With NFL season behind us, many DFS enthusiasts will want to keep the action alive. NFL football is by a considerable margin the most popular DFS sport, and many people play DFS during football season but opt-out or play sparingly for the rest of the year. Some may feel a bit unsure of how to tackle other sports.
In the immediate, apart from non-daily offerings like PGA and NASCAR, we’ve got NBA and NHL DFS. Both are extremely rewarding once you get the hang of it. Still, the GPP prize pools for NHL are so much smaller than NBA that NBA contests will appeal more to most users. Not to mention, of course, that the NBA is much more prevalent in the US than the NHL.
As you learn more and more about DFS, you quickly understand that some principles are consistent among DFS sports (this is why the top pros can, for the most part, succeed in any sport). Yet, there are huge differences depending on what sport you are playing. Concepts of weighing projection, ownership, and leverage are similar throughout sports. Of course, fitting as many projected fantasy points as you can into your lineup and staying under the salary cap is the primary objective regardless of sport. Yet, we have to take a unique approach to each sport.
Here I’m going to give you some tips for taking the NFL DFS mindset and understanding the differences between football and basketball as they apply to DFS. This way, you can adjust your thinking to the NBA DFS game and enjoy all it has to offer. I enjoy daily sports like NBA/NHL/MLB far more than NFL DFS. Many may agree if more people became accustomed to playing these daily DFS games.
Projections In NBA DFS
In almost, if not all, DFS sports, it is essential to have quality fantasy point projections. There are many publically available sources of pretty accurate player projections, and you don’t have to make your own here in 2022. If you are even remotely serious about playing NBA DFS, you need to get your hands on some quality projections. Otherwise, you are flying blind and have little chance to win in NBA DFS. Since the NBA is not an “event-driven” sport, player projections are generally more accurate and more important than in any other sport in DFS.
It is, in addition, crucial to consider ownership in GPPs. Reasonably accurate ownership projections available throughout the industry are generated using well-constructed algorithms. These can get very close to reflecting actual ownership in contests. You can also get a good feel for ownership yourself by playing DFS for a while. There is certainly a human element to how the field will gravitate with their DFS plays. Accurate player projections have to be generated using a mainly, if not entirely, statistical basis alone. On the other hand, ownership can be more fluid and at times gauged via experience and “gut.” Still, using publicly available ownership projections as the basis of one’s ownership-gauging process is highly advisable.
Player Projections In NBA DFS
As mentioned above, the NBA is not an event-driven sport. This is in sharp contrast to NFL. In NFL DFS, big plays resulting in touchdowns or huge yardage chunks make up a large percentage of fantasy scoring. One 80-yard pass to the house changes the entire complexion of the slate. This makes it difficult to project accurately due to the wide range of outcomes surrounding any median projection.
Basketball is entirely different since there is no way for a player to suddenly gain many fantasy points in one play. Fantasy points are gradually accrued little by little through baskets, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocks.
This makes NBA highly predictable, and player projections are crucial for this reason. Using player minutes estimations, usage rates, pace-of-play, defensive matchups, and Vegas totals, one can quite accurately project a player’s median. Using a quality set of projections as your basis when making NBA DFS lineups is all but necessary.
Due to the nature of NBA scoring, there are times that certain players offer a level of value that is extremely high based on their price. Take a backup point guard starting at close to or minimum price on DraftKings or FanDuel. They go from playing, say 20 minutes, to 32. By mere virtue of being on the court, they are highly likely to exceed value by a considerable margin.
This is a bit different in the NFL. Yes, of course, a backup running back, for instance, at close to or minimum price, is a great play and highly likely to succeed. Yet, it is far less of a “sure thing.” He can get entirely stuffed by the opposing run defense and fail to reach the endzone, and put up a paltry fantasy score. This is extremely unlikely to happen in basketball. A starting point guard or center who will be getting minutes at a meager price is quite unlikely to fail by the mere virtue of being on the court.
For this reason, you really need to take projections seriously in NBA. Suppose a player projects fantastically on a points-per-dollar basis in one or more quality projection systems. In that case, they are likely someone you will want a lot of exposure to in your lineups. There isn’t as much leeway to “fade” players based on gut. Scoring is far more predictable.
Ownership Projections In NBA DFS
As DFS players, we are conditioned to heavily consider player ownership as part of our strategy in GPPs. If you are all playing the same players, you all earn the same fantasy points. This is not the way to win tournaments, as you need to beat your opponents.
Ownership is essential in tournaments for NBA, just as it is in every other DFS sport. Yet, we need to look at it a little bit differently regarding basketball.
As stated previously, player projections are generally highly accurate. Extreme values present themselves due to players being out and backups getting significant minutes at meager salaries. There are times that players are incredibly high-owned, even 60+%. Yet, they are actually under-owned based on their probability of success, believe it or not.
There is a tendency when coming from NFL DFS to look at ownership and gaining leverage on the field in a very black and white manner. One might think it is as simple as avoiding higher-owned plays and opting for sleeper picks in exchange. In more unpredictable sports, when you see what would appear to be unreasonable ownership on a player, it can be a red flag to fade them or, at minimum, stay under the field. A player’s median projection in the NFL is far more fragile. Even what seems to be an extreme smash play can quickly fail.
Since this is not the case in the NBA, we need to see ownership differently and identify if it is efficient regardless of how high. We can gain an advantage over our opponents by going over or under the field only if we genuinely identify efficient ownership.
A good rule of thumb involves an extreme value play presenting itself due to an extenuating circumstance. Such as the backup point guard suddenly stepping into a starting role at near min-price. In these types of instances, you may well actually want to be over the field regardless of how high ownership creeps. These are total smash plays.
There are some places where you will want to consider being over or under the field. Sometimes there is not a ton of value on a slate, and a decent but not fantastic value play is getting a ton of ownership due to sheer lack of options. This may be a time to go under the field. Another example is when it comes to higher-priced players like the Luka Doncic/Joel Embiid type of guys. Some will project higher than others on each given slate due to a combination of factors. Still, all of these “stud” players have similar ceilings. If one will be 30+% owned while another is sub 15%-owned, it may be wise to go over the field on the lower-owned guy and vice versa. This can also lead to unusual constructions regarding where you are paying up positionally, yielding additional benefit in large-field tourneys.
Stay tuned for part two of this two-part article, where I will discuss the differences in how to approach correlation in NBA DFS in comparison to NFL DFS.