This article last updated 10/28/2018 – Featured image from Google Images/YouTube
We are about 2 weeks into this new NBA season, and I wanted to take a moment to review how some of the rule changes (both DFS and NBA) are impacting daily fantasy basketball. I play the majority of my volume on Fanduel, so site-specific rule changes will primarily be focused on there, but the discussion about changes in the NBA, in general, will apply to all sites.
Scoring Is Way Up
In the 2011-12 NBA season, the league average in points per game was down at 96.3. It has been steadily increasing almost every year since then, but it jumped significantly from 106.3 in the 2017-18 season last year to 112 so far to start this 2018-19 campaign. One of the main factors for the steady increase since that 2011-12 season has been the explosion of the 3-point shot. In 2011-12, the league average for 3 point attempts per game was 18.4, with 6.4 made 3’s per game for a 34.8% completion percentage. If we compare that to this season, so far, 3-point attempts per game are all the way up to 31.8, with 11.2 makes per game for a 35.2% success rate. That increase in 3-point shooting is making teams more efficient taking 2-point shots because shooting from 3 stretches defenses out and provides more open, easy short shots. The 2017-18 Houston Rockets were the first team in NBA history to attempt more 3-point shots than 2-point shots. They attempted 3470 3’s compared to 3436 2’s.
Again, the 3-point shooting has been steadily increasing point totals for years now, but that does not explain the nearly 6-point increase per game that happened from last year to this year. I think that change can be primarily attributed to the shot clock reset rule change that the NBA Board of Governors approved for this season. With this rule change, the shot clock resets to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound of a missed shot or free throw; after a loose ball foul is called on the defensive team immediately following a missed field goal or free throw that hit the rim; or after the offensive team gets possession of the ball after it goes out of bounds immediately following a missed field goal or free throw that hit the rim. This may not seem like much, but the normal shot clock is 24 seconds in the NBA, so resetting to 14 instead of the full 24 shaves a lot of time every game when many teams would be pulling the ball back out to the top of the key and dribbling for 10-12 seconds before getting into their offensive sets. This forces the offensive pace to increase and makes for a more entertaining product to watch.
The reason this is important from a DFS perspective is that as scoring increases in games, minimum cash lines and required fantasy production will also increase. When selecting players for our fantasy rosters, it is imperative that we find guys who are projected to play heavy minutes (minutes = opportunity in NBA), have a high usage rate in the offense, can provide peripheral stats outside of scoring, and score fantasy points efficiently during the minutes that they are on the floor. While scoring is up across the NBA, there are some teams that still haven’t embraced the culture of pace up play with lots of 3-point shot attempts. Because of this, on big 8-12 game slates, there are often scenarios where there is a large discrepancy between the highest scoring projection of the slate and the lowest. If there is a game with a projected total of 237.5 and another game with a projected total of 202, there is a really good chance that fantasy production will be significantly higher in the game with the 237.5 total. Vegas numbers are not a guarantee. There are times when games will surprisingly blow up, and games that will disappoint significantly, but generally these totals are a good place to start when looking for games and players to target.
Another factor to consider when looking at NBA game totals is the point spread. Let’s say we have a game with a 237.5 total, and another game with a 236 total. In the 237.5 game, maybe the Golden State Warriors are favored by 12-points over the Phoenix Suns. In the 236 game, perhaps the Portland Trail Blazers are only 1-point favorites over the Los Angeles Clippers. This means that the Blazers vs. Clippers game should be more competitive. The reason this is important is that, in a competitive game, it is likely that the starters play their full complement of minutes and have to keep pushing the pace offensively to keep up and win the game. 82 games is a grueling, long, grind of a season for NBA players, and coaches look for opportunities to limit minutes for their star players when possible. There are frequently games when a team like Golden State will sit Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson in the 4th quarter if they are blowing their opponent out. These are things we want to consider when selecting players for our lineups.
Fanduel Rule Change
Fanduel implemented an interesting rule change for their DFS contests this year. The lowest-scoring player on your team will now be dropped, no matter what. The intent of this rule change is to make the NBA game more friendly to the casual player because basketball frequently has last-minute player scratches. If a player tweaks an ankle during warmup or is a game-time decision for a west coast night game, it can be difficult to get your lineup adjusted in time. This rule change basically gives you forgiveness for one player each night who may be a late scratch or an early exit from a game because of injury or some other issue.
It is possible to manipulate this rule, though, by focusing your salary primarily on higher-end players and completely punting one spot, knowing that if the super cheap player doesn’t pan out, his score will be dropped anyway. Let’s take a look at a few winning lineups to the biggest Fanduel tournaments to start the year and see if we can see a pattern emerging for what seems to be working here.
On the first night of the NBA season, we had a $4 entry fee contest on a 2-game NBA slate with a $250k top prize, which ended up being split 3 ways. Here was the winning lineup:
2 of the 3 winners chose Semi Ojeleye, while the 3rd winner used Alfonzo McKinnie. In any case, all 3 used a $3500 minimum-price punt at the small forward position, and mostly mid- to higher-priced players throughout the rest of the lineup. Kevon Looney, another minimum-priced player, did end up working out and having a great night. He was less of a dart throw on a 2-game slate than Ojeleye or McKinnie, however, as is evidenced by his 17.9% ownership.
The very next night, on 10/17, there was an Encore Clutch Shot contest on a much larger 11-game slate, with a $100k top prize that was taken by an individual winner, with a slightly different strategy. Here is that lineup:
This lineup did not have any minimum-price plays. Trey Burke and Cedi Osman were both value plays at $4900 and $4500. Burke was a chalky option that night, as he was expected to play a lot of minutes, and at his salary, would not need to completely blow up to return good value. He came in at 36.7% ownership on this contest, which is very high for a contest with 128,667 entries. Osman was a less obvious value play, but still not completely under the radar, as he was in a similar situation to Burke from an opportunity standpoint. The big wins for this lineup were identifying Trevor Ariza, who returned 8x value at 3% ownership, Tim Hardaway Jr. who gave 8.2x value at 8.6% ownership, Nikola Mirotic who returned 6.9x value at 8.7% ownership, and Deandre Ayton who returned 6.3x value at a sub-10% ownership. A balanced lineup like this one makes it far less likely that you’ll have a useless zero or near-zero score on your lineup.
I’ll post a few more Clutch Shot winning lineups here, and then we can look at identifying a pattern.
Here is 10/18/2018:
In 12 of these large field tournaments since the start of the year, which includes a variety of short 2- or 3-game slates, and large 9- to 12-game slates, the winning lineup has had at least one “punt” player between $3500-390o in salary 10 times. Interestingly, on 3 of those 10 lineups, the $3500-3900 player(s) worked out and the score that was dropped was a player between $4000-5900. It does seem that it is important to identify the correct punt plays, as they have been critical to the win at least 30% of the time. 4 out of the 12 winning lineups had 2 or more players in the $3500-3900 salary range, which is a more extreme stars and scrubs approach than just punting one guy. I think this strategy will be more common on the larger slates due to the larger assortment of value options AND the larger assortment of studs available.
Across these 12 winning lineups, Anthony Davis and LeBron James have each been on a winning lineup 3 times.
What insight do you gain from looking at these winning lineups? Please share in the comments or on reddit under r/dfsports.