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Introduction to Fantasy Hoops

By Jon Loomer, NBA.com/Fantasy

The Basics | The Draft | Scoring | Your Roster | Making Moves | Finding Help

You’ve heard about this “fantasy thing” but you haven’t yet determined if you’re ready to take the leap. Allow me to push.

There is no better way to build and continue a friendly rivalry than with fantasy basketball. I can (and will) go into details about exactly you play fantasy, but if you come out with anything, it’s this: It’s Fun. Simple. The common ingredient to anything fun is that you’re having fun with friends. How much fun is success if there is no one around to hear your wrath?
A little friendly competition always heats things up!
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)

If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?

If you dominate your fantasy league full of your best friends, you’re darn right they’ll here it. All year long. It’s not just dominating your friends that is so much fun. It’s the day-to-day strategy of roster changes as you try to leap them in the standings. Pulling off that monster three-team trade to put you over the top. Daily trash talk on the message boards. And the draft. The DRAFT! Nothing better.

No matter what type of fantasy game you play, it’s all about the competition, the rivalries and the strategy. When you hear “fantasy,” most people think about a league manager or commissioner-style game that allows you to draft and trade players. Let me give you a quick tour of this type of game.

The Basics

In a typical fantasy game, you join a league of friends or strangers and look to compile the best set statistics out of everyone in the league. Where do you play? NBA.com, of course. Head over to NBA.com for the right game for you. The most popular type of game is a league manager or commissioner fantasy game. Play NBA.com’s Ultimate Fantasy Commissioner to run your league, and it’s 100 percent free.

So how does it work? When an NBA player performs in real life, they also perform for your team. They get a point, you get that point. You will manage your roster throughout the season by changing your starting lineup, adding and dropping players, and pulling off trades. The person in your league who manages his or her team most successfully – by compiling the best set of stats – wins.

You also need a “commissioner,” who is the person who will set up and manage your league. It should be someone who has played fantasy before, so they will be knowledgeable about rules and settings.

Simple? Good. You’re ready for some more details.

The Draft

In order to have players on your team, you first need a draft. The simplest way to explain a draft is to think about the actual NBA draft. The GMs in the NBA are just like you and your friends (without the fat pockets). The biggest difference is that an NBA GM starts with a roster and adds onto it with college and international players. In your draft, everyone starts out with a clean slate. Every player is available.

Just like the NBA, only one team can own a particular player. Therefore, draft order is always important. If you pick first, you can select anyone you want anchor your team: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shawn Marion, Kevin Garnett or Gilbert Arenas would be a good start. The draft order is often picked by a random process, whether it be simply hitting a button online to randomize your draft or pulling names out of a hat. Either way, random is fair.

Most fantasy leagues perform a “snake” draft. Unlike in the NBA where the team with the first overall pick in the first round will also have the first pick in the second round, a snake draft helps even the playing field so that the person with the first overall pick doesn’t have a significant advantage. The person with the first pick in the first round will also have the last pick in the second round, meaning that the person with the last pick in the first round will have the first pick in the second round. Always fun getting those back-to-back picks, but it can be tough waiting around for your next time up.

Most, but not all, drafts are performed “live.” Personally, I think you are seriously missing out if you play fantasy without participating in a live draft. It’s my favorite time of the year. Live drafts can either be performed online, selecting players from an Internet applet, or offline. In an offline draft, league members would get together at a restaurant, bar, or league member’s home, and select their players. After the draft, the league “commissioner” would enter in the draft results online.

Of course, there are reasons why leagues can’t perform live drafts. If all league members live in different parts of the country, it can be impossible to get everyone together in one place to perform a live offline draft. Even live online drafts can have obstacles. Everyone needs to be online at the same time, and it’s often difficult finding a time that works for everyone, considering schedules and time zone differences. Two other options offered on NBA.com are auto-pick and an e-mail draft.

An e-mail draft is a form of the live draft, but with a much longer time limit. Whereas the typical live draft will have about a 90 second time limit to pick a player, an e-mail draft will have several hours allotted for each selection. This is a nice compromise for people who want to perform a live draft, can’t get together at the same time, but have time to take several days to complete their rosters.

In an auto-pick draft, users pre-rank players so that an automated system will know which player they would prefer when their selection is up. This is perfect for people who can’t be available for a live draft, but it eliminates the ability to read and react how a draft is going when making a selection.


LeBron James can score 30 points with eight rebounds and six assists, but that performance has a different meaning for different teams depending on the scoring system your league uses. First of all, not all leagues use the same categories. The standard league uses Field Goal Percentage, Free Throw Percentage, Points, Rebounds, Assists, Steals, Blocks and Three-Pointers, although many leagues also use Turnovers. There are certainly other variations of stat categories used, but these are the most popular formats.

Next, you need a scoring system. The most common options are rotisserie (also known as “roto”), head-to-head, and points-based.

In a rotisserie league, the ultimate goal is to have the most balanced roster by owning players who do well in every statistical category. If you have the most rebounds in your league of 12 teams, you will get 12 points for that category. If you have the least rebounds, you get a one point. Ranks for each category are added to get your final score. It’s often difficult to win a league while being last in a category, so avoid those stat killers!

Head-to-Head leagues are popular because it can help drive rivalries in a league, pitting individual teams against one another in weekly matchups. If your team goes up against mine during a given week, you will want to accumulate more points, rebounds, assists, etc., than my team during that week. If you do, you get a win. If you don’t, you get a loss. The teams with the best records prior to the end of the season make the playoffs. The champion will be determined in one final head-to-head matchup.

In a Points-Based league, categories are weighted to give your team fantasy points based on all of your players’ statistics. In this system, you no longer need to worry about specific categories. Instead, it’s all about getting the most fantasy points.

It's time for you to call the shots!
(Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)
Your Roster

The standard roster in the NBA.com Ultimate Fantasy Commissioner is composed of the following players:

Starting Lineup:
PG (Point Guard)
SG (Shooting Guard)
G (Point Guard or Shooting Guard)
SF (Small Forward)
PF (Power Forward)
F (Small Forward or Power Forward)
C (Center)
FC (Power Forward or Center)
Utl (Utility = Any Position)

Five players from any position

This means that you’ll need to prioritize certain players as your “starters” (those who will accumulate points for you) and others as your “reserves.” When a player is moved to your bench, you will not get credit for that player’s points as long as he isn’t in your starting lineup. You’ll need to watch matchups and follow the hot hands to determine who will help your team the most. Often this means targeting specific categories.

Making Moves

As fun as the draft may be, you don’t want to just sit on the team you drafted all season long. You should always look for ways to improve. The greatest sin of a fantasy owner is to ignore your roster and leave injured players in your lineup. Most leagues utilize an 82 game limit, and you should make sure you hit it at each position. That means making sure that hurt players are sent to the pine.

You should also look for other ways to improve your team. One of the most common places to do so is on the free agent list. Players who haven’t been drafted or were dropped by their owners aren’t necessarily damaged goods. Every season, new big names arise who weren’t even drafted, but can help you win a fantasy championship. If you add a player, you will need to drop one, but as long as you are improving your team with the move it will pay off.

One suggestion I would make, however, is that you don’t drop any player that could have value in a trade. In other words, if you think that another member of your league will immediately pick up the player you are dropping, find someone who will trade for him. A trade is executed just as it is in the NBA. You send a player or players to another team in exchange for another player or players. Ultimately, both teams are looking to improve their situations. The goal is to always trade away players when they are overvalued while acquiring players when they are undervalued to maximize talent. Buy low, sell high!

Finding Help

In order to make educated moves in your fantasy league, you need to do a little research. That could be reading player news, checking injury reports and depth charts, or reading strategy articles. You can find all of these things at NBA.com. In addition, I and other fantasy experts will be holding chat sessions once a week, and you can ask us questions directly. We also have a growing community within our public message forums, and you are always free to post your questions there. You’ll be amazed by how many people will want to help.

By the end of the season, you will be a fantasy veteran. Let us help you get there!

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