NBA DFS Strategy for GPP Contests
We often get asked which major league is the most easily beatable in DFS. The answer to that question, without a doubt, has to be NBA and most professional players you might talk to will also agree with this. The reason is very simple and it is due to the nature of the sport. Basketball is generally very easy to project and we can use that to our advantage.
In the NBA - especially during the regular season - most players will average a similar number of minutes and produce fantasy points at a roughly similar level. Even if a certain player has an off shooting night, the supporting stats that are all worth fantasy points will be there. Of course, to win it all, you will need optimal performance from most of your squads, but a 30% shooting night from a player on your squad won’t kill you if he can grab a few rebounds and dish out a handful of assists.
In MLB GPP contests for example, you don’t really get these supporting stats as a get out of jail free card. This consistency makes NBA daily fantasy much more of a fun experience for newcomers.
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How to pick games & teams to target?
Sports betting total, pace, and defensive rating.
On a full slate of NBA DFS, your options might seem overwhelming, but we can quickly narrow down our scope with a few neat tricks. We will want to roster players from teams that are expected to play high-scoring games. To check which games are expected to be high scoring we have two options. You can check the sports betting lines for the given day and filter your player pool to only include players from the teams that are playing the games with the 3-4 highest totals (5, in case of a full slate where all 30 teams are in action).
If you don’t want to dabble with sports betting lines, you can just use a simple metric called pace (https://www.nba.com/stats/teams/advanced/?sort=PACE&dir=-1) to find your targets. Pace is a formula that roughly estimates the number of possessions per 48 minutes (a full game) by a team. If the game is played by two teams pushing a high pace, your players have a high chance of coming away with more points than their averages. It is also smart to look at the defensive rating of a team which can be found in the advanced NBA statistics tool.
Defensive rating tells us how many points a team usually allows per 100 possessions. This stat will easily help you to identify teams that have problems defending, making players on their opposing team good picks for your DFS squad.
Which players should you roster?
Minutes per game, fantasy points per minute, and usage rate.
In NBA DFS there are two major statistics that you should always prioritize above anything else, minutes per game and fantasy points per minute. These two statistics will tell you how many minutes a certain player usually spends on the floor and how many fantasy points he averages per minute. You can find multiple free sites online that will have this info on any day during the season (https://www.lineups.com/nba/nba-fantasy-basketball-projections).
If you are can filter out the players that average a decent number (0.8+) fantasy points per minute averaging 30+ minutes per game and are expected to be in high-scoring, high-paced matchups you are on the right path. Diving deeper into player selection the next step should be usage rate.
Usage rate calculates the percentage when a player is involved in a possession when he is on the floor. The metric isn't perfect as it is favoring shooters over passers, but it is a decent tool at identifying players that are using their minutes the right way. The average usage rate of a player is 20%, today’s top players who serve as the primary scorers of their team will usually average a usage rate of 30-35%.
Why team stacking is not ideal & how to mix and match the top players.
Stacking is your biggest and most important weapon both in MLB and NFL DFS, but it is generally considered a double-edged sword in NBA DFS. In MLB, all batters will get their chance to score when they are due in the batting order, and offensive players that bat before or after them have a chance of profiting from the player scoring.
In the NFL, there is only one QB on the field for any team and if you are rostering him, it makes perfect sense to roster his top possible target(s) to reap the benefits of a successful pass twice. In NBA DFS there is ‘fantasy point cannibalization’, as all the players on a team are competing with each other for the ball. While teammates can benefit from an assist, for example, it is generally not the best idea to roster multiple high usage rate players from the same team, especially if they share the floor a lot.
If the spot is great and a certain team is in a prime position to score big, you are much better off building multiple lineups using a different top player on the given team. For example, if you decide that the Brooklyn Nets are the best team to own on a given night, it is wise to build a lineup around Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving as well. Adding the top bench scorer (who won’t normally share the floor with either of these stars) is a perfectly fine way of building a 2-player mini stack without exposing yourself too much for the same lineup.
Closing Notes: Rebounding, Free Throws and Injuries
Out of all statistics that will net you fantasy points, rebounding is probably the best one to pursue. Big men are generally considered the most consistent producers in NBA DFS, as they are playing close to the basket, taking high percentage shots. It is also important to note, that in general, rebound rates are much more consistent than shot rates. Centers are also generally underpriced on DFS sites and if you are just starting your NBA daily fantasy journey, starting your lineup construction with your big men is not a bad idea.
If there is a clear top option on the slate at center try pivoting to the second or third most expensive player as the gap between the projected performance of two prime big men is probably not as severe as the discount you get by not going with the Anthony Davis’s of the world. Building a balanced lineup of above-average players usually nets a better return on investment than building a stars and scrubs lineup by rostering the few top players on a slate and adding low-end fillers that you can afford.
Free throws are also a generally overlooked way of scoring in NBA daily fantasy. Most good shooters are making free throws in the neighborhood of 90%, making this a very dependable form of scoring. The top players in the league are attempting north of 8 free throws per game and they can provide a great resource of extra points for your squad. It is not difficult to see why Joel Embiid, who is averaging 11.3 rebounds and 9.06 made free throws per game was one of the top NBA DFS plays through the entire 2020/2021 NBA season. Even in big field tournaments, having some sort of floor is a good thing.
No matter what type of lineup you are building, make sure to stay on top of the injury news! Almost every day, there will be an unexpected late scratch when the final lineups are released resulting in what we call a ‘free square’. A player, that is priced as a backup on DFS sites, but will end up sliding into the starting lineup due to the injury to the starter. This backup will be getting more minutes than usual giving you extremely high value for his cost. These players are a must roster, and you should be always ready to make changes to your lineup to squeeze them in!