit here and tell you your first round pick is not your most important player, but I will say that your first round pick should not determine what strategy you are in. There two reasons for this.

Firstly, remember that the name of the game is surplus value. By default, it is not possible to gain any surplus value in the first round because you are using your most valuable resource (your first rounder) to pick a player that cannot possibly outperform the capital you spent on them. A first rounder can only perform like a first rounder or worse, and a first rounder can't be reached for or really drop too far down to make it a viable signal, meaning that you will gain zero information on what your opponents are drafting, which builds they are going for and what the best strategy to move into should be. There are strategies that will be better fits for first rounders than others but it is generally much better to wait until you have more information than decide that early on when you have none.  The value you lose by having to punt one of your first round picks top stats in much less significant than the value you'd lose down the board by being in a strategy that simply isn't open.

Secondly, the first round is host to a bounty of unique skill-sets and out of position stats, meaning that first rounders, while impossible to become true "value picks", will end up being the absolute best pivots for most punt builds. You can go in almost any direction and your first rounder will provide excellent value for your team in multiple categories due to their strong, varied skill-sets. Instead of looking to solidify yourself in a direction early on, it makes more sense to look at first rounders from a different point of view: as players with absolutely unique skill-sets that can provide boosts to a punt build in a way that allows you more flexibility later on. In this section, we will take a look at the top 12 players in the game, and take a view of their profiles from a less conventional point of view.

Note: All z-score stats are final 17-18 and courtesy of Basketball Monster 

Anthony Davis

The Brow will probably be the number one pick in most drafts unless people are scared off by injury concerns (you shouldn't be). Davis' skill-set is highlighted by an absolutely monstrous block z-score along with a pair of excellent out of position offerings in steals and FT%. Without a single stat below a -1 z-score, you can really go in any direction with the exception of punt blocks as Davis is capable of winning that category alone without much support.

It's pretty clear how easily Davis fits into builds such as punt 3s, punt assists and punt FTs, but what's less obvious is how Brow is an absolute monster pivot for punt FG%, neatly tying together multiple weak categories for that build. His block stat is so ridiculous that he doesn't even require that much support in order to make your team elite in that category. That block stat, coupled with his elite REB rate shore up the two hardest categories to bolster in punt FG%, while his slight deficiencies in 3s and AST will be easily made up for by virtue of the guard heavy nature of the build. Davis is also an underrated pivot for punt points, with out of position contributions in Steals and FT% providing excellent coverage and that monstrous block stat allowing you to nab some 3s and AST pivots later in the draft and not losing too much in blocks.

James Harden

Harden's profile features the single best PTS z-score in the game to go along with elite 3, FT% and AST marks as well. Harden also provides a touch of out of position rebounds and blocks and doesn't really kill you in FG% either, making him an extremely flexible player that can patch up holes in almost any build.

Surprisingly, Harden works as almost the perfect pivot for punt FT%, which is counter-intuitive given his reputation. He provides an incredible boost for 4 of your weakest categories in that build, with elite rates in PTS, 3s, AST and STL. This works the same, to a slightly less effective tune for any other big heavy builds, for example, getting STL, AST, 3s and FT% in punt points. Harden still works in a non pivot role for punt REB, punt BLK, or punt FG%, but you have to work more later in the draft to cover your contrary categories if you end up in one of the later 3 builds. The Beard is one of the easiest players to fit into your team and that versatility is why I've had him ranked #1 for the last few years. Draft Harden, stay open and profit.

LeBron James

The first thing that stands out about LBJ's spread is that his highest z-score is a surprising 2.94 mark for out of position assists. It's remarkable to see how his game has evolved and shifted as he exits his prime, with this change manifesting itself in a profile that also boasts out of position 3s and steals as well.

The most natural fit for James is the most obvious one, punt FT% which leverages him as a pivot to cover the guard stats (PTS, 3s, STL, AST), but he is an excellent pivot for any big-centric strategy due to his unique point forward like skill-set although work has to be done to patch over his poor FT% in the other builds. The all-around kit also works the other way around, with James able to patch REB and FG% for guard heavy teams while they naturally patch up the hole in FT%. It remains to be seen how the move to the Lakers will affect him, but James is one of the most versatile players to ever play this game, and that rings true for both the real and fantasy worlds.

Kevin Durant

Unless your league has somehow managed to quantify heart and competitiveness and uses those as categories (then you're auto punting those!), KD's strong, balanced profiles fits seamlessly into any strategy. The first thing that sticks out is those out of position blocks, as getting a >2 z-score for blocks from your SF gives you a very nice base to work off of for that stat. He's also similar to LeBron in terms of his spread resembling a point forward type distribution, which allows him to pivot very effectively in a big lineup.

Durant shines the most as a guard-like presence from a forward position in those lineups, for example, providing AST, PTS and 3s for a punt FT% build and for all 4 of those stats in punt steals. His versatility allows him to function as a big-like presence in punt rebounds as well, as he smooths over BLK and FG% very nicely. Probably the only strategy I would not run KD in is punt blocks, as giving up that much of a presence in out of position blocks is asking a bit too much, but otherwise, it's pretty easy to fit KD into anything you end up doing.

Karl-Anthony Towns

KAT is the first player on this list who lacks the excessive out of position production typical of a first rounder, instead, being just the pinnacle of fantasy bigs with two small out of position contributions in 3s and FT%. This more traditional spread makes it a harder to use him as a pivot, but KAT is so young that there can be easily projectable increases in most of his stats that give him the type of hidden upside other top picks may not have. It wouldn't be a shocker to see increases in 3s, AST or STL.

While Towns plays decently well as a pivot for big man stats in guard heavy builds while contributing a net positive in FT%, his lack of out of position pop in his spread makes him better as just a solid traditional fit in punt 3s or punt assists. I believe that he will be a better pivot later on in his career but it may not happen this year, and I personally like to know exactly what I'm getting with my first rounder rather than having to project. KAT is great but I believe that other first rounders provide a bit more flexibility than he can until he shows he has taken that expected step forward.

Russell Westbrook

Russ' biggest standout is an absurd assist z-score along with a healthy out of position rebound mark that let's him pivot nicely for guard heavy builds. I expect his free throw percentage this season to regress closer to career norms as he gets more comfortable with the new pacing and rules for free throw routines that threw off his free throw shooting early last season. Compared to previous years, Russ' FG% last year wasn't the enomorous liability it was in 16-17 and with Paul George back in the fold and Melo mercifully gone, I expect an improvement there as well meaning he won't hurt you much in the percentages like the box above would imply.

As a pivot, Westbrook works absolutely best in punt 3s as a guard who can give a very healthy dose of PTS, AST, STL and FT% for what will be a big heavy lineup. He provides similar coverage for punt FG% as well, and his big REB stat allows him to act as a pivot for guard heavy builds too such as punt blocks and punt FT%. Despite only possessing one real out of position asset, Russ having extremely high z-scores in the categories he does well in make him a fairly easy build around and while it doesn't show in last year's stats, I expect him to improve his efficiency this year, making him less of a floor risk.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Like KAT, Giannis is still very young and has projectable upside present in his game, but the difference between the two is that Giannis already possesses two very strong out of position stats in steals and assists, and that makes him very easy to fit in to teams as a strong pivot, as the Greek Freak can single-handedly win you the defensive categories some weeks.

His unique skill-set can be used both ways making him an extremely versatile first rounder, as  the out of position STL and AST, along with the big contribution in PTS make him a perfect pivot for big teams such as punt 3s and punt FT% while smaller teams love his big z-scores in REB, BLK and FG%. Giannis' two negatives are not significant anchors, and his positives make him an excellent fit into almost any team already, without even considering the 23 year old's massive upside.

Nikola Jokic

Jokic has one standout out of position stat in his profile and that's his AST mark as one of the best passing center's we've ever seen, as well as a fairly strong out of position FT% grade. Unfortunately, his full spread suffers a bit in head to head due to him being good in everything but not great at too many stats other than REB and AST, meaning that while he can fit and contribute in any build, starting your draft with Jokic means you will have to work harder to cover contrary stats later on in the draft in most strategies.

That AST and FT% does make it so Jokic is an excellent pivot for punt rebounds, punt blocks and punt FT%, but those are the only builds where he can truly act as a strong pivot and he ends up being a glue guy rather than a cornerstone for any other builds, which is not really where you want to be with your first round pick. Jokic is an excellent player, but he is a better roto asset than an H2H asset.

Stephen Curry

Now this is a skill-set I like, and I feel like Curry is being under-drafted this season as a lot of people aren't seeing him as a top 6 guy anymore. While not exactly jumping off the page with the out of position numbers, Curry does possess a very unique out of position FG% that is only shared by Jrue Holiday among elite guards. He also has the best 3s mark in the entire game, and that is definitely something that makes him an exceptional pivot and keeps you very flexible for the rest of your draft in a bunch of different builds.

The excellent 3s, AST, STL, PTS with the out of position REB and FG% make Curry quite possibly the best pivot in the game for big heavy builds such as punt FT%, punt assists and punt steals. He gives such a big boost in so many weak categories in the bigger strategies and opens up so much flexibility later on in the draft for your team. For smaller builds, having Curry locks up 3s and gives you a very strong base of AST, STL which lets you focus on contrary stats later on and draft pivots without fear of being weaker in your complementary stats. That out of position FG% is extremely valuable in builds such as punt blocks or punt points, making him a flexible first pick and my choice for most underrated first rounder this season.

Victor Oladipo

Last year's breakout star boasts the best STL number in the game along with some neat out of position production in BLK, FG% and REB. Similar to Curry, a z-score that monstrous for a stat lends itself to more flexibility later on in the draft, and Oladipo can play very strongly as a pivot in a number of ways.

Due to his strong FG% and those elite STL and PTS, big heavy builds like punt FT% and punt AST leverage his skill-set excellently as a pivot for those stats. Just like how Curry's 3s are so strong it has a ripple affect throughout the entire drafts, Oladipo's steals have the same effect as having him in a guard-heavy strategy lets you almost disregard steals and not worry about being weak in the stat, allowing you to pour resources into drafting pivots late in builds such as punt REB, punt FG% and punt PTS. Oladipo keeps you very flexible, and I love the profile as a result.

Joel Embiid

Embiid sits in the same boat as KAT with regards to the undeveloped out of position stats that have room for projectable growth. The assists and 3s should improve as Embiid gets more years of experience under his belt and will make him an excellent pivot for big-centric builds in future years. The difference between Jojo and KAT for this season is that Embiid's strengths are much more defined than KAT's are, with an excellent BLK and REB number taking center stage.

Those two elite stats coupled with his small contributions in out of position guard stats make him a great pivot for REB and BLK in punt FG%, but his skill-set doesn't lend itself well to the other guard focused strategies such as punt blocks or punt rebounds. The exceptional REB and BLK marks do make Embiid a strong build around for punt FT%, punt assists or punt 3s as his elite BLK stat especially allows you to focus on covering weaknesses later on with Embiid being able to shoulder a large load. I do like Embiid better than KAT as a first rounder but he definitely lacks the versatility that someone like Curry or Oladipo can give you late in the first round.

Kawhi Leonard

('16-'17 numbers due to injury)

I think Kawhi belongs in the same conversation as the other first rounders, as I see no reason for him to not perform up to previous levels with almost a full year of rest. Kawhi is similar to Nikola Jokic, with a profile that is good across the board but unlike Jokic, he has three excellent stats in STL, PTS and FT%.

With his guard like skill-set, Kawhi serves as an excellent pivot for big heavy builds, especially punt 3s and punt assists as he provides near elite marks in some of your weaker stats. While not as strong in punt points, steals or FT%, being able to pivot strongly for 2 of his 3 strongest stats is still excellent. For the guard heavy strategies, Leonard provides some rebounds and blocks and can work to bolster steals significantly enough so that you can focus on your weaker categories later on, similar to the effect Curry has on 3s and Embiid on blocks. I think Kawhi looks to be one of the steals in the draft, and one of the best chances you have to get first round production from possibly a mid to late second round pick.


It's All About Perspective

Hopefully this piece was able to give you a different perspective on evaluating the unique profiles of our top players. While you shouldn't force a strategy right off the bat in any draft, first rounders provide unique, valuable skill-sets that will create a ripple effect all the way down the draft as you won't be able to find the type of unique, varied stat spreads the best players possess further down the draft board. Next week, we will begin our individual build guides starting with Punt Field Goal %. Get ready for a great season!


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