Fantasy Basketball Draft Prep: How to dominate your auction

Yahoo Sports Fantasy Staff

By Alex Rikleen, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Welcome to the crash course on fantasy basketball auctions.

Auctions are the preferred drafting format for many fantasy experts, so they’ve increased in popularity in recent years. The knowledge required to be a strong fantasy basketball auction drafter is similar to a traditional snake draft, but the skills and strategies differ in a few key ways.

Whether this is your first time auctioning or you’re simply looking for a refresher, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get started.

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What are the basics of an auction draft?

Every manager starts with a set budget — typically $200. Managers take turns nominating players for the auction block, and the nominated player is “sold” to the highest bidder. The draft continues until every roster is full. Take note: most host sites will force you to keep at least $1 per remaining roster spot, so keep that in mind as you get into late-draft bidding wars.


Game Plan

While all auction drafts will require some improvisation, this is not the time to close out your spreadsheets and do it live. You should enter with an outline for how you want your draft to go. Specifically, I recommend entering with two plans that compliment each other:

  1. Have an idea of the tiers in which you want to invest heavily

  2. Make a list of the key players you’re targeting

Your plan for No. 1 should look something like: “I want to pay up for multiple top-15 players, and I understand that I’ll be priced out of the market for most guys between 16 and 50” or, “I want to pass on top-20 prices and load up on guys ranked between 20 and 40.” We’ll talk about how to decide which of these is right for you below.

For No. 2, I recommend two lists. The first should be a relatively thorough list of players you want, so long as the price stays reasonable. The second list should be short. These are the players you don’t want; the guys you’re crossing off no matter the price. When you look back on your draft, these are the guys who make you say I really wish I had that roster spot available — that’s not the same as feeling like you overpaid for someone.

Pick an Investment Strategy

This is one of the most fun components of an auction draft, as there are infinite investment strategies. In broad strokes, here are the three most common:

Stars and Scrubs

Spend big to acquire several elite talents and fill the rest of your roster with very cheap players. The biggest risk with most top-20 players is that they get hurt. And there are always a few top-80 players who emerge off the waiver wire throughout the season.

Trey Burke was a popular waiver wire add last season — who will provide value in auction leagues this year? (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Trey Burke was a popular waiver wire add last season — who will provide value in auction leagues this year? (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

If you’re active on waivers early and a few of your discount picks work out, you might have something special.

Snake-like Distribution

Even though it’s an auction, you can still use the snake draft model for team-building. Assuming a $200 budget, this strategy typically yields a price breakdown of roughly: one $55+ player, one $40, one $30, one $23, one $16, one $11, one $7, and one $5, with the residual $13 split among the five remaining roster spots.

Mind the Gap

“The gap” refers to the mid-draft lull; after the top players are off the board, when the pre-draft excitement has waned, and managers are getting tired (or inebriated, or both). This team-building strategy calls for basically sitting out on the top dozen or so players. Once other managers have spent most of their draft capital, gap minders can take advantage of the depleted funds to bully their way to a strong stable of mid-tier players.

Part of the strategy is having enough money to comfortably price-enforce throughout picks 30 to 100. This approach can produce some enticing discounts, but it requires more flexibility and the ability to change directions on the fly.

Make Your Lists

Identify players you want within every tier. Write them down. If you’re not writing them out by hand, print them out. Have the hard copy with you when you draft.

This list should be comprehensive. You don’t want to get too attached to specific players; that’s an easy way to end up overspending in an otherwise avoidable bidding war. Keeping a long list also enables you to better adapt to the changing marketplace, and it helps you pivot as your budget changes.

I also like to make a list of players I don’t want under any circumstances. This list should be smaller and should have almost no one in the top-70, according to average draft position. Sure, Blake Griffin is a significant injury risk, but you should take him for $3 if you get the opportunity.

For the right price, Blake Griffin can provide great value to auction drafters. (Getty Images)
For the right price, Blake Griffin can provide great value to auction drafters. (Getty Images)

One bonus list idea: Players with glaring categorical weaknesses. This is the list that calls out Dwight Howard for his free throw shooting, Lonzo Ball for his field goal percentage, and Russell Westbrook for his turnovers.

Know Your League

This is fantasy 101, but it’s ignored all too frequently. Make sure, in any auction, that you’re well-versed in your league’s scoring and roster settings, and that you’re at least somewhat familiar with your opponents.

You absolutely must know your settings. If you play in an 11-category league that counts double-doubles and triple-doubles, players like Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns have added value. Giannis Antetokounmpo has more value in leagues with strict positional requirements, while all shooting guards lose value in leagues that allow more positional flexibility. DeMarcus Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis are more valuable — or at least, a little less risky — in leagues with an IR spot. Fantasy basketball, like every game ever, has rules. You have to know the rules to be able to win.

Keeper Leagues: Figure Out the Inflation Rate

A standard, 12-team auction draft has $2,400 ($200 x 12 = $2,400) to spend on 156 players (12 teams x 13 roster spots).

The auction prices listed in pre-draft guides assume everyone is starting from scratch. If experts decide that Myles Turner should go for $45 but you are keeping him for only $20, that messes up the experts’ baseline assumption.

In effect, you are starting the draft with $25 dollars more than everyone else, which should change how you bid. You have more money, so you can afford to bid more to get your guys, which leads to the players on your team costing more than the experts predicted.

This is much different than overpaying. This is understanding the market, understanding your buying power, and using both to acquire the assets you desire. Managers who don’t know the keeper inflation rate will get spooked that they are overpaying and end up with a less-talented team. Managers who know the inflation rate have a much better understanding of how much money is available, and what is reasonable to spend through each stage of the draft.



Every auction room is different, and being too rigid is a good way to kill your team. Auction drafts are all about value. It’s good to have a game-script, but if a top-5 talent is going for top-15 money, call an audible and go get him.

Be a Price-Enforcer, Within Reason

Bid up other people’s players. Later, when you are bidding against those same managers, you’ll be glad they spent the extra money. A few dollars at a time really adds up over the course of the auction.

You can also utilize the player submission process to your advantage. In most auctions, owners take turns nominating players, so when it’s your time, use that to your advantage. Let’s say you’re out on Victor Oladipo this season, for whatever reason.

Savvy auction drafters could force their opponents to overpay for someone like Victor Oladipo. (Getty Images)
Savvy auction drafters could force their opponents to overpay for someone like Victor Oladipo. (Getty Images)

When it’s your turn to nominate, sending Oladipo to the auction block is a good way to guarantee that someone else in your league is going to be down a significant chunk of their budget before the next player is sold. You could even play the bid-up game with Oladipo; other owners may (wrongfully) assume a nomination equates to genuine interest.

When it comes to price enforcing, just be sure to set limits for yourself to avoid missing out on too many productive players, or getting stuck paying for a player you don’t want. A few guidelines:

  1. It’s only price enforcing when you’re confident you’ll be outbid.

  2. Do not price enforce for a player on your Do Not Draft list.

  3. Set limits early for players you don’t actually want. The cap should be the highest price at which — even though you didn’t want him — you recognize you got a good value. If you don’t want a player whose expected price is in the low $50s, then when he is nominated, bid him up to around $45 and step away.

  4. Remember that any bid could be final. Don’t make a bid if you are not satisfied with the consequences of winning it.

  5. Keep track of available roster spots. If there are four players left who you want on your team, and you have enough money that you’re confident you will get all four, then make sure you have four roster spots available.

Be Disciplined, Stay Disciplined
If you said you weren’t going to spend more than $40 on Chris Paul’s knees, stick to it. If you only entered the LeBron James sweepstakes because the bidding slowed at $50, remember to bow out when it hits $70. If you were well-behaved early, don’t relax and forget your principles just because the dollar figure went down later in the draft.

It’s OK to Have Money Left Over

This flies in the face of what many people recommend, but hear me out. First, it’s acceptable to leave some money available, but be careful not to leave too much. You should not leave more than about six percent ($12 on a $200 budget) unused. That much left over means you should have upgraded a pick or two. But if you are left with roughly five percent or less of your budget remaining, that’s not worth fretting about.

You know what feels better than spending all your money? Liking your team. I’d rather leave $10 unused than miss out by a dollar on my mid-to-late darlings. The following is an incomplete list of players who were available in most leagues for between $2 and $5 last season, yet finished inside fantasy’s top 60 overall (9-category): Gary Harris, Donovan Mitchell, Tyreke Evans, Josh Richardson, Jamal Murray, Nikola Mirotic and Will Barton. If we raise our cut-off to the top 75, then we can add Joe Ingles, J.J. Redick, Aaron Gordon, Steven Adams, Lauri Markkanen, Taj Gibson and Dirk Nowitzki to that list.

It’s difficult to predict which low-cost players will break out, but I like being able to flex and grab my guys. While virtually no one predicted Evans’ mid-career revival, many “sleepers” lists mentioned Harris, Richardson, Murray, Gordon and Markkanen. I used my bully money on Ingles and Redick, who saved a few of my injury-decimated rosters. If you were busy worrying about spending all your cash, you probably missed out on these high-end fantasy starters.

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