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nba dfs strategy guide fanduel draftkings lineup adviceNBA DFS Strategy Guide: DraftKings + FanDuel Lineup Advice

This is a strategy guide for how to select top plays, lineup advice, NBA DFS strategy, contest tips, and more for NBA DFS on DraftKings and FanDuel. For further questions, please join our Discord channel.

This strategy guide is not intended to go in-depth on the intricacies of the NBA, nor is it going to give DFS picks. Instead, it's meant to be a high-level strategy road map for FanDuel and DraftKings slates.

Overview

While NBA is a common DFS/fantasy sport to play, it is completely different from many of the other sports on DraftKings and FanDuel. Instead of relying on stacking like in football and baseball, NBA DFS relies more on your ability to monitor injury situations, evaluate matchups, and maximize projections. If you can incorporate these into your daily routine, NBA DFS has the potential to be a very profitable sport.

The Daily Process

A big component of NBA DFS strategy is how closely you need to monitor injury situations throughout the day. In sports like NFL or MLB, we see injuries announced hours (or days) before game time. This allows a nice cushion to adjust lineups before the slate starts. However, in NBA DFS, teams can make an injury decision just minutes before tip-off. This creates the challenge of keeping up with news throughout the day and having back-up plans in place for last-minute injuries. 

After years of playing NBA DFS, we have broken down what the daily process should look like:

Mornings:

Review the injury news for the upcoming night. By recognizing which players are questionable, you can start to come up with back-up plans and which value options would jump into the “must play” category. 

Afternoon:

Check up on injury situations. Normally if a team has not alerted the media of a player's availability by 3 pm EST, then we likely will not know until around game time. We normally begin to build our lineups during the afternoon, but you should often build multiple lineups based on potential inactives. 

Pre-Lock: 

Injury news begins to roll in around 6:45-6:55 PM ET (yes, it's inconvenient). At this point, we can start to make adjustments to our lineup or select which pre-built lineup fits the mold. 

Post-Lock:

Another key difference with NBA DFS strategy is that our job is not done at lock. Most of the time, late game injury news is not out by 7pm EST. If we are waiting on late game news, we have two options:

  • Purposely leave some salary for maximum flexibility to make a late swap -- a high risk option as the lineup could easily fold if the injury news does not go our way.
  • Fade late game news -- a lower risk option, as you do not need to pray for the right news to be released and you can focus on the best players available before lock.

Generally, the best NBA DFS players are monitoring news throughout the night and adjusting their lineup(s) until the final tip.

Important Terms for NBA DFS Strategy

If you're new to NBA DFS, some terms we use in the Daily Plug may be foreign. Here's a quick rundown. 

Usage Rate:

According to Bleacher Report, Usage Rate calculates what percentage of plays a player was involved in while he was on the floor, provided that the play ends in one of the three true results: field-goal attempt, free throw attempt or turnover.

Now what does this mean from a DFS standpoint? We love to target players with a higher usage rate because it shows that they are touching the ball and are more involved than other players on their team. While NBA superstars obviously have higher usage rates than their counterparts, an important metric we look for is how much a player’s usage rate rises when a star player is out. This helps us decide which players become top options when an injury arises. 

Minutes:

This one should be pretty self-explanatory, but each player on a team will see a certain amount of minutes per game. Out of a 48 minute game, most starters will see around 32-35 minutes. The more minutes someone sees, the more opportunity they have to score fantasy points. Unlike other sports where players can reach value on a single play, extensive playing time is required in NBA DFS because of the incremental scoring. Another key metric we use is how many minutes bench players see when their teammates are injured.

Value Option:
When we call someone a “value option” we are referring to cheaper players who could hit 5-7X+ value on a slate. The “X value” metric is simply fantasy points scored divided by salary times 1000. For example, if a player is priced at $5000 and scores 35 fantasy points, that is 7X value

In NBA DFS, these options are normally must-play popular options, especially in lower risk contests. 

Defense by Position:
Another key metric we look for when picking players for our lineups is how well they match up with the opposing defense. Normally when a player is going up against a bottom three defense against his position we recommend them as a lower risk option, as historically other players in the same position have had recent success in the same spot. 

DK/FD Points per Minute:
A final metric we like to utilize in our Daily Plug and in our lineups is DK/FD Points per Minute, which is simply fantasy points divided by minutes played in their current situation. Obviously, the higher this number is the better. We use this metric routinely when looking at injury situations because it shows how efficient a teammate is when someone is forced to miss a game. For example, a player’s DK Points per Minute may rise significantly when a star player is off the court. So if that star player sits out a game, we know his teammate is in line for a decent production boost based on historical on/off court trends.

Scoring and Site Rules

Before you start building NBA DFS lineups, you must know the rules of the sites where you’re playing. Fortunately, most sites are extremely similar with the exception of a few minor scoring differences, roster limitations, and salary ranges. 

All sites:

  • Require you to roster a player from each position: PG, SG, SF, PF, C. 
  • Award 1 point per actual point and 1.5 points per assist. 

FanDuel specifically:

  • Requires 2 PG, 2 SG, 2 SF, 2 PF, 1 C.
  • Awards 1.2 points per rebound, 3 points per steal, 3 points per block, and -1 point for turnovers.

DraftKings specifically:

  • Requires just 1 player per position with an extra spot for Guard (PG/SG), Forward (SF/PF), and Utility (any position).
  • Awards 1.25 points per rebound, 2 points per steal, 2 points per block, and -0.5 points for turnovers, and bonus points for 3-pointers (0.5 points), double-doubles (1.5 points), and triple-doubles (3 points).

Yahoo specifically:

  • Requires just 1 player per position with an extra spot for Guard (PG/SG), Forward (SF/PF), and Utility (any position).
  • Awards 1.2 points per rebound, 3 points per steal, 3 points per block, and -1 point for turnovers.

For the most part, the scoring is somewhat similar between sites, with a couple key differences. For one, it’s easy to notice that DraftKings offers bonuses for Double-Doubles, Triple-Doubles and for every 3-point field goal made. While it’s super nice of DK to throw us a few extra points, we do not have to specifically target players who fall under these categories. The other main difference in scoring is Blocks/Steals and Turnovers. FD/Yahoo offer an extra point per block/steal but they also punish mistakes by taking a full point away for turnovers. 

Now that we covered the rules and scoring, let’s move onto how to specific NBA DFS strategy. 

NBA DFS Strategy

Low-risk contest selection:

  • The best ROIs will likely be found in single entry 50/50s and H2Hs, so look there first. Try to find H2Hs and small field double ups with inexperienced entrants.

Low-risk NBA DFS strategy:

NBA is one of the easiest sports to play low-risk contests due to the heavy concentration of ownership. When there is a big injury in the NBA and the backup option’s salary hasn’t increased, this player could be as high as 95% owned in double ups. With a vast amount of games per night, it is common to see a player in this situation on a daily occurrence. 

In NBA low-risk contests, you do not fade the chalk. In NBA DFS specifically, the chalk is chalk for a reason and many of these cheaper back-up options will end up hitting 7X+ value. After locking in the players that are affected through injury, you fill out the rest of your lineup with higher owned (20%+) players from our Occupy Model, players highlighted as low risk in the NBA Daily Plug, or players you expect to be popular when doing your own research. Normally, these players are seeing a boost from an increased role or a favorable matchup.

High-risk contest selection:

  • Satellites, satellites, satellites -- look to play contests that award tickets to future contests first and foremost. This is especially useful for cross-sport contests (satellites for non-NFL contests), as they are slower to fill and usually come with overlay.
  • Stick to Quintuple Ups, 10x boosters, Single Entry GPPs, Leagues -- especially later posting ones with less than 500 entrants -- and 3-Max tournaments unless you plan on making 20+ lineups.
  • Do not enter a contest unless you can enter the maximum number of lineups allowed.
  • For NBA DFS, we have found that Leagues are the best high-risk tournaments to play.

High-risk NBA DFS strategy:

Usually in a high-risk DFS contest, there is leverage in fading popular plays. However, NBA DFS is a completely different beast. As we highlighted earlier, most of the chalky options end up being in the winning lineup. So how do we differentiate?

In high-risk NBA contests, we like to keep a core of 3-5 low-risk players. Then we turn to the Plug and Model to fill out the other roster spots. In the Plug, we specifically state if a player is high risk, which you can add into the lineup. The Model is also a great tool for high risk, as it was specifically created for this type of contest. Normally we target players in the 6% to 20% ownership range to round out the lineup. 

On average -- and this will vary from slate to slate -- but the average ownership of a winning high-risk lineup is in the 20-30% range. That is, if you add up the ownership of every player in your lineup and divide it by the number of players in your lineup, that figure will be between 20 and 30 percent. This is much higher than other sports, but it’s also significantly lower than the average ownership for winning low-risk lineups. It’s a perfect representation of playing the chalk while getting different in a few spots, so keep this number in mind while building for high-risk contests.

Mass multi-entry NBA DFS strategy:

Step 1, use our Lineup Builder. Step 2, adhere to the above high-risk lineup strategy rules. There are a variety of ways to successfully build 20-150 NBA DFS lineups. Playing multi-entry tournaments is a completely different game than playing in smaller low-risk (or high-risk!) contests. By studying what top NBA DFS players do when they max-enter a contest, we can easily determine the best way to use our Lineup Builder to create a dedicated multi-entry strategy for specific slates.

Utilizing Leverage

In simple terms, leverage in DFS is benefiting when our opponents are wrong - about anything. Mass multi-entering is less about predicting player performance and more about playing against the field. 

  • As stated above, chalk is chalk for a reason. Because NBA is not an event-based sport (unlike other sports where a single event can exponentially increase a player’s fantasy point total e.g. a touchdown in NFL or a home run in MLB), ranges of outcomes are much tighter. As a result, the effects of variance are reduced and it’s much more difficult for the most popular plays to fail.  
  • Therefore, our leverage in NBA DFS tournaments will come from a lower ownership tier.
  • Speaking of ownership tiers, it’s best to think about NBA DFS ownership in buckets: chalk 30%+, leverage zone 10-30%, low-owned 0-10%. 

What the Pros Do

With excellent free resources like Fantasy Labs Contest Dashboard and RotoGrinders ResultsDB, we can easily look at historical slates and see what top NBA DFS pros did. Each NBA DFS tournament player has intricacies to their approach, but almost all of them do the following:

  • Match the field on chalk players. If a player is 40% owned, they will play 40% of that player in their lineups. They rarely, if ever, play way more (or way less) than the field does on chalk players. 
  • They get leverage in the, wait for it, leverage zone. They play anywhere from double to 4X the field’s exposure on players in that 10-30% zone. E.g. if a player is 10% owned, and they want leverage, they will play 20-40% of that player in their lineups. 

Core Plays

Pick anywhere from 3-6 players in that leverage zone that our Occupy Model (or your own projections or research) believes are great plays. Go overweight on them as the core of your lineups. 

Player Pool Size

Most top NBA DFS pros include 40 to 70 players in their 150-max pool on a normal-sized slate. For top 20-max players, that range drops to 25 to 45 players. The min/max player pool size decreases as there are less games on the slate. Top NBA MMErs have wildly different strategies here -- some routinely fall on the low end, some exclusively have large player pools, while others slide up and down the range depending on the slate. The key is to find what works best for you as long as you stay within the above recommendations. 

Lineup Rules

Because correlation isn’t as big of a factor in NBA DFS as other sports, we don’t need to implement too many rules when building lineups. The two main ones are:

  • Max players per team: outside of situations where teams are decimated by injuries, you’ll only want 1-2 players from the same team in the same lineup. 
  • Blocking players who cannibalize each others’ minutes: if two players share the same role or position, setting rules so they don’t appear in lineups together -- since you likely need one to outperform the other to hit value -- is important. 

Single Game NBA DFS Strategy:

Many of the same principles from classic NBA strategy remain in NBA single game contests. Ownership is usually very predictable, and narrow ranges of outcomes dictate different lineup constructions than other sports.

Note that on FanDuel, there is no salary multiplier with only 5 roster spots. DraftKings includes the salary multiplier and an extra roster spot. 

Our Occupy Model has incredible predictive power when it comes to single game contests, so lean on it heavily to build lineups while following the guidelines below. 

CPT/MVP selection

On FanDuel, you have three fantasy point multiplier spots: MVP (2x FP), Star (1.5x FP), and Pro (1.2x FP). Because we don’t get a salary break for rostering cheaper players in these spots, always spend up at these multiplier positions. You need players who will score the most fantasy points in the game, so play studs in these spots.  

For DraftKings, we have two main options: play a stud CPT who will score the most points on the slate or roster a value CPT who allows us to fit the maximum amount of studs in our FLEX spots. 

Value Plays

Outside of rare situations where there is legitimately zero value, a stars and scrubs approach is the most viable lineup construction on both sites. Play 1-2 cheap values in your FLEX spots that are guaranteed to see minutes. 

High-Risk Contests

For high-risk contests, you need at least one low-owned player in your lineup. On FanDuel, this can be as simple as swapping a popular MVP with a popular Pro selection. On DK, you’ll need to either roster an unpopular CPT or 1-2 low-owned FLEX plays. Like classic mode, chalk is chalk for a reason, so we can’t fade every popular option in single game -- we just need to be smart about how we pivot with 1-3 roster spots. 

Uniqueness in Larger Contests

If you’re playing large-field single game GPPs, you must also consider lineup uniqueness. Unlike other sports where you can leave tons of salary on the table or have uncorrelated lineups that, while unique, still have a shot to win, there is a dead zone in NBA single game DFS where your unique lineups have 0 chance of winning. So every lineup that is created must be carefully crafted to not only ensure that a ton of other people don’t have it, but also so that it’s not completely dead after the first tip. 

Here are a couple ways to not tie with hundreds of other entries:

  • Leave $500 or more on the table, but with good reason. Ideally, you’re leaving salary for 1 of 2 scenarios:
    • A mid-priced player outscores a lower-tier stud (and you opt to leave salary instead of paying up for that lower-tier stud).
    • A low-priced option outscores a mid-priced option (and you opt to leave salary instead of paying up for that mid-priced player).
  • Playing lower-owned options, usually a mid-tier player, at CPT on DK. As stated above, you almost exclusively want a stud or value option at CPT, but playing a low-owned mid-tier player at CPT can automatically make your lineup unique-ish without being horrific. 
  • On FD, the lower-owned MVP/Star/Pro route can just be to play a lower-priced stud in a higher multiplier position than a higher-priced stud (e.g. If a stud is $15K and another stud is $14K, playing the $14K player at MVP and the $15K player at Star immediately makes your lineup different than the majority of the field). In fact, this is the single biggest leverage point on FanDuel. Our friends over at numberFire have access to FanDuel data that isn’t publicly available, and they wrote this fantastic guide to single game contests that you absolutely must-read
  • The last option is to play value players whose minutes are not guaranteed. Whether it’s matchup-specific or late breaking news, if a player who isn’t expected to play a ton of minutes actually plays and contributes, you now have a unique stars-and-scrubs lineup. Often, this player scores a 0 and you lose, but sometimes the risk-reward trade off is worthwhile in larger contests. 

NBA DFS is a projections-heavy sport where you must be agile before (and after!) lock when news breaks. By having a solid process, a reliable model or projections system, and a fundamental strategy, you’ll be more prepared than the field every night.

This NBA DFS strategy guide was produced by our fantastic NBA staff (Tom Boyle, Ryan Bruskin, Travis Griffith) with help from the Occupy Fantasy crew.