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Why Your Fantasy NBA Rankings Are Wrong: Scoring Systems

It's just under two months away from the start of the NBA season, and RotoBaller's full Fantasy basketball coverage will be returning some time in late September.

However, with both ESPN and Yahoo leagues already open for sign-ups, I know some of you early birds are out there already drafting. This was the first year that I drafted a basketball team before I drafted a fantasy football team. Other crazy people like me are out there.

As part of a strategy series for those who want to get into the game -- or those who want to get better -- let's talk about scoring systems.

Editor's Note: Get any full-season NBA and DFS Premium Pass for 50% off. Our exclusive DFS tools, Lineup Optimizer and daily Premium DFS Research. Sign Up Now!


Why Your Fantasy NBA Rankings Are Wrong

Scoring Systems Matter -- A Lot.

Yahoo has only one set of default rankings, but their default leagues are split between 12-team head-to-head category and rotisserie. ESPN also has only one set of default rankings, and their default public leagues are split incredibly widely. You can join a default league with as few as 8 and as many as 20 teams, and with scoring systems ranging from "H2H each category" to "H2H most categories" to "rotisserie" to "H2H points." The differences between these scoring systems are not small -- in fact, you might as well be playing completely different games. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to ranking players for different scoring systems.

Once you get past the site defaults, it only gets worse, too, since you often do not know whether the person who is putting a set of rankings together plays ESPN, Yahoo, Fantrax, or somewhere else. Do they rank centers lower than you because you're in a Yahoo league that starts has to start two, while they're in an ESPN league that only requires one? Are they putting weight on turnovers because they play in a Yahoo 9 category league, while you play in an 8 category ESPN league where you don't have to care about them? This is the eternal problem with the non-standardized nature of fantasy basketball. It's not like football where you can have simple PPR vs. non-PPR rankings and cover 90% of leagues. Even good rankers, who split their rankings between H2H and roto, are still going to be an imperfect fit for a huge number of leagues.

This is the challenge -- and the opportunity -- for critically thinking fantasy basketball managers. You have to know your home court scoring settings and be able to adjust your rankings accordingly. To give you a head start, I'll be giving you a quick overview of the three most popular ways of scoring fantasy basketball -- H2H Each Category, Roto, and H2H Points -- with a breakdown of what kind of players are worth more, and what kind of players lose value, in each system.


H2H Category Leagues: Big Strengths and Punted Weaknesses

In a standard H2H Category League (called "H2H Each Category" on ESPN), you compete against a different opponent each week. In your matchup, it totals your players contributions in each of the different categories scored, and you get a win or a loss for each category. Each of those wins and losses is added to your record in the league standings that determines playoff seeding. So in a week you might win 6 categories and lose 3. That counts as 6 wins and 3 losses in the standings.

Once you're in the playoffs, though, whoever wins the majority of the categories in each matchup advances. So it doesn't matter if you win 8 to 1 or 5 to 4. Winner takes all.

This kind of scoring advantages building up big strengths in as many categories as possible to ensure you make get a playoff spot, then enter playoffs favored to win a majority of the categories against each opponent. One of the main conclusions of this is that if you have one category where you're bad, it doesn't really matter how bad you are. If you can improve your chances of winning other categories at the expense of getting even worse in a category you're already going to lose, that increases your overall odds of winning the majority of categories in a matchup. This strategy is called "punting" and I'll have a big piece about it on RotoBaller in September.

Guys who see the biggest value boosts: Players with big weaknesses, like poor FT% shooters (DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard) or high usage, low FG%, high turnover guys (from stars like James Harden to "best guy on an awful team" types like Dennis Schroder).

Also, players with "out-of-position" stats to build a strength in those categories. For example, PF/C eligible players who get assists (like Nikola Jokic) or who hit a lot of threes (like Kevin Love), or guards with a plus FG% (like Elfrid Payton) or a high number of rebounds for their position (Russell Westbrook, especially).

Guys who see the biggest value falls: Well-rounded guys with few big strengths, like Otto Porter and Al Horford.


Roto Leagues: It's About Balance and Efficiency

In roto (or rotisserie) leagues, you are given a score in each category that your league counts, based on where you rank in that category on the season. So if you're in a 12 team league and you have the most assists for the year, you get 12 points for assists. If you're in last place in blocks, you only get 1 point for that category. Your score in each category is added up to a total team score, and whoever has the highest total score at the end of the season wins (there are no playoffs).

This kind of scoring means you don't want to completely tank any of your categories. Every point in the standings matters, even in your weakest category. Meanwhile, being way stronger than anyone else in a category is not an advantage. You're not trying to be so good you have the most rebounds or assists in each individual week. You just want as many as you can have by the end of the year. It doesn't matter if you have 1 more steal or 25 more steals than the 2nd place guy -- that's still only 12 points in the standings either way.

The seasonal nature of roto leagues also means the losing teams whose owners stop managing their teams start to affect different categories in different ways. And let's face it -- in 90% of leagues, the guys having the worst year will start losing interest in the season, so it's absolutely logical to assume this it's going to happen (unless you know everyone in your league very well and they've proven themselves to be committed).

These non-attentive owners will soon fall to the bottom in counting stats like points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and three pointers, they may stay in the middle of the pack in percentage stats like FG% or FT%, and will actually start moving up the standings in negative standings like turnovers. That means teams in the lower part of the standings in counting stats will get an undeserved boost those categories, and some teams may undeservedly take a hit in turnovers. However, the standings in the two percentages won't be as affected by these teams inactivity.

What does this mean in practice? Let's say there's one team where the owner has checked out because his entire team is injured. Now, the rest of the teams are now fighting for between 2 and 12 points in the positive counting stats (and between 1 and 11 in turnovers), while everyone is still fighting for 1 through 12 in the percentages. There's an extra point up for grabs in the percentages. Improvement in the percentages becomes slightly more valuable for your team that improvement in counting stats. While the math is not ever going to be that simple, my experience is this bears out. The two percentage stats -- FG% and FT% -- are more valuable than the other stats in a roto league, and you want to protect them.

Guys who see the biggest value boosts: Very well-rounded guys, particularly very efficient guys like Kawhi Leonard, Otto Porter, and Gary Harris. Anyone who is average or better in both percentages -- Kevin Durant is a god in this respect, while high FT% centers from Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis to Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, and Jonas Valanciunas are highly coveted.

Guys who see the biggest value falls: Guys with huge weaknesses in any category, but especially in the percentages. The biggest offenders are poor FT% shooters (Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan are extremely difficult to win with in roto leagues) and inefficient shooters with a high usage rate (DeAngelo Russell, Devin Booker, and rookies like Lonzo Ball are scary propositions in this respect).


H2H Point Leagues: Volume, Volume, Volume

The way point leagues work should be familiar to anyone who plays fantasy football, which I assume is everyone. Every week you play someone different. Their players get fantasy points for everything they do and so do yours. The team with the most fantasy points wins. The problem is that practically all point leagues are different. ESPN has created a default points system that attempts to impose some order on what people consider to be "standard scoring" for basketball point leagues. However, it seems even on ESPN a lot of people who do point leagues are still customizing their own settings. As a result, I'm just going to paint with an extremely broad brush here.

What usually ends up happening is that the counting stats where players end up with bigger numbers -- points, rebounds, and assists -- are king. Guys don't get enough steals, blocks, or threes in a week for those stats to make a big difference in points leagues, unless they're awarded a very large number of fantasy points in customized scoring. And while points leagues will usually dock points for missed field goals or missed free throws in some way, it's usually not enough for efficiency to matter all that much. If an inefficient guy has sufficiently high volume, he'll overwhelm the negative of those misses with extra points elsewhere.

Guys who see the biggest value boosts: High usage players. Almost all point guards fit the bill. High usage guys in positions where that's less common are even more valuable -- like DeMarcus Cousins at C or Giannis Antetokounmpo at SF. Big time rebounders with terrible free throw shooting also see big boost, since their boards provide a steady stream of reliable points, while their terrible FT% doesn't matter. DeAndre Jordan will earn getting the feature picture on this article after getting a shout-out in all three scoring types.

Guys who see the biggest value falls: Efficient low-usage guys with good defensive stats, like 3-and-d wings (such as Khris Middleton and Trevor Ariza). Guys who derive a big part of their category value from blocks, like Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside.



I know trying to tackle your fantasy league without a reliable source of rankings is daunting. However, don't give up -- think of it as a chance to get a leg up on everyone else. Learn how your own league scores, and think about how that affects different players. Before you can win the game, you have to learn what game you're playing. If possible, seek out the opinion of people online who make it clear they're ranking players based your league settings. At RotoBaller we will try to identify the scoring system and site that our rankings are designed for. Good luck this year!


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