This is Part 1 of what will be a series of deep-dives into early-round pairings. This was my most popular article last year, and I plan on spending much more time focusing on this area during this year’s draft season. I will be releasing additional content that takes us deeper into the draft and will also be helping out deep-league players with their pairing decisions.

Deciding who to pair your first-round pick with will be one of the most important decisions that you make during your draft. Not every second-round pick fits well with every first-round pick, and a less than ideal pairing can get you into trouble. After the second round, you should have a pretty good idea of the punting build that you will be employing. You usually don’t have to fully commit to a build after the second round, but often, your second-round pick will take a strategy or two off of the table. Below are some first- and second-round pairings that complement each other well. I’ve broken them down by first-round pick and punting strategy. I’ve also 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.

I’ve compared each pairing’s projected numbers to the projected average numbers of the 24 players that I think will make up the first two rounds of most 12-team drafts. There are a few players on this list that have the potential to fall into the third, but about 20 of these players will be off the board by the end of the second in 95 percent of drafts.

The players that I have included in these calculations are:

Stephen Curry
Anthony Davis
James Harden
Karl-Anthony Towns
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Kawhi Leonard
Nikola Jokic
Paul George
Joel Embiid
Damian Lillard
Jimmy Butler
Nikola Vucevic
Kyrie Irving
Deandre Ayton
Bradley Beal
Rudy Gobert
Andre Drummond
Jrue Holiday
Kemba Walker
LeBron James
Trae Young
Russell Westbrook
Devin Booker
Luka Doncic

Average Projected Numbers of the likely Top-24 Players: 22.4 PPG, 2.1 3PG, 8.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 48.9 FG%, 80.3 FT%, 2.8 TOPG


Steph Curry (Pick 1-3)

Punt Assists:

Steph Curry/Deandre Ayton

Above average in Points, Threes, Rebounds, FG%, FT%, Turnovers

Average in Steals

Below average in Blocks

  • If Ayton can up his block rate this year (0.9 BPG), this will be the dream punt assists start. Both players produce nearly flawless lines. Ayton’s lone weakness in this build is his lack of threes (0.0 3PG), and Curry (5.1 3PG) obviously makes that a non-issue. The Sun also guarantees a strong start in field goal percentage (58.5 FG% on 12.2 FGA) even if Curry’s stellar shooting numbers (47.2 FG%) drop due to the incoming increase in usage and defensive attention. Only four players had a larger positive impact on the field goal percentage category than Ayton did in his rookie year.


Steph Curry/Nikola Vucevic

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

Average in Steals, FG%

Below average in Blocks

  • This is another pairing that comes with no major weaknesses. It is only a slightly below-average start in blocks. This is one of the stronger points starts for the punt assists build. Grabbing points early, like we are doing here, is very important as the category is mostly found in the early rounds. It is very hard to be above average in points if you come out of the first few rounds down in the category. This is also a monster start for the free throw percentage category. Starting your draft with Steph (91.6 FT%) and Vucevic (78.9 FT%) allows you to take some free throw percentage hits later. This makes it easier to chase big-man numbers. Any team beginning their draft with Curry and Vucevic should take a long look at Mitchell Robinson in the third round. He fixes this pairing’s minor issue with blocks and Curry can offset his weak numbers at the line.


Other Strong Partners for Steph Curry in Punt Assists: Jrue Holiday/Kemba Walker (they lose value here, but if you think you can get a top-end big in 3, it’s not a bad idea, guarantees a strong finish in the guard categories, watch your turnovers), Jimmy Butler (drops sometimes, Jimmy’s weak threes offset by Steph, locks in steals and FT%), Myles Turner (points become a problem and possibly FG% but locks in blocks), Mitchell Robinson (Robinson could a be a first-rounder here, guarantees a strong FG% and blocks team, points will be a huge issue, better in 3 or in deeper leagues)


Punt FT%: 

Steph Curry/Andre Drummond

Above average in Threes, Rebounds, Steals, Blocks, FG%

Average in Points, Turnovers

Below average in Assists

  • This won’t always be there, but it is the dream start for the punt FT% build. If you go with Drummond in two, make sure that you go guard-heavy in rounds three and four. Curry is elite, but he can’t carry the guard categories by himself in punt FT%. Don’t assume threes is in the bag because you started with Steph. This is a very good, but not dominant, start in threes. Points dry up quickly, so make sure that they are a focus in rounds three and four as well.


Steph Curry/Luka Doncic

Above average in Points, Threes, Assists

Average in Steals

Below average in Rebounds, Blocks, FG%, Turnovers

  • There are only a handful of situations where I would consider Doncic around the turn and this is one of them. This start guarantees a strong threes team and makes finishing above average in the points category likely. Both of these feats are usually very difficult to pull off when punting free throw percentage. I’m not looking the sophomore’s way unless I know there will be an elite punt FT% big man on the board in three. There almost always is. It’s possible that Andre Drummond or Rudy Gobert will be there at the turn and Clint Capela and Mitchell Robinson are usually available in the third. You should still target a guard in four if you start with this pair and went big in three.


Other Strong Partners for Steph Curry in Punt FT%: Rudy Gobert (a no-brainer match, better blocks and a better playoff schedule than Drummond), Kemba Walker (makes this build’s issues with triples go away, dimes should go up this year), Jrue Holiday (not a major threat from deep, but a big boost for your assists and his FG% is very good for a guard), Mitchell Robinson (can likely get in three, very good option with Steph in deeper leagues, doesn’t force a punt of FT% so may be better to go punt assists with that start), Russell Westbrook (locks in dimes and steals, better fit with Gobert, Clint Capela, or Robinson than Drummond due to his issues with FG%, will need to watch your turnovers)


Anthony Davis (Pick 1-3)

Punt Assists:

Anthony Davis/Devin Booker

Above average in Points, Blocks, FG%, FT%

Average in Steals, Turnovers

Below average in Threes, Rebounds

  • Davis-led punt assists teams are a little trickier than usual to put together this year because there are no obvious guard picks at the end of the second round. Kemba Walker and Jrue Holiday are usually off the board by the time Davis’ owners get to pick again. Booker is not ideal in two due to his injury issues, but his line does complement Davis’ very well. The only issue with the big man’s line is his lack of threes (0.9 3PG), and Booker should be able to bring Davis-led teams back in the category. Booker only managed 2.1 3PG last season but should be much more productive in the category in 2019-2020. The Sun’s 2018-2019 three-point percentage screams fluke. Booker is a 35.4 percent shooter from three for his career, but only hit 32.6 percent of his attempts last season. If his success rate normalizes, and it should, he should be around 2.5 3PG this year. Davis makes this a very solid start in blocks and steals even though Booker doesn’t do much in either category (0.9 SPG, 0.2 BPG). This pairing should also lead to a team that is strong in both percentages categories. Booker is very efficient from the floor for a high-volume guard (46.7 FG%), and Davis does a better job than most big men at the line (79.4 FT%).


Anthony Davis/Donovan Mitchell

Above average in Points, Steals, Blocks, FT%, Turnovers

Average in FG%

Below average in Threes, Rebounds

  • Mitchell works for the same reasons that Booker does. He brings your threes back to life (3.0 3PG over the final two months of the season) and puts you on pace to have a dominant points team (26.6 PPG over the final two months of the season). He comes with a larger field goal percentage hit than Booker does (43.2 FG%), but he is much, much more durable and his turnovers are not as big of an issue (2.8 TOPG).


Other Strong Partners for Anthony Davis in Punt Assists: Deandre Ayton (monster start in the big man categories, quality points, best paired with one of the above two guards in the third round due to his lack of threes), Nikola Vucevic (an easy pick if he falls, no holes in his line), Kemba Walker/Jrue Holiday (better versions of Booker and Mitchell), John Collins (I don’t love Collins in two, but he’ll gain a lot of value here, hits from deep, and Davis offsets his weak defensive numbers, more of an option for deeper leagues)


Punt Threes:

Anthony Davis/Deandre Ayton

Above average in Rebounds, Blocks, FG%, Turnovers

Average in Points, Steals

Below average in Assists, FT%

  • This pairing forces you to go point guard/point guard in rounds three and four but is an extremely strong start otherwise. You don’t have to worry about any of the big-man categories going forward and having two bigs who can hit their free throws makes building a strong free throw percentage team a piece of cake. You’ll need to keep an eye on your points. This is only an average start in the category, and you won’t be able to take any big hits over the next few rounds. You shouldn’t have to anyways with the big-man categories locked up.


Anthony Davis/Jrue Holiday

Above average in Steals, Blocks, FG%, Turnovers

Average in Points, Assists, FT%

Below average in Rebounds

  • This likely won’t be there on Yahoo, but it is a real possibility on ESPN and in shallower leagues. Jrue’s threes are below average for an early-round guard (1.8 3PG), but he will make his owners competitive in assists (7.7 APG). Free throw percentage is a concern with this start. The best sources of free throw percentage impact are found in the early rounds, and starting with Davis and Holiday means that you are passing on them. Both players are inconsistent at the line and shot under 80 percent from the charity stripe last season.


Other Strong Partners for Anthony Davis in Punt Threes: Jimmy Butler (Butler is the dream second-round pick for Davis-led punt threes teams, monster FT%, TOs and steals start, somewhat risky due to both players’ durability issues), Nikola Vucevic (another long-shot to fall, but a great pick if he does, gives you lots of flexibility in the middle rounds), John Collins (for deeper leagues)


James Harden (Pick 1-3)

Punt FG%

James Harden/Myles Turner 

Above average in Threes, Blocks, FT%

Average in Steals, Turnovers

Below average in Points, Rebounds, Assists

  • The punt FG% build has three weaknesses. It usually ends up average at best in rebounds, blocks, and turnovers. Turner is a mediocre rebounder (7.2 RPG), but a good bet to finish second in the league in blocks (2.7 BPG) behind Mitchell Robinson, and selecting the Pacer is one of the few ways that a Harden-led punt FG% team can be competitive in turnovers (1.4 TOPG). Teams going with Turner in two will need to make points a focus during the next few rounds. Even Harden cannot fully offset the points hit that accompanies the big man (13.3 PPG).


James Harden/Trae Young 

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

Below average in Rebounds, Blocks, Turnovers

  • It’s risky coming out of the first two rounds with two guards, but if you think a top-end big man will be there in three, go for it. You are going to be very hard to beat in any of the five guard categories if this is your start. Steals is the only category that isn’t in a dominant position after round two here. Starting with Harden (5.0 TOPG) and Young (3.8 TOPG) locks you into a double-punt with turnovers.


James Harden/Russell Westbrook 

Above average in Points, Threes, Assists, Steals

Average in FT%

Below average in Rebounds, Blocks, Turnovers

  • Speaking of double-punts with turnovers, here’s Harden and Westbrook. I have no issues with putting the Rockets’ two studs together. Houston has a solid playoff schedule in all setups, and the Rockets’ supporting cast isn’t good enough to allow for nights where both players rest. Adding Westbrook to a Harden-led team makes being competitive in rebounds (11.1 RPG) much, much easier. However, his extra boards do come at a cost. The Rockets’ newest star has forgotten how to shoot free throws and will likely cancel out almost all of the good work that Harden does at the line.


Other Strong Partners for James Harden in Punt FG%: Nikola Vucevic (doesn’t have much value tied up in FG% (51.8 FG%), a much bigger help in boards (12.0 RPG) than blocks (1.1 BPG)), Devin Booker (fragile, but locks in points, threes, and FT%), Kristaps Porzingis (can likely be had in three, outstanding fit due to blocks but could miss 20+), Donovan Mitchell (only in deeper leagues)

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