Welcome back! This NBA Fantasy Strategy Guide is the third in a series of beginner guides that I’ll be preparing for the FanTeam blog (if you missed the NHL & the NFL guide, you can catch them at the strategy guides segment of the blog). Today, we will be going through the basics of NBA fantasy on FanTeam, introducing you to usage rates, PACE, PER, and all the other useful tools that will help you succeed. Let’s dive in!
How to play NBA Fantasy Basketball
Positions, fantasy scoring, games to target
In most FanTeam NBA contests, you will have to draft a team of 7 players from a 65M budget. Your team consists of a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, a power forwards, and a center. The last two positions are flexible (we call these FLEX), meaning you can add either or both of these players to any of the positions described above. The scoring is pretty straight forward. While field goals are worth 2 points, you will get 3.5 points for a three-pointer. Rebounds (1.25 pts) and assists (1.50 pts) are worth less than steals (2 pts) and blocks (2 pts). Your players will get rewarded for double-doubles (1.5 pts) and triple-doubles (3 pts). Turnovers are the only way you can get minus points, but one turnover will only set you back half a point.
As you can see, the system prefers high-volume shooters, who excel from three-point range and have double-double upside. Think Russel Westbrook. Classic points guards who specialize in assists and rebounding centers without scoring & blocking upside aren’t as useful. Therefore it is wise to pay up for versatile scorers in the middle three positions (SG-SF-PF) and draft your FLEX players into these positions.
The top few percentage of NBA players can be considered matchup-proof. This basically means you can play them any time without harming your team. PER is a great statistic to point out those players that consistently perform well. It is a measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15. You can find the list of player PERs here. It is wise to scroll down a bit on the list; you will find a couple of surprising names among the well-known stars. Don’t be afraid of the chalk, as these players come with high floors. If one of them fits your team composition, you can go ahead regardless of the price or the matchup!
For selecting games to target, you should always use the Vegas lines and totals as an invaluable resource to get you started. As the FanTeam scoring system prefers players from high scoring games, you will want to stick to drafting your favorites from games that have high expected betting totals. Anything over 210 should be fine, but games with a 230 total or higher, those should be your primary targets. If possible, also stick to closely contested games where the spreads are lower than 10. Games turning into a blowout usually end up with your key starters resting through most of the second half. You don’t want to pay up for LeBron James to see him clock sub-30 minutes.
NBA Strategy Guide: Minutes, usage rate & stacking
This may sound obvious, but to score high in fantasy, you will need your players to play as much as possible. Thankfully the NBA tracks minutes played by players, so you can easily cut down your player pool to core starters and strong sixth men, who are usually the leading scorers off the bench. Usage rate is the second most crucial statistic next to minutes played, and these two should be used hand in hand. Usage rate represents the percentage a particular player is holding onto the ball while being on the court. As only one player can have the ball at any given time, this leads us to the problem of stacking in NBA DFS.
While in other sports, you have specific positions in your team that correlate with each other (think QB and WR in American football), in basketball teammates hurt each other’s production way more than they help each other. The only positive synergy in fantasy basketball can be connected to assists, so drafting a passing PG and the lead scorer on his team could work, but the upside is pretty low (as assists are only worth 1.5 points). When starting out, I’d say that there is no need to stack a specific offense, you are better off sticking to players you believe are underpriced in their respective position given their minutes and usage rates. Always beware of drafting two players playing in the same position on the same team, as they have a negative correlation! The two Raptors PGs are sharing a finite number of minutes, and if one gets a higher minute count, that will be at the direct expense of the other player’s playtime. Beware of building suboptimal lineups!
Injuries, streaks & pace
No NBA Fantasy Strategy Guide would be complete without talking about your budget. Player pricing in daily fantasy contests is fixed for every given contest. While Vegas oddsmakers can move the betting lines after injury news emerge, the price of individual players in your contest won’t change. Therefore it is essential to stay on top of injury news if you want to be competitive. If a core player in a specific position is suddenly announced out, putting his backup on your team means increased minutes & scoring opportunity at a low price.
Exploiting streaks is also extremely important in fantasy basketball. Some of the NBA pros are very streaky players. This means they can have 4-5 or even more games when they are slumping or excel, but it will usually turn around, and their performance will regress to the mean.
Fantasy pricing often catches up with streaks a bit slowly, so you might be able to buy low on a player that had just a couple of better games, but is expected to continue excelling on the given slate. On the other side, you can also draft quality players cheap after they have been slumping for a week, and the market is low on them.
Next to unexpected injuries and players over or underperforming, pace is the most critical metric that helps you draft cheap players in ideal spots. Pace is an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes by a team. Teams playing at a higher pace will give their players more possessions and more opportunities to score fantasy points. Usually, this gets factored into the price of the players of these higher-paced teams. Where it gets interesting is the fact that higher paced teams will give more possessions to their opponents as well. This is great for players on ‘slower’ teams like Orlando, Miami, Indiana or Detroit. As pace generally averages out between higher and lower paced teams, it is a double-edged sword. This means that playing against slower teams will give higher paced teams fewer possessions than usual. Always factor in the possible negative effects of your players playing against teams with a lower pace!
Matchups and rest are key
Defense against position is something that has been dominating daily fantasy NBA for years now. Multiple sites can show you how a given team does on the defensive end against a specific position. These tools are great in helping you find the ideal for spending up for elite talent. For example, if the Brooklyn Nets are allowing lots of rebounds and high shooting percentages against PFs, you should draft Andre Drummond against them, even if he is the highest-priced power forward on the board! Hashtag basketball is my favorite site for studying defense versus position stats, but you can find some version of this on any DFS strategy site.
Rest is just as important as the matchup itself. NBA teams often play back to backs in bunches, which can lead to terrible scheduling spots like playing their fourth game in six nights. Some stars like Kawhi Leonard like to sit out one end of back to back sets, and coaches often give days off for older/veteran players in these spots. Even if the whole squad plays, you can be sure that players playing in back to back sets will be on tired legs. A tired player will shoot worse, get fewer rebounds and steals and simply be a sub-par version of himself. You don’t want to pay a full price for a player in such a bad position. Make sure to always check the schedule grid before assembling your squad!
Stars and scrubs works, but a balanced lineup can also win you tournaments
This is one of the keys in my NBA Fantasy Strategy Guide: Finding balance is the most important thing when building your squad! Stars and scrubs is a well-known fantasy strategy that pairs the highest-priced players on a slate (who do have high floors, as their minutes, usages rates, and PERs are all high) with low priced players. In basketball, it is pretty easy to pick low priced players if you stay top on the injury news and hunt for bargains. Don’t be afraid to take risks! Besides the elite players, most of your team won’t have a floor anyway, as lower-priced players typically don’t have the minutes, usage rate, or the efficiency to deliver a lot of fantasy points consistently. If you think someone will see more playtime due to an injury to a teammate, then by any means include him in your team!
NBA Fantasy Strategy Guide – My last tip
You don’t like taking risks? A more balanced approach building on mid-tier players is also something that could work out! If you can stand not paying up for the Anthony Davises of the player pool, you can build a solid core of 7 players that should all see decent minutes and produce a similar overall score than a stars and scrubs lineup. Your upside might be lower, but the floor will undoubtedly be higher. Good mid-tier fantasy options are players like Terry Rozier, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Marc Gasol, Lou Williams, and Al Horford. These aren’t names that will turn heads, but you shouldn’t be surprised if you win a contest with a core of similar players.