NBA season is upon us at last, and we have some massive prize pools on DraftKings and FanDuel for opening day. Although we only have a two-game slate and the more exciting full-slate action will go down on Wednesday, these prize pools are gigantic. We’ve got a $250,000 up top big GPP on DraftKings, and on FanDuel, we’re looking at $200,000 to first in their large-field offering. Yahoo generally has smaller prize pools but offers a large contest by their standards with $25,000 to first and $50,000 guaranteed overlay. This is a slate where you will definitely want to get in on the action. I’m going to delve into some general information on what is most important to consider in NBA DFS and how to win in large-field tournaments.
The most important considerations when deciding on what players to roster in NBA DFS contests are minutes, usage, pace-of-play, and of course, the effectiveness of the players involved independent of such factors. Of course, James Harden and Andrew Wiggins are different players with different overall abilities. You would take Harden nine if not ten times out of ten. However, different players come at different salaries to account for their overall talent. You are trying to establish value and why one player is preferable over another in a similar salary range on any given slate.
Minutes are king in NBA DFS. If you aren’t on the court, you can’t produce. Establishing how many minutes a player will play is crucial to creating an accurate fantasy point projection. There are many available NBA stat resources for establishing average minutes per game for players. Any available projection system, of which there are many, considers an estimated minutes projection for each player. A difference of two to three minutes could be crucial in deciding between player A and player B. You can gain an edge over your opponent if you have a more accurate minutes estimate.
Usage is an equally important factor. It doesn’t matter if P.J. Tucker is on the court for 40 minutes. He just doesn’t take much part in the offense when he is on the court. In contrast, a player such as Chris Boucher can put up 40 fantasy points in 20 minutes. Ideally, what we are looking for in our fantasy players is those who have high usage rates on their teams and play significant minutes. A great example of usage is to look at what we might expect with the Lakers this year, with LeBron, Westbrook, and AD all on the same team. Or what we would have in Brooklyn with Harden, KD, and Kyrie if Kyrie were willing to play basketball for Brooklyn rather than prioritizing other considerations. Since you have multiple star players competing for the ball, none of them are likely to get the usage you would get with, for instance, Steph Curry. He is the only true offensive alpha on the current Golden State active roster. He will therefore have a very high usage rate, barring an unexpected situation.
Pace Of Play
You are also going to look for the projected pace of play for the game environment at hand. The number of projected possessions for each team will dramatically impact the potential for production for the individual players on the teams. If you have two slow-paced teams, there will be fewer opportunities for production for both. There will simply be fewer possessions and vice versa. You generally want to target players with game environments that will lead to a lot of scoring opportunities.
Any of the significant fantasy point projection systems throughout the industry will consider all of the above factors to come up with a median fantasy point outcome for the players. You can sit there poring over all of these statistics yourself to create your own projections or approximate value to put on different players. Yet, projection systems exist that will do the majority of this for you, if not all. It is essential particularly for NBA to have accurate projections. It is not an “event-based” sport, meaning more minor variance in how scoring occurs. There can’t be a sudden home run or touchdown that accounts for most of a player’s fantasy production. Therefore, it is easier to come up with more accurate projections. If you don’t have them, you will be playing with a significant disadvantage.
You will undoubtedly want to consider more specific things, such as the overall defensive matchup in terms of the team’s defensive prowess a player is facing. Individual offensive/defensive matchups to the extent that they exist depending on how two teams project to play each other can also be considered. However, I can’t stress enough that the majority, if not all, of this, will be “baked in” to any effective projection system. You might be wasting time and “double-counting” factors that are already factored into the projections you are looking at.
We all know what players are good in the NBA if we follow the league for a while. The key is to differentiate between the best plays based on their salary on that given day to gain some edge over our opponents with our player selection. The pace of the game environment is a big one since minutes and usage may be pretty fixed for each player. However, even ancillary players missing games can sway another player’s usage and minutes even just enough from the norm to be a significant factor. Blowouts can also substantially impact a player’s minutes and could be the difference between someone like Giannis playing 34 minutes or 28. This could mean a 10-15 fantasy point swing for a player with his production level while on the court. NBA is a game of subtleties. We need to look for any slight edge in finding the players who will gain boosts in minutes and usage due to factors that our opponents may not consider.
Stay tuned for part two of this article, where I will take a deeper dive into tournament game theory for winning in big NBA GPPs.