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One of my all-time favorite movies is Rounders. Matt Damon and Ed Norton talking all smooth and playing poker in cool-looking clubs with John Malkovich spouting repeatable lines in… sort of a Russian accent. Plus, there’s a great Counting Crows song during the credits that I’ve never been able to find anywhere. Anyway, Damon’s Mike McD is the relatively good boy, while Norton’s Worm is the slimier friend.

After Worm gets them beat up with all their cash stolen for having been caught cheating, the gloves come off in an overdue shouting match between the old friends.

Mike McDermott: What the F*** were you thinking?

Worm: I was trying to give us an edge… …I don’t think like that.

Mike McD: No, you don’t THINK!

Worm: No, I don’t think like YOU! You always think you can beat the game straight up. That’s not me. I told you, I’m always gonna look for that edge. Always.

As much as Mike is the better role model, if you’re picking from the two gambling addicts, in fantasy basketball you want to be like Worm. Even if you tried, you can’t cheat in most leagues, but you want to be the one thinking differently, finding your edge. Last week, I mentioned ways to make your league more engaging. From here on out, I’ll give you ways to get an edge in your league by using the numbers to your advantage. These next two weeks leading up to the season, we’ll talk drafting.

My goal here is to not only give you some draft targets based on the data, but to get you thinking about ways you can look for your edge. Maybe you’ll even feel comfortable using some data to customize it to your own situation. If that interests you, I suggest pasting last year’s ESPN Player Rater values into excel and messing around a little. If you get comfortable with that, by the time the season starts, you’ll be better equipped to learn how you can trade a player valued in the 50s, according to what your team needs, for someone with top 20 value to you, because it could be a win/win deal.

Back to drafting, though. Son and Kostas have given you a pair of great stat projections here on Razzball, and you’ve got another set on whatever site you play on (though, a lot of those appear to be created more by algorithms than knowledgeable humans capable of reading news). You’re also probably aware that Yahoo and ESPN provide you with player values in each category relative to the rest of the league. Yahoo has theirs under “std dev” (standard deviations), and ESPN does it on their 8-category Player Rater. Once we get a few weeks into the season, these are very helpful. Until then, and even after that, I’m going to be using a lot of Basketball Monster’s per-game projections, since they also include the type of values I just described. How can we use this to our advantage? Well, instead of just considering Nicolas Batum as the 49th best player (his Yahoo Rank), we’re going to realize that his value is different to each team because he has a distinct value in each of your eight or nine categories (this ain’t fantasy football!). During the draft, each player’s value to each team changes with every single pick that’s made. We not going to get THAT mathy here–

–sorry John Nash. But, just keep that in mind as I show you what I mean.

First up, an exercise in isolating certain categories. The stats that most NBA fans pay attention to are points, rebounds, and assists, so it’ll probably come as no surprise that these are the 12 most valuable fantasy players when looking solely at those three stats on a per-game basis:

Points+Rebounds+Assists

  1. Russell Westbrook
  2. James Harden
  3. LeBron James
  4. DeMarcus Cousins
  5. Nikola Jokic
  6. Anthony Davis
  7. Karl-Anthony Towns
  8. John Wall
  9. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  10. Blake Griffin
  11. Kevin Durant
  12. Damian Lillard

Except for Griffin, these guys are pretty much all ranked in the top 15, so isolating these more obvious stats isn’t really showing you any sneaky-good fantasy targets. But, check out what happens when we do the same thing with the counting stats that far fewer people have memorized (threes, steals, and blocks). Lots of knowledgeable fantasy folks like to look for the “1/1/1 club” guys, but that’s just an arbitrary threshold that leads to overrating that as much as many overrate triple-doubles. Who are the 12 best when you add up just the value of these three categories?

Threes+Steals+Blocks

  1. Stephen Curry
  2. Draymond Green
  3. Joel Embiid
  4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
  5. Robert Covington
  6. DeMarcus Cousins
  7. James Harden
  8. Kristaps Porzingis
  9. Kawhi Leonard
  10. Russell Westbrook
  11. Anthony Davis
  12. John Wall

Now, we’re digging up a few targets. Green, Embiid, and Porzingis are ranked in Yahoo’s 20s, while Covington is all the way down at 60. That’s some great value that might not be quite as obvious to your league-mates. One last version of this exercise, though. These players are the best at two other categories that lots of fantasy managers just ignore. I give you the top 12 at FG% plus FT%, with values weighted for attempts. It’s so hard to stay near the top in both, but it can be done, and these guys can really help (I’ve added a few extras that really jump up with this combination):

FG%+FT%

  1. Karl-Anthony Towns
  2. Kevin Durant
  3. Nikola Jokic
  4. Kawhi Leonard
  5. Kyrie Irving
  6. Enes Kanter
  7. Danilo Gallinari
  8. Jonas Valanciunas
  9. Anthony Davis
  10. Boban Marjanovic
  11. Isaiah Thomas
  12. Chris Paul

18. Clint Capela

19. Marcin Gortat

24. Greg Monroe

25. Dewayne Dedmon

Now, I’m not saying you reach extremely early for the guys above that you don’t normally see in the first few rounds. But, keep them in mind and maybe in your draft queue.

Fun with Punting!

Okay, now the fun really starts. Most of you are probably familiar with punting. In case you’re not, punting is giving up on one category in order to get stronger in multiple categories. The most common category to punt is free throw percentage, since the players that are terrible in that category are often spectacular in many others. In roto leagues, this would mean that instead of expecting to finish in the middle of the pack in FT%, you realize that you could potentially ignore it and lose maybe five points there while gaining something like three points each in FG%, rebounds, and blocks. In head-to-head leagues, it can be even more viable, as you give up on one out of nine categories to give yourself a great chance to win three. Ringer recently wrote a great piece here on Razzball on when and how to successfully implement the punt FT% strategy. Like he said, it’s not something to necessarily plan on, but if the first few rounds fall right, it might be your best option.

Here are the projected worst players for weighted FT% so that you know whose value increases the most if you decide to go this route:

And, the top two are about TWICE as bad as Nurkic. Keep in mind that you should NOT take either of those two if you aren’t punting. Why? Because, if you draft Andre or DeAndre, you’d need about three top 10 guys in weighted FT% just to get your FT% back to average. More likely, though, you’ll end up 2nd worst in FT%, just ahead of the punter, but without the advantages of intentionally punting.

What I like most about punting a category is that you now have a totally different set of rankings than the other teams in your league, and you can take advantage of it. These are players, with their new rankings, that took the biggest leaps, again from Basketball Monster’s per-game projections, when you punt FT% in 8-cat and 9-cat. The bottom line is that these players are more valuable to you than to anyone else in your league.

8-cat FT% Punt

2. LeBron James

9. Rudy Gobert

12. Joel Embiid

17. Andre Drummond

18. DeAndre Jordan

28. Jusuf Nurkic

31. Clint Capela

35. Dwight Howard

42. Lonzo Ball

 

9-cat FT% Punt

3. Rudy Gobert

10. DeAndre Jordan

12. Andre Drummond

23. Clint Capela

36. Dwight Howard

37. Jusuf Nurkic

38. Nerlens Noel

Based on where these players are being drafted by non-punters, you could probably get almost all of these players on one team. “Great”, you say. “What am I gonna do with six centers? And there aren’t many guards that suck at free throws!” I’m glad you brought up such helpful points. You probably don’t want more than maybe four of those big men. Fortunatley, many of those players also qualify at PF, so you can usually play all those punty guys between your C, PF, and Util spots.

But, here is where the real nerdery begins. As I was deep into the cultivation of my dynasty FT%-punt team, I noticed that I wasn’t maximizing the right stats. I had a surplus in FG%, rebounds, and blocks. I didn’t need to keep hunting only guys that bricked their freebies any longer. I needed guys that filled up the rest of the categories that were still in question. That’s an 8-cat league, so I decided to figure out who ranked near the top when I eliminated the categories that were already decided (FG%, FT%, rebounds, blocks). So, I started focusing on players that make a huge jump when you look solely at points, threes, assists, and steals. Here are the big leapers with their adjusted rankings:

8-cat Points+Threes+Assists+Steals:

8. Kyle Lowry

9. Mike Conley

13. Kemba Walker

14. Ricky Rubio

15. D’Angelo Russell

19. Dennis Schroder

25. Victor Oladipo

28. Lonzo Ball

32. Devin Booker

34. Rajon Rondo

37. Jeremy Lin

39. Markelle Fultz

40. Dennis Smith Jr.

 

9-cat Points+Threes+Assists+Steals+Turnovers:

6. Mike Conley

8. Kemba Walker

12. Kyle Lowry

13. Bradley Beal

14. Ricky Rubio

18. Gary Harris

21. Victor Oladipo

22. D”Angelo Russell

27. Trevor Ariza

32. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

The complete lists are littered with most of the top PGs, so they can actually be early targets for you in a free throw punt, as weird as that may sound. Get to know these guys, punters, because this is who should be rounding out your lineups. Think about what rounds these players go in. You can likely start a team with a star first-round point guard or a big that’s not great at free throws and then take eight or nine of the guys I mentioned in the two lists above, especially once other owners shy away from taking the terrible FT% guys.

You Only THINK You’re Not Punting

This leads me to my last thoughts on the subject of removing categories and such. Most of you aren’t going into drafts planning to punt. You’ll just plan on being well above average in every category, because you know what you’re doing. That’s a great approach, too, but you can still use the concept behind punting to help you during your drafts (and especially in trades, but we’ll talk about that in the coming weeks). For example, say you end up with Jokic, Paul, and Draymond as your first three picks and don’t want to spend the rest of the draft reaching for players that score a lot, because high-scoring players available later don’t tend to do much else. Instead of focusing on one category to the detriment of the others, you might want to think about punting points, as it’s the category we all focus on the most, even if we know we should think of them equally. In this case, being the person that doesn’t focus on it might pay off. Or, maybe you come out of the gate with  three 25+ point guys, and you realize you could take it easy on points for a few rounds. Here are your points punt targets with their adjusted rankings:

8-cat Points Punt:

23. Ricky Rubio

30. Robert Covington

33. Al Horford

35. Lonzo Ball

45. Nerlens Noel

48. Elfrid Payon

49. Clint Capela

 

9-cat Points Punt:

16. Otto Porter Jr.

29. Al Horford

30. Robert Covington

31. Nerlens Noel

33. Ricky Rubio

36. Clint Capela

43. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

47. Dewayne Dedmon

48. Trevor Ariza

49. Thaddeus Young

Don’t try to chase a category in which you’ve fallen too far behind. You don’t want to be scouring for block specialists with your last three picks, because they’ll likely hurt more than help. And, don’t end up with too much of a surplus in a category that you’re obviously going to win (like 3s if you start with Steph, Kemba, Klay, and Love). Yes, you could plan on loading up on value there and then trading, but would you want to be the guy that needs to trade one of those guys for other stats so much that you have to offer a lopsided deal? Just keep this idea in mind. If you ignore a stat or two, either because you have a surplus or a deficit, you can really add the specific value your team needs. Keep that noggin’ working. You might find this to be the case with assists or FG% or turnovers as your draft pans out, too.

Next week, I’ll go over some more general ways to get an edge in drafts using what I see as market inequities. Zig when they zag, and all that.

Finally, each week, I’ll provide you with an amazing game or season stat line so you can dream about these happening on your fantasy team.

This week’s fantasy line:

Wilt Chamberlain’s 61-62 season: 48.5 mpg/50.4 ppg/25.7 rbg (keeping in mind he also averaged 8.6 assists one season, leading the league in total assists)

*steals and blocks weren’t official stats at that time, but the three games I found from that season with something of a record have Wilt with “at least” 9, 20, and 12 blocks. So, one of those is unofficially a 34/33/20 game.

  1. Tad

    Tad says:
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    Yes! I used to have a crappy mp3 version of Baby I’m a Big Star Now, but I could never find it on an album or soundtrack. Now I know it’s a B-side from Hangin’ Around. Thanks!

  2. waffles says:
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    good stuff, I’ve had a lot of success in the past with punt FT teams. don’t think ill pursue that this year in 9 cat h2h since i plan on streaming and will likely lost TO frequently

    ESPN default settings have no positional max limits on anything except Center. I know that C is generally a shallow position but is this a necessary restriction? does there need to be a control against people stocking up on C’s? in a 10 team 14 roster size I increased the max Centers from 4 to 6.

    • Tad

      Tad says:
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      @waffles: That max is surprising. I’d change it. C is relatively shallow this year, it seems, so I have no idea why that would be the default.

      • waffles says:
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        @Tad: the max is surprising in that you would get rid of the max?

        • Tad

          Tad says:
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          @waffles: Yeah, if it’s only for one position. I’d make it consistent.

  3. Goberto Beef Jerky says:
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    Great article. Thank you for the deep dive into drafting strategery. Now for the boring part only I care about… my team. I’m in a 10 team, 9 cat H2H league with two players kept (for one year) after the fourth round. This year I’ve got Gobert and Ben Simmons and pick in the 6 slot. I may be in punt FT position already but I think I’ll be able to get Curry. I was hoping to go Curry then maybe Paul or Liiliard but your insights give me pause. Am I better off going LBJ? You totally messed with my mind. Who would you target with Gobert and Simmons already on board?

    • Tad

      Tad says:
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      @Goberto Beef Jerky: Based on last year’s number Gobert was almost exactly as bad in FT% value as Lillard was good. So, that would have you bad in the mix. Gobert likely gets more free throw attempts this year, so they might not quite cancel out, but it’s close. Curry isn’t much behind Lillard. Looks like Simmons shot 67% at LSU on 9 attempts per game, so that is pretty significant, too. Hopefully, he’s been working on them a ton. Do you know who else is being kept? That could help decide. Like if all the top point guards and a bunch of guys I listed above for 9-cat FT% punt are around, it could be the way to go. But if that sounds less fun, go the other route. I don’t think you’re past the point of no return by any means.

      • Tad

        Tad says:
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        @Tad: oops. *back in the mix

  4. Eddie Rooskie says:
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    Great write up, will be very useful for people attempting to punt for the 1st time.

    I’ve done several different punts throughout the years but don’t really set my mind on anything until after the draft. Obviously you should have active players willing to make trades if you want to go this route but I always pick best available.

    With that being said, as usual I have what seems to be a melting pot of different types of players that fell to me at great picks I couldnt pass on. In your eyes, which route should I take with the team I currently have…

    12 Team – H2H – 9 Cat
    1. (7) Stephen Curry
    2. (18) Jimmy Butler
    3. (31) Myles Turner
    4. (42) Brook Lopez
    5. (55) Victor Oladipo
    6. (66) Nikola Vucevic
    7. (79) Tobias Harris
    8. (90) Nerlens Noel
    9. (103) Seth Curry
    10. (114) Macolm Brogdon
    11. (127) MKG
    12. (138) Taurean Prince
    13. (151) Josh Richardson

    • Tad

      Tad says:
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      @Eddie Rooskie: Thanks for reading. Looks pretty great. Best available does land you with a lot of the less hyped players, which is another of my favorite strategies (take the boring old consistent guy instead of the guy that’s unproven and only has a slim chance of beating him). Added up your team’s values, and you’re by far the strongest at steals. Also good in blocks, then FT%, then TOs, then points. Rebounds and then assists are the weaknesses, it seems. Let me see if there are any guys you should be able to get for Butler (the strongest at steals) that would put you in a better spot. LeBron fits your team better, for example. Maybe if Oladipo or Noel start out hot, you deal them for a some boards and/or assists. Anyway, look to swap steals for rebounds/assists. OR, I guess then it’s also a possibility to not worry about catching up in rebounds and/or assists, and shoot for strengthening your average categories (3s, FG%). Shoot. those don’t go together that well. But, you could try to deal Vucevic for 3s to semi-punt rebounds. Good luck!

  5. Craig Bozic

    Craig says:
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    Great stuff Tad, a joy to read. Appreciate the ton of work put into this one.

    • Tad

      Tad says:
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      @Craig: Thanks a lot. I’ve been using your DDDs for my dynasty rookie drafts for a long time.

  6. Joseph says:
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    I mostly play 8 cat auction leagues. I’ve always punted FG% and Blks, and I’ve had some pretty good success. In the past three years, I’ve paid big for Harden twice and Curry once. Then I find value for the rest of my team, usually spending most of my $$ on PG/Wing and loading up on PF/C that can shoot.

    This strategy means I’m never gonna have weeks where I blow anybody out, but I’m winning nearly every week 5-3 or 6-2.

    This year, I have Westbrook as his own tier for this strategy. He will be the guy I pay big for.

    • Tad

      Tad says:
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      @Joseph: Interesting. I’m used to 8-cat, but Roto, so punting 2 cats sounds scary. But, for H2H, that sounds pretty fool-proof if it’s been working.

  7. bucabrera says:
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    Thank you for the very helpful article on drafting. Anyway, I need help on how to improve my team and win it all in a 9-Cat 15 team ROTO league. I drafted based on the top available players in the rankings posted in Razzball. Any recommendations are very much appreciated. Thank you in advance!! My team is below:
    L James Cle – SF,PF
    D. Green GS – SF,PF
    R. Rubio Uta – PG
    H. Barnes Dal – SF,PF
    G. Harris Den – SG,SF
    N. Noel Dal – PF,C
    M. Brogdon Mil – PG,SG
    D. Dedmon Atl – C
    J. Murray Den – PG,SG
    J. Collins Atl – PF
    S. Labissiere Sac – PF,C N Powell Tor

    • Tad

      Tad says:
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      @bucabrera: Thank you for reading. Looks like a good team, especially in 15-team. I ran your projections from basketball monster, and you’re very strong in fg%, steals, and assists. You’re worst in 3s, then TOs and points. So, if you wanted to even it out, you could look to trade Rubio, since you’re dominant in ast/steals for a PG that hits a lot more 3s. Or, you could give up on 3s, and deal Jamal Murray to someone that buys the hype for a points/blocks guy. Good luck! Make sure you’re one of the hardest working managers in your league, too. In Roto, you can certainly help your chances by maximizing games played, watching matchups, etc.

  8. RICE says:
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    Hey Tad,

    Great work on this article. I wasn’t intentionally punting anything during my draft last night and from what I can tell, I ended up extremely balanced/average across all categories and not great or terrible in any categories.

    I’m noticeably thin at Center, having only got Dedmon after taking Whiteside in round 2. R. Lopez, Kaminsky, Olynyk available.

    Do you see a punt category here? I’m thinking maybe points? I ended up with three guys from your punt points list. I could shop DeRozan (already have an offer for Schroder)?

    Chris Paul
    Hassan Whiteside
    DeMar DeRozan
    Victor Olidipo
    A-ARon Gordon
    Trevor Ariza
    Robert Covington
    Brandon Ingram
    Dewayne Dedmon
    Reggie Jackson
    Tyreke Evans
    Justin Holiday

    • RICE says:
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      @RICE: This is a 12 team H2H

      • Tad

        Tad says:
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        @RICE: Hi, and thanks for the kind words. I’ve got your team as pretty balanced in 6 categories. Of the other three, you’re stacked in steals, and very good in TOs. You’re lowest by far in FG%, so if you’re interested in punting and fortifying other categories, that’s the best one to shoot for. So, depending on your categories, you might actually benefit from ditching a C, since those are you best FG% guys. If you can get another PG, you could improve in assists, 3s, and FT%. I guess if you got rid of Whiteside, though, you’d also be giving up in rebounds and blocks. So, maybe if Dedmon has a good game or two, you swap him for a 3-point shooting PG? Lots of ways to win, of course. But that’s one idea.

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