As this is my first article for fb-ninja, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Jeff and I go by “StifleTower” in RotoWorld. I am an in-house attorney for an organization headquartered in the Washington D.C. area. However, I work from home a lot and live in a small community by the beach near Cape Canaveral, Florida.
I am not the biggest NBA fan, instead I consider myself more of a professional gamer. I came into competitive fantasy basketball from a unique angle. My older brother was the chess champion of my state and tried to teach me how to play chess at a high level. One day while playing chess online, I saw an advertisement for poker so I decided to give it a try. Even though I was inexperienced myself, I was shocked by how poorly these poker players played, and I was even more shocked by the willingness of bad players to gamble for large amounts of money. I was used to good chess players being unwilling to play speed chess for even a single dollar, and these guys were terrible at poker, but willing to gamble for thousands of dollars! As soon as I realized that poker was such a lucrative opportunity, I went to the local bookstore, and bought every book that I could on the topic. The next week, I entered a large online tournament, and got second place. From there, I was hooked. I paid my way through law school by playing poker. During the summers, I would take my entire bankroll to Las Vegas. I would stay the Excalibur hotel who often had specials for $24 a night stays and grind at the $1-$2 tables. I would generally make $200-300 a night, which isn’t a lot of money in retrospect, but was a fortune for a broke college student! After the summer, I would bring home thousands of dollars which I would use for my living expenses for the year.
However, once I graduated from law school I moved further away from casinos. As an attorney I don’t really have the time for poker. However, one year my friends invited me to their fantasy basketball league. I didn’t really understand it at first, but I began to study online. I ended up winning that league and I’ve won the championship in nearly 90% of my leagues since then. Progressively, I moved up from free leagues to small buy-in leagues and now I play in about 10 large buy-in leagues per year. Fantasy basketball now serves the same role in my life that poker once played.
From all of my competitive game playing, I’ve learned that each game is governed by unique rules and inefficiencies. Once you learn the inefficiencies inherent in each game, it’s like having a cheat code. There are many inefficiencies inherent in fantasy basketball, which I will discuss in these articles. I like to think about fantasy basketball from a broad strategic perspective. Most of my thoughts regarding fantasy basketball revolve around fine tuning my strategy. I believe that most people cap their potential in fantasy basketball by not having the correct strategic approach, which varies based on your league settings. If you’re great at finding hidden talent, but poor at understanding fundamental strategy then you can do ok, but you’ll rarely win your leagues. To be a consistent winner of large buy-in leagues you need to be good at both scouting and strategy.
One market inefficiency is that efficient players are generally underrated in fantasy. Many of you may know me as the “punt assists” guy because I’ve won many leagues using that approach and have written about it in the forums. However, it’s not so much about punting assists as it is finding players who are efficient across the board: high FG%, high FT%, and low TO. Many of the flashy point guards are high in turnovers, but there are plenty of low turnover point guards as well. This article will not be about punting assists, but will be about how to increase your team’s ceiling by maximizing efficiency.
This article is primarily for H2H, auction, 9 cat players.
I don’t need to convince you ROTO players of the importance of drafting efficient players, but it seems as if many H2H players discount efficiency in general. I’ve heard frequently that H2H is all about getting players who can produce “monster” lines. If I had a dollar for every GM that told me that he punts turnovers then I would be a rich man.
In truth, efficiency should the foundation of your team, even in H2H. H2H tends to produce unbalanced teams. Each week there are certain categories that you will lose no matter what you do and certain categories that you will win no matter what you do. The two polar extremes are punt FT% teams and punt FG%/TO teams. The punt FT% teams tend to have a few monster blocks and rebounds specialists, while a lot of the punt FG%/TO teams often have five point guards on their roster. You will not beat the punt FT% teams in blocks and rebounds, nor will you beat a team with five point guards in assists and steals. However, you will beat the punt FT% teams in assists and steals, and you will beat the point guard teams in blocks and rebounds. This is an extreme example, but it highlights the truth that H2H teams aren’t balanced. They want to be unbalanced as everyone is employing their pet punt strategy. In any given matchup, out of the six counting categories, generally only a couple will be in play. Often your opponent will dominate you in two and conversely you will dominate him in two, regardless of any roster decisions that you make. Therefore, it makes no sense to hurt yourself in the efficiency cats in the pursuit of increasing your counting stats, when improving in a particular counting stat may not even help you in any matchup!
At some point in the draft, you will have the choice of drafting an efficient player or an inefficient one who gets maybe an extra assist or an extra rebound. I strongly advise you to choose the efficient player. If you’re playing against an unbalanced team, the extra assist or rebound is unlikely to matter, but the efficiency will matter. In fact, if you are in a shallow league it’s possible that obtaining an extra assist or rebound here and there won’t matter in any of your matchups.
The counting stats of the individual players on your team don’t really matter. The only thing that matters is team composition. This statement tends to shock some folks. So sit back and really think about it. If you want to review your past leagues, do so. I think that you will find that in most matchups there is a large discrepancy between your team and that of your opponent in most categories. The reason for this is because of the Utility slots. Your bench is mostly composed of streamers, so your top nine players are generally the difference makers. Your top nine players are typically organized into the following categories: PG, SG, SF, PF, C, G, F, Utility, Utility. The Utility slots can be filled with any type of player. If you fill both of your utility slots with point guards, then you will be unbalanced toward assists and steals. Conversely, if your opponent’s utility slots are both filled with big men, then your opponent will have a large advantage in rebounds and blocks. Even if your opponent’s starting point guard is John Wall and yours is Jeff Teague, you will still have an advantage in assists and steals if you choose to be unbalanced in that manner. Using rough estimations Wall produces about 10 APG and Teague produces about 7 APG. That’s a difference of 3 APG. Suppose the big men in your opponent’s utility slots produce 2 APG each, so they combine for 4 APG. Now suppose that the guards in your utility slots were fairly inexpensive to obtain in auction, say George Hill and Darren Collison. Those two should combine for at least 8 APG. That difference is 4 APG. Therefore, the advantage that you obtained in choosing to compose your team this way is greater than the advantage he obtained by having a player who may lead the league in that category.
Of course, by choosing a team composition that is unbalanced toward point guards, you are sacrificing rebounds and blocks. You are also possibly lowering your FG% and increasing TO. Or are you? In the example above, I deliberately selected three efficient, affordable point guards to compare against one inefficient, expensive point guard. You can probably obtain Teague, Hill, and Collison in any auction draft for a combined $40-45, in other words for about the price of John Wall. Using rough estimates, their FG% is about 46% and their FT% is about 86%. John Wall’s FG% is about 45% and his FT% is about 79%. Additionally, he commits a whopping 3.8 TO per game. Wall is an expensive buy who will cost you a late first round draft pick or $40 in auction and he isn’t even efficient. If his advantages can be negated merely by an opponent changing his team composition, why take on his inefficiency, particularly at that price? This highlights the importance of efficiency. H2H matchups are dictated more by team composition than by individual players.
One rebuttal might be that if teams are composed in a similar fashion then counting stats will matter. I agree. Absolutely-the stats of individual players will matter if your opponent’s team is composed in a similar fashion, but generally only a few teams in your league will be composed similarly to yours. Other than those few teams, the other teams will have a different composition than yours, and the individual stats of each player won’t matter too much.
Another concept is the notion of waste. Eliminating waste is one of the most important skills to master. You determine your level of waste by determining what categories, if any, you are first in the league in and determining the difference between you and the second place team in that category. For example, if your team is projected to have 45 assists per game while the next closest team has 35 assists per game, then you have wasted 10 assists per game. This comes into play most frequently with unbalanced punt teams.
The mirror opposite of waste is punting a category. You punt a category because you are so weak in that category that not only are you last in your league, but it’s impossible to make up for it. I won’t go into punting in this article except to state that it is a viable way of cutting your losses.
All of these concepts give rise to one conclusion, you counting stats don’t matter in each category, in every matchup. However, the three efficiency categories will be in play in almost every matchup. My strategy for H2H is to be as efficient as possible and exploit my opponents in their weakest categories. In auction this often means having a deep team and having the ability to make substitutions based on matchups.
The great philosopher Sun-Tzu once said, “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Too many GMs in fantasy basketball fail to think like a coach. Coaches study film on their opponents and are capable of making changes based on their matchup. This is where the “Stars n’ Scrubs” approach fails in auction drafts. While you want to have talented players on your team, you also want to balance that with having a deep team, giving you the ability to make substitutions based on matchups. For example, if my opponent has drafted DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside, they are punting FT%, and it is very likely that I cannot beat them in blocks and rebounds. In that case, my Rudy Gobert has a lot less value, particularly if he is the only real shot-blocker on my team. That is counter-intuitive to the way a lot of people think. In my opinion, this has a psychological basis. People have a hard time admitting defeat. They don’t want to “punt” a category, because they want to believe they have drafted the best team in their league. Consequently, they wind up losing close matchups that they otherwise could have won. They spend a lot of resources chasing a category that they had no hope of winning. The most important skill in fantasy is knowing when you must fight for a category and when you must give up so that you don’t waste resources in a lost cause. I don’t call that surrender, I call a tactical withdraw.
In auction I want to have a deep team. I want to have nine players who are all mid-level producers. That way I can move players in and out of my starting lineup to exploit the weaknesses of my opponent. That way no one player is better than any other so I won’t have an issue benching certain players if they aren’t useful in a matchup. Whereas, if I have employed the Stars n’ Scrubs approach, I cannot bench my stars as they were costly. Additionally, if one of my stars gets injured, I have little hope of winning the league. If I have $200 auction dollars to work with then I want to spend about $20-25 on each of my top nine players.
The foundation of a championship team is efficiency. I want to be toward the top of my league in each of the three efficiency categories: FG%, FT%, and TO. One way to accomplish this is by punting assists, because point guards typically have high TO. I can fill my utility slots with big men who hit their free throws, thereby being solid in both percentages. However, punting assists is not always necessary to accomplish the objective of being efficient. There are plenty of efficient point guards in the league.
Using this strategy, I am not punting any category during the draft. However, in each individual matchup I am consciously trying to win the categories that my opponent is weak in, and giving up in the categories where he dominates me. It is so much easier to win this way if your foundation is built on efficiency. If you are beating your opponent in all three efficiency categories, then you need only attack him in his two weakest categories to win the matchup. Almost every team will be unbalanced in some way and have at least two categories where they are vulnerable.
Having an efficient team is all about having no players who are bad at free throws and having at least a couple of high FG% players. People talk about FT% anchors, but they talk less frequently about FG% anchors. This is odd to me because in truth there is no such thing as a FT% anchor. An excellent FT% shooter cannot make up for a player who makes fewer than 60% of their free throws. Conversely, one player such as Tyson Chandler can make up even for a terribly inefficient player.
The value of a player relates to how far his percentage deviates from the mean. Most NBA players make most of their free throws, so one poor free throw shooter is devastating to your team. To illustrate this let’s take a look at James Harden and DeAndre Jordan. Harden is projected to make roughly 8 of 9 free throws next season. Jordan is projected to make 2 of 5. Combined, that is 10 of 14 or 71.5%. In a typical 12 team league the best teams will shoot around 78% from the line and the middle of the pack will be 75%. 71.5% would likely make you the worst team in your league from the line. It is evident that even the most elite FT% anchor in the league, Harden, cannot make up for one punt FT% big man.
Conversely, most NBA players miss the majority of their shots from the field. The average FG% is about 45%. One elite FG% can make up for a bad shooter. Let’s take Tyson Chandler and Ricky Rubio. Chandler is a highly efficient player who mostly scores on dunks and Rubio has one of the lowest FG% in the league among players worth rostering. Chandler is projected to go about 4 for 6 from the field next season and Rubio is projected to go about 4 for 10. Combined, that’s 8 for 16, or 50%. 50% is elite in the FG% category.
In order to have an efficient team you cannot have one bad FT% shooter on your team. You can have some “3 and D” specialists with FG% in the low 40’s provided that you have some high FG% big men to balance it out. Of course, your big men also must make their free throws. The big men who make their free throws and the guards who make threes also generally have low TO. So you can begin to see what the most efficient teams look like.
Now that I’ve established that I want to build a deep team with nine efficient players who cost around $20 each, who are good players to target? Points guards-Jeff Teague, Goran Dragic, George Hill, Darren Collison; Shooting Guards-Kyle Korver, J.J. Redick, Danny Green; Small Forwards-Rudy Gay, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMarre Carroll; Power Forwards-Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dirk Nowitzki, Meyers Leonard; Centers-Both Lopez brothers, Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler. This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many efficient players who are not included on this list.
Another notion that I would like to dispel is that some people believe that being efficient means being weak in the counting stats. Often times, a player will be worth their auction price even if they weren’t efficient, and being efficient is a free bonus. For example, Korver can be purchased for less than $15 auction dollars in a lot of leagues. He would probably be worth that for his threes, decent rebounding, and decent stocks. However, he is also one of the most efficient players in the game. Brook Lopez is one of the most efficient players in the game. He also happens to score nearly 20 points per game and gets nearly two blocks per game. In many leagues he will cost less than $30 auction dollars. You would probably pay $30 auction dollars for his scoring and blocks while his incredible efficiency is merely a bonus. You could say the same thing about most of the players above, the Gasols, Middleton, Teague, etc. They all produce fantasy relevant stats, while being affordable in auctions, and being efficient.
I know that these concepts can be difficult to understand. I hope that they’ve shown you why the counting stats are overrated in H2H matches and provided a quick guide as to how to have a better approach.