Fantasy Basketball: The Dwight Howard Roto Dilemma

There isn’t another player who is as divisive across different scoring formats as Dwight Howard(notes). He can be justified as high as third overall in head-to-head leagues, and can go as low as the fifth round when you switch over to a roto format. There have been a lot of ideas floated on how to build around Howard in roto leagues, many involving compensating for his free-throw percentage in subsequent rounds. Any strategy that causes you to sacrifice overall value for the sake of targeting specific categories cannot be an optimal one though, so I would avoid this at all costs.

One approach to dealing with Howard that hasn’t been talked about nearly enough and warrants strong consideration involves punting. The premise of punting a category (or two) in a rotisserie league may sound absurd on face value given how we consistently preach balance, but under the right circumstances it can be an extremely effective weapon with a high success rate. I’ll start out with a more general explanation that gets at the rationale behind a roto punt strategy, and then get into more specifics as we move on.

Its effectiveness depends on several factors that include your draft position, the quality of your opponents, and the number of managers in your league. As a whole, they will dictate whether a punt roto strategy is right for you.

Draft position – because a punting approach only works with a certain faction of players, your draft position is crucial in determining whether or not you have a realistic shot at landing the players needed to successfully implement this strategy.

Quality of opponents – the more competitive your league is, the more viable this strategy becomes. When you put together a group of high-caliber managers that tend to use similar rankings and implement comparable strategies, you’ll likely end up with a lot of teams bunched close together in the standings. This creates a window of opportunity where you can exploit these overlapping/redundant philosophies, and a low score in a single category (or two) has less of an impact in a tightly-bunched league.

Number of managers – the more managers in your league, the more punting makes sense. The talent pool available to each team is fairly limited in deeper leagues, making it harder to build a team that is strong across all nine categories. Punting is actually the optimal play here because it allows you to maximize value and avoid spreading yourself too thin.

The justification for punting in a roto league is a matter of point distribution. Applying a head-to-head mindset here, say you punt two categories to be dominant in four categories. Translate that to a 12-team roto league and you have two “1’s” and four “12’s” for a total of 50 points. That leaves three categories where you can average an “8” to get to 74 points, which should be enough to win a competitive roto league where most teams will be tightly bunched around the league average of 58.5 points.

Now this is easier said then done, and like I previously stated, its effectiveness depends on whether the circumstances allow for it.

When you examine the greatest single categorical deficiencies out there, the majority of them fall under three categories: field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and turnovers. The biggest categorical deficiency out there is Dwight Howard’s free-throw percentage, which comes in at an obscene 5.44 standard deviations below average. The next 12 largest categorical deficiencies from last season’s top-156 were:

Brandon Jennings(notes) – field-goal percentage (-2.91 standard deviations)
Monta Ellis(notes) – turnovers (-2.70)
Ben Wallace(notes) – free-throw percentage (-2.56)
Gilbert Arenas(notes) – turnovers (-2.51)
Steve Nash(notes) – turnovers (-2.49)
Josh Smith(notes) – free-throw percentage (-2.44)
Gilbert Arenas – field-goal percentage (-2.28)
LeBron James(notes) – turnovers (-2.25)
Emeka Okafor(notes) – free-throw percentage (-2.13)
Trevor Ariza(notes) – field-goal percentage (-2.08)
Dwight Howard – turnovers (-2.07)
Deron Williams(notes) – turnovers (-2.04)

Based on the data above, Dwight Howard clearly emerges as the ideal centerpiece to implement such a strategy with two of the 12 largest categorical negatives. Want to know the best part? He won’t be drafted in the first two, maybe three, rounds of most competitive roto leagues. I’ve seen him out there in the fifth round of drafts. Most owners simply aren’t in a position to account for his dreadful free-throw percentage impact. In a roto league, he is about the only guy out there who will single-handedly dictate your team’s makeup and build.

So how do you go about doing this thing? I would only recommend taking Howard and going with the punt approach if you land a top-three pick and can pair him with Kevin Durant(notes) (despite his positive FT% impact), Chris Paul(notes), and LeBron James. Those are about the only three players who have the strong multi-category positives necessary to make such a strategy worth it. In this case you would obviously be punting free-throw percentage and turnovers. Here’s a brief (and realistic) guide on which players you should target at each stage of the draft, with their ADP’s included:

Round 1: Kevin Durant (1.2), Chris Paul (2.8), LeBron James (3.0)

Rounds 2-3: Dwight Howard (11.3), Andre Iguodala(notes) (24.1), Al Jefferson(notes) (27.0), Monta Ellis (31.4), Tyreke Evans(notes) (31.5), Nene Hilario(notes) (38.3)

Rounds 4-5: Derrick Rose(notes) (30.4), Russell Westbrook(notes) (37.3), Marc Gasol(notes) (42.9), Darren Collison(notes) (44.5), Stephen Jackson(notes) (48.2)

Rounds 6-7: Baron Davis(notes) (58.0), Gilbert Arenas (60.1), Chris Kaman(notes) (69.7), Blake Griffin(notes) (73.3), Trevor Ariza (78.1)

Rounds 8-9: Tony Parker(notes) (92.4), Tyrus Thomas(notes) (93.4), Emeka Okafor (98.2), Andris Biedrins(notes) (100.7)

It should be noted that these ADP numbers include h2h leagues, where Howard is typically taken much earlier than his average. That should be enough to get you well on your way. The biggest plus about this whole strategy is that no one can stop you from doing it. The vast majority of those players I listed above are a lot less valuable in a nine-category roto format where owners have to be conscientious about their major inefficiencies. Your chances of landing these targets are quite high, even if the other owners begin to catch on to what you are doing.

One last thing I would add is that you should never punt more than two categories in a roto format. You would need to finish with “12’s” in all of the other six categories just to hit that 74-76 point range that should net you a championship. I believe that the most optimal implementation of this roto punt strategy is the two-category system I outlined above where Howard is the centerpiece, but it could certainly be effective if you choose to just punt one category (e.g. turnovers) instead.

Photo via Getty Images

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