How to Play Fantasy Basketball

Three Methods:Learning the GameBuilding Your RosterManaging Your Team

Sometimes, watching NBA basketball out of sheer love of the sport just isn’t enough. Thankfully, there’s fantasy basketball—a way for casual fans and enthusiasts alike to add an element of fun and drama to the long regular season. While not as popular or widely played as fantasy baseball, the growth of the fantasy hoops industry has been steady since the 1990s. Learning how to play fantasy basketball can add an extra layer of appeal to an already entertaining sport.

Method 1
Learning the Game

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    Research the types of fantasy basketball. As with the majority of fantasy sports, fantasy basketball is presented in several different forms:
    • In rotisserie fantasy basketball, stat categories award points based on the number of teams in the league (for example, in a 12-team league, categories award points from 1 to 12 depending on where teams rank in that category). If you rank second in assists, that would be worth 11 points to your team. The owner with the highest point total at the end of the season is declared the winner.
    • Points-based is the simplest style of fantasy basketball, awarding different point totals for various achievements (points scored, rebounds, blocks, or others). The team that collects the most points wins.
    • Head-to-head pits one team owner against another on a weekly basis. Their rosters compete against one another in various statistical categories, with each team earning a “win” for finishing ahead of the opponent in a category. Rather than accumulate points, team owners aim to finish with the best “win-loss record” at season’s end.
    • Salary-based is a fantasy game in which owners are given a fixed amount of fictional money and must use it to build a team. Each player in the NBA is tagged with a predetermined “salary.” Users are not allowed to exceed the “salary cap.”
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    Research the types of leagues. It is important to establish how much commitment you’re willing to put into playing fantasy basketball before deciding on what kind of league you’re interested in entering:
    • Single-year leagues are the simplest form of fantasy basketball. You draft a team, make roster moves throughout the season and go for the championship. The following year, you start completely from scratch. This style of league is ideal for anyone looking for something easy to track and requiring the minimum amount of commitment.
    • Keeper leagues allow fantasy players to keep a maximum number of NBA stars on their roster from one season to the next. Some leagues mandate that each team keep the same number of players, while others set a range of players per team. The following year’s draft includes any player not retained.
    • In dynasty leagues, teams remain the same from year to year, with the only roster changes coming in the form of player adds, player drops, and trades. Each year, the annual draft consists exclusively of rookies. This league requires a great deal of attention and commitment.
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    Learn about the categories. While each league varies, most use the same 9 categories:
    • Points scored is fairly straightforward. It’s the number of points a player records.
    • Field goal percentage refers to a player’s success rate on made shots. If he converts 3 of 5 attempts, his field goal percentage is 60.
    • 3-point percentage is similar to field goal percentage but is limited to how a player performs from beyond the 3-point line.
    • Free throw percentage measures a player’s success rate on foul shots.
    • Rebounds are tallied whenever a player grabs a missed shot attempt.
    • Assists are counted whenever a player makes a pass that results in a successful basket—but only if the scoring player takes no more than one step before making the shot.
    • Steals occur whenever the offensive team loses control of the ball to an opposing player. The player who forces the turnover through contact with the ball is given the steal.
    • Blocks refer to any shot attempt that is successfully deflected by an opposing player.
    • Turnovers are defined by any possession in which the offensive team loses control of the ball without registering a shot. In fantasy basketball, you want this to be a low number.
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    Look into the types of drafts. The type of draft you conduct will shape how you conduct your research and ultimately decide on a strategy:
    • Straight drafts can be conducted either online or in person. In a straight draft, the order is established and users select NBA players one at a time. The order can either be regular (people own the same pick in every round) or serpentine (straight draft order is used for odd-numbered rounds, while the opposite is used for even-numbered rounds). Players are selected until all teams’ empty slots are filled.
    • Auto drafts are conducted online, with teams selected automatically rather than by the competing team owners. The drafting program makes selections based either by the site’s player rankings or by pre-rankings established by the team owner. This type of draft is ideal for those who are unable to agree on a mutual date for a live draft.
    • Auction drafts do not follow a specific draft order. Instead, a player is offered up for bid by one team owner, and everyone then bids on the player until a final price is established. Teams are limited to predetermined budgets and must fill every spot on their roster without running out of money.

Method 2
Building Your Roster

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    Read up on the players. Most of the largest sports websites have their own fantasy basketball sections, complete with “mock” drafts (conducted by fantasy experts to provide insight into possible draft trends), columns on overrated and underrated players, and projected statistics for the coming season. Magazines are also helpful, but generally wind up being dated by the time your draft is held.
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    Conduct your draft. The draft is one of the most entertaining days of the fantasy year, as team owners gather to pick what they hope will be the winning roster—and engage in a little good-natured trash talk along the way. Stick to your strategy, but be willing to make minor adjustments as warranted. Make sure you fill every position with the best player available, and do your best to achieve proper balance in every category. Most of all, have fun!
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    Set your optimal lineup. Most leagues will allow you to carry more players than you need, with the extra bodies ending up on your “bench.” You’ll need to decide what your optimal lineup is and make sure it is set up in time for the start of the season.

Method 3
Managing Your Team

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    Replace underperforming or injured players. Nearly every fantasy basketball team runs into injuries or poor performances along the way. Unless you have an empty slot on your bench, you will need to drop someone if you’re looking to add a free agent. Scour the pool of available players regularly and don’t be afraid to take a chance on players who are running hot or who suddenly find themselves with more playing time than they were originally expected to get. Being proactive will help your chances of winning.
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    Make trades to improve your team. Team owners will often find themselves strong in one area, weak in another, or both. This is the time to talk trade. If you’re dealing from an area of surplus—for example, you lead the league in rebounds by a significant margin—then your best option is to deal some of your excess for help in other areas. Conversely, if you’re weak somewhere but well-balanced everywhere else, you should find a way to trade for help in that area. Trading isn’t always easy, but if you make enough offers and keep communication lines open, you should succeed in making your team better.
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    Scour the Internet for tips, warnings, and trends. Fantasy basketball experts don’t stop working once the draft season is over. They’re working all year long to provide owners with up-to-the-minute news on injuries, playing time situations, and other key developments. Leagues aren’t won on draft day, so continue following fantasy writers and analysts on a weekly basis and adjust your roster accordingly.
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    Enjoy the season! Fantasy basketball is designed to add appeal and excitement to the NBA season. Don’t take it too seriously.


  • Some players offer big benefits in one or two categories, while others aren’t as dominant in specific areas but provide value in several sections. If you need significant help and don’t mind sacrificing one of your multi-purpose options, you should strongly consider picking up a “specialist” to catch up in a hurry.


  • Do not rely too heavily on statistics from the previous season. While they do serve a purpose, they are completely non-predictive. A new season offers new opportunities, so focus instead on projecting what you think will happen rather than rely on what already has.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Basketball