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NBA DFS Strategy: How to Build Winning GPP Lineups on Short Slates | DraftKings + FanDuel

Adam Scherer

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Not every NBA DFS slate is going to be the same. Whether it’s the caliber of teams that are playing, or the number of teams that are scheduled to play, daily fantasy is always different. Thus, we need to be prepared for whatever type of slate is being offered by the major sites like DraftKings and FanDuel. That being said, we need to find the best NBA DFS strategy to building DraftKings and FanDuel lineups when we’re not in that “sweet spot” of games on the slate. So, let’s dive into the best NBA DFS strategy to have when building winning DraftKings NBA and FanDuel NBA GPP lineups on short slates.

NBA DFS Strategy: Short-Slate GPPs on DraftKings + FanDuel

The Biggest Difference Between Full Slates and Short Slates: Correlation

A key factor in making GPP lineups in any sport is the tradeoff between correlation and projection. Simply put, the stronger the positive correlation is between teammates, the more willing you should be to sacrifice your lineup’s median projection in favor of increasing its’ correlation. In NFL DFS, there is strong positive correlation between a quarterback and his wide receivers, so you should usually prioritize your quarterback’s wide receiver over a different wide receiver at the same price, even if his median projection is a little bit lower. In MLB DFS, there is strong positive correlation between hitters on the same team so you should usually prioritize the shortstop from a team where you have four other hitters instead of a different shortstop that projects a little bit higher. Conversely, in MMA DFS, there is a strong negative correlation between opposing fighters, so you shouldn’t normally roster them in the same lineup even if it increases your median projection.

NBA DFS is different than most other sports for several reasons. One of them is that the positive correlation that exists between teammates isn’t as strong as it is in other sports. When you have a full slate of games to choose players from, you’ll normally be better off prioritizing your lineup’s projection over correlation. If you think about a basketball game compared to a football game, you can see why this is. In football, for example, all passes are coming from the same player (the quarterback). Any pass caught by a team’s wide receiver results in points for the receiver and the quarterback. In basketball, this isn’t the case. The point guard is typically going to lead the team in assists, but there will be a lot of unassisted baskets that are scored over the course of a game. There are also other players that will get assists. Whereas a quarterback will be responsible for about 100 percent of his team’s completed passes, the leader in assists on a basketball team may account for something like 60 percent of the team’s assists in that game (and remember, there isn’t even an assist on every basket). So, because the correlation is relatively weak, you will normally be better off choosing the best players without considering positive correlation.

Short slates are a bit different than full slates, however, because there are fewer players to choose from. Since there are fewer players to choose from, there are fewer ways to change your lineup without lowering your median projection. Since there are fewer combinations of similarly projected lineups to choose from, the importance of correlation begins to increase. Even though positive correlation in basketball is weaker than in other sports, it still exists. So, when there are fewer players to choose from, you can increase your lineup’s ceiling by increasing its’ positive correlation.

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Josh Engleman’s NBA DFS Strategy How To Win On Short Slates

How to Increase Positive Correlation on Short Slates: Game Stacking

As mentioned before, it is difficult to gain too much of an advantage in DraftKings and FanDuel NBA DFS by looking to pair players together based on a stat like assists. You can find some individual spots that are more positively correlated than others, like a pass-first point guard who plays with a high frequency catch-and-shoot three-point shooter, but normally you won’t improve your lineup too much by trying to stack in NBA like you would in NFL.

I think the more apt comparison is to MLB. In MLB DFS, you increase your upside by stacking hitters together. This strategy works well because if hitters from one team are getting on base, it increases the number of at-bats for other players on the team. It also works because, if a pitcher is having a bad game, it will benefit every hitter on the opposing team. Similarly, in the NBA, if a game is higher scoring than expected it will benefit everyone who is on the floor. If a game goes to overtime, there will be at least five players from each team who play more minutes than they otherwise would have.

If you have 11 games to choose from, the opportunity cost of choosing lower-projected players from the same game is usually too high to warrant it. On a three game slate, however, the opportunity cost is much lower since there are just fewer players available. On these slates, it often makes sense to group players together from the same game and hope that the game is played at a faster pace than expected or that you get lucky and it goes to overtime.

How to Use Negative Correlation to Leverage the Field on Short Slates

While positive correlation among teammates is relatively weak in the NBA, there are players that have strong negative correlations with each other. The most obvious example is a team’s starting center and backup center. Teams rarely play two centers at the same time, so there are only 48 minutes available for all of the centers to play. Every minute that the starting center plays is a minute that the backup center isn’t going to play.

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On larger slates, you’ll want to avoid rostering negatively correlated players in the same lineup. On smaller slates, however, you can take it a step further. You can embrace variance and use negatively correlated players to gain leverage against the field.

For example, consider a team that uses two centers. One center averages 33 minutes per game, and the backup averages 15 minutes per game. Both players average 1 fantasy point per minute when they are on the floor. On average, we would expect the starting center to score 33 fantasy points on DraftKings and FanDuel and the backup center to score 15 fantasy points. Now, assume we are playing a GPP on a three-game slate and the vast majority of the field is going to roster the starting center because his median projection is the best center on the slate. You could join the majority and roster the center in your lineup as well and that would be fine. But you could also choose to roster the backup center instead.

On average, the starting center will play 33 minutes and you’ll be less likely to get a return on your investment. Occasionally, however, the starting center will get into foul trouble or lose playing time for a variety of other reasons. In these games, the backup center’s playing time will increase because his playing time negatively correlates with the starting center. This will put you in a strong position where not only is your lineup doing better than expected, but a large percentage of your opponent’s lineups are underperforming expectations because they have the starting center. This will give you an opportunity for a large return on your investment.

Summary

Correlation plays a bigger role on smaller slates than larger slates. Positive correlation between teammates is weaker in NBA DFS than it is in other sports. It still exists, however, and it becomes more important as the number of games on a slate decrease since the opportunity cost of each roster spot decreases as the size of the player pool decreases. The most effective way to increase your ceiling with positive correlation is to stack players from the same game because they will all benefit from a game that plays at a faster than expected pace or goes to overtime. Leveraging the field by rostering a player that is negatively correlated to a highly owned player is a powerful way to increase your chances of finishing at the top of a GPP on a small slate.

Adam "ShipMyMoney" Scherer has been playing and analyzing DFS full-time since quitting law school in 2016. He has qualified for the 2016 FanDuel MLB Playboy Championship, the 2016 DraftKings Fantasy Baseball World Championship (3x) and the 2019 DraftKings Fantasy Basketball World Championship. You can find him on Twitter at @ShipMyMoneyDFS or by emailing [email protected].

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