All-Star Analysts

Beginner’s guide to fantasy basketball

Published September 26, 2021, 2:00 PMMiguel Flores, Isaac Go

New to fantasy basketball? NBA.com Philippines All-Star Analyst Isaac Go and writer Migs Flores answer some Frequently Asked Questions that can help you ace your fantasy league!

Were you roped into joining a fantasy basketball league last year by a group of friends? Did you finish at the bottom of the league because you, understandably, had no idea what was going on in the draft and during the season? Did you still enjoy the experience, but want to actually win this year?

If you answer yes to any of those questions or you're getting roped into your first fantasy league this year, this article is for you. NBA.com Philippines’ Isaac Go and Migs Flores were once padawans and are now Jedis of the hobby. They looked inward and asked questions that would have been helpful to know the answers to when they first started playing fantasy basketball.

The following are some Frequently Asked Questions for fantasy basketball, mainly for nine-category (Field Goal Percentage, Free Throw Percentage, 3-pointers Made, Points, Rebounds, Assists, Steals, Blocks, Turnovers) Head-to-Head leagues that start with a snake draft with 10 to 14 owners. These are the most common fantasy league stipulations. If you're playing in a points league, you might want to consider shifting to a category league.

Why should I even play fantasy?

Isaac: It’s a new way to get to know the game, the players, and the teams. When you become a fan of a sport, you tend to start with your favorite team or player. By playing fantasy, you're incentivized to watch other players and teams that you wouldn't normally follow. By the end of a fantasy season, you're definitely going to have a better appreciation for basketball and the NBA.

What's the difference between Head-to-Head and Roto?

Migs: Head-to-Head is the more casual format while Roto is definitely much more competitive and punishing. In Head-to-Head formats, you compete against just one owner every week to improve your record and qualify for the playoffs.

In Roto, owners are ranked on a day-to-day basis against the entire field. For each category, teams are ranked from highest to lowest, earning points for higher rankings. You don't just get to keep your points, you have to maintain your place until the end of the season. There are no playoffs in Roto. The team with the most points in the table wins the title.

There are plenty of strategies you cannot employ in Roto that you can get away with in Head-to-Head. In general, it's much more advisable to get a hang of how fantasy works in Head-to-Head leagues before diving into Roto.

How differently should I judge players in fantasy compared to real basketball?

Isaac: I think there are players that fit the fantasy mold, but for health reasons, you cannot rely on them often. Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis are two examples because of their injury issues. They can put up monster stat lines on a nightly basis, but with their history of missing games, it is difficult to rely on them as your number 1 or 2 option. Getting them later in the draft would be incredible value. 

There are also players like Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Russell Westbrook of the past, who can produce monster stat lines on any given night, but don’t really impact winning as much as the stats say. Players who are great because of their intangibles don't always have high fantasy value. This is more for veterans like Marc Gasol and Udonis Haslem or defensive specialists like Andre Roberson, Lu Dort and Steven Adams. 

Migs: In fantasy, especially in category leagues, you have to look at players not just for the stats they can help you win, but also the stats they will certainly lose for you.

The prime example of this is Russell Westbrook. In real basketball, he's at least a top 25 player in the league right now with his triple-double stat lines and how he imposes his will on a game. In fantasy, you have to consider all his cons. His 22.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 11.5 rebounds a game are great, but Brodie also averaged 4.8 turnovers with horrendous shooting splits at 65.6 percent from the free throw line and 43.9 percent from the field on very high volume last season. He's a massive help on points, rebounds, and assists, but he will often cause you to lose in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, and turnovers by himself. That's why he's currently ranked outside the top 100 in fantasy for nine-category leagues.

Other examples are high-volume, poor free throw shooters like Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Zion Williamson. These players can still be great assets for your fantasy, you just have to learn to draft around them.

What is a general strategy I can stick to for a draft?

Isaac: I would normally draft my first three rounds thinking mostly about value. These are going to be the building blocks of the team.

After this, there are two ways you can approach the rest of the draft: focusing on value or need. For example, you drafted Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis with your first two picks, then Nikola Vucevic, projected as a second rounder, is available in the third round. A person eyeing value would immediately pick Vucevic as they're potentially getting a player who can produce like a second-rounder in the third round. A person who prioritizes positional need would not take Vucevic and would take instead a Donovan Mitchell or Jrue Holiday, as they need guards to balance out the roster. I tend to stick with need unless there’s a player who slides considerably down the board and he was someone I was eyeing in the earlier rounds.

Lastly, for my last few picks, I take a gamble on players who I think might explode or have a big game here and there. However, you must be ready to move them if someone on the free agents list becomes hot. These are players that you normally won’t be attached to so they can be dropped in a moment's notice for that extra game or a player who was dropped by another team. 

Migs: I've found the most consistent way to not be last in fantasy leagues is to think first about which stats are scarce.

Depending on the era, different stats can become a premium. Steals and blocks have always been premium fantasy stats since very few players can get a lot of either, let alone both. Around the late 2000s to early 2010s, 3-pointers were just as scarce as steals and blocks (Broadcaster Rick Kamla, who was a lot of people's gateway to fantasy basketball, called 3s, steals, and blocks "fantasy gold"). Now, you can get solid 3-point shooters later on in the draft.

The past few years, assists and field goal percentage have been two of the hardest categories to win. There's a dearth of talent at the point guard position, but not a lot of them get assists like past traditional playmakers. Field goal percentage is a stat carried mostly by the center position. Due to the advent of the stretch big, centers' field goal percentages are down from what they're used to. Try to keep an eye on players that can help in either category as having a strong team on both assists and field goal percentage could be a massive boon in Head-to-Head this year.

How do waivers work?

Migs: The waiver wire is one of the biggest learning curves in fantasy for beginners, but it's actually quite simple.

When an owner releases one of their players, that player doesn't immediately become a free agent. He goes into waivers, a period (usually two days) in which other fantasy owners can put a claim on the player. If multiple owners claim a player, the player will go to the owner with higher priority.

To check your priority, look at the standings tab of your league and it should have a column for priority. An owner's priority is determined by which position they were in during the draft. If you pick first in the draft, you'll have the lowest priority to start the season and vice versa. When an owner successfully claims a contested player among multiple owners, that owner drops to the lowest priority. If only one owner claims a player, priority doesn't change. If no owner claims a waived player within the waiver period, the player becomes a free agent.

One important thing you have to remember with waivers is the time, specifically 4:00 PM (PHT). That's when most waiver claims end since Yahoo! Fantasy operates within the Pacific Standard Time Zone. So if ever you're thinking about claiming a player, do it before 4:00 PM of the final waiver date.

How important are positions?

Isaac: Players who have multiple positions can be played in more slots. LeBron James who’s listed as a PG, SG, SF, can be played in three positions, while a guy like Chris Paul can only be put at the PG slot. Paul has less flexibility in terms of the position he plays so sometimes you will lose games. 

I remember a time where I missed out on two games because all my PG’s didn’t have games my other players had. I was forced to leave my PG slot open and I lost potential stats. The utility slot helps grant this flexibility, but generally speaking, you would want players who play two positions and having a team that has a good balance with the number of players in each position so that you minimize your chance of missing games. 

Should I avoid rookies or injury-prone players?

Isaac: I tend to avoid rookies in the early or late stages of the draft. It is very difficult to judge what they’ll give once they make the jump to the pros so expect slow starts from them. More often than not, you’ll be able to pick them up from the waiver wire. Of course, there are some exceptions like LaMelo Ball and maybe Jalen Green and Cade Cunningham for this year’s draft, but I tend to avoid rookies and pick them up in the waiver wire.

Migs: Don't be too afraid to draft injury-prone players like Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, or Kyrie Irving in the early rounds. But if you do draft one of those players, make sure your other first to fourth round picks are very durable. Usually, taking a risk on one injury-prone player won't hurt too bad. But taking multiple in the early rounds is playing with fire. Durability has been called the 10th fantasy category for a good reason.

What other advice can you give fantasy beginners?

Isaac: You want to aim for players in teams that fight for playoff position. Teams that are typically in either the top or the bottom tend to rest their star players as the season progresses. You would want your star player to be playing during the fantasy playoff period, which is typically during the latter part of the regular season. 

Migs: Don't be afraid to trade! A lot of new owners are very risk averse. Remember: good trades should benefit both sides. You just have to find which categories you have an excess in and which categories you're lacking.

For example, you have Rudy Gobert, Myles Turner, and Nerlens Noel on your team, making you dominate the blocks category every week by a wide margin. Even if you win the category by 20 blocks per week, that still only counts for one won category. You can definitely consider finding an owner who needs blocks and ask for a player that contributes in 3-pointers or free throw percentage.

If you have an experienced commissioner, almost all fantasy trades are going to be fair, unlike real life. Other than that, do a bit of research before the draft (here's a free one for you: Klay Thompson won't be playing until January at the latest), and always tweak your lineups. It takes one push of a button on the Yahoo! app to set your lineup for the week.