Advice for NBA fans new to fantasy basketball

This guide aims to familiarize you with fantasy basketball whether you're a seasoned fantasy player or it's your first time in a league.

RotoWire breaks down the key rules of fantasy basketball for anyone interested in participating.

Whether it’s your first time participating in a fantasy league or you’re a seasoned fantasy football player looking for a fresh challenge, this guide aims to familiarize you with fantasy basketball. These tips should help you construct a serviceable — and hopefully league-winning! — team, even if you haven’t been vigorously following the NBA.

Understanding league format

League format can alter which players are most valuable. NBA Fantasy is commonly scored in one of four ways: Rotisserie (often shortened to Roto), Head-to-Head Categories, Head-to-Head Points, and Points.

Head-to-Head Categories pits you against another member of your league every week, generating a winner and loser. Those wins and losses determine who makes the playoffs, similar to a real sports league. Winners and losers are decided by who collects the most stats in each statistical category (points, rebounds, assists, steals, etc.). For example, if your team accumulates 300 points, 200 rebounds and 100 assists, compared to my team’s 450 points, 150 rebounds and 99 assists, you’ve won the matchup two categories to one.

Head-to-Head Points heeds the same concept, except victory is attained by totaling the most fantasy points, one number determined by a preset value for each statistic, rather than separating each statistic. Typically, values are:

Points (+1)

Rebounds (+1.2)

Assists (+1.5)

Steals/Blocks (+3)

Turnovers (-1)

Head-to-Head Points is the typical configuration for fantasy football. Understanding how your commissioner assigns values is essential. For instance, if your commissioner feels turnovers should be -1.5 instead of -1, that can reduce the value of turnover-prone point guards.

In Roto leagues, fantasy managers don’t compete head-to-head every week. Stats from each category are added up throughout the season and assigned a point value based on how far up the leaderboard you are in that stat. For example, if you’re in a 12-team league and have the most steals, you’re given 12 points. If you have the fewest rebounds, you’re given one point. That’s done for each category, and the manager with the most points at the end of the season wins the league. Points leagues can also be played in a cumulative format. Then, the winner is based on total fantasy points rather than category superiority.

The difference between the four league types can significantly affect the fantasy value of certain players.

Preparing for standard drafts

Once you learn your format, the day of your league’s draft should be less intimidating. One of the main things to note about your league (which should affect how you draft) is how many players you must start at each position … as well as the number of bench slots.

Leagues differ. Some may permit just one player at each traditional position with a utility and a deep bench. Others may allow for all utility players and limited bench spots. It’s also vital to note which players are eligible at each position, as each fantasy contest or league management system differs.

Standard drafts are in a snake/serpentine format. The person with the last pick in the first round gets the first pick in the second round. The order of picks flip back and forth as the draft goes on to create fair opportunities for everyone.

How to prepare for salary cap drafts

Most drafts are like the one covered above. However, a different type of format completely deserts the concept of draft spots: the salary cap draft. In salary cap drafts, each manager is given a specific amount of money to spend on players. A player is nominated, and managers bid on that player. The goal is to construct the best team with the allotted money.

Salary cap drafts are challenging for everyone — not just novices — and are best to avoid if you’re new to fantasy. But they can be more rewarding and take on more true-to-life team-building strategies. The two main strategies are: Stars and Role Players, or Balanced.

Managers operating under the Stars and Role Players strategy will spend a massive portion of their budget on All-NBA-caliber players, then fill out the rest of their roster with role players. The thought is that star players’ production is almost impossible to replicate and that role players can often be swapped in and out via the waiver wire mid-season.

Managers using the Balanced strategy try to spend their budget evenly on simple starters or fringe All-Stars. The hypothesis is risk mitigation. Investing piles of money into star players can backfire if one or more get injured, leaving a roster full of struggling role players.

With both strategies, conserving your budget and recognizing when player prices are inflated due to bidding wars are helpful skills. Valuable players exist at discount prices in later rounds.

The NBA waiver wire and its rules

Considering the season in weeks, like fantasy football, rather than games, is important. Players going on a five-game cold streak in basketball is relatively normal. A player on a five-game cold streak in football means it’s time to sound the alarms. After all, five games in the NBA is just 6.1% of the season. 

But, if one of your picks doesn’t pan out – maybe due to role, injury, age, etc. – don’t be afraid to replace them. It happens every season.

The most common resource when searching for a replacement is the waiver wire. The waiver wire contains players who weren’t drafted or were let go by another team.

Before adding someone, identify whether Player X’s outstanding performances are outliers or a trend. Plenty of players have a big game here and there – few can uphold that standard for an extended period.

The catch is that if you wait too long, another league member may snatch that player up. Plenty of gambles are won and lost on the waiver wire. Carefully judging and timing when to snag the right player can immensely influence your season.

There are two main ways a waiver wire may operate: Record-based, or budget-based (also called Free Agent Acquisition Budget, or FAAB). In a record-based waiver wire, the team with the worst record gets priority on players with multiple claims. In a budget-based waiver wire, each squad is given a dollar amount to spend on waiver wire pickups throughout the season. If you want to claim a player, you must bid on them.

Weekly vs. daily lineups | Injured reserve spots

Fantasy managers need to know whether they set lineups every day or once a week and if they have an Injured Reserve spot. Managers in weekly lineup leagues or leagues without an IR spot must be more prudent on draft day. Absence-prone players do more damage in a weekly lineup league compared to a daily lineup league. In a daily lineup league, you can start someone else for those games. In weekly leagues, the player generates no stats and cannot be replaced once the lineup locks.

Similarly, if your roster has an IR spot, injuries are easier to wait out. It’s a place to put a player with a long-term injury that doesn’t count as a roster spot, so you can pick up a player off the waiver wire without dropping someone.

Final notes

Above all else, fantasy basketball is an entertaining and engrossing way to follow the NBA. Keeping up with player news and stats can help you build a winning team, even if you’re a newcomer. Remember to understand your league format and stay active on the waiver wire, and your team should always remain competitive.

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Alex is RotoWire’s Chief NBA Editor. He writes articles about daily fantasy, year-long fantasy and sports betting. You can hear him on the RotoWire NBA Podcast, Sirius XM, VSiN and other platforms. He firmly believes Robert Covington is the most underrated fantasy player of the past decade.