Note: Where I rank a player is not necessarily where I’d draft that player. You’ll see me rank some players inside of the top-50 that you won’t need to draft inside of the top-50. The rankings are meant to show how valuable I think a player will be. These rankings take into consideration each player’s fit for the various punting strategies. Fit is often more important than a player’s z-score in fantasy basketball and players who are easy to build around, or fit into multiple punting strategies, are especially valuable.
All rankings and comments are for nine-category H2H leagues unless otherwise noted. All player positions are taken from Yahoo Fantasy Basketball.
1) Anthony Davis (PF/C) – In nine-category leagues, there’s Anthony Davis, and then there is everyone else. Davis was, by far, the most valuable player last season, not only on a per game basis, but also in terms of total value. Making the choice even more obvious is The Brow’s newfound sturdiness. Davis has played in 75 games in each of the past two seasons, and with the Pelicans looking like they’ll be part of the slugfest that is the bottom half of the Western Conference’s playoffs picture, he’s likely to play through any minor injuries. What makes Davis even more unfair is his natural fit for fantasy basketball’s most effective punting strategy. The punt assists strategy is at its deadliest when its centerpiece is elite in both percentages categories like Davis is. The Pelican shot 53.4% from the field during the 2017-2018 campaign and was just as effective at the line. Davis averaged a whopping 8.0 FTA last season and managed to convert 82.8% of his free-throw attempts.
The Pelicans swapping out DeMarcus Cousins for Julius Randle should be a boon to Davis’ value. After Cousins’ injury, Davis’ value spiked. However, this jump in value was not due to a major increase in usage or minutes played. What Cousins’ injury did was allow Davis to spend most of his time at the five on defense. This made it easier for Davis to rack up big defensive numbers. Before the injury, Davis was averaging “only” 1.1 SPG and 2.1 BPG. After Cousins’ season ended, Davis averaged an incredible 2.0 SPG and 3.2 BPG. Randle will play the four in any lineups with Davis, and with Nikola Mirotic slated to be the Pelicans’ starting power forward, Davis should see almost all of his minutes at the five.
2) James Harden (PG/SG) – If you play in an eight-category league, place Harden at the top of your draft board. He produced similar value to Davis last season when turnovers were ignored and his health is less of a question mark. The reigning MVP has played in at least 80 games in three of the past four seasons.
If you draft Harden, punt FG% is going to be the punting strategy that you should zero in on. Obviously, Harden produces elite numbers in the traditional guard categories that punt FG% teams will be looking to win each week. However, it is his above-average rebounding (5.6 RPG) and shot blocking (0.7 BPG) that makes him an especially good fit. Boards and blocks are strongly correlated with FG% and punting FG% limits the number of big man options for punt FG% teams. This issue often leads to punt FG% teams being weak in at least one of these two categories. Finding out-of-position boards and blocks is essential to a punt FG% team’s success and Harden is one of the better guards at providing that out-of-position production.
3) Karl-Anthony Towns (C) – Towns finished a distant second to Davis in the punt assists rankings last season, but brings a level of durability that Davis lacks. Towns is yet to miss a game since he entered the NBA three years ago. He’s another first-round big who is a dream fit for the punt assists build. He is elite from both the floor (54.5 FG%) and the line (85.8%). He is also one of the best rebounders in the league (12.3 RPG) and is one of the few players who can contribute both from deep (1.5 3PG) and in the blocks category (1.4 BPG). The Wolves moving Jimmy Butler would likely boost Towns’ value. Last season, Towns had a USG% of 25.3 percent with Jimmy off the floor and a USG% of 21.5 percent when he had to share the floor with his All-Star teammate.
4) 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.
5) Stephen Curry (PG/SG) – Last season was not a fun one if you were a Curry owner. The two-time MVP only played in 51 games and was injured for most of the fantasy playoffs. So what should we learn from last year’s debacle? Not much. Do not overreact. I’ve seen Curry ranked close to the end of the first round on some sites and have seen him fall into that range in far too many mocks. He is still an elite option and a threat to be the most valuable player in fantasy. Curry finished second in per game value last season in nine-category leagues and third in eight-category leagues. He is also much more durable than his reputation suggests. Before last season’s unfortunate events, Steph had played in at least 78 games five seasons in a row.
His historic threes (4.2 3PG), solid assists (6.1 APG), and excellent steals (1.6 SPG) make him an ideal building block for the punt FT% build. Steph is obviously elite from the line (92.1 FT%), so he does lose some value when punting FT%, but the categories that he excels in are the categories that make or break the punt FT% build. It’s not hard to dominate the big man categories when punting FT%. Drafting players like Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, and DeAndre Jordan make winning rebounds, boards, and blocks a cinch most weeks. Unfortunately, the punt FT% big men tend to be extremely weak in the non-big man categories and this forces you to find guards that are especially strong in points, threes, assists, and steals. Because of Steph’s excellence in these categories, he is my preferred punt FT% building block. Curry is also an excellent fit for the punt assists build. He is exceptional both from the field (49.5 FG%) and at the line (92.1%) and assists was only Steph’s fourth-best category last season.
6) 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).
7) Nikola Jokic (PF/C) – Jokic was a first-round player last year, is only 23, and was a top-three player in nine-category leagues over the last two months of the 2017-2018 season. If you’re not on the Jokic train yet, get on before you have to go back, delete some tweets, and pretend like you were sold from the start. I bring up his ranking over the last two months of the season, not only because it is so impressive, but because he spent most of those two months playing beside Paul Millsap. There were some questions last season regarding whether the two would mesh and if Millsap’s presence would prevent Jokic from realizing his potential. Jokic’s extremely hot finish to the season puts those fears to rest. Over those last two months, the center averaged a jaw-dropping 22.1 PPG, 1.9 3PG, 11.2 RPG, 7.1 APG, 1.2 SPG, and 1.0 BPG while shooting an excellent 53.5% from the floor and 85.5% from the line. He is a natural fit for both the punt blocks and punt points builds.
8) 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.
9) 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.
10) Damian Lillard (PG) – Lillard is a fine alternative for those not willing to bet their season on whether or not Leonard is healthy and motivated. Lillard is as safe as they come at the end of the first round. The point guard is coming off of a top-eight finish and a year that saw him finish in the top-five in 3PG and PPG. That type of production is extremely useful, but where he really shines is at the free-throw line. Last season, no player had a larger positive impact on the FT% category than Lillard (91.6 FT% on 7.4 FTA).
Lillard is a mainstay of the punt FG% build (43.9 FG%) and is best paired with a big man who does not derive much of their value from FG%. In the past that’s been DeMarcus Cousins and this year it is Joel Embiid. A Lillard/Embiid pairing looks like one of the best answers to the dreaded “What the heck do I do at the end of the first” question that trips up so many fantasy players.
11) Russell Westbrook (PG) – Westbrook is a fine first-round pick, but is not as well-rounded as most of his first-round peers. The point guard was a four-category player last season and the above seven players are above-average or better in six or seven categories. His main strengths and weaknesses are obvious. The dynamo is elite in points (25.4 PPG), rebounds (10.1 RPG), assists (10.3 APG), and steals (1.8 SPG). He’ll also hurt you from the floor (44.9 FG%) and will end any hope you had of winning turnovers (4.8 TOPG). It’s unlikely that he surprises in any of those six categories. While those six categories should be fairly predictable, his performance at the line and from three is completely up in the air.
During his MVP season, Westbrook averaged 2.5 3PG and hit 34.3 percent of his attempts from deep. He also hit 84.5 percent of his free-throw attempts. Last season, his three-point percentage dropped to an awful 29.8 percent and he only managed to connect on 73.7 percent of his free-throw attempts. Everything about that poor free-throw success rate screams fluke. Westbrook is a career 81.4 percent free-throw shooter and free-throw percentage has a fair amount of year-to-year variably. It is difficult to predict just how much he’ll rebound at the line, but his history suggests that he will improve on last year’s disappointing mark. His three-point percentage and three-point makes are less predictable. His three-point percentage dropped nearly five percent to 29.8 percent last season and he averaged three less three-point attempts per game than he did in his MVP year. Normally, after such a drop, it would be fair to expect a bounce back. However, last year’s numbers are more in line with Westbrook’s career averages. Regardless of what Westbrook does from three, he’ll remain the second-best punt FG% building block in fantasy basketball.
*Dropped Westbrook down a few spots due to his knee surgery.
12) Victor Oladipo (PG/SG) – Last season’s Most Improved Player has always had a fantasy-friendly game and returns to a role that maximizes his fantasy potential. He is a very useful offensive player (23.1 PPG, 2.1 3PG, 4.3 APG), but it is what he does on the defensive end that makes him elite. In 2017-2018, only one player averaged more than 2.0 SPG. That player was Oladipo (2.4 SPG). The Pacer is also one of the league’s best shot-blocking guards (0.8 BPG). His above-average FG% (47.7%) could be due for some regression. Before the 2017-2018 season, Oladipo’s career-best mark from the floor was 44.2 percent. Oladipo also shot over eight percent better at the rim in 2017-2018 than he has at any point in his career. Oladipo’s point guard-eligibility and lack of dependence on dimes to boost his value makes him a strong match for the punt assists build.
13) 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).
14) Chris Paul (PG) – It’s all about games played for Paul. He can still post top-20 numbers in his sleep, but the Rocket has only broken the 70 games played mark in three of his past seven seasons. Paul was a top-10 player on a per game basis last season and was even better in the punt points build (18.6 PPG). Only five players were more valuable than the veteran when points were ignored in 2017-2018. He can also be an extremely dangerous weapon in the punt points and FT% double-punt strategy. Paul’s excellent threes (2.5 3PG) and steals (1.7 SPG), and still very good assists (7.9 APG), fix most of the issues created by the punt free-throw big man targets.
15) Ben Simmons (PG) – Simmons could not improve at all and still be a fine pick in the second round. The future superstar finished 16th when FT% was ignored last season and 13th in the punt points and FT% double-punt strategy. He was even better down the stretch of the season. Over the last two months of the regular season, only six players were more valuable to the punt FT% build. During that stretch, he averaged 8.9 RPG, 9.7 APG, 1.6 SPG, and 0.8 BPG while shooting 59.1 percent from the field. If you draft Simmons, just accept that you’re punting FT% and move on. Don’t try to save your FT%. It’s not possible without making significant sacrifices elsewhere. Last season, the only player who hurt owners at the line more than Simmons did was Dwight Howard.
16) Andre Drummond (PF/C) – It’s hard to shoot 60.5 percent from the line and maintain second-round value, but Drummond managed to do just that in 2017-2018. He pulled off that impressive feat by being one of the league’s best sources of defensive numbers (1.5 SPG, 1.6 BPG) and by being his usual dominant self on the boards (16.2 RPG). Drummond’s line didn’t change much after the arrival of Blake Griffin with one notable exception. Before Griffin arrived, Drummond was averaging a very healthy 3.9 APG. After Griffin joined the team, that number dropped to 1.7 APG. Expect his dimes to stay low in his first year under Dwane Casey. The Pistons will have Reggie Jackson back and Griffin will be the big man that the Pistons run their offense through. Drummond has improved at the line, but remains a punt FT%-only player. He was a top-10 asset to the build in 2017-2018.
17) Joel Embiid (PF/C) – Embiid is going to sneak into the first round of a lot of drafts and I think that is a mistake. Last season was considered a success for Embiid and for good reason. He averaged a very impressive 22.9 PPG, 1.0 3PG, 11.0 RPG, and 1.8 BPG. He also played in a career-best 63 games. However, we still don’t know if his body can hold up for over 70 games a season, and anything less than 70 games played for your first-round pick is devastating. He also still has some major holes in line. His impact on the percentages is fairly neutral (48.3 FG%, 76.9 FT%). This is an issue because you want your first-round pick to be dominant in at least one of the percentages categories. It is very hard to find percentages impact that is not accompanied by a major issue later in the draft, so stocking up on efficient players early in the draft is essential. Grabbing Embiid and his forgettable percentages in the first makes it unlikely that your team will be better than average from the floor and at the line. His monster usage rate (33.7 USG%) also makes him the most turnover-prone big man (3.7 TOPG) not currently nursing a torn Achilles. If you want to roll the dice on Embiid, do it in the second round and try to pair him with a safe guard like Damian Lillard. Embiid’s mediocre FG% and dominant big man numbers make him an ideal fit for the punt FG% build.
18) 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).
19) Kyrie Irving (PG/SG) – There’s not a ton of safe picks in this year’s second round. Most of the options are either injury-prone or young and relatively unproven. Irving is no different. His knee injury was bad enough that it cost him the entire playoffs and possibly a trip to the finals. Irving still isn’t playing 5-on-5 basketball, but is supposedly on track to be 100 percent by the start of training camp. If you’re willing to bet on Irving staying healthy, you will be getting a top-20 player without any major holes in his line. Irving is an especially potent scorer (24.4 PPG) and three-point threat (2.8 3PG). He is also one of the most efficient guards in the association (49.1 FG%, 88.9 FT%). A healthy Gordon Hayward would cap his upside, but a healthy Gordon Hayward may not exist this season.
20) Kevin Love (PF/C) – If Love can stay healthy, he’s likely in for a very big year. Last season, without LeBron on the floor, Love sported a usage rate of 30.4 percent. That was well above the 24.8 percent usage rate that he had when playing alongside The King. Love’s minutes are also likely to increase. With LeBron on the roster, and the Cavaliers in cruise control until playoffs, there was no need to play Love major minutes last season. That won’t be the case this season with the Cavaliers currently looking like a borderline playoff team. Expect Love’s minutes (28.0 MPG) to creep back into the lower-30s. More minutes and more usage makes a 20 and 12 season very possible. We should also see Love’s assists increase. With LeBron on the floor, Love had an 9.8 assist percentage last season. Without James on floor, that assist percentage increased to 12.1 percent. Love is an excellent fit for the punt FG% (45.8 FG%) and punt blocks (0.4 BPG) builds.
21) Rudy Gobert (C) – Unlike Drummond and Capela, Gobert can work outside of the punt FT% build. Gobert has improved at the line his last three seasons and shot a respectable 68.2 percent from the charity stripe in 2017-2018. His relatively high attempts (5.3 FTA) does make that poor percentage damaging, but it’s really only a major issue if you are punting points. When punting points, it can be very difficult to offset even moderate FT% hits. Gobert is one of the league’s best sources of FG% impact (62.2 FG% on 7.9 FGA) and is a top-tier rebounder (10.7 RPG). He’ll also be competing with Anthony Davis for the blocks title (2.3 BPG). Gobert can work in most builds, but is especially effective in punt FT%, punt points (13.5 PPG), and punt threes (0.0 3PG).
22) Clint Capela (C) – The end of the second round is filled with quality punt FT% options that pair well with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Steph Curry, and LeBron James. Capela is one such option because he dominates all of the traditional big man categories. No player has a larger positive impact on FG% (65.2 FG%) and the Rocket is more than adequate on the boards (10.8 RPG) and in the blocks column (1.9 BPG). Capela was a first-round player last season when FT% was ignored and given his age, and relatively low playing time (27.5 MPG), we likely have not yet seen his ceiling. For those punting both points and FT%, he is a must-draft player. Last season, only four players were more valuable than Capela when both FT% and points were ignored.
23) Kemba Walker (PG) – If you’re the type who likes to play it safe early and take their home run cuts late in the draft, Kemba is your guy. It doesn’t get any safer than the Hornets’ lead guard. Walker has only missed a total of six games over the past three seasons and has been a top-30 player in each of those three seasons. His floor is even higher in the punt FG% build (43.1 FG%). Walker has been a top-25 player when FG% is ignored six seasons in row. Last season, Walker averaged an excellent 22.1 PPG, 2.9 3PG, 5.6 APG, and 1.1 SPG.
24) John Wall (PG) – Wall functions as a poor man’s Westbrook. He’ll bring the heat in the counting categories (19.4 PPG, 1.5 3PG, 9.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.1 BPG) while destroying your hopes of winning FG% (42.0 FG%) and turnovers (3.9 TOPG). Like Westbrook, he’s also due for a bounce back at the line. Wall’s 72.6 percent success rate at the charity stripe is well below his career mark of 78.6 percent. Usually Wall is a headliner on my busts lists, but his current ADP around the second/third round turn feels right. If he’s healthy, there’s a good chance that he eclipses last season’s steals numbers. Before his disappointing 2017-2018 campaign, Wall had averaged at least 1.7 SPG four seasons in a row.
25) Draymond Green (PF/C) – Draymond is another strong second-round pick for those who like their second-round picks to have a very high floor. It’s not as rare of a combination as it used it be, but Green is a member of the one three (1.1 3PG), one steal (1.3 SPG), and one block (1.3 BPG) club. He is also a better source of dimes than most point guards (7.3 APG) and makes a respectable impact on the boards (7.6 RPG). His percentages are mediocre (45.4 FG%, 77.5 FT%), but that’s not a major issue due to the low volume that accompanies those so-so percentages (8.8 FGA, 2.5 FTA). Green is a great fit for the punt points build and the punt points and FT% strategy.