Welcome to the first, of hopefully many posts I plan to do about fantasy basketball! This first one is quite big, but it's also easy to skip around if you wish. I'm writing here because I'm getting back into playing fantasy basketball, and want to provide an outlet for those of us who play or want to play can have a conversation. I tend to enjoy discussions on SB Nation much more than via messageboards, so I thought I'd try it out here and see how it goes.
Like things in life, there is more than 1 way to solve a problem or to go about things. My hope is that I can come up with topics and opinions that can provide some meaningful discussion in general. I have not won every league I've played in, so I make mistakes and am sometimes wrong too. Will following my advice win you your league? Who knows? But my hope it at least gives you something to think about, and give you something to talk about. With the regular season tipping off in a week from today, I've got a lot of ground to cover!
I'm going to start with the very basics: A very general overview of fantasy basketball. Seems like a logical place to start as some may be new to the game, or at least curious about the game. After this post, the next one will get more into specifics and strategy.
Why Fantasy Basketball?
It is a question that comes up quite a bit, when I bring up the topic of fantasy basketball. I know a ton of people that play fantasy football, the most popular fantasy game out there. I know quite a few that play fantasy baseball, and I was schooled by the game of fantasy baseball by my uncle, a guy who played the game from almost the beginning out on the East Coast. I come from primarily a baseball family, so naturally at the age of 12, I got my own team online (I lied about my age), did all my homework, and had a fantasy baseball team. Fantasy baseball was the first fantasy sport, so it makes sense it was the first game I played.
The thing is, at age 12, 13, 14, etc., you have a lot of time on your hands. I mean, I went to school, got good grades, played sports, and participated in music, but still... I had a lot of time on my hands. I was able to watch games on TV, look up stats on my computer all night, watch ESPN religiously (12-14 years ago, I contend the channel was still good), and basically devote all of my spare time to fantasy baseball. It was the best time to learn the game...
Now at 26, I'm married, with no kids (but that will change one day). I've got a full time job, a wife, and I'm just not able to follow sports at the level I used to... Which is still fine, because the level I used to follow them at was borderline psychotic.... I mean, you're talking about a guy who used to memorize boxscores from Baseball Weekly, and reenact the games according to the boxscore in my front yard... I could name the starting lineup for every MLB team, just by doing stuff like that... I don't have time to do that now, and if you do and aren't 12 or 13, you should find something else to do.
So what does all of this have to do with fantasy basketball? Well, to me, it was the concept of time. NBA starts up when the MLB regular season has been wrapped up for a month. Once I got comfortable playing fantasy baseball, when the season was over, I needed a new thing to fill in the time. Because I had an interest in basketball, it seemed like a natural progression to get into Fantasy Basketball next (I had been pretty oblivious to fantasy football until I get to College), after having played fantasy baseball for a season or so.
Basketball was probably my 2nd favorite sport. Charles Barkley was my favorite player, and my hometown T-Wolves had a good NBA team, fresh off of making the playoffs for the first time with the likes of Tom Gugliotta, Stephon Marbury, and of course K.G. The Wolves had a big three of their own, and it was going to be the start of making a run for championships... At least, that's what pretty much all Minnesota fans thought at the time.
On top of that, basketball is a universal sport at the inner city elementary and middle school I went to. Every school, every park (Minneapolis has a lot of these), has a hoop. It was pretty easy to get a ball, find some friends, and go hoop it up. It was the outdoor activity of choice by my friends and me.
So, that's pretty much how I get into the game. My experience includes playing quite a bit from about 1997 until 2005, then played again in 2007-2008, and then took 2009 off. What has drawn me away from the game, doesn't really have anything to do with my NBA fandom (although it has admittedly gone down from where it used to be for me), but it was more due to the fact that I have never really found a league I loved playing in. I don't know enough people who enjoy playing the game, and ESPN/Yahoo public leagues tend to have a lot of people who bail on the team.... Not a lot of fun to be honest. I even played in a $50 buy-in league, and I'd say the bottom 4-5 team owners stopped playing after the first couple of months. With baseball, I had gotten lucky enough to find some people to play with year in and year out, which makes it a lot of fun.
Anyhow, just because I haven't played in a year, doesn't mean I don't know the game. In fact, if you play fantasy baseball, a lot of the same concepts and ideas translate over to fantasy basketball, particularly with Roto. With Roto Fantasy Basketball (which is my game of choice), you have 8 categories (as opposed to 10, although really old school has 8), some of which are harder to accumulate than others. The season is a marathon, not a sprint, as the season is played over the course of 6 months... Sounds familiar right?
Now, there are some key differences obviously as basketball is a very different game from baseball. But if you love statistics, find the game at least somewhat entertaining, I think it's worth a shot to at least trying playing it. If you are a seasoned fantasy player, and know at least a little bit about the NBA, with the right about of research you can get right into the mix.
I'm going to jump a little more into an overview of fantasy basketball, including format, statistical categories, roster size, draft type, league size, and other tips about having a fun fantasy basketball season. Each section is bolded, so feel free to skip to whichever you find interesting. My next post will get more into my strategy for building a team.
Do you want to play roto, or head-to-head? Really, there isn't a wrong answer to this. It all depends on what you're looking for, and why you're playing.
The benefit of head-to-head is mostly that each week is a fresh slate. If you miss out on updating your team, its all good, because you can fix it the next week. Now, if you do this too often, obviously that will catch up with you. I think head-to-head rewards players who are more of a casual fan, aren't as analytical, and enjoy the idea of winning or losing each week. There are typically playoffs over the last month of the season, so I think more emphasis is on picking a lineup that fits towards the end of the year, and less on an entire body of work (although you have to be somewhat decent to get into the playoffs). You can have the 8th best team in your 12 team league, and have a chance to win it all still. It probably keeps the average joe more interested in playing.
With roto, the benefit is that you get rewarded for having the best fantasy team. I've played in head to head leagues where if you took the total categories I accumulated, I would have had the best team, but instead I get booted out of the first round of the playoffs. That sucks to me. All of the hard work with devising a good draft strategy, making good moves, updating my team all year, doesn't hold as much weight in head to head. With roto, it encompasses the entire year, and you get rewarded (or penalized), for not having the best team. A common problem in roto, however, is that if a team owner is a cellar dweller at the midpoint of the season, they will probably bail, whereas in head to head, they may be more motivated to try and get their team good enough to get in to that #8 spot and make the playoffs. For those of us who love roto though, we don't bail on the team like that. If I'm in last place, I'm trying to set the goal of getting to the top half, just because. I play fantasy sports because I want to try to prove to my friends, or random group of online people that I am a more knowledgeable fan about this sport than them (at least in theory). I don't feel like I can say I'm good at anything I quit on.
Once you decide what you want to play, the big question you may have are what are the common categories (stats) that are used in this game. The short answer is that it all depends.
Most commonly the stats are FG%, FT%, 3PTM, PTS, REB, AST, STL, BLK... More and more leagues have Turnovers in there as well, but I hate that. Assist to Turnover? Fine. But just turnovers? YUCK.
Here's why. Do you know who the Top 10 players were in committing turnovers were last year? Monta Ellis, Steve Nash, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Kevin Durant, Dwayne Wade, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Jackson, and Kobe Bryant. Most of these guys are elite fantasy players. They also have the ball in their hands more often than not, so naturally their turnovers are going to be higher than the average player. That's wrong to me!
Fantasy sports is about getting the best players, and we're now going to penalize the best players by incorporating a stat that doesn't really say anything about it. Now if you take into account A/T ratio, or were somehow able to quantify turnovers as a % of touches, I'd be fine with that. But just having turnovers in there is silly to me.
In addition to the categories above, some leagues put categories like games played, field goals made, 3 point percentage, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, fouls committed, and others. In my opinion, games played, field goals made, and 3 point percentage are redundant categories, as they are pretty much encompassed in the counting statistics, points scored, and field goal percentage.
I'm fine with offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds, but use one of each, and throw out total rebounds... Instead I see a lot of leagues with offensive, and total. Seems redundant to me again. Fouls are an interesting one. On one hand, fouls can hurt a team (although there are times where it helps), but typically the guys who commit the most fouls are post players. I just don't know if the total fouls committed really varies that much to make it interesting for fantasy, but if you think it is and want to play by it, go for it.
At the end of the day, play the categories that you want. With almost all of this, I'm just saying what I think and what I do. But if including or removing particular ones is the difference between you having fun and not, I say do what you like.
When I first starting playing, it was common to have 1 PG, 1 SG, 1 G, 1 SF, 1 PF, 1 F, 2 C, and 2 UTIL spots with 2-3 bench spots.... Now-a-days with the presence of a center becoming less relevant, I see a lot of 1 PG, 1 SG, 1 G, 1 SF, 1 PF, 1 F, 1 C, with 3 UTIL spots and 3 bench spots. I think it makes it more fun. Having 2 centers in fantasy basketball is like having 2 catchers in fantasy baseball. You might get one C that can help you out, but typically with that second C, you are getting someone who plays sparingly, or does very little... What Yahoo, ESPN, etc., did was make more PFs eligible at C... To me, it's just easier to have 1 C, and have that extra UTIL spot.
Snake draft is the most common. I think this is the first year I've seen widespread auction drafts, but perhaps it's been around for a bit. Really the pros vs. cons are the same as auctions in baseball. With auctions, they are fairer in my opinion, in that if you are willing to pay a price, you have a chance at whichever player you want. You want Kevin Durant? Well, if you're willing to pay x dollars, he is all yours! With a Snake, if you want Durant but do not have the #1 overall pick, chances are you will not get him. But I'm saying things you already know.
8 to 12 teams are common. I think often times 10 team leagues are just fine. I'm not a big fan of going past 12 teams. In a 12 team league, that's 156 guys being drafted. Everyone you've heard of and then some are getting picked in a league of this size, more often than not. I think 8 team leagues are perfectly fine for learning with, especially if you aren't as familiar with NBA rosters. That's still over 100 guys getting picked, and that also leaves some decent players available on the waiver wire. It's a good way to learn
What Do I Play?
Well, by reading the posts, you can probably guess. But to sum in case you forgot or are skipping around, I play roto, would prefer to do an auction draft if I can, and play in 12 team leagues. I like the 8 categories I listed above, and HATE turnovers. Based on that, my advice is best suited for it, but I will try to give good advice for head to head as well.
Try to have fun with this. If you aren't having fun, you aren't going to stay with it. Playing with friends, family, co-workers, people you play other fantasy sports with, etc., make it a lot better of an experience.
When you're going out there and reading about things, it doesn't matter my opinion or what the pros think. Play the kind of game you are going to be interested in. You aren't any less of a player, or anything like that. There's no such thing as "real" fantasy basketball and "poser" fantasy basketball, no matter what anybody says. Just naturally, people tend to defend and talk up the style and format they play. Don't let that discourage you from having fun! The type of league you should play, is the type of league you want to play!
It really helps to watch some games. It doesn't mean you have to watch every NBA game, but watching the game can help with showing you how your players are accumulating the stats they are. A lot more can be said of what's going on than via the boxscore. Also, there are other more descriptive stats that can sometimes tell us more about a player than the traditional stats. I'll look at some of that too.
Throw down a few bucks. With Paypal, it's very easy to send money to another person. Have an entry fee of $20 or something. With 10 guys, that's $200. When the season is over, if you do well, it's beer money or money for a date with the significant other., as an appreciation of letting you draft your team, watch the games, etc... Also, if your girlfriend/wife can see a benefit for themselves with this, they aren't going to complain as much (as much is the key word) about you playing. Now, I'm not sexist. I've played all fantasy sports with women before, and I know couples that play together as well. Nothing wrong with that either. Don't get all offended here!
My next post, I'll get into draft strategy, and cover a lot more specifics in regards to building and managing a fantasy basketball team!