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DFS Basketball 101: Building A Winning Lineup

Michael Rathburn

Known as “Rath” in the Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) community, he has helped run operations for two prominent daily fantasy sports startups. Michael has taken his insider knowledge and expertise in daily fantasy sports to the content side. Rath won the 2016 FSWA "Baseball Article of the Year, Online" award and was a finalist for the FSWA Best Baseball Series in 2011.

The last few weeks I have written about the three major daily fantasy basketball sites (FanDuel, DraftStreet, and DraftKings) and how to win on each site. This week, I look at the factors that influence how to build your daily fantasy basketball lineups so you can win on a consistent basis. We put this into practice by looking at Monday’s slate in the NBA.

Defense vs Position

The strongest indicator to building lineups in daily fantasy basketball is the defense versus position measure. Identifying the players who have the best matchups is the way to start your daily cheat sheet. (Ranks in parentheses – the higher the rank; the better the matchup). Any matchup that is 25th or higher is one to focus on.

Houston @ Boston (for example Houston ranks 20th against opposing point guards in fantasy points allowed per game)

Houston - PG (20), SG (23), SF (25), PF (27), C (16)
Boston - PG (17), SG (15), SF (11), PF (23), C (17)

Best Plays:Jeff Green, SF BOS; Terrence Jones, PF HOU; Kris Humphries PF, BOS

San Antonio @ New Orleans

San Antonio – PG (23), SG (5), SF (3), PF (5), C (9)
New Orleans - PG (19), SG (20), SF (10), PF (25), C (20)

Best Plays:Tim Duncan PF, SAN

Orlando @ Dallas

Orlando - PG (9), SG (26), SF (13), PF (26), C (13)
Dallas - PG (23), SG (17), SF (19), PF (14), C (19)

Best Plays:Monta Ellis, SG DAL; Dirk Nowitzki, PF DAL

Phoenix @ New York

Phoenix - PG (15), SG (11), SF (9), PF (20), C (21)
New York - PG (3), SG (21), SF (15), PF (1), C (3)

Best Plays:PASS

Denver @ Utah

Denver - PG (16), SG (18), SF (18), PF (29), C (14)
Utah - PG (24), SG (3), SF (27), PF (16), C (24)

Best Plays:Derrick Favors, PF, UTA; Ty Lawson PG, DEN; JJ Hickson PF/C, DEN

Milwaukee @ Toronto

Milwaukee - PG (29), SG (10), SF (20), PF (21), C (29)
Toronto - PG (7), SG (24), SF (17), PF (3), C (6)

Best Plays: Kyle Lowry, PG TOR; Jonas Valanciunas, C TOR

Washington @ Chicago

Washington - PG (8), SG (14), SF (21), PF (15), C (8)
Chicago - PG (4), SG (8), SF (22), PF (6), C (4)

Best Plays:PASS

Team Pace

Pace is the total number of possessions a team uses in a game. The formula is Pace Formula = [240/(Team Minutes)]*(Possessionteam+Possessionopponent)/2

This statistic is almost completely dominated by teams in the Western Conference. Outside of Philadelphia, Detroit, and Atlanta, 12 of the top 15 teams are from the West. Finding a matchup with two teams that average a higher pace than normal is key, because it means more possessions in the game. This will translate to more points, rebounds, and assists opportunities. On the flip side, you want to avoid teams that will be in matchups that are very low pace. I usually have a spreadsheet with each matchup that will have the team pace, and I take the average of both teams to get a “Game Pace”.

NBA Team Pace Overall Rankings (1/12/14)

1) Philadelphia 99.9
2) Minnesota 97.8
3) LA Lakers 97.1
4) Golden State 96.7
5) Oklahoma City 96.2
6) Denver 96.1
7) LA Clippers 96
8) Houston 95.5
9) Phoenix 95.4
10) San Antonio 95
11) Portland 94.9
12) Dallas 94.7
13) Detroit 94.7
14) Sacramento 94.7
15) Atlanta 94.6
16) Orlando 94.2
17) Boston 93.4
18) Cleveland 93.2
19) Washington 92.9
20) Miami 92.8
21) New Orleans 92.8
22) Charlotte 92.7
23) Indiana 92.5
24) Toronto 92.5
25) Utah 91.4
26) Milwaukee 91.3
27) Brooklyn 91.2
28) Chicago 90.5
29) New York 90.2
30) Memphis 90

Game Pace Rankings for Monday January 12, 2014

1) Houston (Road Pace 95.8) @ Boston (Home Pace 92.8)
2) San Antonio (Road Pace 95.2) @ New Orleans (Home Pace 92.8)
3) Orlando (Road Pace 93.8) @ Dallas (Home Pace 94.2)
4) Phoenix (Road Pace 95.6) @ New York (Home Pace 91.2)
5) Denver (Road Pace 94.8) @ Utah (Home Pace 91.4)
6) Milwaukee (Road Pace 92.3) @ Toronto (Home Pace 93.4)
7) Washington (Road Pace 92.3) @ Chicago (Home Pace 90)

I like the Orlando/Dallas game because the differential in pace is the lowest on the board and the game has the 3rd highest pace ranking. The one drawback to that game is Dallas being a heavy favorite, which could lead to a blowout. We will talk about that impact below.

Vegas Odds

When building your daily fantasy basketball projections, one of the biggest factors will be what Vegas says the projected outcome is going to be. You can use the line and the total to assess how to build your projections. You want to focus on games that have the smallest side with the highest total. In this case, the Knicks/Suns game is attractive because the line is only -3 but the total is 198.5. Ideally, you want games with at least a 200 projected point total and within five points on the spread. NOTE: At the time this article was published the Houston/Boston and Denver/Utah lines had not been posted, they were taken from Massey Ratings projections.

Houston -7 @ Boston 203 Projected Score HOU 105 BOS 98
San Antonio -5.5 @ New Orleans 200 Projected Score SA 103 NO 97
Orlando @ Dallas -12 198.5 Projected Score DAL 106 ORL 92
Phoenix @ New York -3 198.5 Projected Score NYK 101 PHX 98
Denver -4.5 @ Utah 198 Projected Score DEN 101 UTA 96
Milwaukee @ Toronto -11.5 184.5 Projected Score TOR 98 MIL 87
Washington @ Chicago -3 181.5 Projected Score CHI 92 WAS 89

Schedule (Days Rest) / (Last Game)

Knowing the schedule of a team is something that is a very underrated measure in daily fantasy basketball. Teams on the road playing back-to-back games are not going to produce as well as a team that is coming off two days rest playing at home. Also, veteran teams playing on the road are most apt to rest their stars (Miami, San Antonio) which means you want to shy away from guys like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli in those scenarios. Look for teams that have to travel all the way east or west and the opponent played the previous game at home.

Houston (1) (@WAS) @ Boston (1) (@ POR)
San Antonio (0) (vs MIN) @ New Orleans (1) (@DAL)
Orlando (1) (@DEN) @ Dallas (1) (NO)
Phoenix (1) (@DET) @ New York (1) (@PHI)
Denver (1) (ORL) @ Utah (2) (CLE)
Milwaukee (1) (@OKC) @ Toronto (1) (BKN)
Washington (1) (vs HOU) @ Chicago (1) (CHA)

Teams that have an edge on travel – Toronto at home vs Milwaukee on the road last game; Utah has two days rest; New Orleans has one day rest over San Antonio.

Home/Road Differential

Daily fantasy basketball sites salaries consist of an algorithm that is calculated mostly on a percentage of the most recent performance and the entire season as a whole. That means things like home vs road are not factored into the salaries. Extracting value is all about identifying each factor that you can exploit on a nightly basis. Identifying which teams have the best matchups is a way to build your lineups. Point differentials are in parentheses. (Houston outscores opponents by 2.9 points on the road, Boston is outscored by 1.3 points at home)

Houston (2.9 Road) @ Boston (-1.3 Home) – Houston 4.3
San Antonio (7.5) @ New Orleans (-0.6) - San Antonio 8.1
Orlando (-7.6) @ Dallas (4.4) – Dallas 12.0
Phoenix (-1.2) @ New York (-2.9) – Phoenix 1.7
Denver (1.4) @ Utah (-5.8) – Denver 7.2
Milwaukee (-5.9) @ Toronto (3.6) – Toronto 9.5
Washington (-2.9) @ Chicago (0.4) – Chicago 3.3

Hot Streak

You can identify value with players who have been hot over the past two to three games and their salaries have not been adjusted yet. Look for players who have just been inserted into the starting lineup and seeing an increase in minutes and production.

Kris Humphries PF BOS – 42/31 FPPG last two games
Patrick Patterson PF TOR – 35/19/32 FPPG last three games
Randy Foye SG DEN – 32/31/37 FPPG last three games
Kenneth Faried PF DEN – 36/27/38 FPPG last three games. Denver has been on a monster run.
Jeff Green SF BOS – 31/38 FPPG last two games.
Dirk Nowitzki PF DAL – 46/53 FPPG last two games
DeMar DeRozan SG TOR - 43/37/41/44 FPPG last four games
Jonas Valanciunas C TOR – 21/34 FPPG last two games. Gets very weak MIL frontcourt.

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Michael Rathburn plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: FanDuel: burnnotice, DraftKings: burnnotice, Yahoo: burnnotice, Fantasy Aces: burnnotice, FantasyDraft: burnnotice.