How Does Fantasy Basketball Work?

All fantasy sports are tough, but few of them are as involved as fantasy basketball. Not only are there a lot of moving parts to keep track of, but games are almost constant as well. There’s something almost every night, which means that owners always have to be on their toes.

Though the entire process can seem overwhelming for some, it’s easy to keep track of once an owner knows what they’re doing. This guide will expand on that by covering all of the fantasy basketball basics, as well as how to apply them when first getting started.

The Building Blocks

At its base, fantasy basketball is like any other league. That is to say, it begins with a league of players who all draft a series of real-life NBA athletes to create a team. From there, they then play games throughout the season based on how well their drafted players do in real life.

Most teams consist of ten starters and three bench players. Starters are the only ones who score points, which come from the main stats (points, assists, rebounds, etc.). Bench players don’t add to your point total for the game, but they can be switched in and out as you see fit.

However, not all leagues are the same. When starting fantasy basketball, it’s important to understand what type you’re in before doing anything else.

A League by Any Other Type

At their base, every fantasy basketball league works in the same way. The players gain stats in real life, and those then translate to points in the league. Whoever gets the most points after a set period of time wins their game (or their week). Rinse and repeat for the entire season.

Even so, there are four main league types that all score in slightly different ways. They are roto (also known as categorical), head-to-head roto, points, and head-to-head points.

In roto leagues, players focus on the total number of stats rather than individual matchups. For example, if your center gets one rebound, then your total rebounds goes up by one. Whoever gets the most in each category receives points on a sliding scale depending on league size.

Point leagues, on the other hand, just count how many stats a team scores based on the individual stat scoring system. If assists are worth 1.5 points and a player dishes out four, then you would get six points. 

In both above examples, head-to-head versions pit individual teams against each other rather than looking at everyone at once. Such games typically last a week. Whoever wins the most categories (roto) or has the most points (points) ends up taking the win.

These leagues follow a normal game progression, and end with playoffs and a championship.

Understanding The Draft

Perhaps the most important part of any fantasy league is the draft. Though it can be quite intimidating, it’s not as bad once you know what type of league you’re in. Always draft players who are going to give you a lot of value. Pay attention to restrictions as well.

Most leagues will give you a certain amount of positions (such as two centers or utility spots) and you need to fill them all. Flashy stars who put up a lot of points are great, but getting a certain player who dominated in a single category is a viable strategy as well.

Most drafts use a snake format, where the owner who gets the first pick in a round goes last in the next one. That keeps everything simple and fair. Auction drafts, where players have to bid money to get players, are common as well.

Either way, it’s always best to get players who are going to give you the most stats across a broad spectrum (or ones who will bring in the most points) first before switching gears and moving towards more specialized athletes.

Adapting Through the Season

After the league kicks off and the draft is done, it turns into which teams can get the most stats. Whether you’re in a head-to-head or more general league, the goal is always to find a way to get points with the players that you have access to.

However, shifts will occur. Injuries happen, players go out, and some low-value players get better as the season moves forward. It’s critical to make changes and freely adapt to those shifts, or you’ll likely get left in the dust. That’s especially true if someone’s underperforming.

For that, there are two options. Trades and the waiver wire. Trades in fantasy work just like they do in real life, where two teams switch players in order to shore up a weakness. For example, if someone’s team pulls in a lot of points but only a few rebounds, they may try to get a big man.

If one of your players falls short throughout a season, there’s also the waiver wire. In this, owners are able to snatch up players that aren’t on any team. It’s one of the best resources to fix holes in your lineup because you gain someone without giving your opponents anything.

Just note that all waiver wires have special rules for who gets to pick from them first. It can be budget or record based. Either way, the players who are doing worse tend to have priority when it comes to claiming someone. Still, it always helps to pick up players when possible.

All About the Stats

Knowing about the inner workings of fantasy basketball is important, but understanding how to win games is the meat and potatoes of every league. It’s easy to say you want to get more statistics (and thus more points) than your opponents, but it’s not that simple.

Focus on categorical scarcity, meaning how often certain stats show up, and then get players accordingly. Blocks and assists are the hardest categories to find after a draft, so it’s critical to pay attention to both of them when fielding a team.

In contrast, rebounds and three point shooters are everywhere. Though you do want to keep an eye on both when feilding your team, know that you can make up for those as the season goes on. Points are the most important statistic, so it’s best to get them first.

Following that hierarchy enables you to know who to draft, who to pick up, and what types of players you should keep an eye on as the season progresses. Making the wrong move can be disastrous, but putting together a few good ones can be what helps push you over the top.

Final Words

Fantasy basketball has a lot going on. As with anything, however, it’s much less daunting once all the pieces are laid out. Everything fits together, from the draft, lineup setting, and game play. It’s a lot to process, but easy to track with a basic understanding of the system.

These basics are essential for anyone to know, as are the next level aspects that help your team run smoothly. If you pay attention to all the fundamentals while building on your first draft, you’ll make it to the playoffs (and win a championship) in no time.

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