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Thunder Dan's 2020-2021 NBA DFS Strategy Guide

Karl-Anthony Towns - NBA DFS Lineup Picks, Daily Fantasy Basketball

Hello there, RotoBallers, and welcome to my personal NBA DFS strategy guide for both FanDuel and DraftKings. While it has only been a few months since the NBA playoffs wrapped up, there is still a lot of excitement and anticipation for the beginning of the 2020 NBA season.

If your reading this article, then you may already be familiar with my work here at RotoBaller or at other various sites over the last few years. I will be heading up our premium NBA DFS content here at RotoBaller this season and creating cheat sheets in order to help our members navigate each and every NBA slate.

I am going to attempt to give you some insight as to what factors you should consider when building your NBA DFS lineups. Whether it's cash games or tournaments, you need to have a process that you follow and you have to "trust the process" - to steal a phrase from Joel Embiid. One of the biggest mistakes I've seen players make over the years is to listen to dozens of podcasts and read dozens are articles every week and then play EVERYONE that every analyst they listen to suggests playing. In today’s DFS landscape, there can be an overwhelming amount of information to process. My goal here is to help you become a better player by streamlining your process and giving you several key factors to consider when building cash or GPP lineups on FanDuel or DraftKings.

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I really hope you consider our NBA DFS Premium membership this season. We will be covering every regular season and postseason slate with our all-inclusive NBA Cheat Sheet and you'll have access to tools such as our NBA Research Station, Matchup Ratings, and Optimizer! Our NBA team brings years of DFS experience and knowledge to the table every day and all premium members have access to our slack chat where we have live Q + A sessions every slate an hour before lineups lock! Use promo code THUNDERDAN to save 10% off your membership!


NBA DFS Cash Game Strategies

I often get asked, “what makes a player a cash play vs. a GPP play?” For cash games, we want players with floors, who are less likely to bust. We also have to consider ownership, especially in smaller fields or H2H contests. These are universal DFS philosophies, but here’s how it applies specifically to NBA DFS.

Minutes are everything, well almost everything...

More minutes on the floor almost always equals more fantasy points.  If a player is not projected to get 30+ minutes, I’m not likely to use them in a cash game lineup, it’s that simple. Minutes do not always equal fantasy production as some players are simply not that dynamic in their minutes due to their role on their team or simply because they're playing with other more productive players who gobble up rebounds, hog the ball, etc...

We also want to look at a player's "fantasy points per-minute" as a baseline of how productive they are while on the floor. Usually, we want to look for players who close to a fantasy point per minute, but if we are projecting a full 36 minutes for a player who is a starter then we can sometimes get by with guys in the .8 to .9 range, especially if they are cheap.

Usage is really important, too.

Usage is a stat that measures how many possessions were used by each player while they’re on the floor. Every time a player ends their team’s possession with a shot attempt, free throw attempts, or a turnover that possession counts towards their usage rate.  In layman's terms, usage shows us how involved a player is in their team’s offense. The league average is around 20% so I am usually not looking to roster players with below-average usage rates in cash games unless they have another very dependable skillset that translates to fantasy production (like DeAndre Jordan's rebounding rate, or Ricky Rubio's assist rate for example).

Cash game lineups in NBA are usually built around superstars with high usage rates. These stars usually provide us with the best of both worlds because they typically play big minutes and have massive usage rates. With salary cap restraints, however, we can usually only squeeze one or two superstars into our cash lineups any given night.  When picking the right superstar to build around we usually looking for one that has a good matchup and is likely to play their full allotment of minutes (trying to target close games and avoid blowouts if possible).

Finding Value

In order to fit in the top plays, you always need to find value plays. Often times it can come in the form of a backup who’s starting for an injured teammate or a player who is breaking out that the sites haven't been able to price up fast enough. But not all value plays are created equal. It's not as simple as "player X is out, so plug in player Y who is starting for them." Often times a lineup change can be beneficial to another teammate who is already starting and the player who is stepping into the lineup could be a low usage player who might not contribute much statistically.

This is where you have to pay attention to rotations and spend some time analyzing box scores. It can also be helpful to check out game flows, which you can find at Popcorn Machine. This is some advanced analysis that you can do to see which players were on the floor at the same time and which players were direct subs for others.

Just make sure you can trust your value plays. It can be tempting to overuse value plays on slate and jam in as many high-priced plays as possible, but a "stars and scrubs" lineup build isn't always optimal in cash games and could end up with more unreliable floors in your lineup that you really want.

Some people have a specific multiplier they're looking for from players for cash (5x their salary, or 6x, etc...) and all I can say is that is such an inexact science. The cheaper a player is, the higher I want their multiplier to be. If I am playing a min-priced 3k player on DK, I am expecting more than just 15 DK points. And if I am playing a 10k player, I will probably be okay with only 50 DK points. Those players cost more because their floor is priced into their price after all.

Having a projection source that you trust is really important here and I can personally vouch for our projections here at RotoBaller that you can have access with a premium NBA season pass! Use promo code THUNDERDAN to save an additional 10% off any membership. It's truly one of the best bargains you'll find anywhere in the industry!

Reacting to Late News

NBA DFS is unlike any other DFS sport in that a slate can change multiple times during the course of the day as injury updates come in from around the league. It's always important to research the best plays the night before or morning of the slate but be willing to adapt and adjust as those updates come rolling in during the afternoon and even in the last minutes up until lineup lock. With both sites now having late swap, it's even a good idea to be willing to pivot after lineups lock in case there is some major news that comes out after 7:00 PM.

It's also important, in my opinion, to not overreact to late news. I think it's a mistake to swap too many of your favorite plays out for guys who just had their value increase at the last minute. There tends to be a "shiny new toy" effect in NBA DFS where the players who had their value increase the closest to the time that lineups are being built end up being really popular. It can be challenging but making those decisions about which pivots to make and which players could be traps is really crucial.


NBA DFS GPP Strategies

So what makes a guy a good GPP play? Well, some of the same high-priced players we are building cash game lineups around are also great GPP plays, too. Just understand that popular cash games will also come at higher ownership in tournaments.

Some of my favorite players to target for GPPs are usually guys who are priced in the mid-tier between the value plays and high-priced studs. Players in the 6-8k range can often get overlooked when DFS players are making “stars and scrubs” lineups and many of these players still have very high ceilings on a nightly basis.

We can also target some lower usage players here who rely more on blocks and steals for their fantasy value and who have less consistent outcomes in their game logs. Think of someone like Draymond Green or Paul Millsap (or at least peak-Millsap as his skills have diminished a bit over the years).

One thing I didn’t discuss yet is the strategy of game stacking. NBA DFS has correlated plays just like any other DFS sport. Do you stack up an offense in baseball? Stack quarterbacks with receivers in football? Why wouldn’t you want to stack a few players from the same game in NBA DFS then?  It’s only logical that if a game has a high total and close spread (these are the games we like the most in any DFS sport) then we should want several pieces from it, right?

It's not always that simple, however. You [probably don’t want too many pieces from the same game unless it’s a really small slate.  If the game doesn't live up to the hype, you're going to be in trouble and it's not as easy as you might think to figure out the best plays from each side of a game on a nightly basis.

There are really no “wrong ways” to build GPP lineups as long as you are targeting upside and willing to take some chances on players that will carry less ownership. You have to be willing to make a unique lineup and look for ways to get leverage on the field by fading chalky players or playing riskier players.

I would always recommend that you play your cash game lineup in a GPP just in case the optimal plays all go off and hit their ceilings.  You can even use your cash game lineup as a starting point for your GPP lineups and move in and out some of your favorite "GPP plays" around the core plays of your cash build.


Specific Strategies for DraftKings

Building cash game lineups on Draftkings can feel easier than on Fanduel because of multi-position eligibility and the use of the utility spot. The nice thing about DraftKings is that if there are values that open up at a certain position, you can use that utility spot to lock-in that value and still play your favorite high-priced player at the same position. It makes building lineups easier, but also leaves less room for error.

Every slate has its own specific strategy, but one of my favorite strategies is to use the utility spot for a second center. In my experience, centers are often priced down on Draftkings and they are usually really solid cash plays due to their high floors. Most centers rely on rebounding for a large portion of their fantasy points, and rebounds are one of the most predictable fantasy stats in NBA DFS.

A center's fantasy output is usually more reliable due to the number of high percentage shots they take.  Easy baskets and boards are what make centers my favorite cash plays. They are less likely to score 40 points like Dame Lillard or Trae Young, but they are also less volatile and less prone to really bad shooting nights. If you can roster a C at PF because they are PF/C eligible, I'd do it.


Specific Strategies for FanDuel

FanDuel really forces you to play certain players in cash games on a nightly basis with their rigid roster construction. You have to play two guys at every position and can only play one center (a very hard choice for me on a nightly basis with my love for big men). For that reason, I focus on trying to lock in the highest raw point producers at positions that are often pretty weak. Using James Harden at shooting guard is often the right move in cash as he has a great chance at lapping the field on any given night and doubling everyone else's production.

On FanDuel, you really have to consider opportunity cost on a nightly basis. If I pay up at this position in order to get player X, what other players at other positions will I not be able to afford? It's hard to predict which positions you'll want to punt or pay down at on any given slate, but I usually try not to punt both PG, SG, SF, or PF slots in the same lineup unless that position is really week for some reason. Lock in at least one higher-priced play at each position for raw points.

I don’t punt the center spot in cash very often, but you can usually find a reliable center in the 6-9k range on most nights so I don’t think you have to pay all the way up either, though on a smaller slate you may want to take someone like Nikola Vucevic or Joel Embiid just to lock in the raw points at the position.

Be greedy when others are fearful when building those GPP lineups. Good luck this season and make sure you ride with us at RotoBaller in 2021!

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