Things get a little trickier in the second half of the first round. You can pair Anthony Davis with just about any second-round pick and come away above average in most categories. That’s not the case with the players likely to be drafted at the end of the first. Finding the right fit is even more important when you are stuck with a late pick. You’re already fighting an uphill battle when you draft at the end of the snake and you’ll be banking on fit to make up the difference in the value between your first-round pick and most of your opponents’ first-round picks.

I’ve included a breakdown of where you will stand after the second round if you start with one of the below pairings. I did this so that you can have an idea of what categories you will need to focus on in the middle rounds. To figure out where each pairing is likely to land you in each category, I compared each pair of players’ 2017-2018 numbers to the average numbers of the top-24 players on Yahoo and ESPN. The averages for both sites were similar with the biggest difference coming in threes and in rebounds. The difference was due to Andre Drummond being a top-24 player on ESPN but not on Yahoo.

Here are the averages (Kawhi Leonard’s 2016-2017 averages were included in the calculation):

Average 2017-2018 Numbers of Yahoo’s Current Top-24 Players: 23.0 PPG, 2.1 3PG, 6.7 RPG, 5.8 APG,  1.4 SPG, .8 BPG, 48.0 FG%, 82.0 FT%,  2.9 TOPG

Average 2017-2018 Numbers of ESPN’s Current Top-24 Players: 22.7 PPG, 1.8 3PG, 7.3 RPG, 5.7 APG, 1.4 SPG, .9 BPG, 48.4 FG%, 81.0 FT%, 2.8 TOPG

I ignored possible improvements when labeling a pair as above average, average, or below average in a category. That means any Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, or Kevin Love pairings are likely going to be underrated by this guide.

LeBron James (Pick 5-8)

Punt FT%:

LeBron James/Kyrie Irving

Above average in Points, Threes, Assists, FG%

Below average in Rebounds, Steals, Blocks, Turnovers

  • This pairing is below average in as many categories as it is above average in, but it sets you up extremely well for the middle rounds. You’ll have no problem finding enough rebounds and blocks once you start targeting the punt FT% big men so those categories should not be a priority in the first two rounds if you are punting FT%. The categories that should be prioritized are points, threes, and assists and this grouping delivers in all three categories. If you can grab these two, and an elite punt FT% big man like Clint Capela in three, you are pretty much guaranteed to end the draft with a strong punt FT% team.

 

LeBron James/Kemba Walker

Above average in Points, Threes, Assists, FG%

Below average in Rebounds, Steals, Blocks, Turnovers

  • Points and threes are what we care about in round two when punting FT% and Kemba is going to be a monster source of both. Walker’s FG% is less than ideal, but it is not a major issue given who you are starting the build with. Kemba also does a great job taking care of the ball (2.2 TOPG), which is important because LeBron-led teams tend to struggle with turnovers (4.2 TOPG).

 

Other Strong Partners for LeBron James in Punt FT%: Ben Simmons (unlikely to drop far enough but would mean a monster start in boards, assists, steals, and FG%, would put you in a hole in threes and points so would be best to pass on a big in three if you start James/Simmons),  Chris Paul (awesome fit with LeBron, whether to take him depends on your risk appetite), Kyle Lowry (very solid option if you are punting points as well as FT%, elite source of triples), Jrue Holiday (decent, but prefer the guards who give you more in points and threes since steals, blocks, and FG% are easier to find later), John Wall (a Wall/LeBron start means you are punting turnovers, monster start in assists), Andre Drummond and friends (don’t love the punt FT% big men in two, but it can work if you think you can get a top-end point guard in three).

 

Punt Blocks:

LeBron James/Jimmy Butler

Above average in Points, Assists, Steals, FG%

Average in Rebounds, Turnovers

Below average in Threes, FT%

  • The biggest issue with starting a punt blocks team with LeBron is that you will need to find a way to offset his FT%. Jimmy can do that. Based off of last year’s numbers, this pairing should have your FT% around 80 percent after round two. This start puts you in a hole in threes, but threes are easier to find later than FT% impact. Jimmy also comes with an extremely low turnover rate (1.8 TOPG) and drafting him is one of the few ways that a team with LeBron can be average in the category after round two.

 

LeBron James/Kevin Love

Above average in Rebounds, FG%, Turnovers

Average in Points, Threes, Assists

Below average in Steals, FT%

  • Love is going to see his usage rate spike now that he is no longer playing beside LeBron and this pairing could end up being an above-average start in points, threes, and assists. Like Jimmy, Love can undue most of the damage that LeBron does to your FT%. Using last year’s numbers, this one-two punch shot 79 percent from the line. Steals are this start’s biggest weakness so it will be important to pair this duo with some of the top-end 3-and-D players that usually go around round five.

 

Other Strong Partners for LeBron James in Punt Blocks: Kyrie Irving (punt blocks can struggle with FG% so super efficient guards like Irving are extremely useful), Jrue Holiday (actually a very good shot blocker for a guard but his FG% makes him viable here), Kemba Walker (great source of FT% impact but forces you to pay more attention to FG% later), Kyle Lowry (very good rebounder for a point guard, but hurts your points and FG%).

 

Nikola Jokic (Pick 5-9)

Punt Blocks:

Nikola Jokic/Jimmy Butler

Above average in Rebounds, Steals, FT%, Turnovers

Average in Assists, FG%

Below average in Points, Threes

  • Butler was a top-nine player in punt blocks last season so he’s going to be one of the top second-round targets for any punt blocks team. He’s an especially good fit with Jokic because he’s one of the few second-round picks who can make a Jokic-led team above average in steals after round two. Jimmy’s threes are less than ideal, but this is an incredible start at the line and a good way to ensure turnover dominance.

 

Nikola Jokic/Kemba Walker

Above average in Threes, FT%, Turnovers

Average in Rebounds, Assists

Below average in Points, Steals, FG%

  • Points and threes are going to be the two biggest issues that a Jokic-led punt blocks team will face and Kemba is going to bring the heat in both. With Dwight Howard out of the picture, we could see Kemba’s usage rate sneak into the thirties. More usage for Kemba likely means an even bigger FG% hit, so any teams starting with Jokic and Kemba will have to make FG% impact a priority in the middle rounds.

 

Other Strong Partners for Nikola Jokic in Punt Blocks: Jrue Holiday (brings the FG% impact that this build loves, very strong steals, durability a concern), Kyrie Irving (great start in the percentages and boosts points and threes, decent drag on rebounds and steals), Kevin Love (big-big start can work, Love’s assists should be better this year, will need to target high FG% guards later), Donovan Mitchell (bad value in two but Jokic-led teams need points, threes, and steals and Mitchell can provide all of that).

 

Punt Points:

Nikola Jokic/Kyrie Irving

Above average in FG%, FT%, Turnovers

Average in Threes, Rebounds, Assists

Below average in Steals, Blocks

  • This is close to a dream start in punt points. Percentages impact need to be your focus early on when punting points and there’s not many combination who do better work in FG% and FT%. This is also one of the few combinations that offers both a solid start in dimes and an above-average start in turnovers. You’ll want to look at players like Myles Turner or Deandre Ayton in the middle rounds if you begin your draft with this duo. This is a rough start in the blocks column and you’ll likely need to find a way to draft at least two elite sources of blocks to overcome the early deficit. Jaren Jackson Jr. is also a great match for the build due to his potentially elite block rate and his likely minor role on offense.

 

Nikola Jokic/Kyle Lowry

Above average in Threes, Rebounds, Assists, FT%, Turnovers

Below average in Steals, Blocks, FG%

  • The round two targets in punt points with Jokic are very similar to the round two targets for punt blocks with Jokic. Jimmy is a superior option to Lowry in two, but Lowry isn’t too far off and worth a look if you want to avoid Butler’s messy situation.

 

Other Strong Partners for Nikola Jokic in Punt Points: Jimmy Butler (not a big scorer for an early-round pick, only weakness in this build will be threes), Jrue Holiday (great FG% start, lots of assists with this duo, not many turnovers), Rudy Gobert (will be tough to overcome the FT% hit in punt points but fixes issues with blocks), Draymond Green (top-15 player in punt points last season, percentages not ideal, but not terrible), Chris Paul (outstanding fit, good rebounder for a point guard, only weakness with a Jokic/Paul start will be blocks, Paul was a top-six player in punt points last year).

 

Damian Lillard (Pick 8-11)

Punt FG%:

Damian Lillard/Joel Embiid

Above average in Points, Rebounds, Blocks, FT%

Average in Threes

Below average in Assists, Steals, Turnovers

  • Embiid is the new DeMarcus Cousins. The Sixer comes with elite popcorn stats, somewhat sketchy percentages, and a ridiculously high turnover rate for a big man. Cousins was a dream fit with Lillard in the punt FG% build and Embiid isn’t far behind. Embiid is likely going to improve across the board and owners lucky enough to employ this duo and going to see their teams dominate in points and the big man categories. Embiid should also have an improved three-ball this season and this should end up being a strong start from deep as well. Assists will not be a major issue, but steals and turnovers will be. Embiid has the lowest steal rate of any of the top-24 picks and no point guard who consistently goes in the first two rounds averages less steals than Lillard. Turnovers is a major issue for any Embiid team and his owners should consider just ignoring the category all together and rolling with the double-punt.

 

Damian Lillard/Kemba Walker

Above average in Points, Threes, Assists, FT%, Turnovers

Below average in Rebounds, Steals, Blocks

  • Kristaps Porzingis and DeMarcus Cousins’ injuries have left the second round light on bigs so you may find yourself forced into a small-small smart. That’s not ideal, but also not a major problem. Kemba is the best option of the second-round point guards in punt FG%. He has a high floor and a high ceiling. The Hornet has been a top-25 player in the punt FG% build six seasons in a row. It goes without saying that big men will have to be your focus in round three or four if you start with two smalls. Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, and Draymond Green are all strong punt FG% picks in round three.

 

Other Strong Partners for Damian Lillard in Punt FG%: Paul George (home-run pick if he falls, top-11 player in punt FG% last season, makes up for Lillard’s lack of swipes), Victor Oladipo (unlikely to be there unless you play in a ten-team league, top-nine player in punt FG% last year, makes up for Lillard’s steals and provides useful out-of-position blocks), Kyle Lowry (top-20 player in punt FG% last season, could be looking at a usage rate bump, strong rebounder for a point guard), Kevin Love (gets this build the rebounds it needs but not the blocks), Jimmy Butler (decent rebounder, Lillard one of the sturdier first-round picks so less risky than most Butler pairings).

 

Punt Assists:

Damian Lillard/Joel Embiid

Above average in Points, Rebounds, Blocks, FT%

Average in Threes

Below average in Steals, FG%, Turnovers

  • Embiid is Lillard’s ideal partner in both punt FG% and punt assists. This is not a great FG% start so FG% will need to be a focus in the middle rounds. Big men like Deandre Ayton, Enes Kanter, and Hassan Whiteside are all great options around round five (four is fine for Ayton). All threes players could be top-25 assets to the punt assists build.

 

Damian Lillard/Jimmy Butler

Above average in Points, Steals, FT%, Turnovers

Average in Threes

Below average in Rebounds, Blocks, FG%

  • Butler is a solid creator (4.9 APG), but his playmaking ability doesn’t stand out when you compare him to his early-round peers. He fits well with Lillard because he is a threat to lead the league in swipes. Lillard is weaker in steals than most guards, but Jimmy is so productive that that this combination still rates out as above average in the category. This is obviously a weak start in the big man categories. Try to make sure that your mid-round big men are strong in FG%. Jimmy is solid from the field for a guard, but he can’t offset Lillard’s FG% hit by himself.

 

Other Strong Partners for Damian Lillard in Punt Assists: Victor Oladipo (above-average FG% for a guard and helps offset some of Lillard’s FG% hit, league-leading steals more than makeup for Lillard’s below-average production in the category), Paul George (FG% will be a major issue if you start Lillard/George, locks in points, threes, and FT% and is an above-average start in steals).

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