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NBA Daily Games Strategy: It's Best To Pay for Love

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.

Whether you're building a stars and scrubs lineup or a balanced team for your nightly NBA games, you will have to decide what you're willing to pay for the evening's top options. For me, it often comes down to the most expensive player on the board or one of the slightly less expensive top tier studs.

When you're out at a restaurant, do you order the filet mignon or the strip? When car shopping, do you go for the Audi or the Nissan? Craft beer or Budweiser? We face this choice all the time in our daily lives, and we face it with the same constraints. We have a budget in which we live our lives. So if we pay up for the filet, we may not order dessert. If we're going to be cruising around in the Audi, we may have to put off buying a house. The specific options change with the budget, but the principle remains the same. With your DFS budget, you have to make a sacrifice for the privilege of using Kevin Durant or Kevin Love in your lineup.

Is it worth it?

Durant and Love are typically about $1,000 more expensive than the next most expensive player, often LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony*.  In DFS, we measure worth in terms of a value threshold. For this site, a player who scores 4.5X his salary in fantasy points (FPTs) meets value. So a $10,000 player should hit 45 FPTs. I wondered if the most expensive options met value more often than the somewhat cheaper players. If so, you could feel good about spending up. If the second-tier players met value more reliably, you could feel good about saving a little of your cap to upgrade elsewhere.

I went back 30 games (to Feb. 1), noting who the most expensive option was, his salary, FPTs scored, and value score, which I compared to the second- and third-most expensive options. Unfortunately, well-intentioned analyses don't always yield clear-cut results. On 15-of-30 nights, the top option exceeded value. On 15-of-31 nights, the second option exceeded value (one night there were two identically priced players, so it's 31 instead of 30). The third option exceeded value 9-of-30 times. So the first and second options basically pay off half the time, while the third-highest salaried player does so less than a third of the time. Like I said, this doesn't necessarily make our choice any easier, does it?

We have to dig a little deeper to take away some actionable advice. Both Durant and Love were the top priced player 11 times. Durant exceeded value 2-of-11 times, while Love accomplished the feat on eight occasions. Others with top salary honors: James was 1-of-3, Melo was 1-for-1, Steph Curry was 1-of-2, Anthony Davis was 1-of-1, and Al Jefferson was 1-for-1 in terms of whether they exceeded the 4.5X value threshold.

I'll refrain from turning this into a K Love lovefest (though those that follow me on Twitter know how difficult that is) and just remind you of my favorite DFS slogan. "When Kevin Love plays, he plays for me." You can use it, too.

Another takeaway is that Durant has surprisingly not been worth his tag lately. Hopefully, his salary comes down to account for the fact that with Russell Westbrook back and ballin', Durant is no longer the Thunder's only option.

When Love was the second-highest priced player, he met value 2-of-2 nights. James and Melo both exceeded value 4-of-8 times in that spot, while Curry was 0-for-1 and Davis was 1-of-2. Too many players occupied the second- and third-most expensive slots to list them all, but a couple stand out. Blake Griffin was most often the third option, exceeding value 3-of-7 nights. Al Jefferson and LaMarcus Aldridge went 1-for-5 and 1-of-4, respectively, while Curry was 0-for-4 in the 3rd slot.

As I was collecting this data, I also noted whether players in a very similar salary range, such as the fourth- to seventh-most expensive options, exceeded value. These players included John Wall, Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, James Harden, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kyrie Irving, as well as a few I've mentioned who were also in the Top 3 salary spots. Typically, at least one of these guys exceeded value, and it was often The Brow, Anthony Davis, who exceeded value seven times when he wasn't one of the Top 3 most expensive options. Irving made it four times, and Jefferson five.

Getting back to the original question, and goal, which is to give you actionable advice about whether to spend up for the top salary option, the answer is sometimes. I'll continue to pay for Love but wait for Durant's price to come down. And this is really the crux of the issue. Every player is worth playing at the right price (except maybe Brandon Jennings). I choose to play exclusively on sites that adjust salaries frequently. It's more competitive, but it's also more fair. If you play a site that rarely adjusts salaries, you get to use Davis, Jefferson, and others at a discount for a longer time, but you also basically can't use a stud like Kevin Durant. If you play multiple sites, this is really something to be attuned to because Durant has been exceeding value on sites that have downgraded his salary to a more appropriate range since Westbrook came back.

When you make your choice to pay up or not, you'll factor in things like the opponent, number of days rest, home or away, etc. Just like whether the strip steak comes with the good garlic mashed potatoes, while the filet that comes with steamed zucchini might influence your restaurant decision, your calls in DFS will likely come down to more than price. When it does come to price, though, Love is the only player worth paying maximum salary for right now, which makes me very happy.

I'll be on vacation next week, so look for more DFS strategy Mar. 25, and be sure to follow me on Twitter for sand and sea pics, especially if you live in the Northeast, which is expecting a foot of snow to fall hours after I board my plane Wednesday. Wishing you all the DFS success while I'm away.

*All of the numbers used in this project are from FanDuel.