By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Being prepared on draft day is crucial to winning any fantasy league. Whether you’re a total newcomer to fantasy or a seasoned player, it’s important to understand how to approach a Yahoo NBA Fantasy draft. There’s no perfect way to draft, but following some general principles can put you in a great position to succeed.
Understand the Format
Fantasy basketball, maybe more than any other fantasy sport, can have drastically different league formats. Understanding the ins-and-outs of how your league works will help put you on the path to victory.
For the most part, score is kept by one of two methods: points or categories. Which team wins the league is determined by whether the league is a rotisserie or a head-to-head format. Some leagues also have larger benches or an injured reserve slot, allowing you to take more risks.
In points leagues, each stat category is assigned a specific point value. Then, those point values are simply added up for each player on your team and added together to determine your team’s total score. If you’re used to fantasy football, which almost always utilizes a points format, this is the most straightforward way to approach fantasy basketball. If you play by the NBA’s official points format, it looks like this:
Points: 1 point
Rebounds: 1.2 points
Assists: 1.5 points
Steals and Blocks: 3 points
Turnovers: -1 point
In categorical leagues, on the other hand, you aren’t playing to score the most total fantasy points, but to win the most statistical categories. While points formats disregard how the points are accrued, it makes a difference in categorical formats if your team is strong in points, blocks, field goal percentage, etc. Typically, eight or nine categories are considered, the most popular of which are:
Points – Rebounds – Assists – Steals – Blocks – Field Goal Percentage – Free Throw Percentage – Made Three-Pointers – Turnovers (the most commonly excluded category)
Certain players are more or less valuable depending on the format. Andre Drummond, who — with his combination of rebounding, high field goal percentage and above-average assists production for his position — could be worth a top-10 pick in points formats but drops closer to the 30-40 range, overall, in a categorical format due to his poor free-throw shooting and lack of three-point contributions.
Both scoring formats can be played as either head-to-head (H2H) or rotisserie (Roto). In H2H, you are matched up against another owner’s fantasy team — typically over the course of a week — and earn a victory for outscoring your opponent. Similar to fantasy football, the regular season is usually followed by a few weeks of playoff matchups, and the winner of the “finals” is the winner of the league.
In roto formats, there are no individual matchups versus a specific opponent each week. Instead, teams are ranked in each statistical category and can move up or down the standings — both within a given category and overall — on a nightly basis, based upon the roster’s cumulative output. This process starts with Game 1 in October and typically spans until Game 82 in April. Whoever comes out on top — that is, whichever team has the highest average ranking among all categories — wins the league.
Obviously, the goal is to finish as high as possible in each category, so it’s imperative to identify strengths early on and utilize trades and waiver moves to shore up holes. With a season that unfolds over the course of seven months, waiting too long to improve in a category can result in an insurmountable deficit. For instance, if you fail to acquire sufficient three-point production on draft night, you could easily find yourself trailing the category leader by several hundred made three-pointers over the course of a couple months. With eight or nine categories at play, it’s almost impossible to be elite in all of them, but avoiding bottoming out in any category is a must.
Know Players’ Ceilings and Floors
Perhaps the most important component to any draft is risk management. If you’re aware of each player’s ceiling and floor, you can consistently make decisions that give you the best chance for a positive outcome. Early in the draft, selecting players with a high floor is advised. Even if you think Donovan Mitchell can develop into a top-10 fantasy talent this season, drafting him at, say, pick No. 7 over a more proven talent like Damian Lillard sets you up for a higher chance of failure.
On the other hand, if you’re in the final rounds of your draft and are beginning to fill out your bench, swinging for the fences can pay off. If you’re deciding between James Johnson and Jabari Parker, Parker has the greater potential to swing victories in your favor if he remains healthy and reaches his upside. Johnson is the safer, more proven commodity, but you’ll be able to find similar production on the waiver wire at some point in the season.
Age, injury history, roster composition and team goals all play a part in determining a player’s ceiling-to-floor in a given season, and rookies are always a significant part of the discussion. With no NBA history to work with, college production and draft position can help determine whether or not a rookie is worth gambling on in fantasy, but it’s always a risk. For the most part, it pays to avoid spending early-round picks on rookies, given how volatile workloads can be in Year 1. Of course, there are a few notable exceptions, but rookies tend to be average-at-best fantasy contributors who are best-suited for upside picks in the mid-to-late-rounds.
Unless your league is entirely flex spots, you’ll have to make sure you fill out each position. It can be easy to take the players you feel are the best available and suddenly end up with too many point guards and nowhere to play them. You could make a trade to balance things out post-draft, but that’s much easier said than done.
Some positions are also more top-heavy than others. Generally speaking, there are fewer top-tier forwards and centers in the NBA than guards. If you load up on guards early in the draft, you might struggle to find high-floor big men. If your league starts two centers, which isn’t uncommon, it’s especially important to shore up the position before the draft gets to the middle rounds. Given how the league is currently balanced, it’s much easier to find quality guards in the mid-to-late rounds than it is quality centers, particularly in leagues with strict center eligibility. Wait too long, and you’ll be starting Larry Nance and Brook Lopez against your opponent’s Nikola Jokic and Marc Gasol.
Most players are eligible at multiple positions, which has inherent value and can be used to your advantage. If someone on your roster suffers an injury, having multiple-position players helps with flexibility in terms of filling the voids and rearranging your lineup to maximize games played and, in turn, potential fantasy production.