How to Play NBA DFS

I can’t believe it is already here.

Without question, since the NCAA robbed my joy by taking away college football DFS, the NBA is my favorite sport. I’ll always remember my first night of NBA action in the 2012-13 season, when I ran an awesome lineup that included Kyrie Irving and Kobe Bryant – both of whom were injured at the time. Also, they had been injured for like awhile. I had only played NFL DFS before, and let’s face it: you don’t have to worry about a game starting and a player not playing, you know pretty well before hand. It didn’t occur to me that I might have to check to see who was injured and not. That was my tough introduction to NBA DFS.

Since then, it has been my most profitable sport. Thought I have not taken down a large field tournament yet, I have manage to increase my winnings year in and year out. Each year, it has gotten more and more difficult though. Each year, there is more information out there. There are more people playing. There are more optimization programs. Still, we can find an edge to make sure that we continue to cash more often than not.

I am going to share what I look at when I am building my lineups. Don’t get your hopes up: this might not be anything cutting edge, or even different from what you’ve seen. Also, be warned: I rabbit trail – a lot. I can’t promise how long or short this will be. All that I am hoping for is that it is helpful.

POINTS/PRICE = SUCCESS

This seems pretty simple right? The idea of daily fantasy sports is to maximize your salary to create the largest disbursement of points with the salary given. Still, in this thought, players will often not use this strategy. One perfect example last year was Will Barton. In the early part of the year, he was relatively unknown. He spent some time with Portland before latching on with Denver, but still, he was seen as nothing more than a bit player on a team that many expected to struggle. He was minimum price as the year started, and it took a while for his salary to hit the point where his points/price, or points per dollar. Still, people were not playing him because of his track record. At the beginning of the year, this is unquestionably the worst thing you can do.

How important will this be in the beginning of the year? Well, for Yahoo and DraftKings, points per dollar can be very important. I have no faith in FanDuel releasing a product with a tight cap, and I am going to assume that you’ll be able to roll out a team on Wednesday with James Harden, Russell Westbrook and one of either Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Davis or DeMarcus Cousins without blinking. As the year goes on, though, this will be a very important factor to consider. Remember, our goal is to maximize points, and we have a cap, so whether you want to believe it or not, points per dollar is something to consider.

INJURIES

Injuries can occasionally be positively correlated with the points per dollar idea I rolled out above. Allow me to provide an example. Right now, Derrick Favors looks like he might be on the wrong side of questionable. He’s got a history of injuries, and needs to put in a full practice on Monday before we can rely on him to be in the lineup on Tuesday. If he is unable to go, Trey Lyles now becomes a viable option. He’s a cheap option, that especially on a short slate, will be incredibly popular, and with good reason. He now has more minutes and more opportunity to hit “value”.

Let’s talk about value right now, because it means different things to different people. In basketball, by system is pretty basic: for cash games, a player’s value is 5x salary per thousand. For example, for Lyle’s to make value in cash games for me, he needs to be able to hit 20 points. Do I think he could do that with 30 minutes? Yes. For tournaments, I just that up to 6x salary per thousand. For tournaments, I need to believe he could hit 24. I think he could do that as well. Thus, Lyles becomes a relatively safe option in both formats.

Let us not be foolish to think that this injury affects only one player. As a result, you will likely see Boris Diaw, Rudy Gobert and Jeff Withey all pick up a few more minutes at the position. Withey isn’t the one I’m focusing on here, as I think he’s the last resort of all the option. Boris Diaw would get a bump, and could even start. Still, Diaw mainly remains a better basketball player than fantasy basketball player in my mind. While Lyles is the most direct beneficiary, Rudy Gobert could be the second most likely. Not only will he see a few more minutes on the court, but he will also be asked to do more, meaning the opportunity for a fuller stat line, and thus, more fantasy points.

This is where some more in depth thinking could have to take place. You might have a fully loaded back court [guards], but have spent down a bit on your front court [forwards]. Let’s say for argument sake you have Favors and Tristan Thompson at your PF/C respectively. You’ve done so because both caught your eye as being good point per dollar plays. The injection of an even better play in terms of points per dollar in Lyles now gives you the opportunity to replace Thompson with Gobert, who, while not a better point per dollar play for sake of the argument, is likely to have more fantasy points. At that point, the focus won’t be on just finding the best point per dollar plays, but rather the best COMBINATION of points per dollar plays and players who will likely put up the highest number of total points.

BUILD AROUND THE STUDS IN THE BEST SITUATION

Even though I will play because I have a bunch of tickets to the Tuesday slate, I would advise staying away. It is really going to waste a lot of money. Wednesday though, you should REALLY strongly consider hitting hard. Here are some players in ideal situations:

Hassan Whiteside vs. Orlando

Anthony Davis vs. Denver

Russell Westbrook vs. Philadelphia

DeMarcus Cousins vs. Phoenix

Eric Bledsoe/Devin Booker vs. Sacramento

James Harden vs. Los Angeles Lakers

D’Angelo Russell vs. Houston Rockets

So right there, you have a handful of guys in ridiculously good situations. While not all of those guys are “studs”, each one could definitely eclipse 50 fantasy points on Wednesday, and thus, that is where you should start building.

Each night you play, the best way to start building your lineups is to isolate those top plays, and get as many of them in your lineups before searching for value. It will take some time and a lot of tinkering, and by time you are done, you may only have 2-3 of those studs in your lineup. That’s fine. If you are able to find guys around them who should exceed value, you will be in a good position.

DvP – NO

One of the most misleading stats in all of NBA DFS is defense vs. position. This is actually a pretty good rule of thumb for just about any sport, really. I often times see that a team is poor against defensing power forwards, so players will blindly just toss out power forwards playing that team. In fact, you might do alright doing that maybe 60-70% of the time. Right off the bat, you’ll think I’m wrong then saying that you’re wrong for doing something that will pay off a high percentage of the time. But I’m not wrong; you are.

First off, just because you are right, doesn’t mean that it was the best or even right play. It also depends what your goals are, because there can be such a difference between what makes a good cash game play and what makes a good tournament play. You may get away with trusting this statistic and getting 4.5x return on value which might work for cash games, but you’ve lost any short at big tournament money. If you are fine with losing your tournaments and winning your cash games, you’re not getting ahead, and perhaps should revisit your overall strategy. Remember: you aren’t trying to find GOOD plays; you are trying to find the BEST plays.

The biggest factor that goes continuously overlooked is that not all players are the same. Again, if a team is poor against power forwards, are we talking Kevin Love types or Ed Davis types? Surely, you don’t think that those two are the same type of player, do you? So how can you blindly just trust a number that lumps two entirely different types of players together? Smart players will be able to tell you if a team struggles with stretch fours or more traditional power forwards.

Much of this is coming from personal experience, which is definitely the best teacher. Statistics are great, but they can be the most misleading part of fantasy sports if you don’t dig into them more. So while you could make it trusting DvP, you may never experience that huge win with it either.

VEGAS AND PACE

I intended to keep this article a little bit shorter today, so I am combining a few things that are somewhat related. Here is what I look at with Vegas odds and pace: total, spread and pace. First, Vegas is not always right. They will be right more than they are wrong, but if you watch a team play and you are convinced that Vegas is seeing things wrong, by all means, trust your own judgement.

From there, I want to find high totals with small spreads, or high totals with big spreads. Most people might be thrown off by the latter, but I’ll explain in a minute. In regards to close games with high totals: this is where a lot of your fantasy action is likely to take place. They also usually involve teams with high pace of play totals, because they are likely to run more plays and offer more chances for fantasy production. This is exactly where I would focus my cash game play.

I also tend to like to look to the teams from high totals with big spreads. This is where the Warriors are likely to fall all year. One of the most overrated concepts is the blowout, and how it could affect starters. This is why we aren’t looking at the starters from the underdogs, except, again, if you watch and know a team and think Vegas has them wrong, and only in tournaments. If you don’t play guys from the Warriors because there is a big spread, it probably isn’t going to work out well. The biggest thing to realize is that the only way a game gets to blowout status is by one team scoring a ton of points, and if that takes place, the starters from that team probably had pretty good nights.

MINUTES

The final element we will talk about today is minutes. Yes, there are guys who might get a ton of minutes and not have it translate too much. Still, the fact that a guy like Kentavius Caldwell-Pope might see 42 minutes of game action and be priced at $5k makes him a pretty good cash game play. He’ll need 25 points to hit value, meaning his production could be almost a half a fantasy point a minute and you’d be fine.

This is why and how some bench players can end up being great options for both tournaments and cash games. Often times teams will have a set starting lineup, but will run with a different lineup down the stretch if the game is close. The bench players will most often be priced far cheaper, and you can find yourself in a great position in tournaments when you took a calculated chance on them and loaded your lineup elsewhere.

Minutes can be somewhat tough to predict and trust. Jeff Teague at one point last year broke many hearts in good matchups, because he was ineffective and spent 22 minutes on the court and 26 on the bench while Dennis Schroeder took advantage of his lack of production. This is what makes daily fantasy far much more of a skill than luck. Teague didn’t get benched the first time he was ineffective; it took a few occurrences of this.

I hope this is helpful to you in the upcoming season. Stay on the lookout, as we will have breakdowns of every NBA slate of more than 3 games this year, with the exception being opening night. Good luck!