What’s up everybody? I’m aiming this article at those people who are Googling “How to win my fantasy basketball league” or are Bing-ing (make sure the hyphen is in that word!) “Winning a fantasy basketball league.” Or maybe, you’ve played but never really thought about the underpinnings of fantasy sports. Either way, I hope this article gives you a quick run-down of the best ways to play fantasy sports — including basketball! — and maybe turn this hobby we have into a lifelong passion.
Before I even get into the header-ed content, let me just say, “It’s OK to just play.” It’s fine if you just want to join up with your friends or co-workers and not try to win. You don’t need any formal strategy in this method. Just be a good friend and focus on building community. <– You’ll see this point come back at the end.
Step 1: Know the Rules of the Game
First and foremost, fantasy sports are a game. And they are a game of odds. However, fantasy sports are not just random luck, as internet pundits would shout at you in all caps. In fact, fantasy sports are one of the few games where you can make your own luck if you know the rules of the game well enough.
Take for example a ten-team league. You’ve got ten people drafting ten teams. You and nine opponents, right? You each have a 10% chance of winning the league before the draft. Jenny from accounting who wears the Knicks jersey un-ironically and played college ball and has three TVs set to ESPN at home — 10% chance of winning. Brad from the mailroom who doesn’t know who James Harden is and plays Call of Duty all day? 10% chance of winning. You, reading this article right now? 10% chance.
Then you enter the draft: here’s where you start playing the game of fantasy sports. Here are some tried and true strategies that help you build a winning team:
- Draft a Balanced Team: If you’re new to fantasy sports, there’s nothing more fundamental than drafting a balanced team. By balanced, I mean this: fill out your roster spots evenly and don’t overload on one specific position. Unlike real-life NBA, in fantasy sports, you can’t draft a ton of point guards and force them to play another position. So, if you’re brand new to fantasy sports, start by drafting a balanced team.
- Learn About Stat Scarcity: From points to assists to free throw percentage, not all stats are distributed evenly. Our analyst Keith has a great article about the stat scarcity that you should read. In short, blocks and field goal percentage are the stats that have the fewest above-average performers. These stats are also correlated to players with Center eligibility. So, early in your draft, you should grab these “big men” to get an advantage on your league. Players like Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis, and Nikola Jokic become excellent first-round targets.
- Know Your Build: Your “build” is the kind of team that you draft. If you’re new to the game, try to draft a balanced team that doesn’t overpower in any specific category. If you’re more experienced, you can aim to “punt” categories — or, purposefully lose that category — in order to dominate in other categories. A word of warning: a “punt” build can be difficult to pull off properly, and the success of a punt build also hinges on your league mates not snatching up your targets.
- Pairing and Stacking: “Pairing” is taking two players from the same team who correlate to each other, such as D’Angelo Russell giving assists to Karl-Anthony Towns. A “stack” is taking three or more players from a team who have a correlation to each other, such as adding Ricky Rubio into the mix — Rubio would be giving assists to both Russell and Towns. In bestball or daily fantasy leagues, pairing and stacking are a must to win. In head-to-head, pairing and stacking are important, but not essential. In short, try to at least leave the draft with one pair of players from the same team.
- Use Good Team-Building Tools: Believe it or not, not all ranks are the same. In short, you can’t just go to FantasyPros and find the “best” ranker — that doesn’t exist. Razzball’s award-winning ranker Rudy goes over this in detail in this article. Rankers on the internet are all aiming at different audiences, and they have different methods of rankings for those audiences; comparing them in one algorithm is like comparing apples-to-oranges. Instead, look for sites that educate you to make your own decisions. Razzball is a great site, of course, but there are a ton of other great sites and communities out there that would love to help you play the game of fantasy sports without making you go broke. So, take a look at Son’s rankings, use the Team Assessor, and try to build the best team possible.
Step 2: Everything Else
Your draft is the place where you build the core of your team. Don’t worry about those “draft grade” websites; they’re bunk and just trying to get clicks out of you for advertising revenue. Remember: everybody starts the fantasy season with an equal chance of winning. Your actions in the draft are what create your own luck.
But after your draft, here are the next steps:
- Set Your Lineup: Drafting is fun, but the actual game of fantasy sports is setting your lineup. Whether you have a daily, semi-weekly, or weekly lineup submission, make sure you have your players in their spots come the time of the “roster lock.” If you don’t know what these terms are, ask your commissioner to explain your league’s rules. If you have injured players, do your best to keep a fully active roster while not losing valuable players who might be out for a week.
- Check the Waiver Wire: Players break out all the time, and roles change frequently. There will be great players who weren’t drafted that you can pick up in “free agency” and add to your team. When you see hot players, grab them and add them to your team.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Stream: Streaming is when you’re cycling out multiple players at a position. If you’re not doing well in a category or have some injuries to contend with, don’t be afraid to pick up and drop players to help your team. As always, check with your league to see if you have rules regarding pick up limits.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Kill Your Darlings: Sometimes a superstar just isn’t working out. Perhaps it’s a coaching issue, or perhaps they’ve got a lingering injury, or something isn’t working right. If you’re looking at a player being dead weight on your roster, let them go or try to trade them.
Step 3: Build a Community
Here’s the most important part: fantasy sports are supposed to be about friendship and community. It’s a competitive game, but so is Connect Four. Simply put, you’re playing a game with people who are or could be your friends. My longest-lived league began in 2007 when I responded to a post on an ESPN community board looking for fantasy baseball players, and 14 years later, we’re still together. I’ve been to baseball games with some of those guys, and we’ve met up in real life numerous times.
Not every fantasy league needs to have a best friends forever ending but, there are times that you’ll talk to these communities more than your own family. So, make sure to treat everybody with respect. Most importantly, if the community is toxic to you, leave them in the dust and find a new community.
Did I miss anything? Let me know down in the comments! There’s plenty more advice to give for certain, but I think the list above should get just about anybody up and playing.