Ryan Knaus

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9-cat Scoring Strategies

Monday, September 18, 2017

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-cat 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 last season, 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. 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 -- does 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. Otto Porter is a notable example -- he played 32.6 minutes per game in 80 appearances last season, but committed a microscopic 0.5 turnovers per game. As a result, he was a top-25 value in 9-cat...but a round or two lower in 8-cat. Trevor Ariza, Gary Harris and Jae Crowder also fit the mold as under-the-radar players who gain significant value with the inclusion of turnovers.


In head-to-head leagues, 9-cat scoring also makes punting a more viable strategy. First, you could punt turnovers. If you take Russell Westbrook or James Harden in the first round, it looks very appealing to pair them with DeMarcus Cousins (3.7 turnovers per game last year). Having essentially conceded turnovers at this point, there's greater incentive to grab the likes of Joel Embiid, Dennis Schroder or D'Angelo Russell. Ignoring turnovers also gives a boost to this year's crop of promising ball-handlers -- guys like Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr., Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons.


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 could opt to punt assists, for example, by stocking up on SGs with PG eligibility. If you're playing in Yahoo! leagues, this includes C.J. McCollum, Victor Oladipo, Avery Bradley, Zach LaVine, Jamal Murray, and even Allen Crabbe. ESPN isn't as lenient with positions, but they still give PG eligibility to McCollum, LaVine and Murray. A punt-assists strategy may also include PGs whose value comes primarily from other categories -- Patrick Beverley, George Hill and Darren Collison all held solid per-game value last year despite averaging well under five dimes per game.


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 Gobert, Myles Turner or Hassan Whiteside. You don't need a low-usage big man to limit turnovers, of course -- Mike Conley averaged just 2.3 TOs last season, Kemba Walker was at just 2.1, and the list of players at or below 2.0 per game includes Bradley Beal, Gordon Hayward, Kristaps Porzingis, Klay Thompson and Kevin Love.


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. 1 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.


For more advice on other scoring systems, check out the following links to Draft Guide columns:


Punting Strategies

Roto-Style Leagues 101

DFS Fundamentals

Dynasty 101

Auction Drafts

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 Rotoworld.com since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter.
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