We Need to Talk About Points Leagues
In the past, we haven't devoted much effort to discussing strategy in points leagues. This probably stems from the fact that our fantasy basketball staff typically gravitates towards rotisserie and head-to-head category leagues because these leagues emphasize strategy on a higher level than points leagues, and because it's the way many of us have always done fantasy basketball.
I am in several leagues with friends from high school and college that are primarily populated by guys who just play fantasy basketball to have something to do after each fantasy football season wraps up. These are points leagues. I'm sure many of our readers are in these kinds of leagues, either because they really like points leagues or because they like to take their fantasy football-loving friend's money each year.
For the first Category Strategy of the season, I'm going to offer a breakdown of players who are much more valuable in points leagues than category leagues, and vice versa.
Note: For the sake of this article, I will be working off a basic points-league scoring setup (there is no such thing, but still) of POINTS, REBOUNDS, ASSISTS, STEALS and BLOCKS all being worth one point each. Three-pointers, shooting percentages and turnovers will not factor in. Like many of you, the scoring in my leagues isn't this simple. I'm in a league where assists, steals and blocks are all worth extra. I'm in a league where there is a bonus for double-doubles and triple-doubles. I'm even in a league that gives a three-point bonus if the player's team won, and a two-point bonus if the player gets ejected (see the video below for why this can be fun to get points for). The best way to get a quick snapshot of how your points scoring system values players is to use our custom rankings generator for points leagues based on our projections, where you can enter your league's scoring settings in and it will churn out rankings tailored to your league.
It's easy to demonstrate the difference between points and category leagues, by examining the value of Stephen Curry and Rajon Rondo. Prior to his injury last season, Rondo was averaging 32.4 points under this scoring format while Stephen Curry finished his monster season averaging 35.6 points for fantasy owners. Curry is rightfully a top-5 pick in category leagues this year, because of his three-point shooting and masterful shooting percentages. But in points leagues, he becomes less unique - just another good point guard who can fill it up. Conversely, Rondo doesn't go super early in category leagues, because he doesn't hit three-pointers, and he has never shot 65 percent or better from the charity stripe. But when both players are healthy, they are about a round apart in points leagues, while the gap is much greater in category and roto formats.
Great Points League Values
Here are some more players like Rondo who are more valuable in points leagues than in category leagues:
Derrick Rose - We've been seeing Rose go at the back end of the first or in the early part of the second round in most standard drafts this year. But in points leagues, I would have no problem taking him fourth or fifth overall. His averages in 2011-12 of 25.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists made him elite in points leagues, because it doesn't matter that his three-pointers and steals aren't quite where we'd like them to be in category formats.
John Wall - Wall should be a top-10 pick in many points leagues this year. After the All-Star break last season, he averaged 20.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game. His complete lack of three-point production hurts him in category leagues, but his speed and ability to score in transition means that he doesn't need to shoot a high percentage from deep to fill it up.
Ricky Rubio - I think Rubio takes a big step forward this year. That doesn't mean I am grabbing him in all of my category leagues, because that field-goal percentage is still going to be pretty bad, even with improvement. But in points leagues, it doesn't matter if he shoots less than 40 percent from the field, when he could average double-digit assists and 15 points per game. He's a top-50 player in most points leagues.
Evan Turner - Turner, and players like him, who dominate the ball, shoot a lot and play big minutes (Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo also come to mind) are great in points leagues. He might be a terrible basketball player based on advanced metrics and the naked eye, but I think the Sixers will be fine with that this season, as they're clearly not trying to win games. We could see Turner averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, which would easily make him a top-50 player in most points leagues.
Dwight Howard - Howard might be the poster boy for anyone who wants to argue the merits of points leagues. Nobody would contest that prior to last season, Howard was a top-5 player in the NBA. He was unmatched in the way he protected the rim and controlled the paint on both ends of the floor. Yet in category and roto leagues, Howard was always nothing more than a supporting piece on fantasy teams because of his abysmal free-throw shooting. In points leagues, however, he's valued much like he is in real life - a top-10 player in almost all scoring formats. This goes for all the big men who are discounted in category leagues because of their woeful free-throw shooting (Josh Smith, Andre Drummond, etc…).
Worth Less in Points Leagues
Here are some guys who will go way too early in your points league draft if other owners are working off of a set of rankings meant for category leagues:
Mike Conley - We like Conley in roto and category leagues because he averages two-plus steals per game and shoots solid percentages for his position, while providing apt production elsewhere. But in points leagues, the fact that he has never averaged 15 points or seven assists per game, means that he will just fall in the middle of the pack among point guards.
Kawhi Leonard - We have Leonard ranked 12th overall in our preseason rankings, but in many points leagues, he should simply be treated as a mid-to-late round option at small forward. If you take him in the first five rounds of a points league, even if he has a breakout year, the pick won't look good, despite how good Leonard is in real life and in traditional fantasy hoops because of his across-the-board production.
Larry Sanders - The gap between elite rim-protectors like Sanders and typical power forwards in terms of blocked shots is so vast, that he can be a one-way player and still offer top-20 value in category leagues. Unfortunately, when a blocked shot has the same value as a free-throw made in some points league, Sanders' deficiencies elsewhere (just 9.8 points per game last season) make him fairly ordinary.
Serge Ibaka - The same things that apply for Sanders apply for Ibaka, but he's a bigger name, so he stands to be even more overrated in your points league drafts.
Marc Gasol - The younger Gasol brother is still a great guy to own in points leagues, but like Leonard, the utility he offers in other formats because he is good at everything yet great at nothing doesn't carry the same weight in points leagues.