Before you do anything, before I write any more words, I want you do to one thing: think about a fantasy category. The first one that pops into your head.
It was points, right?
Of course it was, because I put “points” in the headline and you were already thinking about them. But I’d wager it would’ve been points for most of us regardless.
Along these lines, I believe I’ve told this story before at some point in the past in this column — and calling it a “story” might be generous, come to think of it — but when I did my first fantasy draft, back in 1997-98*, I thought I’d put together an absolute juggernaut. I had Penny Hardaway. Glen Rice. Stephon Marbury. Christian Laettner. The Dunking Dutchman, Rik Smits! Sean Elliott. The list went on.
I remember thinking after that draft: Man, my squad is going to score a lot of points.
Spoiler: It didn’t. Also, my team was horrendous. Penny Hardaway only played 19 games, and it turned out that Glen Rice wasn’t nearly as dominant with the 3-point line further back (yes, it was closer in from 94-95 to 96-97).
But back to my original point: points. In that first draft, it was the main thing I was thinking about, and all these years later, it's still usually the first category I look at in a box score, which is probably true for all of us. And while I’ve gotten a lot better at fantasy basketball over the last two decades, in some ways nothing has changed.
Until now. Today, I attempt to answer the question of whether or not it’s possible to build a legit fantasy squad while punting points. We often hear of punting free throws, or turnovers, or any other category really. But can punting points be done? Here’s my best attempt:
And I’ll begin with the main obstacle. You obviously can’t have a great fantasy team without star players (aka a player, or ideally multiple players, who are at or near the top of your league’s rankings). However, of the top 15 players in 9-category leagues so far this year, only two of them — Nikola Jokic (19.8) and Jimmy Butler (19.6) — are averaging less than 20 ppg this year. And the No. 16 player, Robert Covington (13.3 ppg), is injured. However, I will now stop making excuses and try to put the puzzle together. Here’s my 10-man starting lineup (and 14-man roster) for anyone insane, reckless or just downright inspired enough to try to punt points:
PG — Kyle Lowry (14.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 9.4 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.5 bpg and 2.1 3s): Ideally I’d like someone with even less points than this, but it turns out that the best point guards in today’s NBA often score. Other names to consider include Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn, Darren Collison and Marcus Smart, but Lowry is second in the league in assists, and we need to start this team with some legitimate value at the top for the sake of morale.
SG — Tomas Satoransky: He’s got SG eligibility in ESPN and Yahoo leagues, and that’s good enough for me. Since John Wall went down almost a month ago, Satoransky is averaging 11.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.7 spg and 1.3 3s on 48.2 percent from the field. I don’t love the FT percentage (68.0), but he only gets to the line about twice a game, so that aspect of it isn’t a big deal.
SF — Nicolas Batum: Gross. However, some of the other options I considered (including Trevor Ariza and Justise Winslow) have percentage issues, and we can’t really afford too many of those when we’re already losing points, so at the moment Batum is what we’re going with. And honestly, he has been pretty useful lately (last 10 games: 10.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.6 bpg and 1.6 3s, on 49.2 percent from the field and 90.0 from the line). Welcome to the squad, Nicky Buckets.
PF — Nikola Jokic: Honestly, he scores too much (24.6 ppg over his last 14 games), but this team needs a star, he’s among the lower-scoring studs we can consider (as I mentioned before), and the rest of his numbers are worth it: 11.3 rpg, 8.4 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.9 bpg and 1.4 3s over that same 14-game run (along with 54.2 percent from the field, 85.9 from the line and 3.4 turnovers, so we’ll have to watch out for those).
C — Rudy Gobert: There are other potential choices at center (Brook Lopez, for one), but Gobert has been an absolute beast the last month-plus — 15.8 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.8 spg and 2.4 bpg his last 19 games — and gives you the next-closest thing to a relatively low-scoring top-15 player after Jokic. The free throws are a mild area of concern (73.0 percent over this same stretch), but we might be able to survive that. No one ever said this would be easy.
G — Marcus Smart: I’ll put the aforementioned Smart here. Since he joined the starting lineup for the Celtics about two months ago (27 games), he has put up 9.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.1 spg and 1.8 3s, shooting 42.4 from the field and 79.5 from the line with just 1.3 turnovers. There’s no one else I’d rather have in this spot. Smart — you're team captain. Don't let us down.
F — Draymond Green: Since returning from injury in early/mid-December, Draymond has posted 7.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 7.4 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.0 bpg and 0.7 3s in 21 games, shooting 40.4 from the field (on just 7.0 attempts) and 80.0 from the line with 2.2 turnovers a game. This stat line is a point-punter’s dream, and while he’s one of my least favorite players in the league on a personal level, this hypothetical fantasy squad absolutely cannot exist without him. He’s the only player averaging single-digit points who’s also in the top-50 of 9-category leagues (47th overall).
Util — Rajon Rondo: Yes, he put up 15 points in his first game back on Thursday, but he also added six boards, 13 assists, a steal, two blocks and three treys to illustrate exactly why he should be here. Rondo per-36 minutes this year is averaging 12.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 10.2 apg, 1.4 spg and 1.2 3s, and has a long-range path to something close to 36 a game with Lonzo Ball out until late February or potentially early March.
Util — Danny Green: Yes, he had a 24-point eruption recently — his most points since November 2017 — but overall his production is a lot easier to stomach if you aren’t sweating points. Over the last month (15 games), Green has put up 10.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.9 spg, 0.9 bpg and 2.3 treys, shooting a low-volume 42.6 percent from the field and 84.6 from the line with just 1.1 turnovers.
Util — Larry Nance: Whether you’re punting points or not, this is a reminder that Nance is set to return from his knee sprain on Friday, and is a strong utility guy for a points-punting regime (or any format, for that matter). Over his last month before getting hurt (17 games from early December to early January), Nance posted 11.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.8 bpg and 0.4 3s, shooting 57.0 from the field and 78.6 from the line. As for the turnovers? Just 1.5.
BN — Lonzo Ball: Should be relatively easy to get in a trade right now, and gotta have Ball for if/when Rondo gets hurt.
BN — Robert Covington: This applies to anyone in any format, really. With no timetable for a return, Covington is an ideal gamble as a stash candidate if you can trade for him without giving up too much. In terms of per-game numbers, he’s the No. 16 player in 9-category formats this year (13.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.1 spg, 1.3 bpg and 2.4 3s).
BN — Jonathan Isaac: He just scored 16 points with four 3s in his last game, so he may be finding his offense, but he’s still not likely to be a major contributor in points. He is likely to be pretty easy to get in a trade, and still holds a lot of upside as a bench option (again, in any format). Isaac’s last five games include 9.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.4 bpg and 1.2 3s.
BN — Mikal Bridges: His last 10 games, he has exactly one double-digit scoring effort. The Suns basically run no plays for him. It often looks like they are actively ignoring him. All of this is absolutely perfect for this fantasy team. Over that same 10-game stretch, Bridges is averaging 6.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.9 bpg and 1.2 3s.
And that’s my first shot at the lineup. What is this team missing (aside from points)? At first glance, I think it could use a few more blocks and 3s. A couple players who come to mind as potentially being strong assets for this squad are Myles Turner (12.8 ppg, No. 30 in 9-category leagues) and Al Horford (12.2 ppg, No. 36). However, I wanted to try to make this team somewhat realistic/not insanely stacked rather than loading it up with all the best players who get 10-15 ppg.
I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on any changes you’d make, any players I omitted, etc. I’d be even more curious to hear if there are people out there who have tried to do this — and had any success. Looking at this lineup, I don’t exactly get an overwhelming vibe of dominance, but I think it’s got a chance to make some noise. It’s certainly a lot better than the first fantasy squad I drafted back in ’97-’98.
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I saw that someone on Twitter recently asked for an update on the 30-team expert league (aka “30-Deep”). I can tell you that my team got off to a strong start (I’m currently first overall with a 154-88-10 record — we play two matchups per week), but it has recently fallen on hard times. Namely, I’ve lost Chris Paul and Clint Capela, and in a league of this size, injuries to top players are well nigh impossible to navigate. Add in a Kevin Huerter injury this week, and I’m currently down 8-1 in two separate matchups. Ouch. Here’s a rundown of the roster:
PG — Monte Morris (this used to be CP3)
SG — Buddy Hield (I can’t complain about him at all, but wouldn’t be mad if he got more steals)
SF — Joe Ingles (He’s been fine for a 30-team league, but overall I’m disappointed)
PF — Al-Farouq Aminu (He gives you zero headaches, especially in a super-deep league)
C — Greg Monroe (this used to be Capela. Related: I should’ve drafted a backup C)
F — Kevin Huerter
BN — Elie Okobo
BN — James Ennis
BN — Alfonzo McKinnie (I keep wanting to drop him, but guys who play 15 min. a game in this league have at least a little bit of value)
BN — Shelvin Mack
IR — Chris Paul
IR — Clint Capela (did I mention yet that my two best players are hurt?)
Bottom line: I knew the risk I was taking when I drafted CP3 with the No. 23 overall pick, but I wanted someone with at least theoretical top-10 upside. So that’s partially on me, and I accept that. The Capela injury? That was just uncalled for.
See you all next week.