Beginners Guide to Fantasy Basketball: Four Important Keys For Instant Success

By James Ramsburg

The NBA season is just around the corner which of course means fantasy basketball is nearly upon us. This article is not for the veteran GM’s, you experienced and grizzled fantasy basketball participants will find no useful information here. Rather, this is for the newcomers to the world of fantasy basketball and for those who have played but have had no success.

1.       Love of the Game
The first key to fantasy basketball success is that you must love the game of basketball and be willing to put in many hours of research and study. Knowledge is power.  GM’s who compete for championship titles watch a ton of games, read as much analysis as they can find, and they never take a day off. A winning GM reads box scores more often than the Pope reads the bible.

There is no excuse to not be informed as there are hundreds of websites devoted to basketball and fantasy basketball in particular – use them!  If you are lazy, don’t have the time to dedicate to basketball, or are just a casual fan of the sport you will not win!

2.       Know Your League
The next item of importance is to know your league. The rules and scoring will have a lot to do with how you draft and how you manage your team. Scoring is broken down into categories- many leagues use a 9 category system with drafted players accumulating stats in field goal percentage, free throw percentage, 3 point shots made, total points scored, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers. 

The two most common formats of fantasy basketball play are rotisserie and head to head with H2H being the preferred arrangement for many owners.  In H2H leagues one team plays another for one week during which time stats are accumulated with the goal being to win as many of the categories as possible. Each day it is important to regulate your lineup, moving players to the bench who do not have a game that day and placing active players from your bench into your starting lineup. GM’s who do not keep up with their lineup do not win!

3.       Proper Draft Preparation and Execution
Finally, the day of the draft will come.  Whether you are drafting online or in person you must be on time and you must be prepared.  Hurriedly scanning a top 200 list ten minutes before the draft will not cut it. You must know what players are hurt and to what extent, how players signed or traded to new teams figure to be utilized, which rookies will have substantial playing time, and basically as much raw information as you can gather and comprehend.

If you have the first pick you will likely choose either LeBron James or Kevin Durant. Any first round pick after the first two should be used on an elite point guard. Elite PG’s are the most valuable asset to a fantasy team as they generally contribute in multiple categories, especially in the assists department which is believed by many to be the most elusive of stats to gather. Good PG’s will go fast – I recommend spending your first two picks on the best PG’s available.

Next I load up on power forwards and centers capable of producing double-doubles. A double-double is achieved when a player scores ten or more points as well as gathers ten or more assists, rebounds, blocks, or steals.  You will want as many players as possible on your team that average a double-double or close to it throughout the season –the dub-dub is the best friend of the fantasy basketball GM. A fantasy  team loaded with good PF’s and C’s can usually dominate rebounds, blocks, and FG percentage as many bigs tend to score  a lot of high percentage shots close to the basket.  Combine that with those two top PG’s you drafted in round’s one and two and you’ll be off to a good start.  I usually start my draft by going PG, PG, PF/C, and PF/C. 

Next I address SG and SF followed by adding even more PG and big man depth. I look for players who are eligible at multiple positions, for example a guard that can be used at SF or a PF who can be used as a center. Try to ultimately end up with as balanced a roster as possible, to be thin at any one position is just asking for trouble.

Finally, when drafting, it is important to leave your emotions and allegiances behind. Sure, you might think LeBron James is a jerk but if you have the second pick and Durant was taken first you must draft LeBron. If you are the world’s biggest Trailblazers fan and/or you are an alumni of the University of Memphis you still should not draft Will Barton – he won’t be getting very many minutes.

4.        Skilled Maneuvering of the Waiver Wire
Once the season begins you will want to add and drop players due to several factors. One reason will be injury, if a player suffers a serious injury and is gone for the season you must dump him immediately and add a player.  When a star player gets hurt things can get tricky if the injury is not expected to end his season. If your league has an IR then of course stash him there but if not you must determine how long the player will be out and if it is worth it to have him sitting idly on your bench.

Obviously, if you own Kevin Durant and he is going to be out for a month then you keep him. If Steve Novak is going to miss a month you drop him like a dirty diaper into the wastebasket.  I tend to drop injured players quick unless they are a heavy duty producer and the wait will not be too long. Another reason to drop a player is because of ineffective play or reduction in minutes.  If there is a free agent available with better stats and more minutes than a player on your team then you must pick him up. 

Be aware of your leagues rules and limits concerning waiver wire and free agent adds. Some owners stream their bottom two or three players – adding players who play a nice 4 game week and releasing guys with just 3 games. If your league has a limit of four adds per week it is a common practice to save at least one add until Saturday so that if you are close to your opponent in a certain category you can add a player that is playing on Sunday who is strong in your deficient category. Weeks can be won and playoffs reached with shrewd player additions. It is important to always be aware of what is happening in the NBA and in your fantasy league.

You always want to be the GM who picks up the breakout player who came out of nowhere or the good player another GM inexplicably dropped to waivers. In addition, players can be traded, if you are studious and careful trading can benefit you. If you are uninformed and naïve the more experienced GM’s will rob and beat you, leaving you in the league dumpster.

If you follow this advice you should be able to compete in a fantasy basketball league. Again, the keys to winning are enjoying the game and attaining knowledge.  The more fun you have with it, the more information you have, the more games you watch,  and the more studying you do all combines to give you the best possible chance to be a fantasy football winner. Have fun and good luck!

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