All rankings and comments are for nine-category H2H leagues unless otherwise noted. All player positions are taken from Yahoo Fantasy Basketball.
1) Giannis Antetokounmpo (SF/PF) – The next three picks come down to personal preference and risk appetite. Durant and Curry were significantly more valuable than Giannis last season, but Antetokounmpo is more likely to be available during the fantasy playoffs. Antetokounmpo doesn’t have the same upside that the Warriors’ superstar duo has, but he can still be a top-three player if utilized correctly. Only Anthony Davis and LeBron James were more valuable in the punt FT% build last season. Giannis’ improving, but still weak, free-throw shooting makes him an ideal fit for fantasy basketball’s most famous punting strategy. His three-ball is still missing (0.6 3PG), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Trading FG% impact for more threes is almost always bad for a player’s value (see 2017-2018’s Blake Griffin).
Giannis dominates the big man categories (52.9 FG%, 10.0 RPG, 1.4 BPG) and is one of the league’s better thieves (1.5 SPG). If you’re punting FT% with Giannis you will need to make finding assists later in the draft a priority. Most of the punt assists big men contribute next to nothing in the assists category and Giannis is only a good, not great, source of dimes (4.8 APG). You’ll still need three or four point guards on your punt FT% roster to offset the punt FT% big man targets’ lack of assists.
2) Kevin Durant (SF/PF) – Durant is the first-round’s most injury-prone player and next to Kawhi Leonard, its riskiest pick. The Warrior has played in more than 70 games only once over the past four seasons. He will also be a risk to sit out during the fantasy playoffs if the Warriors manage to separate themselves from the rest of the West. However, Durant’s upside is immense and like Curry, he’s a real threat to finish as the top player in nine-category leagues. He was fantasy’s most valuable player on a per game basis in nine-category leagues in his first year with the Warriors and finished third in his second. He is another excellent building block for the punt assists build. Punt assists is the one punting strategy where being elite in both percentages categories is a realistic goal and that is because the build usually starts with players like Durant. The swingman has always dominated both percentages categories (51.6 FG%, 88.9 FT%). He is also a top-end scoring threat (26.4 PPG) and brings a combination of threes and blocks that can win leagues (2.5 3PG, 1.8 BPG). If you select Durant in the first-round, steals will need to be a focus later in your draft. No likely first-round pick averaged less swipes than Durant last season (0.7 SPG).
3) LeBron James (SF/PF) – The Lakers were an ideal landing spot for James. Houston would have been a disaster and Philly would have been less than ideal for the same reason. If James went to either team, they would have immediately become dominant and we’d be looking at rest days throughout the season and during the fantasy playoffs. He won’t be able to take nights off now that he’ll be wearing a Lakers jersey. If James misses more than a handful of games, this Lakers squad could miss the playoffs. LeBron playing 82 games in back-to-back seasons is unlikely, but given his mediocre supporting cast and superhuman durability, at least 75 games from James seems likely. That makes LeBron one of the safest first-round picks. Expect elite production in points (27.5 PPG), rebounds (8.6 RPG), and FG% (54.2 FG%) and strong defensive numbers (1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG). His dimes will be elite as well, but he may not match his 2017-2018 output (9.1 APG). The Lakers’ lack of shooting is well documented and many of the new additions need the ball to be effective. If LeBron is your first-round pick, punt FT% (73.1 FT%). His issues at the line, and his ability to dominate the categories that punt FT% teams can struggle with, make him an outstanding fit for the build.
4) Kawhi Leonard (SG/SF) – Kawhi is this year’s riskiest early pick for obvious reasons, but his upside is so immense that he should still be taken in the first round. Leonard was a top-four player in nine-category leagues in both 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 and could easily land there again if he can stay healthy. In 2016-2017, he provided above-average production in every category except turnovers. His role with the Raptors should be similar to what it was with the Spurs. Leonard is a high-usage player (31.1 USG% in 2016-2017), but that shouldn’t be a problem as he is replacing a player with a similar usage rate. In addition, his new number two, Kyle Lowry, is one of the league’s best shooters and an elite off-ball player. Those drafting Leonard should hope that the Celtics’ injury-prone studs stay healthy. Kawhi is a massive upgrade for a 59-win team that had an SRS of 7.29 last season. If the Celtics’ big guns can’t stay healthy, the Raptors may not have much to play for down the stretch.
5) Paul George (SG/SF) – George did what Oladipo couldn’t do and thrived in his first year beside Westbrook and his absurd usage rate. His numbers on the offensive end did drop, but his overall value was similar to what it was in Indiana. He managed this by adjusting his shot mix and doing more on the defensive end. He took 45 percent of his shots from three in his first year in Oklahoma City after only taking 37 percent of his shots from deep in his final year in Indiana. That jump allowed him to average an elite 3.1 3PG. He also increased his steals from 1.6 SPG in 2016-2017 to 2.0 SPG in 2017-2018. The Thunder’s offseason was a mixed bag for George. His usage rate was lower when sharing the floor with Carmelo Anthony, but it’s hard to get too excited about Anthony being moved given that Dennis Schroder is joining the Thunder. Schroder had a usage rate north of 30 percent last season and was a very high-usage player even when the Hawks still had all of their stars. George is best paired with punt FG% build (43.0%) and the punt assists build (3.3 APG).
6) Jimmy Butler (SG/SF) – Jimmy is another player who will outplay his draft position if he can find a way to stay on the court. Butler has been a top-15 per game player four seasons in a row and has produced first-round value three times over that stretch. Unfortunately, he’s only averaged 67 games played over the past four years. Jimmy produces a very clean line with his best contributions coming in the steals department (2.0 SPG) and at the line (85.4 FT% on 7.2 FTA). Butler is also one of the league’s least turnover-prone wings. Despite having a usage rate of 25.0 percent and averaging 4.9 APG, Butler only turned the ball over 1.8 times per game in 2017-2018. Butler is one of the main targets for the punt threes build (1.2 3PG).
7) Khris Middleton (SG/SF) – Middleton is outstanding option around the second-round turn and the best of the many wings that will find themselves being drafted in the third-round. The Buck comes with both a high floor and a high ceiling. He’s been a top-30 player in each of his last two healthy seasons and was a top-15 option over the final two months of the 2017-2018 campaign. Middleton is a player with no major flaws in his line. Last season, he averaged 20.1 PPG, 1.8 3PG, 5.2 RPG, 4.0 APG, and 1.5 SPG. He also had a neutral impact on FG% (46.6 FG%) and was, very quietly, one of the better sources of FT% impact (88.4 FT% on 4.4 FTA). His versatility makes him a strong fit for every build except the punt FT% build and he is a legitimate second-round pick in Roto leagues.
8) Otto Porter (SF/PF) – The third round is filled with quality wings and who to chose should come down to what build you are attempting. Porter is an outstanding fit for both the punt assists build (2.0 APG) and punt points build (14.7 PPG). The Wizard posted first-round value without assists in 2016-2017 and was a second-round player without dimes last season. He also cracked the first round in punt points in 2016-2017 and was a top-15 player in that build in 2017-2018. Porter has managed these impressive finishes by producing one of fantasy’s cleanest lines. He is efficient from the floor (50.3 FG%) and at the line (82.8 FT%). He is also a strong source of defensive numbers (1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG) and is effective from three (1.8 3PG) and on the boards (6.4 RPG). Porter loses about a round of value in eight-category leagues due to his exceptionally low turnover rate (1.0 TOPG) being ignored.
9) Klay Thompson (SG/SF) – Klay is a boring third-round pick, but boring is not necessarily a bad thing, especially during the early rounds. He’s the type of the player who won’t win you your league, but he won’t lose it either. Thompson has a been a top-40 player in each of his two seasons playing beside Kevin Durant and is one of the better sources of percentages impact from the wing position (48.8 FG%, 83.7 FT%). He’ll also keep you competitive in points (20.0 PPG) and will be a top-five source of threes (3.1 3PG). Thompson is an excellent fit for punt assists teams (2.5 APG), especially those that made the defensive categories a priority during the first two or three rounds (0.8 SPG, 0.5 BPG).
10) Gary Harris (SG/SF) – Harris was one of last season’s breakout fantasy stars and the 24-year-old should be able to match last season’s third-round finish. The Nugget is one of the few wing options usually available after the early rounds that can help you win points (17.5 PPG) and threes (2.3 3PG) while boosting your FG% (48.5 FG%). His strong percentages (82.7 FT%) and relatively low assists (2.9 APG) make him an excellent fit for the punt assists build. In addition to his stellar scoring and efficiency numbers, Harris is a good bet to rank among the league leaders in SPG (1.8 SPG).
11) Robert Covington (SF/PF) – The Lord is finally getting the respect he deserves. Covington is the player I received the most push back on last season, but it seems like the fantasy community is finally on board. The Sixer is one of the best defenders in the league and his defensive prowess has allowed him to become an early-round asset. Only a handful of players do more in the defensive categories (1.7 SPG, 0.9 BPG). Covington is also a huge help from deep (2.5 3PG) and does a respectable job on the boards (5.4 RPG). His FG% (41.3 FG%) is less than ideal, but his low shot attempts (10.5 FGA) blunt the impact of his poor shooting. Covington fits into any build and is an especially potent weapon in punt assists (2.0 APG). The swingman has been a top-25 asset without assists the past two seasons.
12) Tobias Harris (SF/PF) – Harris has provided mid-round value to fantasy owners for years and looks ready to take the next step and ascend into the early rounds. After being traded to the Clippers, Harris posted top-30 numbers and provided, at least, league-average production in all nine categories. His production in the points (19.3 PPG), threes (2.2 3PG), and rebounding (6.0 RPG) categories was especially noteworthy. Like Klay Thompson, Harris isn’t a league-winning pick, but he is a good bet to return value if placed in the punt assists build.
13) Nikola Mirotic (SF/PF) – Mirotic has an extremely fantasy-friendly game and has finally landed in a spot where he’s guaranteed to see enough minutes to be a consistent, high-end fantasy option. After the move to the Pelicans, Mirotic was a top-45 option in nine-category leagues and produced on both ends of the court. In New Orleans, he averaged a very healthy 14.6 PPG, 2.2 3PG, 8.2 RPG, 1.0 SPG, and 0.9 BPG. Mirotic managed those impressive numbers in only 29.1 MPG so the Pelicans’ acquisition of Julius Randle should not have a major impact on his value.
14) DeMar DeRozan (SG/SF) – DeRozan is joining a Spurs team desperate for offense and his role with the Spurs should be similar to what it was with the Raptors. Expect DeRozan to have a usage rate around 30 percent in his first year in San Antonio. That should be enough usage to allow him to match his 2017-2018 scoring (23.0 PPG) and assists (5.2 APG) numbers. As always, DeRozan is one of the best fits for the punt threes build (1.1 3PG) because scoring and FT% impact (82.5 FT% on 7.0 FTA) are hard to come by when punting threes. The former Raptor offers little on the defensive end (1.1 SPG, 0.3 BPG), but few high-usage players take as good care of the ball as DeRozan does (2.2 TOPG).
15) Gordon Hayward (SG/SF) – Hayward is an exceptionally difficult player to project and not one that I would feel comfortable drafting before the fifth round. It’s very possible that last year’s devastating injury causes him to lose a step and there’s much safer options available in the fourth round that come with similar upside. There’s also the question of how Kyrie Irving, Hayward, and Jason Tatum will fit together. Both Irving and Hayward are very high-usage players and Tatum will demand more touches in sophomore year than he did as a rookie. If healthy, Hayward should score in the high teens and hit close to two threes per night. He will also likely be a big help to owners at the line. In his final season in Utah, Hayward got the line 5.9 times per night and hit 84.4 percent of his attempts. His FG% is more difficult to predict. Hayward is a career 44.4 percent shooter from the floor, but managed to knock down 47.1 percent of his attempts in his last healthy season.
16) Taurean Prince (SF) – Prince’s development was one of the few positives that came out of the Hawks’ 2017-2018 season. The now third-year player was a wrecking ball down the stretch and posted top-50 numbers over the last two months of the season. Over that period, in only 30.1 MPG, Prince averaged 17.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, and 0.5 BPG. He was also an underrated source of FT% impact during that span, hitting 86.8 percent of his free-throw attempts. Trae Young and Jeremy Lin joining the Hawks shouldn’t limit Prince’s scoring opportunities. The Hawks are still extremely thin on the wing and the two new guards will be replacing Dennis Schroder and his extremely high usage rate.
17) Aaron Gordon (SF/PF) – Gordon is one fantasy’s biggest question marks. The Magic’s second-leading scorer started off the year on fire and posted early-round value until the middle of December. He then proceeded to fall off a cliff. Gordon was barely a top-150 player over the last three months of season and his useful counting stats were more than cancelled out by his horrendous efficiency. Over those final three months of the season, Gordon averaged 15.9 PPG, 1.8 3PG, 7.8 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 0.8 BPG, but only shot 38.8 percent from the floor and 63.1 percent from the line. Because of Gordon’s downside in the percentages categories, he is best deployed in the punt FG% build. Punt FG% cancels out any poor shooting and punt FG% teams are usually filled with strong free-throw shooters who can offset any struggles at the line.
18) Joe Ingles (SG/SF) – Ingles is one of the best shooters in the league (2.5 3PG) and is a better creator than most point guards. The Australian usually runs the point when Ricky Rubio is on the bench and that allows him to be an excellent source of dimes (4.8 APG). His low turnover rate (1.9 TOPG) makes those assists numbers even more impressive. Ingles’ threes and assists make him a great fit for any build and he’s shown that he can produce early-round for extended stretches of the season. Ingles was a top-35 player over the last two months of the 2017-2018 campaign and averaged 13.6 PPG, 2.6 3PG, 4.5 RPG, 6.2 APG, and 1.2 SPG over that span.
19) Will Barton (SG/SF) – Barton signed a big extension this summer and will return as the Nuggets’ starting small forward, a role that allowed him to post top-50 numbers in nine-category leagues last season. He may not have much competition for playing time. Michael Porter Jr. status for opening night is up in the air and Torrey Craig is not a threat to Barton’s minutes. The swingman is a very good scorer (15.7 PPG) who can hit from deep (1.9 3PG) and function as a secondary creator (4.1 APG). Barton is also a sneaky source of out-of-position blocks (0.6 BPG) and does a respectable job on the boards (5.0 RPG).
20) Jason Tatum (SF/PF) – The Celtics are extremely deep and that makes all of their players extremely hard to project. Gordon Hayward had a usage rate of 27.6 percent in his final year in Utah and his return could cause a drop in touches for Tatum. The second-year stud should improve on his solid rookie year numbers (13.9 PPG, 1.3 3PG, 5.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.7 BPG), but it’s unlikely that he truly breakouts unless Hayward or Kyrie Irving miss significant time. His name, and big playoff run, are going to lead to him being drafted too early in most drafts. His current ADP sits in the fourth-round, but smart owners should pass on Tatum at that price and grab players with similar upside and clearer roles. Tatum was only a top-100 player over the last three months of his rookie season.
21) Kyle Anderson (SG/SF) – If you are punting points, and you end your draft without Kyle Anderson on your squad, you have failed. Anderson is a must-grab for those running with the punt points build and given his current late-round price, he should be fairly easy to obtain. Reach for him if you have to. He will be worth it. In his final season with the Spurs, in only 26.7 MPG, Anderson was a top-40 player when points were ignored. He will have a much bigger role with the Grizzlies and could post top-25 numbers without points this season. Anderson won’t score (10.6 PP36) or hit threes (0.3 3P36), but he will do just about everything else. He is a strong rebounder (7.2 RP36), decent passer (3.7 AP36) and a difference maker on the defensive end (2.1 SP36, 1.1 BP36). The Grizzlies are thin on the wing and see Anderson as a long-term piece so expect more than 30 MPG for the 25-year-old. His increased playing time and excellent per minute numbers make the versatile swingman one of this year’s best sleepers and a great pick regardless of your punting strategy.
22) Evan Fournier (SG/SF) – The Magic will enter the season with, arguably, the league’s weakest guard and wing rotations. The Magic do have some promising young talent, but it is all up front. This lack of depth locks Fournier into big minutes and makes a repeat of last season’s top-60 finish possible. He’s been a top-70 player two of the past three seasons and is an excellent option for those who have fallen behind in points (17.8 PPG) and threes (2.2 3PG). He also helps you more than most mid-round picks at the line (86.7 FT% on 3.0 FTA). Fournier doesn’t do much on the defensive end (0.8 SPG, 0.3 BPG), but he does manage those very useful scoring and threes numbers without dragging down your FG% (45.9 FG%).
23) Nicolas Batum (SG/SF) – Coach Borrego has hinted that Batum will move to three this season and that the Hornets will try to play at a faster pace. Both moves should be good news for Batum’s fantasy value. A faster pace will obviously lead to more possessions and playing the three should boost Batum’s rebounding numbers. After averaging 6.2 RPG in 2016-2017, the Frenchman only managed to grab 4.8 RPG in 2017-2018. Dwight Howard is a big reason for that dip and his move to Wizards, combined with the position change for Batum, should make Batum one of the better sources of rebounds on the wing. The Hornet still provides owners with an all-around line that includes a ton of out-of-position assists (5.5 APG). He’s a good fit for the punt points build (11.6 PPG), especially if the build began with a FG% anchor like Karl-Anthony Towns. Batum has failed to hit more than 43 percent of his shots four seasons in a row.
24) Jabari Parker (SF/PF) – Parker needed a fresh start and has landed with a team that will be depending on him to post big scoring numbers. The Bulls had the third-worst offense in the league last season and don’t have any serious scoring threats outside of Parker, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen. Jabari could end up leading the team in scoring and end up with averages similar to his breakout 2016-2017 season. That year, Parker averaged 20.1 PPG, 1.3 3PG, 6.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, and 1.0 SPG. He also had a positive impact on FG% that season due to his high volume and solid FG% (49.0 FG%). He is an absolute steal at his current 10th-round price and should be targeted aggressively be those punting threes. That build can struggle to find enough points and drafting Parker is a great way to fix that issue.
25) Thaddeus Young (SF/PF) – Young is still a useful fantasy asset, but he has only been a top-70 player the past two seasons and no longer has early-round upside. His value is being held together by his heavy minutes (32.2 MPG), not by his per minute production. Young was only a top-160 per minute player in 2017-2018. The Pacers signed the always underrated Kyle O’Quinn this summer and have talked about running out more two-center lineups, so a small drop in Young’s playing time is likely. Young should still start for the Pacers and continue to be one of the best sources of out-of-position steals (1.7 SPG). However, the rest of his line is mediocre and he no longer provides standout production in any category except swipes (11.8 PPG, 0.7 3PG, 6.3 RPG, 0.4 BPG, 48.7 FG%). Young is also a very poor free-throw shooter (59.8 FT%), but he doesn’t get to the line enough (1.1 FTA) to be a major drag on your free-throw percentage.