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The Do’s and Don’ts of Building a Contrarian DFS Lineup (Fantasy Basketball)

by Zachary Hanshew | @ZaktheMonster | Featured Writer
Jun 16, 2020

Don’t be afraid to pay up for studs like Ayton in a contrarian build if low ownership is expected

So it’s time to set your DFS lineup, and the obvious question on your mind is: how can I gain an advantage over the rest of the field? Obviously, the value of research and experience can’t be overstated, but strategy is critical when setting NBA DFS lineups. Playing in a cash game means you’ll want to play it safe and chalky, but GPPs are a whole different animal. If you want to win the big bucks in DFS, tournaments are the way to go, and you’ll never get to the front of the pack playing the same lineup as half the other entrants. That’s why it’s so important to build a contrarian lineup. Let’s take a look at some do’s and don’ts.


Do plenty of research. Seriously, NBA DFS may seem like a roll of the dice, but there’s plenty of work you can do to stay informed and get ahead of the curve. Try to focus in on important stats and numbers such as pace of play, Vegas Over/Under, and fantasy points per minute among others. Using these numbers can be highly advantageous and guide you in picking the perfect contrarian plays for your lineup.

Do play in multi-entry tournaments. This is where the big bucks are made, and you don’t want to use your contrarian lineup in a 50/50 or some other contest not willing to pad your wallet. Contrarian lineups are contrarian for a reason after all. The guys you’ll be plugging in don’t necessarily offer the best outlooks, which is why they aren’t popular picks. You’ll be going for a homerun here, so go big or go home, swing for the fences, and other sports-related maxims.

Do go for upside. No-brainer, right? Not always. It’s easy to use name recognition or a good matchup to justify spending $3500 on a bottom-of-the-barrel player, but all of the low-dollar values need to have built-in upside – otherwise, they’re useless in your lineup. Try to target guys who have shown flashes of big-game potential in the past. One hot shooting night does not a contrarian star make, as the old adage goes (I’m paraphrasing), so you’ll want some history on your side before making the selection. It’s not always a bad idea to target a quality shooter after a few-game slump. He’ll eventually bounce back, and tonight could be the night. In daily fantasy basketball, volume is huge. It’s never a bad idea to snag a guy playing 30+ minutes, especially if he is low-owned.

Do make mistakes. That’s the only way you’ll learn to effectively set contrarian lineups. There is no exact science when setting a lineup that features some potentially boom-or-bust players, so you’ll need to practice to get an idea of what works in terms of built-in risk, price point, and mixing some chalk in with your longshots. Keep playing, keep tweaking, keep improving.


Don’t be afraid to spend up. Contrarian doesn’t mean cheap. It means going against the grain in favor of a low-owned, high-upside option. For example, you might have to choose between Deandre Ayton ($8,800) against Philadelphia and Jonas Valanciunas ($6,700) against the Bulls. The price point and great matchup should make Valanciunas the preferred option on the slate, making Ayton an upside contrarian play who won’t break the bank.

Don’t let matchup, recent stats, or caliber of the team scare you away. Don’t ignore those aspects, either. It’s important to take a look at all the factors that go into a game rather than simply glancing at our FanDuel Defense vs. Position Tool and dismissing a player with a less-than-ideal matchup or a guy in the middle of a bad streak. Matchups and streaks can be busted. Don’t be afraid to target teams that aren’t sexy (Orlando and Chicago come to mind). Sure, those teams don’t usually blow away the competition or offer a ton of fantasy-relevant options, but someone’s got to score, rebound and assist, and you can use that unappealing guard or forward to win.

Don’t get discouraged. As I mentioned above, a lineup is contrarian for a reason. Sometimes you swing, and sometimes… you strike out. That’s all part of sports gambling. You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some, and if you’re lucky, the big wins will make up for the sour losses. Building contrarian lineups won’t guarantee a win, but it will put you in a much better position to hit it big. If you want to cash out and make a few extra bucks, cash games are for you, and players utilize safe, reliable options. If you’re looking for a life-changing payday, you’ll have to play guys that most other entrants don’t. It’s as simple as that.

Don’t set your lineup blindly. It’s easy to plug-and-play a cheap starter or a backup with newfound opportunity, but don’t do so without really weighing his potential outlooks. To win big in tournaments, you’ll need your lineup to be as close to perfect as possible, and one misstep is all it takes to derail your chances of daily fantasy glory.

Don’t forget the chalk! A contrarian lineup can’t shouldn’t be exclusively comprised of home-run hitters and risky plays. Instead, it should have a healthy dose of those kinds of players — just enough to set you apart from the competition to gain an advantage. This is where practice and research come into play. It’s easy to glance at the player pool for a given slate and decide to pivot off of someone like Giannis Antetokounmpo simply to be contrarian. But what if he’s in a tier of his own for that night’s games ($11,000) and the next highest SF salary is someone like Tobias Harris ($6,700)? In cases like this, you’ll certainly be in the minority if you don’t roster the Greek Freak, but if he explodes for 70 points and he’s not in your lineup, kiss your night goodbye. Understanding context is vital when building a contrarian lineup, as slate size and player pool frequently dictate the amount of risk and pivoting you’ll be able to do comfortably.

Zachary Hanshew is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Zachary, check out his archive and follow him @zakthemonster.

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