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Feeling left out at your office happy hour? Looking to add an extra thrill to the upcoming season? Or are you just trying to really nerd out about your favorite sport? Welcome to the world of fantasy basketball, the best way to be more popular, get more promotions, and fight with all your friends.

Fantasy basketball is great. It has all the advantages and fun of other fantasy sports, while being significantly more forgiving for the beginning player. Although it helps to have an understanding of the NBA, it’s not necessary and is a great way to get yourself acquainted with the sport if you don’t.

There’s a lot to consider before the season even starts, but the first thing you should do is find out which type of league is going to work best for you and either join it or create it.

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How to Play Fantasy Basketball Without Embarrassing Yourself

Starting a New League

To start, you’re going to need at least six people, a fantasy hosting site, and possibly some money if you choose to do what’s called a “buy-in”. A buy-in is a fee everyone pays in order to create a pool for the winning player/s and can range from a few dollars to hundreds, depending on the intensity of the league. If you’re joining a pre-existing league, the buy-in will give you a good idea of how deep the pool of crap you’re about to wade into is. If you’re starting a new league with friends, 10 dollars is a good place to start.

You may want to consider the type of payout options prior to deciding if a buy-in for a new league or an existing league is right for you. Winner takes all is ideal if you’re in a league with a low buy-in and a small amount of players. For deeper, or larger leagues, particularly those with loftier buy-ins, it may make more sense to split the prize amongst first place and up to two runners-up. Some leagues may award a winner of the regular season in addition the the winner of the play-offs. Prize payouts all boil down to the preference of the league and/or commissioner but let’s be real, no one wants to pay 20 dollars to spend five months in agony only to walk away with 100 dollars because you split a 200 dollar pool between the winner and two runners-up. Math is your friend and fantasy is hard work. If money is involved in a league, make sure the buy-in and pay-out are comparable to the amount of energy you’re willing to devote to your fantasy team.

The advantages of starting a new league as opposed to joining an existing one are equally stacked with disadvantages. By starting a new league, you’re more likely to find other players of comparable skill and interest to your own. You can have a say in the various characteristics of your league, from format and price of buy-in to type of prize payout. However, joining a pre-existing league eliminates the stress of having to find 5-11 other people interested in giving you their money for five months with the knowledge that they may not get it back. My advice? Join a league. While it may be frustrating to play a game when you don’t completely agree with all the scoring or formatting decisions, most commissioners are willing to explain the nuances of their league in the pre-season in order to avoid confusion, complaints, and duress once the season begins.

If you’re starting a new league, you’ll have to elect one player to act as “Commissioner.” In short, this is the person in charge of managing the league. It’s a thankless role that includes everything from money handling, setting up the league on the hosting site, approving trades, losing your joy for the sport, and absolutely hating all your friends. Pre-existing leagues will already have a commissioner.  Be nice to them, their life is hard.


What Type of League Should I Join?

The most popular types of leagues are rotisserie (Roto) and head-to-head (H2H). The primary difference being that roto is essentially a weekly ranking against your whole league while H2H pits you against one person at a time and typically utilizes a play-off system based on the win-loss record over the course of the season. If you have a personal vendetta against someone in your league, I highly recommend H2H.

While there is a plethora of different hosting sites, Yahoo, ESPN, CBS Sports, and Fantrax dominate. To be perfectly frank, there’s not enough of a difference between any given site unless you have a very specific idea in mind for the type of league you’d like to run. For the casual beginner, it’s not going to make much of a difference. Experiment with different hosting sites for your first couple of seasons. The Big Four are similar enough with the only real differences being in UI. Once you continue to advance in your play after a few seasons, you’ll want to begin to explore other alternative hosting sites more in depth. Many alt sites are great for higher level leagues such as dynasty or “keeper” leagues. These are advanced forms of fantasy play where the player retains at least a portion of their players into the next season. You’re not there yet. Do NOT join a dynasty league as a beginner, you’ll regret it for literally the rest of your life.

You’ll want to consider all the aforementioned information before joining or creating a new league. Don’t be shy about asking a commissioner of a pre-existing league all the details surrounding the topics we covered. Make sure everyone is on the same page when forming a new league or commission your own league and do whatever floats your fancy, as long as you can get a minimum of five people to go along with your rules and format. There’s also open leagues on many sites if you’re more inclined to embarrass yourself in front of complete strangers. Open leagues can be a great low stakes way of familiarizing yourself with play for a season before humiliating yourself in front of your boss in an office league with co-workers.

Fantasy basketball will give you a lot of things: a deeper appreciation for the sport, insight into teams and players you might hate, and a way to make small talk with people you have nothing else in common with. Like learning any new skill, it’ll be a bit confusing and daunting at first (it’ll continue to be frustrating for as long as you play), but we’re here to help you live your best life in your league. Next time, we’ll cover drafting and achieving a balanced roster.


More 2017-18 Fantasy Basketball Analysis