*Updated for ESPN’s latest rankings
Like punt threes, this is a lesser-known strategy that I feel everyone should get acquainted with. It is probably not going to be the first strategy that you think of when planning out your draft unless you are in the six spot and are locked in on Nikola Jokic. That doesn’t mean that it is a bad strategy or a worse option than its more famous cousins. The best team I have ever built was a Chris Paul-led punt blocks squad.
This is a strategy that everyone should practice because it is one of the easier builds to switch to mid-draft. You can’t always get what you want in a fantasy basketball draft. You may go into a draft thinking you’re going to pair Steph Curry with Andre Drummond or Rudy Gobert and punt free throw percentage. But then when it’s time to pick, both players are off the board, and Kyrie Irving is available. You then have a decision to make. Do I try to force a strategy without one of it’s best building blocks? Or do I take the elite guard and pivot to something that complements my first two picks better? A situation like this is going to be very common for any teams that went small in round one. With points, assists, and free throw percentage impact being heavily concentrated in the early rounds, guard-guard starts are going to be very hard to pass on. Most of the early-round guard pairings make sense here, but some do more than others.
Let’s take a look at how blocks correlate with the other eight categories:
No surprises here. Blocks, which are almost exclusively the domain of big men, are strongly correlated with the other two big-man categories. The correlation coefficients tell us that this build’s two problem spots are going to be field goal percentage and boards. They also tell us that this build is going to be naturally strong in free throw percentage, threes, and dimes. This makes sense since this build increases the value of guards who tend to produce big numbers in those categories significantly.
Due to this build’s issues with field goal percentage and boards, we will need to be on the lookout for guards and wings who provide above-average numbers in at least one of the two categories. We will also want to aggressively target bigs who do not block shots, but who are efficient double-double threats. There are not a ton of these big men, so do not be afraid to scoop up a big or two that blocks over a shot per game. Players like LaMarcus Aldridge (1.3 BPG) and Bam Adebayo (1.2 BP36) are outstanding picks here due to their strong contributions in the build’s problematic categories.
The most obvious starting point for this build is Nikola Jokic (0.7 BPG). Big Honey makes sense here since he gains value (0.7 BPG) and addresses your problems with boards (10.8 RPG) and field goal percentage (51.1 FG% on 15.1 FGA). However, don’t feel like you have to punt blocks if your first-round pick is the Nugget. Jokic does not lock you into this build, and your punting strategy will be determined by who you select with your next few picks. The Jokic first- and second-round pairings for the punt blocks, punt points, and punt threes builds are similar.
I’m almost always going to punt assists when I start my draft with Karl-Anthony Towns, but if an elite point guard falls to the end of the second, I will consider switching gears and punting blocks. The big man is still elite when his blocks are thrown out (1.6 BPG), and is dominant on the boards (12.4 RPG) and in the field goal percentage category (51.8 FG% on 17.1 FGA). Towns is actually a better starting point for this build than Jokic due to his superior big-man numbers.
All of the first-round guards work well here. Steph Curry, Bradley Beal, and Kyrie Irving are all outstanding starting points for the punt blocks strategy. The three All-Stars are efficient from the field and are strong rebounders for their position. All three averaged at least 5.0 RPG last season. I’ve heard they occasionally put up some nice numbers in the guard categories as well.
Damian Lillard (0.4 BPG) and James Harden (0.7 BPG) also work here, but you’re going to have a hard time bringing back field goal percentage if one of those two ends up being your first-round pick. If you do want to try to punt blocks with Lillard or Harden, I strongly recommend targeting Deandre Ayton in the second round. Ayton was a mediocre rim protector in his rookie year (0.9 BPG), and comes with elite field goal percentage impact (58.5 FG% on 12.2 FGA). Only four players had a larger positive impact on the field goal percentage category last year.
This is also a great pivot for LeBron James owners who are not able to scoop one of the elite punt FT% big men in the second round. The King will likely go back to being one of the best sources of field goal percentage impact now that he is surrounded by better shooters and Anthony Davis. He will also be an elite source of boards from the wing (8.4 RPG). Irving and Jimmy Butler are the best second-round partners for James. LeBron’s putrid free throw percentage (66.5 FT% on 7.6 FTA) is extremely difficult to offset, and it will take elite free throw percentage impact players like Irving and Butler to give LeBron-led punt blocks teams a chance in the category. Neither of those players can offset James’ hit by themselves, and it will be a category that you will have to target early and often. Free throw percentage impact is mostly found in the early rounds on ESPN.
ESPN’s nonsensical rankings create a bit of a problem for this build. Some of the build’s top targets are ranked way, way too high. Pascal Siakam, Jonas Valanciunas, and Enes Kanter are all ranked above their ceilings. All three players are outstanding fits for this build, but you should not take them at their current prices. Let them drop to a more appropriate round and if they’re gone by the time you feel comfortable targeting them, do not fret. If they go too early, that means that players that shouldn’t be available when it is your turn to pick will be available.
Note: The below list is not meant to be a complete list of all of the players that fit into this build. The round that I recommend taking each player in is based on ESPN Fantasy Basketball’s rankings and where I think each player will, or could be, available in a standard 12-team, nine-category draft. If you don’t see a player that you think fits the build well, it may be because I think that player is badly overpriced on ESPN.
Categories to target: FG%, Rebounds, Turnovers
First-round targets: James Harden, Karl-Anthony Towns, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Kyrie Irving
R2) Deandre Ayton – There are quite a few excellent second-round guard options for this build, but only two obvious big-man targets. Unless you want to reach for John Collins or Pascal Siakam in the second, you’ll be deciding between Ayton and Nikola Vucevic. Which big to take comes down to how badly you need field goal percentage after the first round. If I’m punting blocks with James Harden or Damian Lillard, I am going Ayton every time. He was elite as they come from the field in his rookie year (58.5 FG% on 12.2 FGA) and he could have an even larger impact this season. His shot attempts are going to go up and the Suns adding Ricky Rubio should lead to better looks for the center. Ayton should also finish among the league leaders in rebounds (10.3 RPG) and loses little value when blocks are ignored (0.9 BPG). The Sun should also come with a very healthy steal rate for a big (0.9 SPG), score close to 20 PPG, and have a neutral impact on your chances in the free throw percentage category (74.6 FT%). Most teams selecting Ayton in the second will be going into the third in a hole in threes (0.0 3PG) and assists (1.8 APG).
R2) Nikola Vucevic – Vucevic doesn’t have the holes in the line that Deandre Ayton does. The All-Star hits from deep (1.1 3PG) and is one of the league’s better passing centers (3.8 APG). However, unlike the Sun, he is not a lock to be a great source of field goal percentage impact. Vucevic hit 51.8 percent of his attempts from the floor last year but could be in for some regression in the category this season. In 2017-2018, the center only shot 47.5 percent from the field, and in 2016-2017, his success rate was only 46.8 percent. Because of this uncertainty, he is best paired with one of the uber-efficient first-round bigs, LeBron James, Bradley Beal, or Kyrie Irving. Vucevic will dominate in this build’s other problematic category (12.0 RPG) and selecting him will make it easier to target high-turnover guards who gain a significant amount of value in this build (2.0 TOPG).
R2) Jrue Holiday – Holiday does great work on the boards for a player of his size (5.0 RPG) and has been extremely efficient from the floor the last two seasons. In 2018-2019, the guard hit 47.2 percent of shot attempts, and in 2017-2018, he knocked down a ridiculous 49.4 percent of his attempts from the floor. The only issues with Holiday’s line are his turnovers (3.2 TOPG) and his inconsistent free throw shooting. His turnovers are likely to come down this year. Lonzo Ball will take away some of Jrue’s ball-handling duties, and before last year’s spike, Jrue had not averaged more than 2.9 TOPG since the 2013-2014 season. His free throw shooting is extremely hard to predict. The category has a ton of year-to-year variance, and over the last five years, Holiday’s free throw percentage has ranged from 70.8 percent to 85.5 percent. The Pelican is injury prone but should be close to a top-20 per-game player in this build. He’s going to be a significant contributor in the points (21.2 PPG), assists (7.7 APG), and steals (1.6 SPG) categories.
Other Round 2 Options: Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook