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Fantasy Basketball Playoffs Strategy and Advice

We've officially made it through 75% of the 2020-21 NBA Season. That can only mean one thing: the fantasy basketball playoffs are just around the corner.

It's been a monumental task navigating through a pandemic-ridden, condensed 72-game season, so congratulations to those well-positioned to make the playoffs. You've put in all this work to get to this point, now let's cap it off with a championship. But it's not that easy, especially this season with teams trying to navigate a very aggressive schedule.

While there's no exact science to winning a fantasy basketball championship, this article is meant to provide you with some strategy and advice as you head down the stretch.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including NBA Writer of the Year, Best NFL Series, MLB Series, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Schedule Strategy and Analysis

Generally speaking, it's better to have more games in a given week than your opponent. Of course, categories like FG%, FT%, and Turnovers are meant to adjust for that, but it's inevitable the advantage goes to the fantasy team with more games in a given week. That's where looking ahead at Hashtag Basketball's Advanced NBA Schedule Grid comes into play. Here, you'll be able to see how many games each NBA team plays in a given week. Only then will you be able to make strategic decisions that you might otherwise never think to make. Let's run through an example.

If your league is like mine, your fantasy playoffs begin Week 17 on Monday, April 19th. What sticks out the first week of the playoffs (April 19 - April 25) is that the Toronto Raptors only play two games compared to three or four for every other team. However, if you look at the following week (April 26 - May 2), the Raptors play five games. The NBA surely didn't do the Raptors any favors with a schedule like that, but that's something we can't control. What we can control is how we use this information to make strategic decisions about our fantasy roster in the playoffs.

Let's say you picked up Malachi Flynn during his stretch of great games with Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet out due to their respective injuries. While he's likely helped you the last couple of weeks, that might not be the case when Lowry and VanVleet return. However, it's also possible Nick Nurse decides to give Lowry and VanVleet more time off than normal since the Raptors are basically out of the playoff hunt. The question then becomes, should you hold onto Flynn in hopes that Lowry and VanVleet don't return or rest more than normal, or, should you cut bait on one of the hottest waiver wires pickups the past couple of weeks?

If you have a Bye during the first week of the playoffs when the Raptors play just two games, then absolutely you want to hold onto Flynn. You'll have Flynn the following week when the Raptors play five games. If you're not so lucky to have a Bye in the first week of the playoffs, it's going to be extremely difficult to justify holding onto Flynn, especially if both Lowry and VanVleet are playing that week with just two games. Unfortunately, if you've got a guy like Pascal Siakam and you don't have a first-round Bye, you're stuck with him playing just two games. Even if a guy on the waiver wire plays four games that week, those stats in four games likely won't match Siakam's production in just two.

An analysis like the one performed for Flynn should be completed for every "droppable" player on your roster as you head into the fantasy playoffs.


How to Play the Waiver Wire

The Waiver Wire can be your best friend, or it can be your worst enemy. There's nothing worse than picking up a fill-in starter who loses his job after the first game of a four-game week. Case-in-point, Edmond Sumner, who became irrelevant once Malcolm Brogdon re-joined the starting lineup after being out a few games due to a hip injury. It can be really challenging at times to dissect an entire week, especially as teams keep injury information pretty close to their chests. For that reason, my suggestion is to look at each week as two separate weeks in one. Find teams that play two games in three days or even three games in four days rather than looking across the entire 7-day week. Let's run through a prime example of how to utilize this strategy when making a decision of who to add off the Waiver Wire and who to consider dropping from your team.

Let's say it's Week 18 (the Semifinals for many) and you're holding on to Knicks G Derrick Rose (51% rostered in Yahoo! leagues) because of a string of solid performances. New York plays twice between Monday and Wednesday this week, which is the maximum any team can play in three days. Deploy Rose for those two games and then cut bait on Thursday since the Knicks play just one game between Thursday and Sunday. Find a player on the Waiver Wire who plays three games between Thursday and Sunday, and then you've picked up two games by adding that player and dropping Rose. A couple of players that come to mind that play three games at the tail-end of Week 18 include Bobby Portis (51%), Jalen Brunson (31%), Jae'sean Tate (54%), Darius Bazley (25%), and none other than Malachi Flynn (34%).

With a limited number of transactions allowed per week (usually four or five), it's imperative to always find ways to maximize the number of games played each week. If you're not constantly doing that, you're putting yourself at a major disadvantage against your opponent. Speaking of maximizing your teams' number of games each week, don't overlook analyzing your own roster while making Waiver Wire decisions. For example, in Week 17 (April 19 - April 25), 24 of 30 teams play on Wednesday. Take a look at your roster on Wednesday, April 21st. You most certainly will have guys on your bench that are playing in a game that night. Instead of letting those two or three "droppable" players sit stagnant on your bench, accruing statistics that won't count towards your teams' total, consider dropping them and adding someone who doesn't play that day, but whose team still plays four games that week. For that week specifically, the Charlotte Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks both play four games without having a game on Wednesday, April 21st. This information is vital to maximizing the number of games played each week for your fantasy team.

Lastly, under no circumstances should you use all of your allotted pickups in the first 2-t0-3 days of the week. For one, things happen throughout the course of the week. Players get injured, other players return from injury, and roles change. It's really difficult to project out an entire week. That ties in nicely with my earlier point of thinking of a given week as two separate time periods. That leads to my next point. Specifically, in head-to-head leagues, it becomes more evident later in the week which categories are competitive, which you're going to win, and which you might lose. If you're getting dominated in assists, and there doesn't seem to be an avenue to winning that category, don't waste your time going to the Waiver Wire to pick up an assists specialist like Tomas Satoransky. Instead, focus on those categories that remain competitive. If you're in need of a combination of blocks and threes, a guy like Mo Bamba could come in handy.

All of these Waiver Wire strategies combined will help you stay informed and hopefully gain a competitive advantage over your opponent.


Injury Management, Rest, and Opportunity

Rest has become commonplace in today's NBA, and it has only been magnified this season as a result of the condensed schedule. More players than ever before are being held out of games during back-to-back sets and a lot of teams have shown an unwillingness to rush a player back from injury due to the condensed 72-game schedule. All season we've had to navigate these waters, but now it's time to make some really tough decisions as we head into the fantasy playoffs. It'll become even more challenging waiting for guys like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Fred VanVleet to return, especially if you don't have an IL spot for that player.

It's extremely important to keep an eye on each player and each situation. Twitter is a great place to keep up with the latest news and notes on each player. Follow a teams' beat writers, oftentimes they share valuable insight into an injured player's potential return. For example, Chris Fedor of cleveland.com reports that both Jarrett Allen and Larry Nance Jr. could return as early as Wednesday, April 14 after missing a handful of games.

If that's the case, then one of my favorite pickups of the last couple of weeks, Isaiah Hartenstein, likely becomes a drop candidate. Since joining the Cavaliers, Hartenstein has quietly put up numbers similar to Mason Plumlee, who has been fantastic as a starter for the Pistons this season. In fact, take a look at the similarities between the two. This production could disappear completely when Allen and Nance return. But if Chris Fedor reports that the Cavaliers are likely to rest Allen down the stretch since the team is out of playoff contention, Hartenstein could be back on the radar once again.

This production could disappear completely when Allen and Nance return. But if Chris Fedor reports that the Cavaliers are likely to rest Allen down the stretch since the team is out of playoff contention, Hartenstein could be back on the radar once again. The takeaway here is that remaining vigilant, agile, and informed will become extremely important as you navigate the intense waters of the fantasy basketball playoffs.

But not every "flash in the pan" fizzles out over the course of a few games. Other guys, for one reason or another, obtain a larger role on their team and run with the opportunity. It's important to identify these players and proactively add them to your roster before they become hot commodities. Guys like Jalen McDaniels and Mo Bamba come to mind.

McDaniels entered the starting lineup soon after Gordon Hayward went down with a foot sprain and hasn't disappointed. In those three games, he's averaging 16.3 points, five rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.3 steals, and one block in 30 minutes per game. With Hayward expected to miss the next three weeks, McDaniels' role in the offense is seemingly very secure. Combine that with the fact that the Hornets usually play an 8-man rotation, and it's safe to say McDaniels' minutes aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Another guy who has carved out a nice role on his team is none other than Mo Bamba. With the departure of Khem Birch, Bamba has solidified himself as the backup center to Wendell Carter Jr. In his last three games, he's averaging 18 points (3.3 3PM), 6.3 rebounds, and two blocks in 23 minutes per game. Unlike Hartenstein, Bamba finds himself locked into 20+ minutes per game moving forward. Some situations are temporary, and some more permanent. Try to find the more permanent ones and add those guys to your roster.

As you make decisions down the stretch, keep in mind teams that are out of the playoff hunt are far more likely to "rest" or even "shut down" a veteran player with an injury history. It's hard to outright drop some of those players until they're deemed out for the season, but there are certain guys to keep an eye on down the stretch. Bradley Beal, Stephen Curry, Lonzo Ball, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, John Wall, and D'Angelo Russell all come to mind. Recall the Thunder shut down veteran big man Al Horford for the season back in March in order to give some of their younger guys more playing time. If the Gilgeous-Alexander injury holds him out much longer, he's at risk for being in a similar situation with Oklahoma City out of the playoff hunt.

And what do you do if you have guys like Joel Embiid, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant, who are bound to sit a game or two or three down the stretch? Well, it's hard to drop these guys based on the numbers they can produce even in just two games per week. So, unfortunately, you have to play with the hand you've been dealt. On the contrary, consider yourself lucky, or strategic, if you drafted a guy like Nikola Jokic, who rarely misses a game.

Good luck to all of you on your quest for a fantasy basketball championship this season. If you have any questions regarding your roster or any of the playoff strategies discussed in this article, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @AdamKoffler and I'd be more than happy to help.

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