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State of the Meta: Punt FT% in Fantasy Basketball Leagues


As we approach the new year, 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.

With 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 move onto Punt FT%.

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A Surprise To Be Sure... But A Welcome One

In the past, punt FT% was a strategy defined by the bigs, and a lot of players drafted it starting down the middle with guys like DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard and Andre Drummond being the headliners of the build.

This has been the generally accepted approach for years, going all the way back to proto-punt FT% teams headlined by Shaq making punt FT% the first punt strategy to really go mainstream as something that fantasy basketball players did to gain an edge.

As the strategy of punting has matured over the year, we arrive in 2018 with punt FT% in a very different place - I believe the strategy to be one defined by its guards, and the success and failure of the strategy comes down to how well you fill out your guard positions. This has actually worked to make punt FT% stronger than it has ever been in the metagame, where strong punt FT% teams can be pretty dominant across the board with few, if any weak categories if drafted correctly, and it's thanks to the evolution of the point guard position - from the pass first point generals of the 90s and early 2000s to the athletic freak combo guards of today.

 

Optimus Dime and the Brodie

Russell Westbrook and John Wall are the defining punt FT% players of 2018, imagine that a few years ago. Both players provide across the board production and help to greatly bolster the categories that punt FT% will naturally struggle within steals, points and assists. In addition to that, both their values this season have dropped overall due to dips in FT%, which obviously isn't a concern if you're punting it.

The combination of those factors has made these 2 guys easy trade targets if they're sitting on a team that isn't a punt FT% team. Both these guys also have their relatively poor field goal percentages and high turnover counts pulled up by the general high FG% and low TO nature of punt FT% teams making them elite across the board contributors with almost no weaknesses.

 

As Deep As It Gets

Another reason why the strategy is now defined by guards is that the center position is now deeper than it has ever been. Just take a look at how many top 50 guys there are in the strategy that are not attractive to other builds: Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, Hassan Whiteside, Montrezl Harrell. And then you have guys in the top 100 range like Willie Cauley-Stein and Derrick Favors who were incredibly cheap pickups on draft day as well as rookies like Mohamed Bamba and Marvin Bagley who will end up in that range soon as well and it's evident that punt FT% is as deep as it has ever been.

Couple that with the declining overall value (but not for punt FT%) of guys like Westbrook, Wall and even Eric Bledsoe, all of whom suddenly can't seem to hit their free throws anymore and it's incredibly easy to find incremental value for a punt FT% team up and down the board.

 

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 FT% teams. (% are for Yahoo leagues)

Marvin Bagley III, 57% Owned

Probably the most natural stash for the strategy, Bagley is available in almost half of the leagues out there and should absolutely be picked up, especially if you have an IR spot on your punt FT% team.

Points is probably the hardest category to pivot for in the build and Bagley will be able to provide a decent amount of that along with bolstering your peripheral stats to an extent. He has a decent steal rate for a big and his minutes should go up as the year goes on.

Mitchell Robinson, 12% Owned

Mitch Rob is also a good big man to stash, although I like him a lot less in punt FT% than something like punt rebounds or punt FG% due to his skill-set being too correlated to the strengths of the strategy.  If you still need to bolster blocks and FG%, then he should be a solid pickup.

I expect his minutes to go up as the season goes on, especially with the Knicks' recent benching of Enes Kanter. When your biggest competition for the starting spot is Luke Kornet, you're in a pretty good place to pick up decent minutes.

Lonzo Ball, 86% Owned

He's not a waiver guy but I have to mention him here as he is still on a decent number of waiver wires somewhere. If he is available in the 14% of leagues where he isn't owned, please pick him up.

Derrick Favors, 65% Owned

Easy scoop up if you need another big, and a great example of how easy it is to get quality bigs for the strategy and the advantages of building from the guard positions out. It's probably too late to grab him in a lot of leagues now but if he's still on your wire he's a solid pickup.

Maurice Harkless, 3% Owned

For deeper leagues, Moe Harkless is a solid flier. He returned top 100 value in punt FT% in 2016-2017 and contributes in your contrary categories (decent steals and 3s) which make him one of the cheapest pivots out there. I'd stash him to see how his playing time shakes out if you have room to do so.

Emmanuel Mudiay, 59% Owned

Another excellent pivot, especially when you are in the strategy that is best equipped to mitigate his crappy efficiency. Mudiay will provide a decent amount of points and assists, which is likely a welcome addition to your punt FT% team.

 

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