#1: Use Simple Math to Get Started
It’s very easy to make a baseline projection for basketball. We simply multiply the number of minutes we project X player to be on the court by his fantasy points per minute. For example, say a player leads the league at 1.555 DraftKings points per minute and he averages 33.9 minutes per game, we can multiply those together for a baseline projection of 52.7 DK points.
Calculating a Baseline Projection
Projected Points = (Minutes Played) x (Fantasy Points Per Minute)
Example: Player averages 1.555 fantasy points per minute and 33.9 minutes played. A baseline projection for this player is 52.7 points.
(33.9 Minutes) x (1.555 Fantasy Points Per Minute) = 52.7 Point Baseline Projection
Of course, massaging a baseline projection is the key. Questions we need to ask ourselves include will this player play fewer than 33.9 minutes on a given night because of a blowout? Should we raise his points-per-minute (ppm) projection because he’s a facing a defense that struggles against his position? Should we raise his points-per-minute projection because another key player on his team is out and he will therefore have a higher usage rate? What is the expected pace in this game?
Let’s say this player is a point guard, and his team is on the road, without another key player, taking on the Lakers. I wouldn’t adjust his minutes in this spot because I’m not overly concerned about a blowout in a road game. I would initially adjust his ppm to whatever it has been in the past when the team has been shorthanded. Then I’d adjust another .07 because the Lakers gave up 2.6 more DK points than salary-based expectation to point guards last year. Then I’d adjust another .03 or so because the Lakers were 12th in pace. So our massaged projection for this player in this spot is 33.9 × 1.73 for 58.6 DK points.
#2: Target Scoring
So how do we know if this player is a good play at our massaged projection of 58.6 DK points? It all depends on his salary. A good target is 5x salary for expensive stars. So if this player costs $9,500, he’d be “meeting value” at 47.5 DK points (95 × 5). Our 58.6-point projection smashes that, so he is a great play. However, if he costs $11,500, he’d need 57.5 DK points to meet value. He’s still a very fine option, but not that no-brainer he was at $9,500. Being price-sensitive is absolutely massive in NBA DFS.
Calculating Score Needed to Hit Value
Score Needed to Hit Value = (Player Salary / 1000) x 5
Example: Player costs $9,500. For him to produce at 5 times value he needs to score 47.5 DK points.
5 x (9,500/1,000) = 47.5 Points Needed to Hit Value
Our target scoring numbers should rise as we go down in salary. For example, a $3,000 player won’t kill you if he gets 15 DK points. But in order for a $3,000 player to be a quality option, his projection should be around 7-8x. We only have eight roster spots, so there’s a lot of opportunity cost in using one on a guy who only projects for 15 DK points. Target scoring for mid-range players ($5,000-$7,000) should be in the 5X-6X range.
#3: Follow the Injuries
NBA players get hurt. A lot. Or maybe they’re not even “hurt” as guys sit out due to illness, personal reasons, rest days, soreness all the time. How we react to these absences is paramount to our DFS success.
The first step is being aware of injuries. There are countless tools available on the internet that track who is sitting out. If you have the time to be on Twitter one hour before the games start, that’s optimal. If not, you need to get push notifications on your phone to alert you. This is not like the NFL, where we are almost always aware when a player could miss a game.
The next step is understanding how a team’s rotation and usage change when X player is out. For example, Paul Pierce was starting in place of Blake Griffin when he was out last year, but averaged just 12.3 DK points per game in that role. The real winner in Blake’s absence was Chris Paul, who averaged 47.4 DK points without Blake and 38.7 with him.
#4: Minutes Equal Money
The easiest way to find value on a given night in DFS is to look for players whose minutes will be significantly higher than normal. For most NBA players, simply being on the court will lead to fantasy points – minutes are the second-strongest correlation with fantasy points, behind only real-life points scored.
So let’s say Ricky Rubio is a late scratch one night and Zach LaVine is announced as a starter. LaVine’s minute projection immediately goes from 21.9 to 32. However, his salary does not adjust accordingly. We can get LaVine’s 0.929 DK points per minute at $4,300. His baseline projection is now 29.7, almost 7x and therefore a very safe value.
Finding minute bumps with good players is the heartbeat of daily fantasy. It’s available almost every night. That gives us access to the very projectable top tier of players, meaning “stars and scrubs” lineup construction is often the path to success.
#5: Every Position Matters
In the NFL, one or two players can carry us to a successful week. You can roster 2 players that have very low-scoring weeks and have 2 other players that “make up” for their lack of point production by over-producing in the same lineup. That’s not the case in NBA.
We simply can’t afford to have total duds in our lineup because the range of outcomes in NBA is so much tighter. There’s no such thing as a 3-TD game in the NBA as points are accumulated across a series of small events, not a few large ones. So even when DeMarcus Cousins goes crazy for 70 DK points, it’s not enough to compensate for a player in your lineup that only scored nine.
The point is that I don’t believe there is a “punt” in the NBA. Every one of our players should at least have a 5x projection – preferably with a reasonable ceiling for more. If we dig hard enough on a given slate, it’s almost always there.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is AdamLevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.