Points Based Fantasy Basketball: A Beginner’s Guide to Drafting

by George Haw | @georgeWarfieldH | Featured Writer
Oct 9, 2017

Drafting Dwight Howard would hurt your team if you’re in a points league that counts missed free throws

If you’re anything like me, you couldn’t be happier knowing that the NBA season is just around the corner. I tend to take a break from fantasy sports during the summer (otherwise, I’d be a cynical and nervous wreck year round). But come August, I couldn’t be more ready to dust off the ol’ spiral notebook, hop on the computer, and begin delving into career numbers, depth charts, ADPs and all of the other juicy stats we fantasy addicts love so much.

The beginning of each fantasy football season is a joyous time when life just seems to make sense, and you know that, no matter what, everything is going to be OK. Sure, the stressors of the 9-5 grind remain. Kevin and his sense of “humor” still hit you first thing every morning like a loud, awkwardly placed brick wall, and customers will always expect you to perform Old Testament level miracles to solve their problems.

But no matter how bad it gets, you know that your fantasy team will always be there to remind you of what matters in life. And just when you think things couldn’t possibly get better, basketball rolls around, and it’s fantasy sports 24/7!

Or, maybe you’re not quite like me and have yet to experience those feelings for yourself. I suppose, considering the title of this article, that there may some of you out there who are just now giving this whole fantasy sports thing a try. If you’re one of them, then let me congratulate you on making one of the best decisions of your life!

OK, maybe I’m a bit hyperbolic, but either way, whether you’re new to the game, extending your fantasy reach to include basketball, or a seasoned veteran interested in a new scoring format, you’ve come to the right place. So, why don’t we get started by quickly explaining what points based scoring is and then follow that up with some strategies on how to tackle your draft?

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Points vs. Categories

When it comes to fantasy basketball, the two most commonly used scoring systems are category based and points based. The former awards wins based on the relative success each team has in each statistical category, while the latter assigns a point value to each statistical category and then creates a single total score for each team (highest score wins).

For example, in a head-to-head category league, teams play against each other each week and try to accumulate more assists, rebounds, blocks, etc. than their opponent. At the end of the week, each team is awarded a win for every category they bested their opponent in. There are other variations of category scoring, but the general idea is that wins are linked to individual categories.

Unlike categories, points based scoring assigns a point value to each statistical category, and whoever accumulates the most points gets the win. For example, in the league I run, assists and rebounds are worth one point each, while steals and blocks are worth 2 and 1.5 points respectively (other stats have their own values as well). Most of the major statistical categories are used, but each league typically can customize their scoring how they see fit.

Like categories, points based scoring can be further divided into rotisserie (roto) or head-to-head (H2H). Roto points leagues avoid weekly matchups in favor of a season-long scoring system that produces a winner based on who has accumulated the most total points at the end of the year (playoffs are not typically used in this format). Head-to-head points scoring is most similar to the way fantasy football works in that teams play each other one-on-one on a rotating schedule throughout the season with the winner being the team to score the most points that week.

The playoffs are made up of the teams with the most wins in the regular season and then carried out in the same basic manner as the NBA playoffs. Many leagues are now moving to points based scoring for multiple reasons, two of which being that it tends to assign a more realistic value to the players, and that it’s more accessible for those who already have experience playing fantasy football (the most widely played fantasy game).

Drafting in a Points League

While there are different methods leagues can choose to use for their draft (i.e., snake or auction), we won’t get into comparing player values based on each drafting format. The most important thing to work out before your draft is how valuable specific positions and/or players are based on your leagues scoring settings. Points based scoring allows leagues to customize the value of each statistic, which means that players won’t always have the same value in all fantasy leagues.

For example, if you find yourself in a league that subtracts a point for every missed free throw, players like Dwight Howard (career 56.6% FT) are going to take a hit to their value, while guys like Stephen Curry (career 90% FT) are going to experience a value boost. On the other hand, if your league doesn’t account for free throw percentage, Howard could end up getting the value boost because many NBA teams choose to implement the “hack-a-Shaq” strategy at the end of games. In a situation where missed free throws can’t hurt your player, you can only benefit from more trips to the line.

This and other scoring settings not only affect individual players but specific positions as a well. To stick with the same example, the NBA’s best free throw shooters tend to be guards while centers have a near monopoly on charity stripe anxiety, so drafting heavy on big men may not be as fruitful of a strategy as you think if free throw percentage is taken into account. Of course, many other statistical categories will grant your players points, so just remember to analyze all of your league’s scoring settings before drawing any conclusions.

Once you’ve got a feel for the relative value of certain players and positions, you’ll also want to consider your league’s roster settings. While drafting a well-balanced team in terms of player positions isn’t as crucial in points leagues as it is in category leagues, it’s still worth keeping an eye on.

For one, you’ll want to know of any roster restrictions that could impact how you draft your team. For example, one common setting in ESPN leagues is to cap the number of centers any team can roster at one time to around four. Such a setting will have a greater impact in leagues that place a higher value on centers, so some owners may want to set their sights on big men earlier rather than later.

When it comes to the structure of the roster as a whole, most leagues will go with a roster that resembles the following: a starting lineup of 1 PG, 1 SG, 1 SF, 1 PF, 1 C, 1 PG/SG, 1 SF/PF, 3 utility players and around 3-5 bench spots. Roster configuration isn’t as consequential in fantasy basketball as it is in fantasy football because of the way weekly matchups are handled, but it will still come into play. Because of the free-flowing nature of an NBA season, some teams will play more games during one seven-day stretch and fewer during the next.

To account for this, most points leagues use a player cap system that restricts the number of players you can start during your respective matchup period. In H2H leagues that restriction is based on weekly matchups and caps the number of total players you can use during each individual week. In roto points leagues, because there aren’t weekly matchups, the player caps tend to restrict the number of times you can play any single player throughout the entire season.

As you can see, neither setup explicitly caps specific positions, but in a roundabout way, they do make it difficult to win without some level of balance. If you’re in an H2H league with a weekly player cap of 35, for example, you may be able to play 35 players without even owning a point guard (stranger things have happened) – if you have enough players at other positions to still meet that cap that is. Where you might run into trouble, though, is during a week where a majority of the NBA teams play on just a few nights.

In this case, you’ll end up needing to start more players in one day than your starting roster can handle. With only one center, one power forward, one forward and three utility spots, you wouldn’t be able to start more than six big men on any given night – and that’s if you don’t use your utility spots on any positions other than power forward and center. So, while roster balance doesn’t need to be your primary consideration, it’s still worth keeping in the back of your mind, especially when you get towards the end of your draft and are filling your final bench spots.

So, to sum things up a little, get to know your league’s settings before drafting. How certain statistics are valued and what kinds of starting rosters you’re able to create will give you a pretty good idea of which players/positions you should target and when you should expect to pull the trigger. When evaluating players, you can think of it as a basic math equation.

Look at a player’s past performances and current projections for this year to come up with an estimation of how you think their per game averages will look in each statistical category that’s relevant to your league. Once you’ve done that, simply convert the stats into points, and you’ll have a rough idea of their value. There will always be other factors that come into play, but try not to overcomplicate things.

It’s better to draft conservatively and use trades plus the waiver wire to improve throughout the regular season than it is to try and win your league before it even starts. As a general rule of thumb, drafting the “next best player” is a good way to tackle the early rounds, and as you progress further in the draft, start to pay more attention to roster balance. You may go into your draft knowing that your league values centers higher than point guards, but that doesn’t mean you should draft Andrew Bogut over Russell Westbrook.

Let your team take shape naturally and then look to plug any holes as they arise. Because of how long a fantasy basketball season is and how many players are capable of making an impact on any given day, your margin of error is going to be relatively large early on. Don’t stress too much, have fun, and whenever you need help we’ll always be here with plenty of draft and in-season tools to both help set and keep you on the path to victory!

George Haw is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from George, check out his archive and follow him @georgeWarfieldH.

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