Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fantasy Basketball Basics By Nels From Give Me The Rock

Nels is a contributing author to Give Me The Rock and a true fantasy lord's Fantasy Lord (not in the creepy Gandalf-suit-wearing way). He'll be dropping Fantasy Knowledge on you from time to time. Here's his article on fantasy basketball basics. Enjoy.

Sometimes I worry that the strategy and tactics we talk about on Give Me The Rock are too far over the heads of fantasy basketball novices. So, it makes me happy to present this article on fantasy basketball basics for Hardwood Paroxysm.

So, where do the basics of fantasy basketball start? I'd say you need to look at your league rules and settings.

League Formats

What are the scoring categories in your league? Most fantasy leagues use either 8 or 9 categories which are: Field Goal Percentage, Free Throw Percentage, Three-pointers Made, Rebounds, Assists, Steals, Blocks, Points, and the optional 9th category is Turnovers. Hopefully the decision between 8 and 9 categories has already been decided for you, because I'm not going to touch that controversy with a 10-foot pole. There is also the less popular Points format, but there is much less standardization in that area than in other fantasy sports (I'm looking at you, football). I tried doing a Points league once and it just wasn't as fun as the categories.

Is your league Head-to-Head or Rotisserie? You'll know you're H2H if there is a schedule of matchups somewhere on your league page. You can also check the settings page, and it'll usually tell you. The uninitiated probably don't care too much, except they think that H2H is going to be "more fun" or "more competitive." But the difference between the two will dramatically change the way you should be picking your players in the draft. How's that?

Weeeeeeeeeellll... In Rotisserie, you compete against every other team in the league, for every category. The way I state that is important, because in Rotisserie, you cannot afford to "punt" any category. Okay, yeah, if you put together a team that does really well in just about every other category, then you can probably end up last in one category and still win. But it's a lot harder to put together a team that can do that, especially when you're in the middle of drafting a team.

If you're in an H2H league, you really only need to win a majority of the categories, which is 5 in either the 8 or 9 category leagus. That means, unlike in Rotisserie, you can focus on winning 5 categories and not have to worry so much about the other 3 or 4 categories. Why is that so important?

Big Ball vs. Small Ball

The Small Ball strategy consists of loading up on Points Guard types who will dominate categories like Points, Assists, Steals, Three-pointers Made, and FT%. That right there is enough to get your 5 of 9 categories. And that's the idea. Small guys are good at those things, so it’s called "small-ball."

If you like the big guys, you'll want to go with the opposite of small-ball and load up your roster with guys who will win Points, Rebounds, Blocks, FG%, and TOs (because they don't really handle the ball). Clearly, if you're playing in an 8 category league, then you need to figure out a 5th category for the Big Ball strategy to work. I would recommend trying to finesse steals, or picking up a upper-mid-level Point Guard who can get enough assists to make winning that category viable.

Should you decide on your strategy before you start the draft? I would argue: most certainly not. If you only look at the first two picks this year (Chris Paul and Amare Stoudemire), then you can probably pick a strategy beforehand. If you have the first pick, then it's Paul and Small Ball, but if you're second, you take Amare and go Big. But what if you have the 6th or 7th pick in a 12-team league. You don't know who's going to be the best player left at that point. Even more so if you're at the end of the first round, anywhere from 10th pick up. You're thinking maybe Allen Iverson or Baron Davis, but then, somehow Elton Brand or Dirk Nowitzki slips, and suddenly it seems like a better idea to take one of those guys to start a Big Ball team. Of course, if you get someone like Shawn Marion or Caron Butler, you can keep your options open and once again take the best available player in the 2nd round.

One final thing to know about your league rules and settings is the required starting positions. Most leagues go with 13 players arrayed over PG, SG, G, SF, PF, F, C, C, Util, Util, and 3 Bench spots. Most draft applications make it easy to tell if you've got the required positions filled in, but it's always good to do a quick review just to make sure you know what you need.

So, now that you know your league, what do you do to prepare? Well, if your draft start in an hour, you can print off Give Me The Rock's Big Board which ranks 200+ players. If you've got a little more time, you can build your own player rankings.

Building Your Rankings

mookie at a stern warning... has a great piece on how to build rankings to prepare for a fantasy draft. Something to keep in mind about spreadsheets for when you finally get to the draft: don't try to use it to track the draft unless you actually practice finding a random player and removing him from it every 10-90 seconds. The best uses of the spreadsheet are: a) Pre-rankings players so that when they're drafted, they're automatically removed the list in the draft application, and b) checking on a player's rank during the draft to make sure you're not reaching too much for any particular player.

If you're ready now for more advanced fantasy basketball strategy, check out Give Me The Rock's fantasy basketball strategy category.

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