How to Get Started With Daily Fantasy Basketball
Daily fantasy basketball has a lot of similarities with season-long fantasy basketball. If you've entered season-long contests before, then you should have no problem picking up the daily version of the hobby. In some ways, however, it's an entirely new and different game.
One of the main perks of daily fantasy contests is that they require much less commitment and time than a season-long league. Another perk is the amount of money you can win in such a short period of time. They are also readily available, as there are plenty of easy to join daily fantasy sites where you can choose from a large selection of different contests.
The aim of this page is to offer advice for getting started. We do that by explaining how these daily contests work, and looking at the differences between them and the season-long version. We also offer some strategy tips for beginners.
Scoring Points in Daily Fantasy Basketball
The first goal is to learn how points are scored in daily fantasy basketball. In this respect, it closely resembles the season-long version of the sport. Different sites have different scoring structures, but they all share similarities. When you approach any game, the first piece of data you need is how to win—in fantasy basketball, players win by scoring more points than their opponents.
As in other fantasy sports, points are tied directly to your players' performance each week. In daily fantasy basketball, the players on the court score points for just about everything they do—this includes scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers.
We'll get into more detail about it later, but one of the crucial aspects of effective strategy in this hobby is chasing minutes. Since players make points for almost everything they do, getting players in the lineup who spend a lot of time on the court makes a big difference in the final score of every contest.
You'll want to check the exact scoring structure at whichever site(s) you decide to play at, but here are a couple of examples from two major sites.
- Each point scored by a player is worth 1 point.
- Each 3 point shot gets a 1.5 point bonus.
- A rebound is worth 1.25 points.
- An assist is worth 1.5 points.
- A steal is worth 2 points.
- A block is worth 2 points.
- A turnover is worth -0.5 points.
- A double-double score 1.5 points.
- A triple-double scores 3 points.
- A 3 point field goal is worth 3 points.
- A 2 point field goal is worth 2 points.
- A free throw is worth 1 point.
- Rebounds are worth 1.2 points.
- Assists are worth +1.5 points.
- Blocks and steals are both worth 2 points.
- Turnovers are -1 point.
Other sites might have slightly different rules for scoring, but they mostly share the same principles. No matter where you play, please familiarize yourself with the scoring rules before playing as that will affect your drafting and lineup strategy.
Lineups & Salary Caps
In most season-long fantasy sports, participants attend a draft at the beginning of the season. The managers select players when it's their turn in the draft, and once a player is chosen, he's removed from the pool of available players. Since the point of daily fantasy basketball is speed, that aspect of the game changes. You can draft the same players as your opponent.
In fact, you might even have the same lineup as your opponent.
Smart players might think that a lot of people would just choose all of the best players each week, so you'd have a lot of ties. But that's where the salary cap comes in. To make things interesting, you're given an in-game budget—a salary cap—with which to draft players.
The site assigns a salary to each player based on their performance in previous games and their projected performance in the upcoming games. Your goal is to get the most production for your money. That's called finding value, and we’ll discuss that more in the next section.
Understand that your salary cap doesn't represent real money in any way. It's like Monopoly money—it's an in-game limitation to make the game interesting. So no matter what the buy-in for the contest is, you get the same salary cap as your opponent. You can't pay extra real money in order to get more salary money.
The amount of money you get for your team varies based on site, although somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 is common. The sites also have different rules for how many players you can draft and at which positions. Here's an example of what your roster must consist of at one site.
Here's another example, from a different site.
As usual, other sites will have different lineups available, based on their own scoring rules. But they're all pretty similar.
Players win at daily fantasy basketball by finding value. In a season-long league, you do this by drafting players who should have been drafted earlier but were neglected. In a daily contest, you do this by drafting players who are going to score more points relative to how much of your salary cap you have to spend on them.
Daily fantasy basketball players measure value in terms of how much each point costs. You can calculate this for each player, but you can also calculate it for the entire team in aggregate. Most players calculate this twice—once when they're projecting their team's points for the week, and again when they're looking at the actual results.
For example, if a fantasy basketball team scores 100 points on a $50,000 salary cap, you spent $50,000/100, or $500 per point. If your opponent scores 200 points on the same salary cap, he only spent $250 per point. When thinking about who to draft, how many points you project that the player is going to score compared to his salary is the critical element in that decision-making process.
Here's an example.
- You really like Russell Westbrook, and want to draft him for your team.
- You project that he's going to score 60 points, and his salary is $12,000.
- You're paying $200 per point for that player.
- You also like Brook Lopez.
- You project that he's going to score 50 points, and his salary is only $8000.
- You're only paying $160 per points for him, so he represents a better value.
Why wouldn't you just draft the player who's projected to score the most points in each position? The problem is that you can't—you don't have enough money to do that. In the above example, Russell Westbrook is eating up almost 25% of the budget, but he's only 12.5% of your team. You still have to budget for the other 8 players.
How does one project points for players? How does one find value? Figuring out the answers to those questions is the whole point of the game. Let's take a look at some of the ways you can do this.
One of the obvious methods is to follow basketball in real life. Watch the games. Know how well each team is expected to do against their opponents.
Chances are, you're a fan of basketball already—if not, why get started in this hobby? But if you're not a fan now, or if you're only a casual fan, you'll find that playing daily fantasy basketball is a great way to get more interested in the actual games. You'll naturally become more mindful of what's happening in the sport.
Another important piece of the "finding value" equation is watching the lines that the Las Vegas sportsbooks are setting on the games. The're the pros. They're better at handicapping games and projecting scores than anyone else. Use their skills to inform your own decisions.
A lot of players keep spreadsheets to track their projections for their players. They include a column for the $/point cost of each player and for the team overall. After the game, they analyze how well their players and their team did relative to their projections.
Tracking these details will make you a better informed player. We only improve at skills we practice, but we also only improve when we track and measure performance. Want to get good at projecting scores? Track your results.
You also want to look at the results on the site where you're playing. You can get a good idea of what kind of average score you have to put up in order to win the various contests available. That can inform your decisions, too—it will help you decide which contests to enter. It will also help you set a target score for your team.
Suppose you draft a team that you project is going to make 200 points, and they only make 140 points. Then you enter another contest, and you project 200 points for this new lineup, and they also only make 140 points. Finally, you enter a contest and project 200 points for a lineup, and you get a lot closer—180 points.
Seeing that in black and white can be motivating. But you can also look at individual players on each of your lineups and see where your thought process is going wrong.
Keep in mind, though, that projecting player scores isn't an exact science, anyway. The best handicappers in the world are still wrong almost half the time. But that extra 5% to 10% of the time that they're right makes all the difference in the world to how much money they make.
Freerolls & Low Buy-In Contests
We always suggest that beginners get started with freerolls. These are contests that offer cash prizes but have no entry fee. Most major sites offer freerolls to new players and as rewards to players who bring a lot of action to the table. Taking advantage of these is a risk-free way to learn how to play.
Find contests with low buy-ins, too. We've played in many daily fantasy basketball contests which only had a $1 entry fee. With an entry fee that low, you can experiment with a lot of different lineup strategies without taking on a lot of risk. Winning a few of these free and low-stakes contests is also a great confidence builder.
Don't stay away from the higher buy-in contests if you're already confident and eager to get some money into action. You might get lucky and do really well from the beginning. A lot of it depends on your tolerance for risk.
Daily Fantasy Basketball Contest Types
All daily fantasy sports contests can be categorized as cash games or tournaments. The terminology comes from the world of poker, but there are clear differences. Your goals will determine which contests you enter.
Cash games include head-to-head contests and 50/50 tournaments. These are also sometimes called "double-ups". That's something of a misnomer, as you don't really double your money when winning one of these. Here's a quick rundown of how they work.
- You enter a contest with another player (or multiple other players).
- Assuming that everyone is average, you'll win 50% of the time.
- The prize for winning comes from the losing players.
- The site takes a commission from the entry fees.
Here's a simple example of a head-to-head contest and how it pays out.
- You play a contest with one other player
- The entry fee is $1.
- Total of entry fees is $2.
- The prize pool is $1.80.
- If you win, you ALMOST double your money.
- The other 20 is the site's commission for hosting the contest.
In a 50/50 contest, you might be in a contest with 100 players. The players with scores landing in the top 50% win the money from the players in the bottom 50%, less the commission. So if you pay $1 to enter, so do all of your opponents. That means there's $100 in the pot. The site pays the top 50 players $1.80 each, for a total payout of $90.
For players who aspire to make a living at this hobby, cash games are their bread and butter. These would-be professionals are counting on their skills at finding value being better than their opponents'.
It's harder than one might think to make a profit with these games, though. The commission means that you have to win 55.56% of the time just to break even. Every 1% added to your win rate increases your ROI (return on investment).
Professional daily fantasy sports players look at these cash games as an investment with a positive ROI. They grind out small wins over the course of a season. They rely on compound interest to grow their bankroll to a point where they're making a lot of money.
But almost all players also take advantage of the other type of contests available—tournaments.
In tournaments, multiple players enter, but only the top 10% or 20% (or some other arbitrary number) get paid. You might spend $5 to enter a tournament with a large playing field of 1,000 players. You have the opportunity in that situation to win as much as $1,000 or $750 on that $5 buy-in.
The best kinds of tournaments to enter are those with guaranteed prize pools (GPPs). Most tournaments base their prize pool on the number of entrants multiplied by the entry fee. For example, if 1,000 people pay $5 to enter a contest, the prize pool is $5,000 less the site's commission, or $4,500.
But in a tournament with a guaranteed prize pool, that prize amount is guaranteed even if too few players sign up. The website puts up the additional money for the prize pool. In the above example, if only 800 people buy in to the contest with the guaranteed prize pool, you're basically playing for dead money. It's like having 200 extra people sign up for the contest, all of whom score 0.
A guaranteed prize pool tournament with too few players is called an overlay situation. Your goal should be to get involved in overlays every chance you get.
The Importance of Chasing Minutes
During a basketball game, only 5 people from a team are on the court at any given time. Every time someone has possession, they almost always score something. The only hope of scoring a lot of points is to put players on the roster who are going to spend a lot of time on the court.
If you follow the Vegas lines as we recommended earlier, you can look for games that are expected to be close. Combine this with teams who don't have a lot of players. In fact, if you can get starting players from teams that only have 8 or 9 available players, you can do very well. Injuries make a lot of players unavailable for certain teams in certain games, so targeting those teams helps line up players who will almost certainly get a lot of time on the court.
Daily fantasy basketball is an exciting and fun way to enjoy the sport of basketball as more of a participant than other spectators. You can also win money at it. Getting started involves learning the scoring system and projecting value for the players you line up.
Chasing minutes is the best strategy for daily fantasy basketball players. Since almost every possession results in a scoring opportunity, making sure that your players get a lot of playing time is a key to success.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: October 2015
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