*Updated for the latest ESPN rankings.
I’m starting this free guide with a recap of the theory behind punting because I recognize that we have a lot of first-time punters visiting the site. If you are a veteran in the art of the punt, feel free to skip the next section and get right into this season’s punt blocks guide.
What Is Punting And How Does It Work?
Punting is a necessity in head-to-head leagues. Trying to build a team that is competitive in every category may seem like a genius idea on the surface. It is a very tempting strategy to attempt. We all dream about finding that fantasy basketball nirvana. That team that is strong in all nine categories and doesn’t give its opponents an inch. It is a lovely dream. Dream being the key word. The fantasy basketball universe is a cold, dark place, and if it was that easy to build a juggernaut, you wouldn’t be coming to this page. Winning all nine categories is not a realistic expectation if you play in a league with semi-competent players, so why waste your time trying.
The idea behind punting is to sacrifice a category to make yourself stronger in the remaining categories. Punting a category will increase the value of some players and decrease the value of other players, but that does not mean that you should blindly target the players who gain value in your chosen strategy. If you do that, you will end up with an unbalanced team that will likely be weak in a handful of categories. The success of a punting strategy is not only determined by how strong the team is in the build’s naturally strong categories. It is also determined by how competitive the team is in its naturally weak categories. Don’t worry if you don’t know the natural strengths and weaknesses of each build. I will have a detailed breakdown of both in each punting guide.
A good example of punting done wrong is the famous Dwight Howard/Josh Smith/Rajon Rondo punt FT% punting strategy that was pushed by many fantasy experts as some kind of no-brainer start when the three former stars were at their peaks. All three players gained a significant amount of value when free throw percentage was taken out of the equation. What these experts failed to notice was that the three players were not good fits with each other. Yes, all three players would finish close to the top of the punt FT% rankings, but that start would lead to a team that was weak not only in free throw percentage, but also in points, threes, and turnovers. Any team starting with those three players would have been much better served by dropping one of the stars for a player who performed better in the points and threes categories.
You will need to get creative when punting. Sometimes it may seem like a player is a bad fit for a build on the surface, but in actuality, that player is a great fit for the strategy. Steph Curry and the punt FT% build is the best example that I can think of. Curry is the best free throw shooter of all-time. That is not hyperbole. That is a fact. So why would we waste his god-like performance at the line? Because he compliments the punt FT% big men that you will be targeting perfectly. Andre Drummond, Rudy Gobert, and Clint Capela are all devastating fantasy weapons and some of the league’s best contributors in the big-man categories. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to build around because their production in the guard categories is almost non-existent. You need to pair them with guards who dominate the categories they are weak in. Enter Steph Curry. We do not care what Curry’s final ranking ends up being when free throw percentage is ignored. You don’t get extra points for having a player finish atop the fantasy rankings. All we care about is being strong in as many categories as possible and pairing Steph with the punt FT% big men allows us to do that. Pairing Curry with these top-end big men allows us to not only dominate the big-man categories, but stay competitive in points, threes, assists, and steals.
Punting two categories can work and is sometimes the best course of action. Some builds come with a naturally weak second category that may not be worth the effort to bring back to life. If you sacrifice multiple categories and build your team correctly, then you should be stronger in the remaining categories than you would have been if you only punted a single category. It’s a strategy that makes a lot of sense, but it is not something that I would recommend for fantasy players new to punting. It has a higher chance of backfiring than strategies that involve punting only a single category. The biggest downside to punting more than one category is that it limits your flexibility. Changing strategies mid-season, or close to the fantasy playoffs, is very common and often the right move. Quality free-agent pickups can change your team’s makeup and sometimes the build that you have chosen doesn’t match up well with a likely playoff opponent. As a rule, unless I play in a league with more than nine categories, I try not to punt more than two categories at the beginning of the season. That sometimes changes as the fantasy playoffs get closer, but at the beginning of the season, I like to maintain some flexibility.
One strategy that you absolutely need to stay away from is punting four categories. I cannot stress this enough. If you punt four categories, your season will not be fun. I know some are tempted by the thought of locking up five categories and squeezing out 5-4 victories every week. Resist that temptation. This strategy is better in theory than it is in reality. You have zero room for error if you try to pull off the quadruple-punt. If you don’t draft properly, or an injury puts one of your chosen five categories at risk, you can sink to the bottom of the standings quickly. Even if you do pull off this strategy relatively well, you can still find yourself in trouble. I played in a league a few years back where a team employing this strategy finished in the top-three in matchup victories and missed the playoffs. The team racked up 5-4 wins, but a couple of tough 7-2 losses in the middle of the season when the team was missing a couple of its stars was all it took to end the team’s championship aspirations.
Punting can work in Rotisserie leagues. I know some will disagree with me on that one, but it’s the truth. That being said, it’s not something that I recommend. It is hard. Very hard. In Rotisserie leagues, even punting one category leaves very little room for error. Often when punting, a second category ends up being weaker than expected. If that happens in a Rotisserie setting, there goes your championship. Punting in Rotisserie leagues is only for experts.
The Punt Blocks Strategy
You may go into the draft expecting to pair Luka Doncic and a second-round guard with one of the elite punt FT% big men available in third. That’s a nice plan. The problem is the Giannis Antetokounmpo owner and the Steph Curry owner might be thinking the same thing. If they are, you could find yourself left with less than ideal options for your desired build. At this point, you will have a decision to make. Do you start reaching and trying to force the punt FT% build? Or do you switch gears to a strategy that doesn’t require you to reach? Often punt blocks will be that strategy that bails you out of this tough situation. The punt blocks strategy may not be as well-known as other punting strategies such as punt FG% or punt FT%, but that doesn’t mean that it is any less effective. In fact, I would argue that it provides more flexibility than its more famous cousins. It works with almost all of the first-round picks, is not a build that you can screw up early, and is one of the easiest punting strategies to pivot to in the middle rounds if your early rounds do not go according to plan.
There are very few early-round guard/wing combinations that make pulling off punt blocks difficult. The hole that you will dig yourself into in FG% and rebounds – this build’s two most problematic categories – when you start with two smalls will very rarely be a major issue. Rebounds are not hard to find later in the draft, and FG% impact, while a little rarer, is not as scarce as some of the guard categories that the punt blocks strategy allows you to load up on early are. This makes punting blocks a very safe plan and one that will usually be on the table in the middle rounds if you are not feeling good about your chances of pulling off a different punting strategy.
The correlation coefficients tell us that the punt blocks strategy is going to be naturally strong in the FT%, threes, and assists categories and naturally weak in the FG% and rebounds categories. This makes sense as most players who rack up blocks – the players that we will be passing on – are bigs who do well in the other big-man categories while struggling in the guard categories. There is a very weak relationship between turnovers and blocks, but turnovers is still going to be a category that you will want to keep an eye on when punting swats. Since most of the players who receive large boosts in value when blocks are ignored are guards, it is easy to get carried away and select too many guards or wings that come with high turnover rates.
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 Jonas Valanciunas (1.1 BPG) and Bam Adebayo (1.3 BPG) are outstanding picks here due to their strong contributions in the build’s problematic categories.
Where The Build’s Key Categories Are In The Draft
There is not a lot of FG% impact in the first two rounds since those two rounds are dominated by guards and wings. You’ll want to focus on the category between rounds 3 and 7. Those rounds are filled with quality big men. FG% impact availability falls off of a cliff on ESPN after round 7. If you are in a bad spot in the category after round 7, you’re probably going to need a trade or a late-round sleeper to hit to end up where you want to be in the category. Rebounds follow a similar pattern. The availability of rebounds steadily declines until the end of round 7. After that, it becomes very difficult to find double-double threats, unless you play in a non-competitive league. In that case, you may be able to grab one of the mid-round bigs that ESPN has ranked well outside of the top-100. Points and assists need to be targeted extra aggressively in ESPN leagues. Both categories are mostly found inside of the first four rounds. You will want to have three high-assist players on your squad by the end of the fourth.
Player Consistency In Punt Blocks
Player rankings and projections don’t tell the whole story. The 75th-ranked player may be a different type of asset than the 76th-ranked player, even though they are about even in value. Some players are very consistent, and some players are boom-or-bust. To give you a better idea of which players are consistent in punt blocks and which players are hard to predict on a game-to-game basis, I created a consistency analysis that you can read about here. If you want to skip the explanation of how I developed the consistency measure and get straight to the punt blocks consistency rankings, click the below links:
First-round Building Blocks
All of the first-round guards and wings work here. None lose a significant amount of value when blocks are thrown out, and all of them dominate the guard categories that the build will be looking to win every weak. The best fits are the guards and wings that can help you win rebounds while not doing too much damage to your chances in the FG% category. Steph Curry, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Kevin Durant are all plus rebounders for their positions, and all will have either a neutral impact or better on the FG% category. James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Trae Young are trickier fits as they will make being competitive in FG% more difficult. Of the three, Harden works the best in punt blocks because of the good work that he does on the boards (6.4 RPG). If you draft one of three low-FG% guards, I strongly recommend taking a long look at Deandre Ayton in the second round. He loses some value in this build (1.7 BPG), but he also immediately fixes your issue with both rebounds and FG%. The Sun is already one of the best rebounders in the association (12.0 RPG) and was a top-12 source of FG% impact (54.8 FG% on 15.5 FGA) in his sophomore year. Bam Adebayo is also a reasonable second-round partner for the low-FG% guards, especially if you play in an eight-category league. In nine-category leagues, I would only pair him with Lillard. Lillard-led teams can take the turnovers hit that accompanies Adebayo (2.8 TOPG) because the Blazers’ superstar has a relatively low turnover rate (2.9 TOPG) for a high-usage player. Pairing Bam with either Harden (4.5 TOPG) and Young (4.8 TOPG) could easily turn your punt blocks team into a punt blocks and turnovers team.
Giannis Antetokounmpo would be a dream fit for this build if he could just hit his free throws at a respectable rate (63.5 FT% on 10.0 FTA). The two-time MVP dominates the build’s problematic categories (13.7 RPG, 54.7 FG% on 20.0 FGA) and doesn’t block as many shots as you would think (1.0 BPG). Until he cleans it up at the line, he’s only an option for those willing to roll with a double-punt with FT%. His FT% hit is not offsettable right now. In 2019-2020, Giannis had a significantly larger negative impact on the category than players like Rudy Gobert and Andre Drummond. LeBron has the same issue, but his struggles can be worked around (69.7 FT% on 5.7 FTA). If you draft the reigning Finals MVP in Round 1 and want to punt blocks, Devin Booker makes a ton of sense in Round 2. Booker led the league in FT% impact in 2019-2020 (91.6 FT% on 7.1 FTA) and was a top-20 asset to the punt blocks build. Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving also work extremely well with The King in punt blocks, but both combinations are very risky from a games-played standpoint.
I would slide Karl-Anthony Towns into the punt assists build before the punt blocks build, but he does make a ton of sense here. The big man blocks a fair amount of shots (1.2 BPG), but his value is not super dependent on his swats. In 2019-2020, Towns was a top-six per-game player when blocks were ignored. The offensive dynamo is a force on the glass (10.8 RPG) and is very efficient from the field (50.8 FG% on 18.1 FGA) despite being one of the league’s most prolific three-point shooters (3.3 3PG).
This build is also not my first choice for Nikola Jokic (sign up to find out which build is!). However, Big Honey is a lock for top-10 numbers when blocks are ignored and brings the heat where punt blocks teams need him to (10.2 RPG, 52.8 FG% on 14.9 FGA).
Categories to target: FG%, Rebounds, Turnovers
First-round targets: James Harden, Karl-Anthony Towns, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, Trae Young, LeBron James, Jayson Tatum, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant
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. All numbers and rankings for the 2019-2020 season unless otherwise stated are pre-Bubble regular-season numbers.
R2) Jimmy Butler – Buckets has been a top-15 punt blocks weapon six years in a row. If he can stay in one piece this year, I see no reason why he can’t extend his streak to seven. The playoff hero produces one of the more unique early-round lines. He doesn’t score as much as the other top-20 picks (20.2 PPG) do and his struggles from deep are well-documented (0.5 3PG). However, he’ll once again be one the best sources of swipes in the association (1.7 SPG), a huge help in the FT% category (83.3 FT% on 9.1 FTA), and one of the best bets for rebounds and dimes from the wing (6.6 RPG, 6.1 APG). Butler’s low turnover rate makes him especially attractive in nine-category leagues. This build struggles to keep its turnovers in check, and Jimmy turns the ball over a lot less than the other second-round guards (2.2 TOPG).
R2) Devin Booker – This build needs to target efficient guards aggressively, and guards don’t come much more efficient than Booker. Before the COVID stoppage, the Booker was a top-20 asset to this build thanks to his sterling shooting from both the floor (48.7 FG%) and the line (91.6 FT%). That FG% is a huge help in most builds, but it is especially valuable to a build that tends to struggle with the category. I would not expect more than a minor drop in Booker’s points (26.1 PPG) and assists (6.6 APG) this year. Chris Paul averaged fewer touches and had a lower time of possession than Ricky Rubio in 2019-2020. Steals should continue to be an issue for Booker (0.7 SPG), but it is his turnovers that give his nine-category owners headaches. If you pair Booker (3.9 TOPG) with one of the high-turnover first-round picks, you are likely going to be punting the category.
R2) Kyrie Irving – When punting blocks, we need to target points early and often. We need to grab a lot of FT% impact early because it dries up quickly. Ideally, we also want those sources of points and FT% impact to not hurt us from the floor or on the boards. And it’s even better if those early-round studs don’t kill your chances in turnovers. If only there was a player who checked all of those boxes. If Kyrie stays healthy, he will win plenty of championships for his punt blocks owners. The All-Star does everything this build asks of its guards. Before his season-ending injury in 2019-2020, Irving was averaging a spectacular 27.4 PPG, 2.8 3PG, 5.2 RPG, 6.4 APG, and 1.4 SPG while shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 92.2 percent from the line and only turning the ball over 2.6 times per night. Kevin Durant will take a small bite out of Kyrie’s offensive numbers, but the Flat Earther will still easily outplay his ADP on a per-game basis.
Other Round 2 Options: Kawhi Leonard/Kevin Durant if they available, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal