*Updated for the latest Yahoo rankings (including new sample teams)
Practice. Practice. Practice. That is the name of the game here. Punt steals is a high-ceiling strategy for reasons that we will be going over, but due to how the rankings are set up this year, it is not the easiest punting strategy to pull off. While it shares some similarities with the punt assists strategy, it does not share the punt assists strategy’s high floor. You can screw this strategy up if you enter your draft unprepared. Using Elite Fantasy Basketball’s Team Building Tool is a great way to make sure that doesn’t happen. The tool allows you to test any combination of players in seconds. Instead of spending a half-hour or more on a mock that may or may not be a realistic representation of a real draft, you can use the Team Building Tool to quickly figure out what your ideal draft looks like and which backup strategies work and which don’t. The tool shows you where you stand after each round and is adjustable for league size and league host site. The tool is also extremely useful during real drafts. Not only does it allow you to know where you are at every point in the draft, it also allows you to test picks on the fly. With the tool, you don’t have to wait until after the pick is made to see what categories you are above average or below average in. The tool gives you that knowledge beforehand. The tool is available to all subscribers.
You can sign up for access to the Team Building Tool and all of the punting guides, pairing guides, rankings, projections, and other analyses that will be released over the course of this year’s draft season by clicking on the below link and selecting one of the two packages currently available:
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The Punt Steals Strategy
The punt steals strategy works well as both a planned strategy and a mid-draft pivot. Unlike strategies like punt assists or punt FT%, you do not have to commit to punting steals early. You are never going to come out of the fourth round drawing dead in steals. It’s not the easiest category to find during the second half of the draft, but there isn’t any combination of early-round players that prevents you from getting back to at least average in category. You cannot say the same for punt assists. If you don’t draft at least two high-assist players during the first four rounds, you are almost certain to end the draft in a very rough spot in the category. It’s even harder to pivot out of punt FT% in the middle rounds. If you draft Giannis Antetokounmpo and add Clint Capela to your squad in the third or fourth, that’s all she wrote for your FT%. Because of punt steals’ viability as a mid-draft pivot, this is a strategy guide that I recommend you read regardless of whether or not you plan on attempting it from the beginning of your draft.
Year-To-Year Category Variance
See that number in the bottom left corner? That 0.429 number? That is the biggest reason why punting steals makes a ton of sense. Before I expand further, let me tell you what these numbers are and how I got them. When projecting individual player performance, some categories are easier to predict than others. To figure out which categories fall into the easier to predict basket and which categories come with a little more variance, I analyzed player performance in each category for each of the past five seasons. I looked at how the top-150 players in nine-category leagues during the 2016-2017 season fared in each category during the 2017-2018 season, how the top-150 players during the 2017-2018 season fared in each category during the 2018-2019 season, how the top-150 players during the 2018-2019 season fared in each category during the 2019-2020 season, and finally, how the top-150 players during the 2019-2020 season fared in each category during the 2020-2021 season. I calculated the R^2 for each category, and the above chart shows us the results. The R^2 number tells us how useful a player’s prior-year average in a category is going to be when predicting this year’s average in that same category. For example, this tells us is that prior-year APG is a better predictor of APG in the upcoming year than prior-year 3PG is of 3PG for the upcoming year. It tells us that Luka Doncic’s prior-year RPG is a more useful data point when projecting his rebounds this coming season than his 2020-2021 FG% is for projecting his FG% in 2021-2022.
If you look across all four charts, you’ll notice that steals is either at the bottom or very close to it. What this tells us is that steals is much harder than almost all of the other categories to predict. Only FT% comes close, and last season, it’s wasn’t that close. We may think that we have a strong steals team coming out of the draft, but we really won’t know for sure until the season starts. Players underperform in steals much, much more often than they do in categories like assists or rebounds, and because of this, any team that comes out of the draft needing to win steals consistently is going to carry more risk than any team not depending on the category. In short, punt steals is a low-risk punting strategy when done properly.
Correlation Analysis And The Build’s Natural Strengths And Weaknesses
The weak correlation between steals and the percentages is one of this build’s biggest advantages over its more popular peers. When you are passing on high-SPG players, you are not hurting your ability to be competitive in either percentage. That’s not the case with other builds. For example, when we punt blocks, we are taking some high-FG% options off of the board, which makes it harder to be competitive in the category. Only punt assists is able to compete in both percentages as easily as punt steals can. That’s a major advantage because the percentages categories are the best categories to be strong in. Being strong in the percentages gives your team a higher floor and a higher ceiling. If your team is near the top of the league in both percentages, your team is less likely to struggle during weeks in which the schedule is unfriendly. You will likely lose some counting categories you normally win in weeks where the schedule works against you, but if you are strong in the percentages, you’re likely not going to get blown out. Being strong in both categories also gives your team a higher ceiling because it makes running up the score in weeks in which the schedule is in your favor more likely. A team that is strong in counting stats but weak in the percentages, won’t benefit as much from a friendly schedule since having more games won’t boost its percentages. Being strong in the percentages in a week in which you have a games advantage is more likely to lead to a blowout win because you’ll be winning the percentages while your slightly weaker counting stats will be receiving a bump from the friendly schedule.
It’s not just the percentages that steals has a weak relationship with, it is every category except assists. That means that coming away from your draft in an above-average spot in at least seven of the non-punted categories is very possible. Unfortunately, that moderate relationship with dimes is an issue. There are some point guards that have a ton of value tied up in steals and who are not very useful when the category is punted. We will be passing on some of these point guards, which limits our assist options in the early and middle rounds. Assists are also extremely hard to find late in the draft, so if we miss out on our desired point guard targets early due to that inevitable point guard run that happens during every draft, we are likely going to finish the draft in a below-average position in that category. And that’s fine, as long as we get somewhat close to the category average. Your goal on draft day is not to build a perfect team. It is to put together a solid core that is only a couple of smart pickups away from dominating. If you can come away from your draft just one 5.5 APG player away from being in a good spot in dimes, I would consider that a success.
Where The Build’s Key Categories Are In The Draft
To be competitive in assists, we need to target the category early and often. The best sources of dimes are found within the first handful of rounds. Sometime around the sixth round, the category becomes extremely hard to find. Try to come out out of the first six rounds with at least three strong assist sources on your squad. Four would be ideal. You will not be able to find assists late in the draft. Points are always a category that we need to keep a close eye on. The punt steals build will be looking to win that category consistently. To do so, it needs to make points a priority with almost all of its early-round picks. Most of the best sources of points are found inside of the first two rounds. The availability of points drops off fairly quickly up and falls off of a cliff around round six.
FT% impact also must be targeted early. The best sources of FT% impact are ranked inside of the top 25 on Yahoo. It becomes very difficult to find difference-makers in the category after the fifth round, and it is almost impossible to find quality contributors in the category in the later rounds. FG% is the one key category that you can wait on. There are a decent amount of quality bigs that fit this build well available during the second half of the draft. Just be careful not to dig yourself too much of a hole in the category early on when you are picking up guards and targeting points, assists, and FT%.
2020-2021 Final Punt Steals Rankings
Player Consistency In Punt Steals
Player rankings and projections do not 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 steals and which players are difficult 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 steals consistency rankings, click the below links:
First-round Building Blocks
Karl-Anthony Towns, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry check every box here. All three players put up good-to-great numbers in all of the categories that this build needs to be focusing on. Those three are elite options in the percentages categories, strong contributors in the points column with Curry a threat to lead the league in scoring again, and above-average sources of dimes for their position. As a bonus, none of the three lose a significant amount of value when steals is ignored. Towns (0.8 SPG) and Durant (0.7 SPG) gain value, and Curry hasn’t produced notable numbers in the category since the 2017-2018 campaign. The Warrior managed only 1.2 SPG last season. In 2020-2021, Durant finished second in the nine-category version of this build, Steph finished third, and Towns finished sixth.
Nikola Jokic is also a dream starting point for this build. Last season’s MVP finished atop both the eight- and nine-category punt steals rankings by a comfortable margin. He dominates all four of this build’s key categories even more so than Towns, Durant, and Curry do. However, there are better builds for Jokic. It makes more sense to punt threes, points, or blocks with Big Honey. Of those three builds, punt threes is my preferred partner for Jokic.
James Harden has dominated the steals category in the past but is coming off of a year in which he managed only 1.2 SPG. Selecting Harden in the first is the best way to get around this build’s natural weakness in assists. Harden led the league in dimes in 2020-2021 with 10.8 APG and should be considered the heavy favorite to finish atop the assists rankings this year. He will also bring the elite FT% impact that this build loves (86.1 FT% on 7.3 FTA) and is unlikely to be a drag on FG%. In Brooklyn, he shot a very respectable 47.1 percent from the field. Playing beside two other stars has turned Harden into only an average source of points for a first-round pick (24.6 PPG in Brooklyn). That’s not a bad number, but you still have plenty of work to do in the category after you grab the superstar in one.
Punt steals has long been one of the best options for Damian Lillard-led teams. The Blazer has averaged more than 1.1 SPG only once in his career and wasn’t even an average contributor in the category in 2020-2021 (0.9 SPG). Lillard makes this build’s goal of dominance in the FT% category achievable (92.7 FT% on 7.2 FTA) and allows his punt steals teams to come out of the first round in above-average shape in both points (28.7 PPG) and dimes (7.5 APG). Lillard comes with a FG% hit, but that hit is manageable. He’s shot over 45 percent from the field in each of his last two seasons.
Joel Embiid is a threat to finish atop the punt steals rankings (1.0 SPG) and provides us with the strong percentages impact and points that we need. However, he is a bit of a tricky fit here due to his low assist numbers (2.8 APG). If you roll with The Process in round one, make sure that you pick up high-assist players in at least three of the next four rounds. If you do not, you will not get to where you need to be in dimes.
Jayson Tatum’s well-rounded line makes him a nice fit for almost every build, including this one. The Celtic doesn’t lose much value when steals are ignored (1.2 SPG) and projects to be a monster source of points and FT% impact. After the All-Star break last season, once he was mostly over his very rough battle with COVID, Tatum averaged an outstanding 27.8 PPG on 47.9 FG% and connected on 87.5 percent of his 5.6 FTA.
Categories to target: Points, Assists, FG%, FT%
First-round targets: Nikola Jokic, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jayson Tatum
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 Yahoo 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 Yahoo. All numbers and rankings are from the 2020-2021 season unless otherwise stated.
R2) Bradley Beal – Beal is an easy pick around the turn if he’s available. He’s fairly safe and fits this build extremely well. He loses minimal value when steals are tossed (1.2 SPG) and brings the heat in all of this build’s key categories. Despite playing beside one of the most ball-dominant players of all time in 2020-2021, the Wizard managed to average 31.3 PPG on excellent efficiency (48.5 FG% on 23.0 FGA, 88.9 FT% on 7.7 FTA). He also dropped 4.4 APG, which is a number that he should easily eclipse this season with Russell Westbrook now in a Lakers’ jersey. In 2019-2020, Beal averaged a much more helpful 6.1 APG. The Wizards’ playoff schedule further enhances Beal’s value. If your playoffs start on March 7th, the Wizards will play 11 games. If your playoffs start on March 14th, then you could get up to 12 games from your stud.
R2) Nikola Vucevic – Vucevic works in the second in just about every build because he produces useful numbers in just about every category. His usage will drop this season now that the Bulls have added DeMar DeRozan to the mix, but he does so much outside of the points category that his value should be able to absorb a drop in touches. The big man does have quite a bit of room to fall. Last season, Vucevic finished ninth in the nine-category punt steals rankings. He is still going to be one of the best rebounders in the league (11.7 RPG), as well as one of the best sources of out-of-position triples (2.5 3PG). His PPG will still be excellent for a big man as well (23.4 PPG), and he’ll produce numbers in dimes (3.8 APG) and FT% (84.0 FT%) that most bigs can only dream of. Being on a team like the Bulls adds to Vucevic’s value. There is zero shutdown risk here, and the Bulls are not going to be good enough to give their stud big man many nights off.
R2) Paul George – George left his elite steal rate in Oklahoma City. Since joining the Clippers, the All-Star has averaged only 1.3 SPG, and in 2020-2021, he managed only 1.1 SPG. Swipes has a ton of year-to-year volatility, so a bounceback in the category is possible. However, with George taking on a much larger role on offense this year, I wouldn’t bet on that happening. PG is a very strong pick in the second not only because he’s likely not going to lose much value when steals are ignored, but because he’s going to bring the points (23.3 PPG), assists (5.2 APG), and FT% impact (86.8 FG% on 4.2 FTA) that we will need to be on the lookout for. I would expect all of those numbers to rise this year with the jump in points and FT% impact being especially drastic. Last season, George averaged 16.5 FGA36 and 3.4 FTA36 when Leonard was on the court. When his superstar teammate was on the bench or in a suit, those numbers jumped to 21.8 FGA36 and 5.9 FTA36. The Clipper is also going to be one of the best sources of boards in the association from the wing (6.6 RPG) and one of the best sources of threes (3.3 3PG) from any position. The one area where we need to assume some regression is FG%. George was much more efficient from the field last year than he normally is (46.7 FG%), and the extra defensive attention that he is going to be receiving this season is going to make life a lot tougher for the Clippers’ new first option. If you plan to draft George, make sure that you pair him with players with strong Week 22 schedules. The Clippers will only play twice during what will be a playoff week in almost every league.
Other Round 2 Options: Trae Young, Kyrie Irving (if vaccinated), Zach LaVine, Bam Adebayo