*Updated for ESPN’s latest rankings
This is fantasy basketball’s most popular punting strategy and also its most misunderstood. Most punting beginners gravitate towards this build since it is the only punting strategy that they have heard of. That usually leads to bad things. This is not an easy build to pull off. The punt FT% build does have a high ceiling, but its floor is lower than most punting strategies. If you are new to punting, give punt assists a whirl before you start practicing this strategy.
Punting free throw percentage usually leads to dominance in the rebounding and blocks columns. Most of the big men who gain a significant amount of value in this build post extremely strong numbers in both categories. No other category is guaranteed when punting free throw percentage, not even field goal percentage.
Let’s take a look at how free throw percentage correlates with the other eight categories:
The correlation coefficients tell us that the punt FT% build is going to be naturally strong in the rebounding and blocks categories and weak in the points category. They also suggest that this build is going to have a massive issue with threes. Because of these weaknesses, it makes a lot of sense to punt points or threes alongside free throw percentage. The problem with this approach is that it is difficult to punt points without punting threes and vice versa. The two categories are closely linked. A double-punt can easily turn into a triple-punt if you are not careful. If you want to attempt a double-punt that includes free throw percentage and one of the two scoring categories, make sure that you spend a lot of time mocking. I do not recommend punting three categories right out of the gate. A triple-punt limits your flexibility during the season and leaves little room for error.
Two of the above correlation coefficients are a little misleading. It’s true that players who struggle from the line are usually very good sources of field goal percentage impact. However, a punt free throw percentage team is not guaranteed to be a strong field goal percentage team. This is because the type of player that we want to match with the elite punt FT% bigs often struggle from the floor. This build could be called elite big men and point guards. That is what your team is going to end up being comprised of. Since the big men who you will be targeting in this build are usually exceptionally weak contributors in the assists category, we have no choice but to chase point guards (unless you want to do a double-punt with assists, which can work. Check out my punt assists guide for more on that double-punt). We almost always have to roster around four or five point guards when punting free throw percentage to be competitive in dimes, and that can lead to issues not only with field goal percentage but with turnovers as well. Point guards like Mike Conley and Chris Paul, who can contribute useful numbers in the points, threes, assists, and steals categories without killing your chances in turnovers are extremely valuable to this build.
Because of this build’s issues with points and threes, you will want to avoid guards and wings who do not post big numbers in at least one of the two categories. These problems also put players who lose a lot of value in this build, but score quite often and hit from deep consistently, on the table. For example, Buddy Hield doesn’t feel like a natural fit for this build. He shot 88.6 percent from the line last year and has a lot of value tied up in free throw percentage. However, he can keep us afloat in points (20.7 PPG) and almost singlehandedly make us competitive in threes (3.4 3PG), so he makes our target list.
The ESPN rankings make things even more complicated. Our two primary big-man targets, Andre Drummond and Rudy Gobert, are ranked within the top-15. Most of the time, one of the two will last a little longer, but you need to be prepared for situations where neither is available when your second pick comes around. Clint Capela and Mitchell Robinson are your next best options. When to take Robinson depends on the strength of your league. In some competitive leagues, he will go in the third, but he will likely be a mid-round pick in many ESPN leagues due to his ridiculously low ranking. I do not recommend going with two elite big men early. If you spend two of your first three picks on these bigs, it will be very difficult to be competitive in the guard categories since most of the top-end point guards come off the board early in drafts. The best way to build a strong punt FT% team is to pair your first-round stud with one of the above four bigs, and then select guards or wings who contribute in the key categories until about the fifth round. You should be able to find enough points, threes, assists, and steals that way. Once the fifth or the sixth round rolls around, start looking for a second big. You will still end up being very strong in the big-man categories if you wait this long to go big again. Hassan Whiteside and Steven Adams (and possibly Robinson) will be available in this range and will have early-round upside in the punt FT% build.
My favorite starting point for this build is Steph Curry. Yes, we are sliding the best free throw shooter of all-time into the punt FT% build. Curry obviously loses a lot of value here, but he fixes most of the build’s problems. He will likely score more than 30 PPG this season and the record for most threes per game (5.1 3PG), owned by Curry himself, will fall this year. Curry should see minutes in the mid-30s and be a very strong source of assists and steals. The last time he played without Kevin Durant, the two-time MVP averaged 6.7 APG and 2.1 SPG. He also won’t hurt your chances in the field goal percentage category as much as other point guards. He should have close to a neutral impact on the category. Last season, Curry hit 47.2 percent of his attempts from the floor, and in his second MVP season, he hit 50.4 percent of his shot attempts. James Harden can work in this build for the same reasons that Curry works, but he creates some problems for your team that Curry does not. Harden’s shooting numbers are going to be harder to offset (44.2 FG%), and it will be extremely difficult to be competitive in turnovers with the Rocket on your squad (5.0 TOPG). Harden as the starting point for the punt FT% build obviously becomes a lot more viable if you play in an eight-category league.
Only Anthony Davis was more valuable than Giannis Antetokounmpo when free throw percentage was ignored last season. Giannis can serve as a replacement for one of our punt FT% big-man targets due to his elite production in the categories that they dominate in (12.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 57.8 FG% on 17.3 FGA). He will also provide his owners with solid numbers in the assists (5.9 APG) and steals (1.3 SPG) categories. Starting your draft with the reigning MVP puts you on pace to be above-average in points (27.7 PPG), but selecting the Greek Freak will exacerbate your problems with threes (0.7 3PG). Antetokounmpo is expected to take more threes this year but is unlikely to be more than an average producer in the category.
LeBron James’ free throw shooting woes have gotten so bad that it is now almost impossible to roster him without punting free throw percentage. In 2018-2019, he dragged down your free throw percentage almost as much as Gobert and Drummond did. The King was a top-eight player in the punt FT% build in 2018-2019 and the second-most valuable player when free throw percentage was ignored in 2017-2018. Most LeBron-led punt FT% teams will end up being very strong in field goal percentage. He only shot 51.0 percent from the field last season, but the Lakers’ new additions should help bring his field goal percentage back up to a level that is closer to his 2017-2018 success rate (54.2 FG%). LeBron is expected to play point guard this season and his already elite dimes (8.3 APG) will likely increase. He will also be a top-end source of points (27.4 PPG) and produce above-average numbers in the threes (2.0 3PG) and steals (1.3 SPG) categories. If you grab LeBron in the first, keep a close eye on your turnovers (3.6 TOPG).
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%, Points, Threes, Assists, Turnovers
First-round targets: Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Joel Embiid, Steph Curry
R2) Andre Drummond – ESPN has Drummond in the first, but he’ll go in the second in most drafts. The Pistons’ big man was the fourth-most valuable player last season when free throw percentage was ignored and was even better when it mattered the most. Over the final two months of the season, no player was more valuable than Drummond in the punt FT% build. He’s not a sexy pick, but Drummond’s upside in this build is immense, and he is arguably the most durable early-round option. The center has somehow only missed 10 games over the past six seasons. Drummond provides elite production in four categories (15.6 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 1.8 BPG, 53.2 FG%) and ensures a very strong start in turnovers (2.2 TOPG). He needs to be paired with players like Steph Curry, LeBron James, Bradley Beal, and Kyrie Irving since they can offset his weaker production in points (17.3 PPG), threes (0.1 3PG), and assists (1.4 APG). Drummond should NOT be paired with Rudy Gobert. If you start with the two elite big men, it will be very hard to end up competitive in both points and threes. Points disappear after the early rounds, and it would take a herculean effort to bring threes back if you start with the two bigs.
R2) Rudy Gobert – The Defensive Player of the Year finished sixth in the punt FT% rankings last season and could improve on that impressive finish now that he is surrounded by significantly better shooters and a star point guard in Mike Conley. Last season, the only players who had a larger positive impact on the field goal percentage category were Clint Capela and Giannis Antetokounmpo. With Gobert having much more space to work with this year and better passers around him, don’t be surprised if the big man ends up being the king of field goal percentage. Like Andre Drummond, Gobert does most of his damage in the big-man categories (12.8 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 66.9 FG%) and provides less than ideal production in the assists (2.0 APG), steals (0.8 SPG), and threes (0.0 3PG) columns. I expect his scoring numbers (15.9 PPG) to improve this year. They were trending up as the year went along. Over the final 15 games of the 2018-2019 regular season, Gobert averaged a very healthy 18.1 PPG.
R2) Bradley Beal – Beal plus one of the elite punt FT% bigs is one of the better options available around the first-round turn. Unlike Kyrie Irving, Beal doesn’t lose any value when free throw percentage is ignored (80.8 FT%). After John Wall’s 2018-2019 season ended, the shooting guard was a borderline first-round asset to this build and averaged a blistering 27.2 PPG, 2.7 3PG, 5.1 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.8 SPG, and 0.5 BPG on 47.6 percent shooting. That kind of production is welcomed on any team, but it is especially useful here due to the build’s issues with the scoring categories. He won’t be quite as good this season since his minutes are likely to drop slightly, but it is possible that his dimes increase. Coach Brooks has suggested that Beal will be tasked with more playmaking responsibilities this year and has said that he thinks Beal can average 8+ assists in 2019-2020.
R2) Zion Williamson – I tried to be conservative when projecting Zion’s numbers this year. He will be one of the best athletes to ever step foot on an NBA court, but he is currently lacking anything resembling an NBA-level jumper. Despite the conservative approach, the rookie still turned out to be a second-round player in my projections when free throw percentage is ignored. Williamson is going to be a five-category player. He should put up some very nice scoring (22.6 PPG), rebounding (8.9 RPG), and defensive numbers (2.1 SPG, 1.8 BPG). He should also be a great source of field goal percentage impact (68.0 FG%). In this build, his lack of threes (0.7 3PG) is his biggest issue, and he could also end up as a decent-sized drag on his owners’ turnovers (2.4 TOPG). Williamson is riskier than most rookies from a health standpoint because we don’t have any recent players to compare him too. He has a one-of-a-kind body, and it is fair to wonder if a player that heavy can make it through the NBA’s grueling 82-game schedule.
Other Round 2 Options: Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Ben Simmons, John Collins, Deandre Ayton, Russell Westbrook