Fantasy Basketball Strategy Guide

How To Play Fantasy Basketball

Whether it's your first time playing fantasy sports or you're a seasoned fantasy football player looking for a new challenge, this guide aims to educate you about how to approach fantasy basketball. Read on to learn strategies for achieving success and about how RotoWire can help you win your fantasy leagues and contests.

Fantasy basketball works on the same basic principles as any other fantasy sport: the game is based on constructing teams of players from the respective league and earning points based on their real-life performances. The points you earned determine winners and losers, whether it's that day, that week, or that season. Fantasy basketball can be easier to get into than some other fantasy sports because typically fewer players are drafted in regular formats than in other fantasy games.

The tips and advice found here should help you construct a serviceable – and hopefully league-winning! – team, even if you haven't been actively following the NBA.

Understand Your Format

As with all fantasy sports, league format can alter which players are most valuable. Fantasy basketball is typically scored in one of four ways: Head-to-Head, Head-to-Head Points, Roto, and Roto Points.

Head-to-Head pits you against another member of your league every week, with one winner and one loser (or a tie, depending on your commissioner's feelings on such a thing). Those wins and losses determine who makes the playoffs, similar to real basketball. Winners and losers are determined by who accumulates the most stats in each statistical category (points, rebounds, assists, steals, etc.). For example, if your team accumulates 300 points, 200 rebounds and 100 assists, compared to my team's 450 points, 150 rebounds and 99 assists, you've won the matchup two categories to one.

Head-to-Head Points follows the same concept, except victory is achieved by totaling the most fantasy points, determined by a preset value for each statistic, rather than separating each statistic individually. Typically, values are:

  • Points (+1)
  • Rebounds (+1.2 or 1.25)
  • Assists (+1.5)
  • Steals/Blocks (+3)
  • Turnovers (-1)

Understanding how your commissioner assigns values is important. For instance, if your commissioner believes turnovers should be -1.5 instead of -1, that can change the value of turnover-prone point guards.

The differences between Roto and Roto Points formats are the same, except there are no head-to-head matchups. Total categories or points are kept throughout the entirety of the season on what is essentially a giant scoreboard, with those at a predetermined cutoff point making the playoffs (if there are playoffs).

The difference between the four may seem subtle, but the scoring structure can significantly affect the fantasy value of certain players.

Keeper Leagues vs. Season-Long Leagues

While most leagues come to a close at the end of the season, some are multi-year and allow you to hang onto players season-to-season. The latter kind are called Keeper Leagues.

You may have heard of Dynasty leagues, and Keeper leagues are similar, but usually fewer players are kept than in a Dynasty league.

How many players you're allowed to keep is up to the commissioner. Some might only let you keep one player from the previous season, some may let you keep three, some might let you keep all of them.

There's a difference in strategy, especially during the draft. For a standard, Season-Long league, it's only worth considering a player's current season. But for Keeper Leagues, future production comes into play. It may make sense to draft a young, developing player over an older, established one.

How to Prepare For Standard Drafts

Once you have a grasp of your format, the day of your league's draft should be much less intimidating. One of the main things to note about your league, which should affect how you draft, is how many players you are allowed at each position, as well as the number of bench slots.

For example, in a standard 12-team, ESPN Head-to-Head categorical league, you're allotted one starting point guard, shooting guard, guard, small forward, power forward, forward and two centers. There are also two utility spots and three bench spots. There's plenty of flexibility at hand – drafting three centers in a row to dominate the rebounding and blocks categories is viable because you can play all three on any given night.

Leagues differ, however. Some may allow for just one player at each traditional position with a utility and a deep bench. Others may allow for all utility players and one bench spot. In the former scenario, drafting two players in a row who play the same position may hurt you in the long run, as one would likely have to sit on the bench while the other plays.

When the draft kicks off, many opt to take who they feel is the best player available with their first pick and build around that player, rather than aiming for some specific kind of victory. Going into categorical drafts thinking I'm going to win blocks, steals and threes this season can be problematic. Such a decision should be made in accordance with the strengths (or weaknesses) of a first pick.

Are you stuck trying to decide between two or more players, or curious to learn more about someone in particular? Consulting RotoWire's fantasy outlooks is a superb way to clear things up. You can learn about trends, changing roles, injury history, and lots more.

How to Prepare For Auction Drafts

Most drafts, like the one covered above, are a snake format. The owner with the first pick in Round 1 gets the last pick in Round 2. The owner with the last pick in Round 1 gets the first pick in Round 2. That same rule is applied across every draft spot.

However, there's a different type of format that abandons the idea of draft spots entirely: the Auction. In an Auction, each owner is given a certain amount of money to spend on players. A player is put up for auction, and owners bid on that player. The goal is to make the best team possible with the money that you're allotted.

Auctions are often tough for novices, and are generally best to avoid if you're new to fantasy basketball. But they can be more rewarding and take on more traditional and true-to-life team-building strategies. The two main strategies are: Stars and Scrubs, or Balanced.

Owners operating under the Stars and Scrubs strategy will spend a huge chunk of their budget on All-NBA caliber players, and then fill out the remainder of their roster with role players. The belief is that a star player's production is nearly impossible to replicate, and that role players can often be swapped in-and-out via the waiver wire mid-season.

Owners operating under the Balanced strategy try to spend their budget as evenly as possible. The theory is risk minimization. Investing a ton of money into star players can backfire if one or more get injured, and role players can often be inconsistent in their production and workload.

With both strategies, conserving budget and recognizing when player values are inflated due to bidding wars are useful skills. Valuable players exist at decent prices in later rounds. Consider that even ending up with five or six percent of your budget unused at the end of your draft is not a disaster: It simply means you saved some resources to outbid others in case a player still on the board in deeper rounds attracted your attention.

Should You Trade or Not Trade?

Generally, trades are made to shore up categories that an owner is lacking in. An owner might be dominating three of seven categories, but losing the other four consistently. As a result, it makes sense for that owner to try to balance out their team by trading a player who excels in those three categories for someone who can provide value in the four others.

In many leagues, almost without fail, someone will start throwing out trade offers as soon as the draft ends, trying to grab someone they missed out on. If that person sends you an offer, our advice in most cases is to politely decline. Have confidence in who you drafted, especially if this is your first time playing. No one offers you a trade thinking they're on the losing end.

The NBA Waiver Wire and Its Rules

Viewing the season in weeks, like fantasy football, rather than games, is important. If player goes on a five-game cold streak in basketball, that's relatively normal. If a player goes on a five-game cold streak in football, it's time to sound the alarms. After all, five games in the NBA is just 6.1 percent of the season. Five games in the NFL is 31.3 percent of the season.

But, if one of your picks really isn't panning out – whether it's due to role, injury, age, etc. – don't be afraid to cut and run. It happens every season.

Your most valuable resource, especially when searching for a replacement for one of your lower-end draft picks, is the waiver wire. Simply put: the players who weren't drafted or were let go by another team.

Prior to making a move, try to identify whether Player X's impressive performances are outliers or a trend. RotoWire's player notes can be helpful to identify whether it's the former or the latter. Plenty of players have a big game here and there – few can sustain unexpected play for an extended period.

The catch is that if you wait too long, someone else may snatch that player up. Each season, plenty of gambles are won and lost in the waiver wire. Carefully judging and timing when to snag the right player can sometimes have an immense influence on your season, as sometimes players are undervalued or have a favorable upcoming schedule and go off for major points.

There are two main ways in which a waiver wire may operate: Record-based, or budget-based. In a record-based waiver wire, the team with the worst record gets priority on all players with multiple claims. In a budget-based waiver wire, each team is assigned a dollar amount to spend on waiver wire pickups throughout the season. If you want to claim a player, you have to bid on them. There are no hard-and-fast rules about how much to bid on a certain type of player. It's a risk-management game, similar to an Auction draft.

Category League Strategy

Congratulations! You're doing a category-based fantasy league. Don't tell your friends who play in points leagues that we said this, but category leagues are much more fun.

Actually. Do tell them. Get them to change their leagues, too.

Anyway, now that you're playing in a category-based league, what strategies do you need to know? How can you best prepare yourself for domination? We're here to help.

First, as always, is know your league's settings.

8-cat, 9-cat, or something else?

Almost all category leagues are either "8-cat" (eight default categories) or "9-cat" (nine default categories). The eight default categories are points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, threes, FG% and FT%. Turnovers are the ninth default, and the only difference between 8-cat and 9-cat leagues.

Generally speaking, the fantasy community has been shifting towards the use of 8-cat over 9-cat in recent years, but 9-cat remains the default setting for Yahoo!, and both settings remain very common.

Some analysts recommend ignoring turnovers on draft day, even if you're in a 9-category league. That's probably going a step too far, but they should not be a primary consideration.

A few themes to remember if you play in an 9-cat league: James Harden and Russell Westbrook are turnover machines; rookies tend to be particularly turnover prone, especially rookie ball-handlers; catch-and-shoot specialists (think Danny Green) and big men who don't pass (think Hassan Whiteside) tend to see the biggest boosts in 9-cat value.

Occasionally, league commissioners experiment with some other category options. Some of the most common alternatives are double-doubles, triple-doubles, splitting offensive and defensive rebounds into two categories, or changing the way field goal efficiency is measured (i.e. counting made field goals, made free throws, eFG%, TS%, or some combination thereof). If you play in one of these leagues with atypical categories, the most important thing to remember is that most fantasy advice is not tailored for your leagues. There is still a lot to gain and a lot to be learned from articles, tweets, podcasts, etc, but remember that all of that advice assumes that you're playing in either 8-cat or 9-cat.

The easiest example of how advice can change for unusual league settings is probably the cases of Nikola Jokic and Russell Westbrook. You're unlikely to find anyone who says Jokic should get picked before sixth overall this season, and Westbrook is well outside the first round in 9-cat. But if you are in a league that awards points for double-doubles and triple-doubles, Jokic becomes an option for the first overall pick and Westbrook becomes an easy top-10 pick.

Weekly vs. daily lineups; IR spots

This isn't special to category-based leagues, but fantasy managers need to know whether they set lineups every day or once a week and whether they have an IR spot. Managers in weekly lineups leagues or leagues without an IR spot need to be more cautious on draft day. Someone like Joel Embiid, who is likely to miss a lot of games for "load management", does more damage in a weekly lineups league than a daily lineups league – in a daily lineups league, at least you can start someone else those games. Similarly, Chris Paul is still a fantasy force, but he usually misses a few weeks each season due to injury. That injury is easier to wait out if your roster has an IR spot. Both players are still valuable in weekly or non-IR leagues, but if you've already drafted Paul in a non-IR league, maybe take a pass on Kevin Love a few rounds later.

Roto vs. Head-to-Head

This is the big one. In an H2H (head-to-head) league, you face off against one team per week, your categories against your opponent's. In H2H leagues, the teams with the best records qualify for the playoffs, and the champion is the winner of the playoff tournament. In roto (short for rotisserie, a format named – oddly enough – for a long-defunct French restaurant in Manhattan), teams compete against the entire league over the course of the season. In a 12-team league, the leader in a given category gains 12 points, second place gets 11, third place gets 10, and so on until last place gets a single point. The champion is the team with the most cumulative points on the final day of the season.

The most important difference between H2H and roto is that punting (deliberately ignoring one or two categories, so that you can build an extra strong team in the remaining categories) usually leads to different results. In H2H, a well-crafted punt build can be highly effective. In fact, we actively recommend the strategy. However, in roto, punting successfully is much harder.

Let's get into specifics, just so you can fully appreciate how difficult it is to win a roto league while punting. In a 12-team nine-category league, the winning team will probably score at least 85 points, if not more. If you're starting the season by accepting just one point in a category, then you need to average 10.5 points across the other eight categories to score 85 points – 10.5 points is what you get for finishing tied-for-second in a category. It's not impossible, but it is very, very difficult.

Categorical scarcity

You could write books going into the nuances of categorical scarcity, and the topic is a primary focus of our Numbers Game column. That said, here are the key basics.

Blocks and Assists

Blocks and assists are the scarcest categories, and the two hardest to find after the draft. Most of the leagues' assists come from the top point guards, with a few notable exceptions – Nikola Jokic, LeBron James, Draymond Green, and a few others. All of the non-point-guard assists leaders are going to get drafted, and most of them will go in the first couple of rounds. When a point guard becomes worthy of acquisition off the waiver wire, they rarely are high-impact passers.

Similarly, there will be some shot-blocking big men who emerge off waivers as the season rolls along, but, as with assists, those players rarely block enough shots to make a major impact. As with assists, most of the best shot-blockers will all get drafted in the first couple of rounds.

Rebounds and Assists

Rebounds and three-pointers are on the opposite end of the spectrum, especially as the league continues to attempt more and more threes each season. While the top 10 or so rebounders stays pretty steady from year to year, there are always several big men who emerge early in the season as reliable sources of boards. Furthermore, as big men get hurt, their backups usually step in and provide a decent facsimile of the starter's rebounding load.

Threes are a slightly different story, but the results are the same. As the total number of threes has increased, finding quality three-point shooters later in drafts has become easier and easier. Every year, a few players emerge as semi-surprising additions to the threes-per-game leaderboard. Perhaps more importantly, due to the streaky nature of long-range shooting, managers who remain active on the waiver wire can usually find a few players going through a hot streak and averaging several made threes per game. While the near-constant presence of these waiver-wire pickups are helpful, there is still a lot of value in drafting potential league-leaders like Bradley Beal or Buddy Hield. Rather, the depth of the category should impact your decisions later in drafts.

Points

Points are tricky. On the one hand, all the best scorers are going to get drafted early. Unless you are deliberately punting the category, you'll probably need to draft at least one 20-plus-point scorer early to stay competitive.

On the other hand, points are often overvalued by fantasy managers. Low scorers like Brook Lopez and Larry Nance always get drafted much later than they should – they finished last season ranked 31 and 55, respectively, but currently have average draft positions (ADP) of 83 and 85. High scorers get picked up off waivers much quicker, even if they provide little value in the other categories. Furthermore, as NBA offenses have changed, there are more high scorers available in the later rounds of drafts than ever before.

Points do become available on waivers throughout the season, but most of the time, it's only players who score between 13 and 18 points. Those guys can help, but, here too, waivers are unlikely to bail you out if you missed on this category on draft day.

Steals

Steals are always available on waivers. The problem? Most of those thieves don't provide enough help in the other categories to be worth rostering. That means that managers in daily lineups leagues can provide meaningful help off of waivers, especially late in the week in a close H2H matchup, but that managers in weekly lineups leagues will have a harder time using the waiver wire to bolster their rosters.

The best way to stay competitive in steals is to try to draft players who average close to a steal per game. For every player you expect to average 0.5 per game, try to find one who averages 1.5. If you can do that, you should be in the top-half of your league in the category.

FG% and FT%

The shooting efficiency categories are the most commonly punted categories, and with good reason. There are many very good fantasy picks who immediately escalate to "great picks" if you can ignore their weakness in one category or the other. Andre Drummond is currently the most famous of these, as he becomes a top-10 player if you can ignore his dreadful FT%. Kemba Walker's value takes a similar jump if you can ignore his FG%.

There's another great reason to punt these categories, though some don't even know this when they decide to punt: FG% and FT% are two of the least "sticky" categories. i.e., players' FG% and FT% are more variable, and therefore harder to predict, than most other categories, even if they stay in the same role on the same team.

For that reason, managers should remain careful when trying to build strength in these two categories. If you think your team is good, but not great, in either FG% or FT%, then remember that your margin for error may be small.

One last note – there are also some well-founded strategic arguments against punting either shooting efficiency category. Foremost among them, is that it is likely another manager in your league may attempt the same build, and that a punt-percentages team suffers more than other roster builds when their team has fewer games than their opponent in a given week.

Final Notes

If you've played in points leagues before, and this is your first time playing in a category-based league, make sure to compare last season's final ranks in points leagues to last season's final ranks in category leagues. This should help you get a good sense of which players take some pretty big rises (like the aforementioned Lopez), and which fall (Andrew Wiggins jumps to mind).

Remember that category scarcity is now much more important that positional scarcity. Positions still matter, but they matter a lot less.

Lastly, and this applies to points leagues as well as category leagues: remember that your last few picks are probably going to be dropped a few weeks later anyway. Take a few risks on upside, or focus on players who might fill some specific categorical weakness – there is no such thing as "reaching" at the end of a draft.

Points League Strategy

When you're entering a fantasy draft for any sport, being adequately prepared is key. For novice and experienced fantasy players alike, familiarizing yourself with your league's settings is a crucial step in that process.

In the world of fantasy basketball, almost all leagues operate under either a Points or Categorical format. These formats share some overlap, but whereas in categorical leagues the goal is to win – or finish highly within – as many stat categories as possible, points leagues present a different challenge.

Unlike category leagues, Points leagues disregard altogether how players go about accruing fantasy stats. Like with most fantasy football leagues, each statistical category is assigned a point value, and each player's points – regardless of how they're earned – are simply added up to produce a final score over a given period – typically one week.

The NBA's official points format scoring format uses the following values:

Points: 1 point

Rebounds: 1.2 points

Assists: 1.5 points

Steals: 3 points

Blocks: 3 points

Turnovers: -1 point

Those may be the default numbers, but most host sites will allow you to tailor the values to your league's specific preferences. For instance, if you'd like to increase the impact of blocked shots, you could raise that point value accordingly. In the same vein, you can add or subtract categories, which will have ripple effects in terms of which player archetypes lose or gain value.

If you were to add, say, Made Three-Pointers as another category alongside Points, stars like Stephen Curry and James Harden would become even more sought-after, while lesser-known three-point specialists like Joe Harris or J.J. Redick would also pick up some value.

In categorical leagues, it's difficult to manage each category – usually, there are eight or nine – and ensure your roster doesn't have any major deficiencies. A well-rounded team is a near-requirement for title contention, but that's not necessarily the case in points leagues. One of the benefits to points formats is not having to worry about being dragged down in a single category.

If a player is an elite rebounder or shot-blocker but struggles at the free throw line, that deficiency is masked in a way that it would not be in a category league. As such, players like Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons typically become more valuable in points formats, as their elite counting stats translate directly to "fantasy points," as opposed to only affecting certain categories.

Consider the following example: Let's say on a given night, Andre Drummond scores 0 points, going 0-for-10 from the field and 0-for-10 at the free throw line. However, he grabs 20 rebounds and blocks five shots.

If you were in a categorial league, the rebounds and blocks would be nice, but Drummond's lack of scoring would add nothing to your Points category, and his poor shooting would negatively impact both your Field Goal Percentage and Free Throw Percentage categories.

Conversely, in a points league, you'd only be concerned about Drummond's total fantasy output. Sure, it'd be nice if he scored some points to add to his bottom line, but the 20 rebounds and five blocks alone would be worth 39 fantasy points under the aforementioned standard scoring system. Unless your league assigns negative value for field goal/free throw attempts, the fact that Drummond had a horrific night shooting the ball would not affect your team in the same way it would in a categorical league.

With that in mind, it's important to consider the type of players who gain or lose value in points formats. Counting-stat monsters like the four mentioned above tend to rise in rankings, while players valued for their efficiency – think Malcolm Brogdon or Stephen Curry – lose some value.

Meanwhile, points leagues depreciate the value of players who produce above-average numbers in only one or two categories. Unless those categories are heavily weighted – for example, if your league awards 4 points for each steal – a bench player who averages 1.5 steals per game but offers little else isn't nearly as valuable as he'd be to an owner in a categorical league who's looking to make a climb up the Steals category.

Similarly, single-category specialists – and especially score-first players – tend to have diminished value in points formats. Someone like Terrence Ross would aid a categorical owner in Points and Threes, but his relative lack of rebounds, assists and defensive numbers mean he's really only helping points-league owners build value through one source, and scoring is far and away the easiest stat to find – therefore, it tends to carry the lowest point value.

Player A: 20pts, 5reb, 2ast, 1stl, 0blk = 32 fantasy points

Player B: 8pts, 10reb, 5ast, 2stl, 1blk = 36.5 fantasy points

When it comes to preparing for a points league draft, the bottom line is you're looking for the best overall fantasy players. Using projections you trust is especially valuable in points leagues, as you can simply plug in your league's scoring values to generate a list of players ranked by their expected total fantasy output. In a sense, that should make building a roster easier, as long you make sure to account for filling each required position.

Speaking of which, be sure to familiarize yourself with your league's roster settings, in addition to its scoring values. Most leagues won't require you to jump through hoops, but it's important to know ahead of time if you should be targeting certain positions.

A league that requires two starting centers, for example, makes the position more valuable and raises the importance of locking down productive options at both starting spots. In short, you don't want to be the owner who waits too long and is forced to start Dwight Powell and Serge Ibaka each week while more productive options at other positions waste away on your bench. Regardless of format, roster balance is key.

Among the other factors to consider in points leagues – or any leagues, for that matter – is the weekly schedule breakdown. Every team plays 82 games, but not all weeks are created equally, and there will certainly be times when it makes sense to bench an elite player for an inferior option.

If the Wizards play only two games in a given week, while the Rockets play five, benching Brad Beal for Eric Gordon is the logical play, even though Beal is the vastly superior player. Here's a breakdown of the calculation using last season's averages (rounded to the nearest whole number) and standard points league values:

Beal: 26 PPG, 6 APG, 5 RPG, 2 SPG, 1 BPG = 50 FP/G; 50 FP x 2 games = 100 FP

Gordon: 16 PPG, 2 APG, 2 RPG, 1 SPG, 0 BPG = 24.4 FP/G; 24.4 FG x 5 games = 122 FP

Experts' Guide to Punting

You play to win the game. It doesn't matter what the final score is, or how your get there. You play to win the game.

In head-to-head fantasy leagues, a 5-4 win is just as good as 6-3 or 8-1. The core concept of punting categories is based on that basic premise. The idea is that by deliberately ceding some categories, managers will be better able to win the majority of what is left.

The Strategic Advantage Of Punting

The basic idea of punting may seem straightforward, but there are several advantages to punting, and understanding all of them makes it easier for managers take full advantage of the strategy.

The most obvious advantage to punting is that it limits the field of competition each week. When two non-punting teams face-off, they are beginning a fight on nine distinct battlefields, most of which have uncertain outcomes. Management of the battle is complex, and the large number of separate conquests means there are a large number of areas that could yield unexpected outcomes. A team that punts, however, is competing on fewer battlefields, as the team is likely elite in some categories and dreadful in others. A punting team may enter each week almost certain of at least a 2-1 record, and only have to compete in the remaining six categories. Furthermore, the punting team has been built specifically to fight in those six each week, adding further advantage.

Another important advantage of punting is that managers are not wasting production on categories that they do not need to stay competitive. This is most relevant on draft day, but it is also relevant for managers assessing trades and waiver acquisitions.

The flip side of not overpaying for wasted production is that punting makes some players more valuable to the punting team than to the rest of the league.

A final note: Always remember that the point of punting categories isn't to be bad. The point of punting categories is that by ignoring some categories, you're better set up for success in others.

Is Punting Right For You?

The most important key to winning in fantasy sports – not just basketball – is making sure you know your league's settings. Punting can be a great strategy in some leagues, but it is also an actively bad strategy in other formats.

First, punting is only possible in category-based leagues. Categories do not have independent values in points leagues, making punting impossible.

Punting is usually a bad idea in roto leagues. In most roto leagues, the harm done by punting is too significant to come back from. Some analysts will go farther than we do here, arguing that punting is never a good idea in roto leagues. We won't go quite that far, but it is very hard to do well, and it requires planning.

Punting is easier in smaller roto leagues, since the deficit lost in the punted category is smaller (in 10-team leagues the first place team gets only 10 points, compared to 14 points in a 14-team league). We agree with a majority of analysts on this point: it is effectively impossible to win a roto league while punting more than one category.

Punting is easier to do in an auction draft than a snake draft. The most common categories to punt are free throw percentage and blocks.

In an auction draft, a manager can also simply avoid spending on any player whose value is boosted by his shot-blocking abilities, allowing other teams to spend their resources – both their auction budget and their roster spaces – on blocks while the blocks-punter hoards for more useful assets. Successful punting requires planning, and this is especially true of an auction draft. We’re not saying auction drafts are easier overall, but it is easier to ensure a solid punt build in an auction draft than in a snake.

Stay Updated on News, Expert Advice

As the fantasy sports world grows larger by the day, many new reporters, blogs, media sites, and content providers will enter this space and compete for your attention. This is great news for you the player always looking to get the best information. A good indicator of a story's veracity (especially on stories you are unsure of) is when multiple outlets report on it. There is a lot of data out there and many pundits with similar tips or advice likely have a better chance of being of being correct.

Not everyone can devote as much time as they would like to researching fantasy sports, but getting an edge over your opponents can sometimes be as simple as opening your eyes and ears to news around topics that concern your teams. By staying informed and acting swifter than your competitors on the waiver wire, or by tinkering with tools such as RotoWire's lineup optimizer, you can often come out on top at the end of a contest.

What is Daily Fantasy?

Another way of playing fantasy basketball is through daily fantasy contests (DFS). On sites like FanDuel and DraftKings, you use a salary-based system to select players for games just that day to compete against other users.

There are two primary types of DFS contests to join: Tournaments and 50/50s. Tournaments have fewer winners, but those with higher scores are rewarded with more money. 50/50s reward the top half of scores with double their entry fee, but the highest scorers don't net any additional money. Tournaments and 50/50s are often referred to as GPPs (Grand Prize Pools) and Cash Games, respectively.

Experienced DFS players often build different lineups based on contest. Theoretically, it makes more sense to build a safer lineup with a higher floor for 50/50s, and a riskier lineup with a higher ceiling for tournaments.

Ultimately, beginners should explore all the various types of contests to find something that fits their preferences. The safest way to go about things is to get your feet wet with some low-cost 50/50s to minimize risk and get used to DFS.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is playing fantasy basketball for real money legal?
Yes! Sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel run contests where you can enter lineups and league pools to compete against other competitors for real cash prizes. However, your eligibility depends on your age and the state or country you reside in, so check those disclaimers.
What are some fantasy basketball sites people compete on?
ESPN, Yahoo, Fantrax, and other sites are very popular. DraftKings and FanDuel also host many kinds of contests.
Can fantasy basketball be played on a phone or tablet?
Yup! Many support apps (such as the RotoWire Fantasy Basketball Draft Kit) also exist that can be downloaded to your mobile device.
Where are NBA Daily Lineups easily found?
Check out our NBA Lineups page to find lineups swiftly.
What happens if a game is cancelled or delayed?
Although a rare occurrence, sometimes sporting events do not occur when they are scheduled to. Many fantasy sports websites running contests will refund wagers if a sporting event is cancelled due to dangerous weather conditions or other issues. Double check with the particular rules of whatever site you are using, but be confident protections are in place to ensure fairness (i.e. either points are not awarded at all or they are depending on certain conditions, likely neutralizing any advantages). Established websites like FanDuel and DraftKings value your business, want you to feel play is equitable on their platforms, and have reputations to protect.
Can I play fantasy sports with anyone?
Definitely! Whether you are interested in setting up season-long leagues or playing against your friends, family members, neighbors, or coworkers in DFS contests, anyone interested can play on many sites including Yahoo, ESPN, FanDuel, DraftKings and many others. These sites even allow participants to use custom league settings and Dynasty formats, where players drafted one season carry over to another.
What are the rules of fantasy sports? Do I need to know a lot about basketball to be able to play fantasy basketball?
Relax, you don’t have to be an expert to join in the fun that is fantasy sport! A basic understanding of how a sport works will go a long way, and there are many resources, articles, tools on RotoWire which were created to help you!
If a fantasy basketball contest ends in a tie, what happens?
Various rules apply for different fantasy sites, so be sure to check in and clarify the rules of contests before you enter them. Often times the payout may be split between competitors in a pool.
Are taxes paid when a player wins fantasy sports contests?
Yes, laws exist which regulate how much tax is paid. If a player makes over $600 in a calendar year, 1099 tax forms will be supplied by the fantasy sports companies running the contests. Fantasy sports sites collect pertinent personal information to abide by laws and issue tax forms in a timely manner.

Fantasy Basketball Glossary

COMMON TERMS

Auction Draft
A type of draft in which owners are given a budget and bid on players to fill out their rosters. The highest bidding owner receives the player that was bid on.
Auto Pick
An option within a fantasy draft in which the computer drafts your highest ranked player without you needing to make the selection.
Average Draft Position (ADP)
A measure of where a player is being drafted on average. The ADP for a certain player varies depending on the website due to the data being used by those websites.
Day to Day (DTD)
Day to day is an injury designation that displays that a player is injured but not enough to be on the DL. If a player is ddsted as day to day, their injury status is reevaluated on a daily basis.
Keepers
Players that owners can keep from year to year. They will not be able to be drafted by other owners at the beginning of the year.
Head to Head – Each Category
This is a league format in which you play a different team each week and scoring is based off of specific categories that differ based on your league. You earn a win or loss for each one of the categories.
Head to Head – Most Categories
This is a league format in which you play a different team each week and scoring is based on specific categories that differ based on your league. Whoever wins the most categories in that given week wins the matchup.
Head to Head Points
This is a league format in which you play a different team each week and the team that scores the most points wins.
Offline Draft
A draft that is done offline. After the draft is finished, the league commissioner uploads all of the picks to the online league.
Percent Owned
A measurement of what percent of leagues a player is owned in within all of fantasy basketball. Can be useful to show trends within the fantasy basketball community.
Plus Minus (+/-)
A measure of how many times a certain player has been added or dropped.
Rotisserie Scoring (Roto)
This is a league format in which you play no head to head matchups, but instead compete with everyone day in and day out. The goal is to rank the highest in the categories that your league commissioner has picked and whoever ranks the highest in these categories at the end of the year wins the entire league.
Snake
A type of draft in which a back to back pick order is used. The first round will go teams 1 to 10, while the next round will be teams 10 back to 1
Total Season Points
This is a league format in which you play no head to head matchups, but instead compete with each team day in and day out. Whoever finishes with the most points at the end of the season wins the entire league.
Undroppable Players List
A list created by the website hosting your fantasy basketball league. This list determines players too good to be dropped. This helps to prevent the stacking of teams.
Waivers
A free agency system used by most leagues. In waivers, unowned players become free agents and owners can make claims to pick them up.
Waiver Claim
A request made to pick up a free agent.
Waiver Priority
The order in which waiver claims are granted. Waiver priority is usually based off of record, where the teams with the worst records get their claims granted first.

POSITIONS

PG
Point Guard
SG
Shooting Guard
SF
Small Forward
PF
Power Forward
C
Center
G
Guard. Can be filled by any player that is eligible to play point guard or shooting guard.
F
Forward. Can be filled with any player that is eligible to play small forward or power forward.
UTIL or UT
Utility. Can be filled by any player.
IR
Injured Reserve. This is a roster spot that allows you to store an injured player on your team rather than having to drop them. Moving a player to IR frees up a normal roster spot.

SCORING ACRONYMS

3PA
Three Point Attempts
3PM
Three Point Makes
3PMI
Three Point Misses
AST
Assists
BLK
Block
DD
Double Double. A double double refers to a game where a player has double digit stats in two of five categories (Points, Assists, Rebounds, Blocks, Steals).
DREB
Defensive Rebounds
EJ
Ejections
FF
Flagrant Fouls
FGA
Field Goal Attempts
FGM
Field Goal Makes
FGMI
Field Goal Misses
FTM
Free Throw Makes
FTMI
Free Throw Misses
GP
Games Played. This statistic refers to how many games a certain player played in one season.
GS
Games Started: This statistic refers to how many games a certain player started in one season.
Min
Minutes. This statistic refers to how many minutes a certain player played in one game.
OREB
Offensive Rebounds
PF
Personal Fouls
PTS
Points
QD
Quadruple Double. A quadruple double refers to a game where a player has double digit stats in four of five categories (Points, Assists, Rebounds, Blocks, Steals).
REB
Rebounds
STL
Steal
TD
Triple Double. A triple double refers to a game where a player has double digit stats in three of five categories (Points, Assists, Rebounds, Blocks, Steals).
TF
Technical Fouls
TO
Turnovers

PERCENTAGES & ADVANCED STATS

3P%
Three Point Percentage. A measure of a player's accuracy from beyond the three point line. This statistic is calculated by dividing a player's three point makes by his three point attempts.
FG%
Field Goal Percentage. A measure of a player's accuracy from the field. This statistic is calculated by dividing a player's field goal makes by his field goal attempts.
FT%
Free Throw Percentage. A measure of a player's accuracy from the free-throw line. This statistic is calculated by dividing a player's free throw makes by his free throw attempts.
eFG%
Effective Field Goal Percentage. This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal.
TS%
True Shooting Percentage. A measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.
PER
Player Efficiency Rating. A measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15.
USG%
Usage Percentage. An estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor.

Evaluating Common Basketball Injuries

Certain injuries will take players out only for the remainder of a game or for a few days, while others take weeks or months to heal from due to their severity. Learn about common injuries that afflict basketball players so you can keep an eye on your lineups. RotoWire has aNBA Injury Report that can notify you about injuries, and you can sign up on the site to receive updates as well. Never miss out on points because a surprise injury forced one of your players to withdraw moments before the start of a game.

Here is a breakdown of common injuries:

Sprains and Strains

These two categories make up a significant number of the injuries in the NBA. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there are remarkable differences between a sprain and a strain. A strain is an injury that occurs to a muscle and is routinely described as a "pulled muscle" or "torn muscle". A sprain is used to classify an injury that has occurred to a stabilizing ligament that connects bone to bone. Medical personnel often assign grades to both sprains and strains based on the severity of the damage sustained.

A minor – or Grade I – injury is marked by micro tearing of the affected structure but generally doesn't not drastically affect the function of the involved area. A Grade II classification is utilized for a more moderate injury and is also known as a "partial tear." In these ailments, structural fibers of the injured ligament or muscle are damaged or torn. A severe – or Grade III – injury is often season-altering or even season-ending, as the involved soft tissue ruptures or is completely torn. These injuries result in a loss of function and mechanical stability and often require surgical intervention.

Despite the common grading system, strains and sprains vary in their recovery time. A strain with a low-grade classification may be quicker to heal than a sprain with the same ranking because most muscle tissue receives a healthy amount of blood. Other factors that influence recovery time include severity, area of the body, age, and injury history. Let's parse out several noteworthy examples.

Ankle Sprains

During a recent NBA season, nearly 200 ankle sprains were reported league-wide with every team sustaining at least one.

In a normal – or "lateral" – ankle sprain, the ligaments located on the outside aspect of the ankle are damaged when the foot is forced inward, often after landing on an opponent or teammate's foot. A low-grade sprain may not force the individual to miss anytime while more moderate sprains can take weeks to improve

Furthermore, there is another type of ankle sprain that involves a completely different joint. A syndesmotic sprain – or "high-ankle sprain" – occurs to the distal tibiofemoral joint, where the ends of the lower leg bones – the tibia and fibula – form the ankle mortise. Here, multiple ligaments, including a strong ligament known as the interosseous ligament, stretch across the joint to connect the two leg bones. A high ankle sprain involves unwarranted stretching and disruption of these ligaments. Treatment for these sprains is the same as a normal medial or lateral ankle sprains but can often take longer to heal.

Knee Sprains

The size and speed of the NBA athlete, coupled with the explosive demands of the sport, puts a great deal of stress on and through the knees. As a result, knee injuries are a common occurrence in the league.

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the most infamous stabilizing structure of the knee. It gained its notoriety thanks to players like Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker, who have missed substantial time after tearing their ACL. Most ACL tears are treated surgically and can impact multiple seasons based on the timing of the injury.

The lesser-known medial collateral ligament (MCL) is also routinely sprained in the NBA. It sits on the inner aspect of the knee and helps stabilize the joint during side to side motion. Unlike the ACL, even a moderate sprain of the MCL can heal without a trip to the operating room. However, they still carry a lengthy recovery timeline with Grade 2 MCL sprains often sideling a player for six to eight weeks.

Lower Extremity Strains

As can be expected in a sport where players defy gravity and leap through the air, the muscles of the lower leg are susceptible to injury.

The hamstring muscle group plays a key role in running and acceleration. They slow the leg as it extends backwards and help initiate hip motion from a standstill position. Players attempting to play defense, transition back the opposite way, and attempting to dunk, all place a great degree of stress through these muscles. If a hamstring strain occurs, the injured individual enters a tough-to-balance cycle that can easily lead to a nagging or chronic injury.

Additionally, strains in the lower extremity can create muscle imbalances, increasing the likelihood of another leg muscle becoming strained. For example, following a hamstring strain, a player's calf and Achilles can become vulnerable to injury. While the injuries may have occurred at different times, it is likely the first injury disrupted the kinetic chain of his involved leg and contributed to the new injury.

For this reason, it's important to consider a player's injury history on draft day to avoid players with an elevated level of risk.

Concussions

The concussion rate in the NBA is drastically lower than in the NFL or NHL but the worrisome head injury does occur. These brain injuries often vary widely from player to player with multiple possible symptoms.

However, once a player has been diagnosed with a concussion they are entered into a multi-faceted return to play protocol mandated by the NBA. The protocol includes a gradual return to play following completion of a neurocognitive exam. Once their scores return to a baseline established prior to the start of the season, players must remain asymptomatic at rest and with exertion.

A recurrence of any concussion-related symptoms at any point suspends the athlete's progression and forces them to restart the protocol from their previously passed level. Once the team's medical personnel has cleared the individual, the director of the NBA league's concussion program is consulted and decides if a player will return to play. This complex process rightfully requires time, and it's rare for a concussed player not to miss at least a game while two while recovering.

Advice For Betting on NBA Games

Three basic terms to know here are: Point Spread, Money Line, and Over/Under. For example, the oddsmakers feel that the Los Angeles Lakers, playing at home, are 2.5 points better than the Boston Celtics. Placing money on the Lakers point spread would result in them having to win the game by 3 points or more (which, in turn, would cover the 2.5-point spread).

The Money Line is the most straightforward bet to make. Simply put, you are picking which team will win, regardless of the total score. Teams favored to win have worse odds to return you money, which is why handicappers are always looking for value plays. These value plays are become evident if you gather enough information and pay close enough attention.

Use your own judgement to determine how much better you think Team A is better than Team B. Grab a schedule, without odds, and choose a number which reflects your knowledge and feelings about the game. Many factors could impact your own line including injuries, schedule, back-to-backs, who's on a hot streak and who is in a shooting slump. Just pick a number.

I think the Lakers are 5 points better than the Wizards

Then, check the odds board. If that number is within a respectable ballpark of your number, start diving into the info. If the number is wildly off, let's say by five or more points, you likely have found one of the bets you want to play. The reasoning here is based on the tremendous amount of algorithmic factors that oddsmakers have at their disposal. If the line on the odds board reads Los Angeles Lakers (-12.5), you take the Wizards with the points, since your mind is telling you that the Wizards are far better than requiring 12.5 points to beat the Los Angeles Lakers.

The over/under, however, is never all that tricky. Take a quick look at some metrics like offensive and defensive ratings for each team, in combination with the schedule over the past week, and you can usually come to a rather quick decision. Are the Jazz and Grizzlies matching up on the second night of a back-to-back? Strongly think about taking the under. If the line is playing games with you, don't overthink it. Take a peek at the total, and if it is enticing, bet it instead of the line you can't seem to shake.