*Updated for ESPN’s latest rankings
The Punt FG% Strategy
This is a punting build that you are going to want to get acquainted with even if you do not plan on utilizing the strategy yourself. It’s not enough to only understand the strengths and weaknesses of your own team. You need to know where your opponents are strong and where they are vulnerable so that you can attack them in the right places. If you play in a competitive league, there’s a good chance that at least a couple of your opponents will be rolling out this strategy. The only punting strategy that is more likely to show up in your league is punt FT%. The punt FG% build is popular for a few reasons. Fantasy players love them some points and assists and any build that is naturally strong in both, like punt FG% is, will get a lot of attention. It’s also popular because it works with most of the first-round options. It’s a natural fit for all of the first-round guards and you can make it work with a couple of the elite bigs as well. Finally, it’s popular because it’s a really smart strategy. It takes a lot of work to build a strong field goal percentage team. You’ll have to take some pretty big hits to your guard categories to finish as one of the top field goal percentage teams. Many of the big men who dominate the field goal percentage category post some very ugly numbers in points, threes, assists, steals, and free throw percentage and we get to (mostly) avoid them here.
As you can see, field goal percentage is strongly correlated, both positively and negatively, with quite a few categories. The correlation coefficients tell us that a punt FG% team is going to be naturally strong in free throw percentage, threes, assists, and steals. This makes sense since most of the low field goal percentage players who gain a significant amount of value here are point guards. The correlation coefficients also tell us that the build is going to have major problems with rebounds and blocks. It’s not hard to build a punt FG% team that dominates the guard categories, but what separates a good punt FG% team from a great one, is the team’s ability to be competitive in the remaining big-man categories. It can be very difficult to be above-average in both categories, so aim to be competitive in one, and above-average in the other. You don’t need a perfect team on Day 1 of the regular season. You just need to have a team that is only a player or two away from being in a very good spot. Turnovers are also usually a major issue for this build. Many of the early-round targets will finish among the league leaders in turnovers, and this build is going to be drafting a large number of point guards. Because of this, embracing a double-punt with turnovers makes a lot of sense, especially if your first-round pick is James Harden. The first-round guards will gain even more value in the double-punt, and it will turn Harden and Steph Curry into almost flawless fantasy assets.
If you play on ESPN, you will need to go after blocks early and often. There are a ton of blocks sitting in round 2 on ESPN and the category becomes very hard to find after the sixth round. Don’t be afraid to draft some of the underranked bigs like Bam Adebayo, Thomas Bryant, and Dwight Powell. They lose value in this build, but at their current price, we don’t really care. Punting is not only about targeting players who gain a significant amount of value when the category is ignored. It is also about finding players who complement the players gaining value and these later-round bigs can do that.
All of the first-round guards can work here. Harden (44.2 FG%) and Damian Lillard (44.4 FG%) both gain a ton of value when field goal percentage is thrown out and Curry (47.2 FG%), Kyrie Irving (48.7 FG%), and Bradley Beal (47.5 FG%) do not lose any value. It’s also one of Paul George’s (43.8 FG%) best builds. George makes sense here, not only because of his weak shooting numbers but because he is a well-above-average source of rebounds from the wing (8.1 RPG). Nikola Jokic is another excellent centerpiece for the punt FG% strategy. Big Honey does not have a lot of value tied up in field goal percentage (51.1 FG%) and he makes being competitive in rebounds much easier (10.8 RPG). Unfortunately, he does not fix our problem with blocks (0.7 BPG). I’m not nuts over Joel Embiid in the first due to the upcoming load management and his scary playoff schedule, but I can’t deny that he works absurdly well here. The Process doesn’t lose any value when field goal percentage is ignored (48.4 FG%), is the second-best rounder in the NBA (13.6 RPG), and is a top-10 source of blocks (1.9 BPG). If you do want to bet your season on Embiid’s availability in late March, make sure that you pair him with one of the more durable second-round picks. Don’t get greedy and try to get away with an Embiid-Jimmy Butler or Embiid-Kyrie Irving combo. Anthony Davis works for the same reason Embiid does. The Laker will lose value in this build (51.7 FG%), but he provides you with a monster start in the two categories that punt FG% teams tend to struggle with (12.0 RPG, 2.4 BPG). Davis also comes with a very low turnover rate (2.0 TOPG) for a first-round pick, so you won’t have to go with the double-punt if you start your draft with the big man. I’m usually going to punt assists with Davis, but if you feel that you can build a stronger team by throwing him into the punt FG% build, go for it. Punting is about building the strongest team possible. It not just about pairing players with the build that increases their value the most.
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: Rebounds, Blocks, Turnovers
First-round targets: Anthony Davis, Steph Curry, James Harden, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Paul George
R2) Russell Westbrook – Westbrook is a tough player to build around because his line has three major holes in it. The double-punt eliminates two of them (42.8 FG%, 4.4 TOPG) and makes the new Rocket much less stressful to own. If you are throwing Westbrook into the double-punt, you will likely have a first-round player on your hands. In his final season in Oklahoma City, the point guard finished eighth-overall when both categories were ignored. There’s no easy workaround for his free throw percentage. His owners will just have to hope he remembers how to shoot them. Westbrook hit at least 80.0 percent of his attempts at the line in each of his first seven seasons before something in his form changed and his success rate fell off of a cliff. Last season was especially painful (65.6 FT%). Westbrook hurt your chances of winning the category more than any other guard and was more of a drag on the category than his new teammate Clint Capela. Westbrook should continue to be a monster source of points (22.9 PPG), rebounds (11.1 RPG), assists (10.7 APG), and steals (1.9 SPG) in Houston. He won’t quite match last year’s numbers since he’ll have to share the ball with a player who had a 40.5 percent usage rate last season, but the drop-off shouldn’t be dramatic. The rest of Houston’s perimeter players are low-usage three-point shooters.
R2) Nikola Vucevic – Vucevic shot 51.8 percent from the floor last season, but that impressive success rate may not be sustainable. Vucevic destroyed his previous career-high from three (36.4 3P%) and only shot 47.5 percent from the field in 2017-2018. He’ll likely be a top-20 player in this build, and his rebounds (12.0 RPG) and blocks (1.1 BPG) make it easier to focus on guards and wings in the middle rounds. Vucevic produces one of the cleanest lines in the league. In addition to his strong big-man numbers, he does very good work in the traditional guard categories (20.8 PPG, 1.1 3PG, 3.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 78.9 FT%).
R2) Damian Lillard – Lillard is a no-brainer first-round pick, but since ESPN is ESPN, you may be able to get him in the second. If you can pull off that coup, you’ll have a potential top-five player in this build. Lillard was a top-five asset to this build last season thanks to his elite production in the points (25.8 PPG), threes (3.0 3PG), and free throw percentage (91.2 FT% on 6.4 FTA) categories. His free throw percentage impact was especially valuable. Only James Harden had a larger positive impact on the category. Lillard also comes with above-average dimes (6.9 APG) and an average steal rate (1.1 SPG). If Lillard is your first-round pick, you will not be forced into the double-punt (2.7 TOPG).
Other Round 2 Options: Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal