3 Contrarian Tips to Winning Big in Daily Fantasy Basketball

by Kevin Roberts
on December 5, 2017

The road less traveled is usually the one with all of the money. That’s at least typically the case in daily fantasy sports, where the players you never saw coming tend to go nuts and carry someone else to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

To get there yourself, it’s key to embrace the “contrarian” strategy, which suggests that you go against the grain in various aspects. The point is to differentiate your DFS lineup so that when it’s all said and done, you’re the one at the top.

This is logic you can and should apply to all daily fantasy sports, but in daily fantasy basketball, in particular, being contrarian can often yield winning results.

That doesn’t mean going chalk in some spots isn’t necessary. It’s a song and dance to figure out when and where to eat the chalk and when to be ultra contrarian. When you do plan on incorporating a contrarian approach to your lineup build, consider these three tips before finalizing your roster:

Create, Rinse, Repeat

One huge problem people run into when building their daily fantasy basketball roster is they get too caught up in their first instincts.

Injury news often trickles in throughout the day, so it only makes sense that locking into the first team you build isn’t exactly the best move. At some point, a player injury is going to either rock your lineup as it stands or open up value elsewhere that you potentially can’t afford to ignore.

Regardless of how the day unfolds, I think it’s highly beneficial to create multiple lineups before you ever decide which ones you plan on using.

That doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of cash and enter multiple entries. Instead, use lineup building tools at sites like Fantasy Labs or Roto Grinders (or paper and pen) and jot down the lineups you create.

Start by first creating your favorite team based off of initial instinct. Then try creating a second alternative team without using any of the same players.

Go back to the first team and create a similar lineup with your favorite studs in place as your core plays and just replace the value picks and see where that gets you. Do the same with the second team you made and then go create a brand new third team that again includes none of the players you have previously used.

This can’t account for every possible lineup, but it does open your mind to what you perceive to be your favorite plays and ultimately your favorite lineup. You can then compare every lineup you’ve built based off of projections and begin to gauge which is truly the best lineup for any given slate.

The bottom line is that when you go through a daily fantasy basketball roster construction the first time, you’re creating bias whether you realize it or not. This process can expand as you deem fit, but ultimately it broadens your DFS horizons and makes you think a little outside of the box.

Think about it. If you only always use the first lineup you build and always go off of your initial gut/favorite plays and you don’t win, it might make sense to change things up a bit, right?

With this process, you don’t necessarily always have to bail on the first team you came up with, but you can start to see what other options are out there and hopefully work your way to the perfect combination of players to create a winning team.

Target Bad Matchups and Prices

Before you’re finishing with your lineup building process, you’re going to want to think about why other DFS gamers don’t want to use specific players. You’ll then want to decide whether or not going against the grain makes sense.

Here are the three aspects to consider:

  • Negative Game Environments
  • Poor Player Matchups
  • Bad Salary Prices

It’s funny how sometimes you can read up on NBA DFS strategy and experts will say “you’re doing it wrong” if you’re targeting games with low Totals, slow paces or large point spreads.

You always want to pay attention to Vegas when mapping your way through an NBA DFS slate, but you also don’t want to let it restrict you completely.

The books are wrong sometimes and quite often, so are the experts. It’s crazy how often the winning GPP team has players from games that were supposed to be terrible for daily fantasy basketball.

The point here isn’t to just always go blindly against what tends to work in daily fantasy basketball but consider that there could be a game or two that Vegas hasn’t pegged correctly.

Maybe there is a spread you balk at, a game you think will have a much higher Total or a matchup with a slow pace that otherwise looks attractive.

Perhaps there’s actually no real logic behind it. Sometimes just stacking a bad game that you’re sure nobody else will be on is worth it, because if it hits, you’re the only one with serious exposure to those players.

The other way to look at this strategy is to not be scared off of elite options just because of their matchup.

If LeBron James is facing the San Antonio Spurs defense with a healthy Kawhi Leonard starting, a lot of DFS gamers will shy away from him due to a bad matchup on paper.

It’s true the matchup isn’t ideal, but what if Leonard doesn’t contain James and he has a great game? Suddenly you’re getting access to King James at reduced ownership and it could give you a huge advantage.

Another thing is using talented players that had bloated price tags. Considering most NBA DFS contests are done in a salary cap world, your competition has to abide by the same salary cap restrictions you do and often they’re not going to want to waste money on inflated options.

Value is always in the eye of the beholder, but in daily fantasy basketball, it can be painful to pay a big price for a stud, only to watch them perform well below expectations. Taking on that risk can be tough, but it also can be rewarding if that player crushes value and is also low owned.

This type of thinking is always going to be a risky proposition, but it’s a contrarian strategy that many people do use to take down big GPPs. Overall, the timing and execution is the thing you’ll need to work at mastering.

Pivot Off the Chalk

This is easily the most popular contrarian strategy, but it’s a little more pronounced than just using players you don’t think other people will be rostering.

Simply being contrarian is rostering players that you feel will be low owned. By pivoting off of sure-fire chalk (players everyone will be on), you’re not just being contrarian, but you’re fading potentially elite studs or value picks and using an alternative option.

On a random day, using a player from a less than ideal game or targeting a player that is not deemed elite at a loaded position might be considered contrarian.

Pivoting off of chalk takes this strategy to a whole new level, however.

If Anthony Davis is out for a game, DeMarcus Cousins is going to garner massive usage for the New Orleans Pelicans and in turn, his upside will demand extremely high ownership in NBA DFS leagues.

Boogie might be a terrific play, but what if you don’t love his matchup? What if you like a center just as much or more, and you can get them cheaper? What if you like the value at center and feel like a different chalk player is more important?

Your reasoning can change, but the point here is you can fade a guy like Boogie who might get 35% or more ownership in tournaments. If he doesn’t pan out like everyone had hoped and your pivot pick does work out, you could gain a massive edge on the entire GPP field.

Daily fantasy basketball tasks you with tough decisions, salary cap roster creation and harsh stands every single time you create your team. If you can find value without sacrificing points, why wouldn’t you?

Cash games and GPP tournaments are obviously different in this case. Usually in cash games, fading that obvious chalk could be asking for serious trouble. However, in large field GPPs, fading that chalk play is almost the way to go if you want to gain a massive edge.

While you always want to look for logical ways to separate yourself from the pack, anything you do in daily fantasy basketball should still be done for a reason.

If you’re playing a small slate and there are three good games and the fourth is a slow-paced battle between the Grizzlies and Jazz, it might make sense to stack that game and hope that it flips the script and delivers you a huge win.

Doing that every night, on every slate, is ill-advised of course, as the chalk will also have its say, more often than not.

Ultimately, contrarian strategies are there for a reason.

You do want to go against simply doing what everyone else is doing each time out, but you still want to stick to logic and data when making most of your decisions.

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