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DFS Basketball 101: Tips for Lineup Building

Juan Carlos Blanco

Winner of the FSWA 2016 Newcomer of the Year Award, Juan Carlos Blanco has been playing fantasy sports for close to 20 years and covers NBA, MLB, and the NFL for, including serving as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' beat writer. He has previously written for and remains an avid season-long and daily fantasy player in multiple sports.

In previous installments, we have focused on some of the nuances and strategies of playing in cash games and GPPs (Guaranteed Prize Pools). However, an all-encompassing “umbrella” piece with an overview of some of the more universal aspects of putting together an NBA DFS lineup is also in order.

We’ll begin with some general criteria and factors to be mindful of, followed by a pair of additional statistical strategies that can help you hone in on the best plays for your daily fantasy basketball lineup.

Playing Time Is Paramount

One of the first criteria that you should utilize when evaluating players is their playing time. While basketball offers more latitude in terms of the different ways in which a player can accrue fantasy points, he still needs to be on the floor to be productive.

Naturally, with the majority of starters, the minutes are more or less consistent and essentially guaranteed game-to-game. However, another phenomenon that can be rather unique to NBA DFS is that there are certain occasions when “second unit” players can outpace a starter in playing time by a modest-to-sizable margin. Therefore, it’s imperative to verify that a player’s role and minutes have been consistent over an extended period by checking their game logs on their individual RotoWire page.

Be Cognizant of Injuries

Another factor that goes hand-in-hand with playing time considerations is injuries. While it sounds obvious, given the late-scratch culture of the NBA, it’s particularly vital to the health of your daily fantasy basketball lineup to be up to speed on injuries until lineup lock. While it varies season to season, there are numerous occasions throughout any NBA campaign when players are pulled from a starting lineup at the last minute due to a setback in warmups, or a variety of other reasons.

Injuries need to not only be considered from the perspective of the sidelined player, but from that of the player replacing him in the lineup as well. One player’s misfortune is often another’s opportunity, and can really open up some terrific value for your daily fantasy basketball lineup.

Because pricing often takes several days to adjust to a player’s new role as a starter, jumping on a short-term injury replacement from the first game he starts to receive additional minutes can pay off by opening up the necessary cap room to load up the rest of your lineup.

Conversely, as beneficial as it can be to ride a value play who suddenly is seeing extended run, it’s equally important to remain vigilant of when his starting tenure comes to an end. If you’re not up on the latest news, you could be taken in by a game log that shows that the player has regularly received upwards of 30 minutes in recent contests, only to be disappointed when you realize he’s back on the second unit.

Analyzing Defense vs. Position Data

As with other daily fantasy sports, a player’s individual matchup is an important component of the research needed to put together a winning NBA DFS lineup. RotoWire has you covered with comprehensive defense vs. position data for every team in the league through the Defense vs. Position page. With data that’s update daily and specific breakdowns by three major DFS operators (DraftKings, FanDuel, FantasyAces) of the average fantasy points given up by each team to each position over the season, last five games and last 10 games, you’re able to get a thorough picture of which positions each team’s defense is most vulnerable to, as well as the ones they’re stingiest against. Defense vs. Position data shouldn’t be utilized in a vacuum when making your lineup decisions, but the longer into a season, the more dependable the trends the data reveals are in terms of the strengths and weaknesses.

Pay Up In the Right Spots

While one of the most appealing aspects of DFS is that every slate really is different and every day a fresh start, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some generally tried-and-true principles in every sport that tend to endure. In NBA DFS, one area where this is often borne out is in the positions that tend to provide the best fantasy returns, and therefore, are usually worth paying up for. To keep it simple, think of point guards and power forwards as the two most dependable sources of fantasy production. Point guards naturally have the ball in their hands more than any other player (with rare exception), and therefore have the potential to provide robust returns in the areas of assists and points. They also typically can bring in some decent rebounding numbers, and since they’re frequently matched up one-on-one with other point guards, usually have a good chance at a few steals per game.

Power forwards, meanwhile, can certainly offer plenty in the areas scoring and rebounding, and top level players often churn out double-doubles in abundant supply over the course of a season. Blocks and steals are also frequent components of their fantasy repertoire, given the amount of time they spend near the basket.

Certain centers can, of course, also be worth top dollar for essentially the same reasons as the high-end power forwards.

Be Wary of Schedules

One often overlooked factor by many NBA DFS players when building lineups is rest. Particularly as a season goes on, and especially with older players, the second game of back-to-back sets can bring about a notable reduction in real-world and fantasy production. The same naturally applies for players going on their third game in four nights, which every team experiences a few times per season.

When evaluating potential candidates for your roster, keep an eye on that all-important game log to get a clear picture of how often a player has been in action over the last 7-10 days. While we previously stressed the importance of plentiful minutes for fantasy output, in certain instances too many minutes over a condensed period can trigger a point of diminishing returns. A player should never be avoided solely because they’re on the second half of a back-to-back (or fourth/fifth game of a week), but if you find candidates with similar upside who’ll be better rested, it can certainly be a tie-breaker.

Additional Strategies

Having established some general “ground rules” for creating a lineup for NBA DFS, here are a couple of additional strategies that can help you potentially exploit some advantages that will put you ahead of the field:

• Play strong rebounders on and against poor shooting teams: players can only accrue substantial points from rebounds if there are plenty of missed shots, whether they’re from his own squad or the opponent. When strong rebounders are up against poor shooting teams, you could profit handsomely from the extra production. Therefore, when making your decisions at power forward and center, in particular, always take a glance at the opponent’s team field-goal percentage to help you maximize your potential upside.

• Look to stack good defensive players against high turnover teams: along the same lines, look to particularly deploy defensive wizards at any position against teams that already commit turnovers at a high clip. Steals can really provide your daily fantasy lineup with a nice scoring boost that can help shoot you up the leaderboard.

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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. Juan Carlos Blanco plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: jcblanco22, FanDuel: jc_blanco22, DraftPot: jc_blanco22, FantasyDraft: jc_blanco22, OwnThePlay: jcblanco22.