Are you a competitive fantasy basketball player? Perhaps you’re looking to dive into the Yahoo Pro Leagues, or throw your name into one of the many cash leagues advertised on Reddit or Rotoworld? Maybe you’re in a very competitive league with your friends and need to win for pride? 

Having played fantasy basketball for many years (since Elton Brand couldn’t buy alchohol), I’ve accumulated knowledge that I wish someone imparted upon me. Below are nine concepts that provide a road map for fantasy basketball success. Hopefully, I can save you from making some of the mistakes that I made.


1. Pursue relationships, not trades

This is the toughest one to follow, yet is the most important. We all like to get a good deal and pursue trades that will help our teams. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been guilty of making some pretty bad offers, and ruining any kind of future possibilities to deal.

Be the guy that everyone talks to, the guy that people come to to discuss basketball with. Be open and sociable, and make sure to be available to talk and provide feedback. Your goal in every league is to make alliances and form as many genuine relationships as possible, not to rob everyone and trick them with lopsided trades. Talk basketball and be helpful, even if it doesn’t result in a trade.

The best deals come when you pursue relationships. People aren’t dumb, and if you’re the kind of guy looking to steal players in lopsided deals, they will figure that out pretty fast. Build relationships and look for mutually beneficial deals, and the rewards will surely follow. This will result in more people sending you offers, and the more offers you get, the more likely you are to like one of them.

If you remember one thing from this article, remember that a successful business person will always pursue building relationships instead of pursuing the sales. Do this and you will see an improvement in your teams and bottom line.


2. Respect the wisdom of the crowd 

We live in a world where everyone tries to be unique, choosing their own SPECIAL path to greatness. That’s all well and dandy, but in fantasy follow the crowd and trends if you want to be successful. Track which players are getting added and dropped the most. Read the notes, talk to people, and gather their opinions. 

Yahoo has a “Research” feature that shows which players are getting added and dropped the most. If 5000 other teams have added a player, you may want to take note and get on it. If everyone is hyped up about a certain player, take that into consideration. If a guy you love is sliding down the draft, and no one is excited about him, put your biases aside and look into it. 

Even though it’s important to know your stuff, it’s just as important to be open to learning new things from others. We live in an age where information and opinions are in abundance, so make sure you open your mind up to them. While it’s certainly possible that you’re right and everyone else is wrong, chances are the opposite is true.


3. We compete in 9 categories, not 3

I love being in leagues with people who draft guys like Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin, and are super excited about it. It’s easy to get caught up in the popcorn stats while ignoring the rest. While points, rebounds, and assists are consistent stats and worth chasing, let’s not forget to consider the more subtle stats such as FG%, FT%, and TOs.

Those are the non sexy stats that you need to pay attention to, and are often overlooked by less savy managers. They count just the same as the points, assists, and boards categories. In standard leagues, I like to have a well-rounded team that is above average in all categories. This gives you a chance of winning most weeks, and insulates you against unlucky weeks and outlier performances.


4. Trust the experts

Yes, I realize you have your own fancy spreadsheets with projections and that all your sleepers will be super studs. Those idiots at Yahoo don’t know what they’re talking about! Consider this though, the experts at big sites like Yahoo and Fantrax are full time analysts with an army of number crunchers supporting them. They pretty much do all the math and serve it to you on a silver platter. Why spend precious time doing all that work, when it’s already being done for you by full time professionals? 

They are human and they don’t get everything right, but overall they will get a lot more right than the average person. It’s fun to make your own rankings and projections, but at the end of the day you’re likely better off trusting the expert projections and adjusting them to your league. Put your ego aside and realize that the experts actually do know what they’re talking about, and while they do get some stuff wrong, they likely will get more right than you. If in doubt, go with the expert opinion. 


5. Bigger buy-in doesn’t always mean better competition

Having played fantasy basketball for years now, with over 20 teams each year, my observation is that there is no real correlation between the buy-in amount and the level of competition. I play in leagues ranging from $50 to $1000, and I find that I have just as much trouble winning leagues in the $50-100 range.

My theory is that people in the lower range of buy-ins are actually really good, they just aren’t gamblers and don’t want to put in as much money. They do just as much research and are just as involved, they just don’t believe in risking a fortune. Whereas some people in the big money leagues are habitual gamblers and aren’t necessarily that good at fantasy sports. They are going all in, hoping for a big pay day.

Of course there will always be the sharks and the mathematical geniuses, but they are everywhere and not just in the big money leagues. If you have been dominating and winning at the smaller money leagues, my guess is that you’ll have the same level of success in the bigger money leagues.


6. To be a leader, you gotta be a reader

Instead of spending all that time doing your own projections and rankings, why not spend the time to read articles and analyses that the experts have already done for you? Read the player notes on Yahoo and Fantrax, and the daily expert columns. Read about the latest trends, hot pick ups, drafting strategies, and updated rankings. Heck, you can even subscribe to a fantasy basketball Youtube channel if you don’t like to read.

The more knowledge you can soak up the better. Unless you’re a paid reporter or professional NBA analyst, there’s no need for you to be making your own projections and stuff. Just read up on the vast amount of information that’s readily available. Take a look, it’s in a book.  Or these days it’s online, in a podcast, or on Youtube. Whatever your medium is, spend less time with your own preconceptions and more time learning new information.


7. Internet arguments are futile 

I’m guilty as anyone of engaging in online debates which eventually leads to it being hostile. It rarely happens where you’ll be able to convince someone that they’re wrong and you’re right. Even if you do, what good does that do? They’ll just feel dumb and resent you for it. You may get the temporary good feeling of being right, but you just lost a potential trading partner.

Dale Carnegie said in his book that the best way to win an argument is not to have one at all. This is especially true in fantasy basketball, as you can spend all day arguing and not accomplish anything.  Instead of arguing, try to keep an open mind and honestly try to see things from the other person’s point of view. If you aren’t able to do so, just walk away. 

To take your fantasy game to the next level, you need to build relationships. Or at the very least, try not to ruin an existing one by arguing. If someone thinks Blake Griffin is a top 30 pick, there’s really no need to prove them wrong. Just quietly pat yourself on the back for knowing better and move on.


8. Injuries happen, plan for it

One of my friends just got into fantasy a few years ago, and is plagued by injuries every year. One year he had both Durant and Lowry go down, and the next he lost AD. He attributes that to bad luck, but those of you who are more seasoned will know that these are all things you have to plan for.

In this age of load management, rest days, and fragile players, you can’t really count on people playing 82 games any more. That is the rare exception and not the rule. You can, however, reasonably predict who will play more or less games, and take that into consideration. If your first 3 picks consist of Embiid, Kawhi, and Zinger, it’s time to stop blaming lady luck and start thinking about durability as an extra category. 


9. Fun is profitable 

I remember when I played online poker for fun, and I actually won a lot while doing it. And then I decided I would try to make some serious cash doing it, instead of just playing for fun. Of course, as soon as I did that I started losing. The same goes for fantasy basketball.

If you are playing for fun, you come from a place of abundance and confidence, and you tend to make better decisions while taking more risks. If you’re playing and relying on the winnings to pay your rent, then you’re coming from a place of need and desperation. This tends to result in bad decisions and mistakes that will affect your bottom line.

I know it’s tough to treat it as just a fun game when you have money on the line, but I find it helps if you just look at the buy-ins as your registration fee for the season. Just pretend you bought season tickets, or signed up for a sports league, and you don’t expect to get that money back. It’s just money that you’re spending on your passion, and it’ll be a fun year regardless. Having that attitude will help you have more fun, which will ultimately result in more profits. 


Well, there you have it ladies and gentlemen. All the fantasy basketball theory I’ve soaked up in my many years of playing, all crammed into one long and mildly readable article. I follow these concepts very closely, and they have not only helped my bottom line, but they’ve enabled me to enjoy the game that much more. 

I’m always learning and open to new concepts, so if you have any to share I’d love to hear about them!