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State of the Meta: Punting FG% in Fantasy Basketball Leagues


The holiday season is fast approaching, and enough season has passed to afford us the chance to evaluate our early season calls and take the temperature of the NBA. With around a third of the season over, now is a good time to reflect and re-calibrate some of our expectations.

In this series, I'm going to take a look from a top-down point of view at some of the Punt strategies, and look to give some guidance on how to move forward if your teams are in those particular strategies, and what kind of thoughts should be doing through our heads as we gear up for what is hopefully a successful stretch run and playoffs.

We'll start with Punt FG%.

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Changing Expectations

My preseason call for punt FG% was that it would be a lot shallower than previous years and harder to build a great team around due to the situations surrounding some of the elite pivots and cornerstones for the strategy - Porzingis projected to miss most of the season and Boogie's injury and situation being the biggest problems.

I said that the number of ideal Center eligible players for the strategy would be low and the best ones would be heavily over-drafted and that most leagues would not be able to support 2 strong punt FG% teams like in years past. I also mentioned that you might have to some rely on rookies to carry that load, a very high-risk position to be in.

About that... The rookie center eligible guys are exactly what has been carrying the strategy this season.

 

Triple-J and the Block Panther

These two are the real deal and have breathed new life into the strategy. If you're a punt FG% team that got either Jaren Jackson Jr. or Wendell Carter Jr. late in the draft, or traded for them early in the season, your punt FG% team is pretty solid. Both these guys are elite block pivots that provide a solid base of rebounds without hurting your FT%, and pretty much serve a similar role for the strategy that Marc Gasol has for years.

Carter Jr. has struggled a bit of late, and there is a bit of a frontcourt crunch with the Bulls' rotation with the return of Bobby Portis and Lauri Markkanen, but he is definitely part of the Bulls' future and will see consistent minutes as he continues to work on his foul issues. Jackson Jr. is already on a star trajectory and has been a wonderful surprise so far this season, and his combination of Porzingis-level blocks and decent FT% has made him look like a cornerstone for the strategy for years to come.

Another guy who's been a solid value this season is Brook Lopez, who has been a phenomenal blocks pivot for the strategy, and obviously, Gasol has been his usual excellent self in punt FG% and LaMarcus Aldridge has been alright for those who overpaid for him. Lopez, Aldridge, and Gasol, along with the two rookies have made it so leagues can actually support 2-3 punt FG% teams now that won't be terrible at blocks and rebounds, and the strategy is in a much better place than it was back in October.

 

Not What You Expected

For every punt build, sometimes you end up with players who's season stat lines end up a little different from what you expected. You pay a premium for a guy expecting one thing and end up with another that kind of runs counter-intuitive to your strategy. Let's take a look at those guys for Punt FG%.

Russell Westbrook

For over half a decade, Russ has been one of the premier punt FG% guards for his out of position rebounds and across the board contributions that look better when you disregard his most damaging stat. It's pretty amazing that in 2018, Russ has become almost unplayable in the strategy, and now is probably the premier punt FT% guard in the league. With less FG volume and better efficiency in recent years, Russ' FG% impact is actually very bearable now and pretty easy to make up for in a big heavy team like Punt FT%.

Yet now, his biggest negative impact stat aside from turnovers is FT%, which sits at an unbearable z-score of over 2 right now despite a very low volume that is due to go up as he gets his legs back under him from his injury issues. Punt FG% usually can't afford to have such a high volume negative in free throw percentage from one of your guard spots, and I think that if you own Russ, you should be looking to move him for a player, or package of players who better fit the strategy.

It's crazy that you could have started the draft off with something like Embiid/Russ at the wheel and think you have the perfect base for a punt FG% team, and now be in a position where you've lost FT almost every week and need to revamp your team.

John Wall

Here for the exact same reasons as Westbrook above, with a track record of a year+ as a bad free throw shooter. Wall was a great target for punt FG% due to his out of position blocks, and now is a much better fit in punt FG% for his steals, points and assists.

Wall's FT% has a been a little easier to stomach than Russ' so far but it's still been a significant negative, and it is a lot harder to field a competitive FT% team when your guard is having such a negative impact on that category. On the flip side, Wall's FG% is a lot easier to patch over in punt FT% just due to the strategy naturally tilting towards more bigs.

For reference, I moved on from Wall on one of my punt FG% teams for Mike Conley and Brook Lopez, who are much better fits for the strategy than this 2018 version of Wall is.

 

The Wire

One big advantage of being in a punt strategy is being able to find value in players who are not worth rostering for others. Here are some guys you should be grabbing if they are on your wires for your punt FG% teams. (% are for Yahoo leagues)

Jonathan Isaac, 56% Owned

If Isaac was dropped in your league, he should be your number one pickup. There's no reason for him to be unowned in 44% of leagues, and for punt FG% his skill-set is exactly what you need to fill your hard to fill cats. He is a perfect late round pivot for blocks and rebounds and will absolutely return value for a punt FG% team.

Isaac has averaged 29 minutes the last week (27 last 2 weeks), and now that he is healthy, I see him overtaking Jonathan Simmons for the starting spot long term on a surprisingly competitive Magic team.

Danny Green, 59% Owned

Green has a very similar spread to Isaac with a little less defense and more 3s, and his contributions in rebounds and blocks make him excellent as a coverage guy for punt FG%.

If you are running punt PG% and are in one of the 41% of the leagues where green is on the wire, pick him up. He is locked into his role and being punt FG%, you don't care about his streaky shooting nearly as much as anyone else, so take advantage of a top-100 value player you can get for free.

Marcus Smart, 29% Owned

Marcus Smart has been a top 70 player over the last month in punt FG%, and the Celtics have been winning handily since moving him into the starting lineup. This bodes well for the futures, as Smart is an excellent player who contributes to winning basketball (5.9 Net Rating in 29 minutes last year, 7.5 in 25 minutes this year). The Celtics know that, and his minutes have ramped up over the last 2 weeks, making him an excellent add for the strategy.

Smart won't keep up the blistering production he's put up over the last week, but now with a starting role and the minutes to back that up, I see a top-100 punt FG% player on the season, which means that he should be owned in a lot more than 29% of leagues.

Mikal Bridges, 11% Owned

With Trevor Ariza gone, I expect that 11% number to shoot up quite a bit over the next couple weeks. Bridges is one of the best stashes out there, as he has been a top 90 guy in 32 minutes over the last 2 weeks for punt FG% teams and should see his production and consistency improve as the year goes on.

His on/off numbers are fantastic for a rookie, meaning he is having a strong impact on the court for a dumpster fire Suns team, which leads to me to believe that we will see 30+ minutes for Bridges for the rest of the season. That is more than enough time for him to be a top-100 value for the build.

Mitchell Robinson, 12% Owned

My favorite kind of stashes are the players who can provide some kind of niche value in the short term while presenting long-term upside if things go right. Mitchell Robinson fits that bill perfectly for me. This is a bit more of a higher skill-level play, as I wouldn't advise grabbing Mitch Rob in punt FG% if you are new to fantasy basketball (or punting), but he is the kind of polarized skill-set weapon that can steal categories in an unbalanced schedule week.

Points is my most common weekly audible punt, as there are weeks where I am fairly certain I won't be able to win points, and deploying Robinson strategically as a punt points play to try to steal the categories that a punt FG% team will struggle in (rebounds and blocks) has definitely done work this season. Robinson's block rate is insane for a guy playing such limited minutes, and that is exactly the type of player you want on the bench in a deep league - a guy who is elite in a category that can put you over the top when you know your matchups inside and out.

There have been weeks where Robinson has single-handedly won me blocks, as well as letting me steal turnovers when I otherwise wouldn't have been able to, and getting those wins here and there definitely add up over a full season.

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