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NBA Daily Games Strategy: The Best Fantasy Game

Renee Miller

Renee Miller

Neuroscientist at the University of Rochester and author of Cognitive Bias in Fantasy Sports: Is your brain sabotaging your team?. I cover daily fantasy basketball for RotoWire and write for RotoViz about fantasy football.

An Introduction

I think daily fantasy basketball is the best fantasy game there is. In the three years I've been playing, I haven't missed more than a day or two.

In this column, I'll be sharing some general daily NBA strategy. Trust me, now is the time to get in, or get better, because come January there will be a lot of new blood flowing through the daily NBA sites.

I'd guess about 90 percent of daily fantasy NBAers came over to daily games to get more action than their season-long leagues provide.

I, and the other 10 percent of daily fantasy NBAers, stumbled into daily NBA games in order to avoid going through withdrawal when the daily NFL season ended.

I'm a neuroscientist by training, so a lot of the fantasy sports analysis I do uses science and statistics to help overcome the inherent faultiness of our biased brains. Though it focuses more on football, my book Cognitive Bias in Fantasy Sports: Is your brain sabotaging your team?, goes into detail about many types of bias that can hack your logical decision making processes.

In it, I emphasize that once you know the tricks your brain is likely to play on you, you are less likely to fall for them, and therefore, you increase the chances of making the best decisions for fantasy. In many ways, DFS (daily fantasy sports) itself overcomes a lot of the biases regarding player valuation that plague our season-long teams. Due to its very nature, you donít have to form lasting commitments to any one set of players. Thereís no consternation over your second round pick being benched, or being unable to make a fair trade for a player who your leaguemate has strong emotional ties to. That doesnít mean you canít trip yourself up in DFS though. Iíve made mistakes both overthinking a player and not thinking enough about the statistics Iím using to guide my lineup decisions.

One example is in the DvP (defense vs position) statistics. I pay less attention to this in my seasonal league, unless it's one of those nights where everyone is playing, but when you can choose from 15-20 viable players at every position on a given night, you have to consider the matchup of which defense your players will be playing against. It's probably the No. 1 thing I consider, and yet, it can be so deceptive. This early in the season there just haven't been enough games. I mean, you know the Heat and the Pacers are legit defenses, but even they have been exploited on a given night, too.

For example, just Monday night, Goran Dragic nearly triple doubled with a 14/9/8 line against the Heat. He reached 3.44 times value (fantasy points divided by salary), more than worth it, yet was started in just 10 percent of usersí lineups. That low start number was almost certainly due to the Heat being in the top five of DvPG (defense versus point guards) statistics.

Being that we're only a month into the season, let's go ahead and ask:

How honest are the DvP statistics?

Look at what the average offensive rank of the point guards who have faced the Heat is. Three of the point guards the Heat have faced are in the top 10 amongst all guards (Chris Paul, Michael Carter-Williams and John Wall), while five of the other point guards the Heat have faced so far are ranked within the top 100. Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, Jeff Teague and Jose Calderon fall between 14-69 in the rankings. The average rank of the guards the Heat have faced this season is 81.9 among all guards, not just point guards.

My point is not that the Heatís defense is incorrectly ranked in DFS, just that the sample size is still very small and the variability great.

The DvP statistical trends I really like to exploit this early in the season are those that have carried over from last season. That means, Iíve been using centers versus the Celtics, point guards versus the Lakers and forwards versus the Cavs, etc.

New trends are emerging, and those are not to be ignored, but don't take a month's worth of DvP statistics as absolute fact when setting your lineups. A good player versus a good defense is often a better play than a bad player versus a bad defense.

You can check out our daily player recommendations every day in our NBA Daily Games Cheat Sheet, with recommendations at each position, based on value, opportunity, and of course, DvP statistics. I won't be writing those, but am always happy to weigh in on DFS decisions in the comments here or on twitter @ReneeMiller01. Thanks for reading.