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9-cat League Strategy

by Ryan Knaus
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Fantasy hoops owners are often adamant that certain league settings are 'better' than others. You'll find staunch advocates for points leagues, with just as many owners who scoff at the idea. Some can't abide roto-style scoring, while others swear by it. You'll find tips and advice relating to a variety of leagues in the Draft Guide, but this column deals specifically with one of the more common scoring systems – 9-cat.


The standard 9-category league counts the following statistics – points, 3-pointers, FG%, FT%, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and turnovers. The inclusion of turnovers differentiates it from 8-cat leagues, a seemingly innocuous addition which can nevertheless be controversial. Do turnovers unfairly penalize high-usage players? Or, conversely, do they appropriately reward players for efficient, error-free play?


Personally, I favor 9-cat leagues. James Harden averaged 5.7 turnovers per game in 2016-17, which edged out Kobe Bryant for the most ever since the stat was tracked in 1946-47. Russell Westbrook wasn't far behind at 5.4 per game, good enough for third-most in NBA history. There were no examples as egregious as that last year, with DeMarcus Cousins leading the league at 5.0 turnovers per game, but you get the idea. Turnovers are uniformly negative events, so if the goal is to accurately represent player values, why not include them? If we decide not to penalize players for miscues, wouldn't that also necessitate ignoring poor FG% and FT%?


I find the second implication of turnovers just as compelling – doesn’t it make sense to reward players who don't turn the ball over? In this sense, 9-cat scoring boosts the value of players who are low-usage and/or very careful with the ball. Trevor Ariza is a perfect example, averaging a microscopic 0.8 turnovers in 33.9 minutes per game for Houston last season. As a result, he was a top-60 value in 9-cat, but multiple rounds lower in 8-cat. Otto Porter, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson and Lauri Markkanen also fit the mold as players who gain significant value with the inclusion of turnovers. Because there's one specific category that makes 9-cat unique, we'll focus primarily on the impact of turnovers – for more broad-based strategies and player valuations, peruse the rest of the Guide!


In head-to-head leagues, 9-cat settings make ‘punting’ a more viable strategy. Most obvious (and common) is punting turnovers itself. If you take Russell Westbrook, James Harden or James Harden in the first round, it’s less painful to pair them with John Wall or Ben Simmons. Having essentially conceded turnovers, there's greater incentive to grab turnover-prone guys like Blake Griffin, D’Angelo Russell or Kris Dunn. Ignoring turnovers also gives a boost to rookies, like Trae Young and Collin Sexton, who will be tasked with plenty of ball-handling.


Turnovers aren't the only category you could punt. You could find yourself with Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert in the first two rounds, for instance, neither of whom commits many turnovers (relative to other elite players). In this scenario, you might opt to punt assists, for example, by stocking up on SGs with PG eligibility. If you're playing in Yahoo! leagues, this includes Donovan Mitchell, C.J. McCollum, Victor Oladipo, Avery Bradley, Zach LaVine, and even Allen Crabbe. ESPN isn't as lenient with positions, but they still give PG eligibility to McCollum and LaVine. A punt-assists strategy may also include PGs whose value comes largely from other categories – Jamal Murray, Eric Bledsoe and Darren Collison all held strong value last year despite averaging well under six dimes per game. Patrick Beverley is a likely candidate to join their ranks now that he’s healthy.


Owners in 9-cat roto formats have a different problem, since taking a '1' in any category (accidentally, or intentionally by punting) makes it extremely difficult to win a competitive league. Punting isn't a recommended strategy for roto, therefore, and due consideration must be given to mitigating your turnovers. Let's again assume that you've draft Harden or Westbrook. In a roto format, rather than doubling-down with more high-turnover players, you could go with someone like Clint Capela or Myles Turner. You don't need a low-usage big man to limit turnovers, of course – Chris Paul averaged 2.2 turnovers last season, C.J. McCollum averaged 1.9, and the list of players at or below 2.0 per game includes Tobias Harris, Myles Turner, Jayson Tatum, Will Barton, Jimmy Butler, Gary Harris and many more.


My general advice is to be flexible and let your draft dictate your strategy. If you're in a 9-cat roto league and Russell Westbrook is available at No. 7 (and you want him), just take him and try to secure low-turnover guys as the draft progresses. If you're in a 9-cat H2H league and you draft James Harden No. 2 overall, give some thought to punting turnovers on a weekly basis. If you're in a 9-cat points league, know exactly how much of a penalty there is for turnovers. In some leagues the negative impact is negligible, but in others it takes a heavy toll.


My final thought involves DFS leagues. They're not actual 9-cat systems, but most do penalize turnovers. Much like some points leagues, however, the impact isn't big enough to be a concern – FanDuel deducts 1.0 'fantasy point' per turnover, while adding 1.0 'fantasy point' for each point scored. In DFS leagues, therefore, turnovers are rarely a big concern.

Ryan Knaus

Despite residing in Portland, Maine, Ryan Knaus remains a heartbroken Sonics fan who longs for the days of Shawn Kemp and Xavier McDaniel. He has written for NBC Sports Edge since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.