*Updated for ESPN’s latest rankings
I have a hard time picturing any build ever dethroning punt assists as the king of punting strategies in nine-category leagues, but if there is one build that may eventually give it a run for its money, it’s punt threes. This is the only build that is increasing in effectiveness every year. The NBA’s three-point revolution has shown no signs of slowing down, and that is big news for this strategy. During the 2014-2015 NBA season, a player averaging 1.0 3PG would be providing his owners with average value in the threes category. Nowadays, if a player is hitting one three per night, he is a major drag on the category. In 2018-2019, the category mean was about 1.4 3PG in standard 12-team leagues.
The increase in threes is decreasing the value of big men who do not shoot them since their 0.0 3PG average is moving further and further away from the category mean. Any team that is hoping to consistently win threes will have to limit themselves to two, or at most, three of these big men. Any more than that, and you are likely to end up below average in the category. This is a problem for other builds because many of the 0.0 3PG big men are excellent fantasy assets. Passing on these bigs can hurt your chances of winning rebounds, blocks, and field goal percentage. The punt threes build doesn’t have to worry about this problem, and that makes it, in my opinion, the best big-man heavy punting strategy.
The strengths and weaknesses of this build are straightforward:
This build elevates most big men and hurts the value of most guards, so it should not be a surprise that the build usually ends up very strong in the big man categories and weak in one or two of the guard categories. Free throw percentage and points are the build’s biggest problems, but we also have to keep an eye on assists and steals. Since free throw percentage impact and points can be very hard to find in this build, we will need to roster some high-scoring players who do some of their damage from deep. If we limit ourselves to scorers who do most of their work inside of the arc, we’ll come up short in both categories. That’s why players like Trae Young show up in this guide. Young hit 1.9 3PG last season and will likely be in the 2.5 3PG range this year. He will lose quite a bit of value when threes are ignored. However, he’s going to post some spectacular numbers in the rest of the guard categories, so it makes sense to consider him at the end of the second or at the beginning of the third round. He will be an especially attractive target if you start this build with Giannis Antekounmpo or LeBron James due to their struggles in the free throw percentage category. An alternative to selecting players like Young after starting your draft with the two MVPs is to roll with the punt threes/FT% double-punt. This is not an easy build to pull off since it can easily turn into a triple-punt with points, but it is a build that has a very high ceiling when done correctly. The players in this guide whose names are in italics are players that I would only consider in the double-punt.
The turnovers correlation coefficient suggests that this build is going to end up being strong in turnovers. That’s not always the case, and you will need to monitor the category throughout your draft. This build is going to be rostering a lot of point guards and most of the first-round big men who fit this build well come with ugly turnover rates.
This is a punting strategy that works extremely well with all of the first-round big men. All four are modern bigs who hit from deep, but outside of Karl-Anthony Towns (1.8 3PG), none of the four produce above-average numbers in the category. I would not stress about adding players like Towns who average less than 2.0 3PG in this build. It may seem like you are giving up a lot of value, but that’s likely because your brain is not used to the new three-point shooting numbers. I know I still do a double-take when I see how low the z-score for 2.0 3PG is.
This build’s issues with points become a lot more manageable when it starts with Anthony Davis (25.9 PPG), Towns (24.4 PPG), or Joel Embiid (27.5 PPG). However, you are not out of the woods if you select one of these elite bigs and you will have to make points a focus throughout the early rounds. Points disappear after the first half of the draft and are going to be extremely hard to find late. Most of the late-round points sources are high-volume three-point shooters who do little outside of the scoring categories. All three players also ensure a strong start in free throw percentage, but none of the three are elite in the category. Make sure that you chase free throw percentage impact early, because like points, it dries up quickly. Assists do not disappear quite as fast as points, but you will still want to avoid falling behind in dimes early. A lot of the top-end sources of assists are located in the early rounds, and there will be a run on point guards in middle rounds. There will be another batch of lead guards available around the seventh round, but after that point, dimes become extremely scarce.
Nikola Jokic loves this build, and I paired Big Honey with it last season on my way to winning my main league’s championship. The Nuggets’ superstar functions a little differently than the other three first-round bigs. Assists are seldom a problem when you start your team with arguably the best passing big man of all-time (7.3 APG). He also comes with a very impressive steal rate (1.4 SPG) that only Davis can top. However, selecting Jokic at sixth-overall (let’s be honest, he’s going there in every draft) makes finding enough points to be competitive in the category much more of an issue. Jokic only scored 20.1 PPG last season and doesn’t have mid-20s upside in the category due to his unselfish nature. If you draft the Nugget, it’s going to be very hard to take on any points hits in the early or middle rounds. Pairing Jokic with Mitchell Robinson or Myles Turner makes sense since Jokic does not block shots (0.7 BPG), but it leaves no room for error in points. If you are targeting one of these low-scoring bigs to play alongside Jokic, you likely won’t be able to take another player who averages less than 16-17 PPG until about the seventh round. You will also have to pass on low-scoring fliers like Kyle Anderson or Brandon Clarke late.
As mentioned, this is a natural fit for Giannis (0.7 3PG) and LeBron (2.0 3PG). They do great work in all but one of the other guard categories and are both monster sources of field goal percentage impact. Antetkounmpo’s free throw percentage hit is going to be much easier to offset than LeBron’s. Last season, James hurt you in the free throw percentage category about as much as Andre Drummond did.
Kawhi Leonard (1.9 3PG) works here as well, but I would not take him in the first (I feel the same way about Embiid, but I am including him in my first-round targets because I know he will go there in most leagues). Leonard will bring the points (26.6 PPG), steals (1.8 SPG), and free throw percentage impact (85.4 FT%) that this build desperately needs, but is likely to miss games during the fantasy playoffs. The Clippers have some back-to-back sets on their schedule during the most important stretch of the fantasy calendar and play some of their late-March games against the league’s bottom dwellers.
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: FT%, Points, Assists, Steals, Turnovers
First-round targets: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, LeBron James, Joel Embiid
R2) Jimmy Butler – Butler is a great pick around the turn if you are punting threes. If he’s still on the board when it’s your turn to pick in the second, I don’t care who your first-round pick is, you take Buckets. Jimmy was a top-15 player last year when threes were thrown out despite having to share the ball with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris. The last time Butler was his team’s clear first option, he was a top-eight asset to this build and only finished behind this year’s top-five, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant in the punt threes rankings. In his lone full season in Minnesota, Butler averaged 22.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.9 APG, 2.0 SPG, and only 1.8 TOPG. He also shot a solid 47.4 percent from the field and was a top-10 source of free throw percentage impact (85.4 FT% on 7.2 FTA).
R2) Deandre Ayton – Ayton will probably be a first-round player in this build. That sounds like an aggressive claim, but it’s not. Ayton was a top-20 player without triples in his rookie year so it would only take some minor improvement to push the center into the first. Given that he is an elite prospect who looked very good as a rookie, it would be shocking if the 21-year-old wasn’t a lot more productive in his sophomore year. Ayton was a top-five source of field goal percentage impact (58.5 FG% on 12.2 FGA) in his rookie season and was the only player in the top-five who wasn’t a major drag on his owners’ free throw percentage (74.6 FT%). He should be an even more effective weapon in that category this year now that Ricky Rubio is on his team. Ayton is a good bet to eclipse the 20 PPG mark and is a lock to average a double-double (10.3 RPG). He’ll also provide his owners with helpful numbers in both defensive categories (0.9 SPG, 0.9 BPG) and will rarely turn the ball over (1.8 TOPG). The only category that Ayton hurts his owners in when they are punting threes is assists (1.8 APG).
R2) Nikola Vucevic – Only six players were more valuable than Vucevic when threes were ignored last season. All six players will go in the first round in the majority of drafts. The Magic’s All-Star will not, and that makes him a steal at his current second-round ADP for punt threes teams. This build loves bigs who contribute useful numbers in the guard categories. Vucevic is average or better in all of them. He is a force on the offensive end (20.8 PPG), a better passer than most bigs (3.8 APG), a more prolific thief than most centers (1.0 SPG), and an accurate free throw shooter (78.9 FT%). Vucevic has no holes in his line. I usually throw in a negative at the end of my blurbs, but I couldn’t come up with one for Vuc.
Other Round 2 Options: Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Andre Drummond, Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, Zion Williamson