In the first half of this article, I discussed the most critical factors for establishing the “best plays” on an NBA slate, step one to playing NBA DFS. Yet, there is a lot more to think about when trying to take down first place in large field NBA DFS tournaments. You can play the best plays all you want, and all you will have is a double-up/50-50 lineup that is all but entirely dead in GPPs. You need to find ways to get different from your opponents and gain leverage against the field. Especially considering how sharp the field has become with all of the great NBA DFS resources that are at our fingertips in 2021. I’m going to discuss the four most important factors for constructing winning NBA GPP lineups.
Creating A High-Projected Lineup
The first factor harkens back to part one of this article and the basic fact that NBA projections throughout the industry are highly sophisticated in this day and age. Since most of our opponents have access to them, it is relatively easy to create a lineup with a high projected fantasy score. Yet, as stated above, simply making the highest projected lineup will generally not offer us the leverage needed to take down first place in large tournaments.
An NBA DFS tournament player needs to balance creating a lineup with a high enough projection that is still unique enough to win a tournament. Sometimes, in the effort to get “different,” almost just for the sake of it, GPP players make the mistake of sacrificing too much projection for low ownership and leverage. Make sure your lineups have a high enough median projection to have a legitimate chance at winning the tournament while still considering the need to be unique.
Factoring In Ownership
Possibly the most important thing throughout all sports in terms of effective DFS tournament play is to accurately gauge ownership and play around it accordingly. Fortunately, we have various highly accurate ownership projections available throughout the industry. One can also aggregate them into one, and there are even resources that do this for us. We can also gauge ownership in our own right based on our own feel-based approach or develop our own precise algorithms to do so.
Ultimately, the players we play do not exist in a vacuum, and the ownership of the field drastically impacts their expected value as part of our GPP lineups. This is a very complex subject and one that would require immense detail to dig into fully.
For a simple example, let’s just say that Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokíc are both on a slate, at around the same price. Perhaps due to their respective matchups, Embiid is projected for an aggregate of four fewer DFS points than Jokíc across various industry projection systems. Due to this and general public sentiment regarding the matchup, perhaps Embiid is projected for 7% ownership and Jokíc for 28%. Consider the incredible relative value you get by rostering Embiid in the case if he does outscore Jokíc, which is well within the realm of possibility.
A projection is fragile no matter how good it may be and only represents a projected median outcome. Yet, much of the field will treat projections as a pure prediction of the result. We can gain a massive edge over our opponents by recognizing the fragility of projections and opting for lower-owned plays within a similar range of outcomes to gain relative value.
Gaining Direct Leverage
To a degree, considering player ownership when making our roster decisions is a means of gaining leverage against the field. There are, however, more direct considerations we can make when looking for leverage.
The aforementioned example regarding Embiid and Jokíc is not a bad one considering that they both play the same position and thus fit into the same positional eligibility slot in your lineups. If one outscores the other, you are gaining not only more points from that player but also in that particular roster spot (excluding if you played them in your flex spot on DraftKings).
Another great example would be leveraging where you spend your salary in terms of positional eligibility against the field. Say, for instance, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard are both very popular plays on a slate at the point guard spot due to inefficient pricing and/or respective great matchups. Then let’s say that we have some underpriced center value due to injuries or other factors, and the high-priced centers are in bad matchups. This could lead to a situation where Westbrook/Lillard are 30+% owned, and a cheap center value play is also chalky in turn. At the same time, the Embiid and Jokíc type plays could be sub-10% owned. Say you flip the script and play a cheap point guard and expensive center. If the chalky players at both positions fail and your guys go off, you gain massive relative value against the field with entirely different roster construction.
This is just one example, but you want to look at how you can gain extreme leverage against your opponents outside of simply playing lower-owned plays or avoiding chalk. There are ways to take it to the next level.
Correlation is very important in certain DFS sports to varying degrees. If you play MLB DFS, you realize that stacking multiple batters from the same team has value since if a team goes off for 10 runs, many players will benefit. In NFL, you have the obvious fact that, of course, a quarterback and a wide receiver would both benefit each time a pass is completed or a passing touchdown is scored between them. In NHL, we have the correlation of skaters that skate together, being that when goals are scored, one or more of those skaters are likely to get assists.
NBA is actually far less correlated. It is, in fact, more important to look for where to avoid negative correlation versus considering positive. For instance, you generally wouldn’t want to roster two players that directly compete for minutes in the same lineup. A prime example would be a center and backup center. You would also tend to avoid playing two high-priced studs from the same team in one lineup, such as playing LeBron and Anthony Davis together. You are paying so much for them that you need a ceiling game to pay off their price tags, and it is unlikely that both will get there in the same game. You might also look to avoid players on opposing teams that may negatively correlate. A good example would be two centers against each other, considering that they are both competing for rebounds. Also, if one gets in foul trouble, that would likely be at the hands of the other.
Of course, you have the basic correlation that if someone scores a basket, a teammate may get an assist. Yet, this is not a very actionable correlation in NBA DFS. For the most part, every player on the same team is only cannibalizing every other player’s production. If one player has the ball and scores, another player can’t. If one player grabs a rebound, another player doesn’t get it. Generally, incredible NBA ceiling DFS performances come from the situations where a player gets a massive amount of usage, meaning other players aren’t getting it.
One place where you can look for positive correlation is in the overall game environment. If the game projects to be fast-paced and or features sub-par defenses, you may want to look at playing one or more players from both sides due to anticipating a high-scoring shootout. An added benefit of “game-stacking” as such is if overtime was to occur. You may then gain a sizeable advantage by having multiple players from that game.
You also benefit from this approach in that you are trying to find a game that is likely to achieve a tournament-winning ceiling. If a game is a blowout, players may not get a full allotment of minutes. If a game is generally slow-paced, players aren’t going to get as many scoring opportunities. It could be unlikely that player A from a team reaches his ceiling without a game environment in which player B from the other team does as well. There are undoubtedly correlative factors in NBA DFS, but it is quite a bit different than how we look at correlation in certain other sports.
Consider all of the above in conjunction with the basics for picking players in NBA DFS that I outlined in part one of this article, and you should be well on your way in NBA DFS. Substantial prize pools await as we begin the 2021-2022 season. Let’s get this money!