Fantasy Doctor, NBA / Oct 22, 2010 / 10:00 am

How To Build The Perfect NBA Fantasy Basketball Team

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant

Much like improving your game, building the perfect fantasy basketball team requires preparation, practice, commitment, perseverance and a healthy dose of fortunate circumstances. You can control four of those five factors by heeding the humble advice below.

Do your homework
There’s no such thing as an offseason for fantasy basketball owners. The summer brings more than enough nuggets of potentially juicy information to chew on, especially from a fantasy perspective. Beyond the obvious – Summer League/preseason games, free agency moves, trades – there are subtle quotes and updates that hit the wires and lend themselves to fantasy-related spin. These can be anything from a coach’s mention of his rotations, to reports that a player is working on a certain aspect of his game. While everything seen and heard during the offseason should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt (paging everyone who had their summer fling with Anthony Randolph last year), it only helps your chances if you keep up-to-date by reading various basketball resources – fantasy-related or not. So bookmark those websites and blogs, update your RSS readers and follow those Twitter accounts.

Understand the system
Head-to-head, rotisserie, fantasy points, categories, keeper, auction – these simple words can determine whether Dwight Howard goes at No. 5 or No. 20 overall in your drafts, among other things. Make sure you know the scoring system and settings your fantasy league will use, especially if there are aspects that are more exotic than usual.

Be like Santa
Make your own home-brewed draft-day cheat sheet and rank fantasy players from the nicest to the naughtiest. There are many ways to go about this, but the wisest is to come up with your own list, compare it to other rankings on the Internet and adjust accordingly. Just be sure you understand the assumptions of those other lists – scoring system, number of categories, etc. Some may not specify these, so do your best to look at them with a discerning eye. If you’re not a big believer in the wisdom of crowds, you probably don’t see the point of spending time looking at what other people think, and that’s fine. Just know that you might be missing out on some keen insights and indicators of what’s to come. Keep in mind that lists from purported “experts” aren’t the only ones out there. There are rankings based on the average pick positions from mock and non-mock drafts, and those are helpful. Exposing yourself to as many perspectives as you can is a good exercise – just don’t lose your own perspectives in the midst of it all. Generating your own list kills two birds with one stone: it helps you to have a set of rankings on hand that actually reflects how players should be valued in your specific league, and it helps you to avoid being the guy who catches the draft-day jitters, constantly burning the clock to its last seconds and fumbling your sixth-round pick with Vince Carter.

If you’re in a roto league, the goal of your draft is relatively straightforward: build the team that has the best chance to compete in all counted categories. In a head-to-head league, drafting is a bit more open to interpretation. There are two main schools of thought here: 1) Draft a team that’s strong across the board, or 2) Disregard (or “punt”) a category or two and stack up on the other stats. While it may seem counterintuitive, going the across-the-board route is actually easier than punting. Why? Because punting categories takes commitment, discipline and a more detail-oriented eye. If, for instance, you’re in a head-to-head draft and decide to take Dwight Howard at No. 8 overall and go the punting route, you’re committing yourself to losing the free-throw percentage battle. When you get to the second round and find yourself with the decision to choose between Rajon Rondo and Chauncey Billups, who do you take? If you said Rondo – who shot 62 percent from the charity stripe last season – you’re getting it. On the other hand, if you’re drafting David Lee – a center-eligible player who rebounds like a monster, but blocks and shoots the ball like a stud guard – you can try your hand at punting blocks. Also, while it’s not quite like punting, you can choose to focus on rare categories right out of the gates. Typically, fantasy owners who employ this tactic will greedily grab players who rack up steals and blocks. This is an appealing way to go, since getting an early leg up on these categories ensures you’ll at least be competitive in those two categories each week. However, it doesn’t give you much control over the other categories, especially since players who usually block the ball well tend to have different strengths (field-goal percentage, rebounds) than players who are skilled thieves (free-throw percentage, assists, threes). Yoked statistics can simplify the drafting process, but if you’re diligently targeting two categories that are yoked to different sets of stats, you could be on the verge of defeating your own recipe for success. Pick your poison, but do it carefully.

Play it by ear
Regardless of which strategy you employ, you’re going to have to hold off on your selection until you know which pick you have (unless you’re in an auction draft), and sometimes after the first two or three rounds are in the books. While it’s easy to stick to the script that your draft preparations have laid out, you’ll eventually reach the point where you’ll have to stray, whether it’s because other owners are drafting in a completely unexpected fashion, your gut is telling you that you made a mistake in evaluating certain players, or your eye’s strongly drawn to a sexy sleeper that you initially listed to be taken later. Don’t be strangled by your pre-draft plans. If you are, you’ll likely walk away from the draft with more than a few regrets. Also, while it’s unwise to be without a starting center by the 12th round, don’t cave in to that natural urge to pick a PG, SG, SF, PF and a C with your first five picks. If the opportunities fall into place for that, great. But it’s okay if you don’t fill every one of those five spots right away. (Just know that quality point guards and centers are much harder to find down the line than quality SGs/SFs/PFs.) If you don’t really care about positions, there’s always the option of drafting the best player available for whatever strategy you’ve chosen, regardless of position needs. Chances are you’ll fill in every spot eventually, though you’ll likely have surpluses at certain spots that you’ll need to use as trading chips after the draft is done. (By the way, if you want to keep track of your fantasy squad’s round-by-round strengths and weaknesses, don’t be afraid to open up a spreadsheet and update it with each player you pick, along with the averages you’ll expect from them this season.)

Follow through
So you’ve prepped like a pro and drafted like a disciplined punter or a suave Renaissance man – now what? As with shooting a basketball, the follow through is as important as any other step of the process here. Don’t get discouraged if you think you had a bad draft, or too bold if you think you had a good one. The first few weeks should serve as a litmus test and you’ll start to see how your draft actually measured up. Among the keys to post-draft success are watching actual NBA games (you’d be surprised by how much you learn), closely monitoring the waiver wire, keeping track of team’s weekly schedules (and making roster adjustments based on that information), eyeballing which categories next week’s opponent looks strong in, and not shying away from making trades. While having a solid draft helps, the best teams are usually built and maintained throughout the season via savvy pickups and deals. It’s always easier to sit back and accept your team’s strengths and weaknesses than to fight for every tenth of a percent or half of a steal, but the road to your league’s championship isn’t paved with “easy.” There’s always another trade to make, waiver-wire gem to pick up or lineup to tweak. To quote the words of an interesting man, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

Throughout the season, be sure to leave your questions, comments, concerns, trade offers, roster problems and more in the comments below.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @fbasketballblog.

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  • How

    Always a great read doc!

    This is my team after a couple of trades… do you mind giving my some advices of what to improve? Do you think I overdid the punting?
    (12ppl h2h)

    Rajon Rondo
    Monta Ellis
    Tyreke Evans
    Andrei Kirilenko
    Paul Millsap
    Kevin Love
    Dwight Howard
    DeMarcus Cousins
    Mike Dunleavy
    Drew Gooden
    Andrew Bynum
    DeJuan Blair
    Luke Ridnour


  • Bizz

    Very good article.

    There is no offseason in fantasy b-ball. This is truth right there. I’m in a keeper league and was studying all offseason as to what I was going to do between keeping Andray Blatche and Darren Collison as my 6th player (I also had Kobe, Wade, Deron, Al Horford & Kevin Love), whether I went the all around route with 3 guards and 3 center eligibles, or lockdown the steals/dimes categories and possibly punt blocks, and before that, I was having to decide whether to hold on to Collison and hope for either him or CP3 got traded before Darren finally got traded to Indiana, whether Blatche’s foot would be fine to start the season, what Arenas’ return meant for Blatche, all while prepping for a draft that I had no 4th round pick.

    The life of a fantasy GM is a lot more work than people realize when you aim for championships year after year. Everything in this article is truth from top to bottom.

  • NYK

    during the draft i completely overloaded on centers (i’ve got both the Lopez brothers, nuff said) now i need to find some trade partners in my league…

  • Mike.W


    I just traded Brand, Gallinari and Calderon for Camby and R.Lewis? (I’m getting Camby & Lewis)…Good or bad deal? Thanks!

  • http://dimemag.com/author/the-fantasy-doctor/ The Fantasy Doctor

    @How: It appears you’re punting threes, and potentially FT%. Other than that, I’d say you have a decent shot at assists, steals, blocks and FG%, which is a good start. I’m not sure I’m in love with Dunleavy and Ridnour, but having them on your roster isn’t a crime. I don’t think you overdid the punting.

  • Albert

    Hey Doc,

    Great article. I’ve gone through the punting strategy in my H2H league and gave up AST. I’ve just drafted in a 12-team, 9 cat and was wondering if you can look at my team.

    PG – Terry
    SG – Mayo
    SF – Granger
    PF – Stoudemire
    C – M. Camby
    G – E. Gordon
    F – Gallinari
    Util – McGee
    Util – Salmons
    BN – Maggette, George Hill, J. Jack, Battier

    I think i need a rebounder and should give up 3PT shooting seeing that i’m too heavy in that category. Any thoughts?

  • Jason

    Hey doc can you help me rate my team?

    10 cat roto.

    PG Russell Westbrook
    PG Monta Ellis
    SG Kobe Bryant
    SG Brandon Roy
    SF Luol Deng
    SF Andrei Kirilenko
    PF Rashard Lewis
    PF Jeff Green
    C Joakim Noah
    C Marcus Camby
    UTIL Elton Brand
    UTIL Anderson Varejao
    Bench Taj Gibson
    Bench Wesley Johnson
    Bench DeMar DeRozan
    Bench Shaun Livingston

  • http://dimemag.com/author/the-fantasy-doctor/ The Fantasy Doctor

    @Mike.W: Oh boy, that’s a big one. If Gallo’s a bust, Brand and Calderon tank, Camby plays 70+ games, and Lewis becomes a three-point beast again, this might work. That’s a lot of ifs.

    Here’s another one: If I were you, I probably wouldn’t have done it. You are potentially getting the two best players in the deal, but you’re giving up some upside in Gallinari and a bit in Brand, too.

    I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it either. That said, if Camby stays healthy, he’ll be a beast with all the minutes he’ll get with Oden out. I’d look to sell high on him sooner than later though.

  • http://dimemag.com/author/the-fantasy-doctor/ The Fantasy Doctor

    @Jason: Solid squad. You’re vulnerable in threes, but you seem competitive most everywhere else.

  • http://hslfastbreak.wordpress.com Jimmy

    Always a great read doc!

    This is my team after three trades that I’ve made.
    It is Head2Head 12 team private league w/ active owners.
    I tried to build a balanced team. What should I do to improve and how does it look right now?

    PG Stephen Curry
    SG Tyreke Evans
    G Kevin Martin
    SF Jeff Green
    PF Kevin Love
    F Michael Beasley
    C Al Horford
    C Emeka Okafor
    Util Jameer Nelson
    Util Andris Biedrins
    Bn Dorell Wright
    Bn Austin Daye
    Bn Charlie Villanueva

    Thank you Doc!

  • http://dimemag.com/author/the-fantasy-doctor/ The Fantasy Doctor

    @Albert: Well, you’ve succeeded in punting assists. Getting another big rebounder might not be a bad idea. If you do decide to give up some threes, try to unload Terry first. I’d try my best to hold onto Gordon and Mayo.

  • http://dimemag.com/author/the-fantasy-doctor/ The Fantasy Doctor

    @Jimmy: That is a pretty well-rounded squad, though Biedrins and Okafor could kill your FT%. If Biedrins bounces back and grabs even just 7-8 rebounds per game, your rebounds should be strong. See how things go the first couple weeks. You might find that you’ll have to bulk up another category or two to avoid being a middle-of-the-pack team, which happens to many well-rounded teams in H2H leagues.

  • Luca

    Hey Doc, I’m in a 3 keeper H2H league and my draft is tomorrow. I drafted savvy last season, so my keepers are as follows:

    Stephen Curry
    Rajon Rondo
    Josh Smith

    I have Steals pretty well set up as well as assists. Smith alone gives me a lot of help in blocks. Rebounds aren’t great (but big men could be picked up for cheap) and FT % is probably my weakest category there. Turnovers wouldn’t be great either but I don’t worry too much about them compared to others!

    Anyway I was wondering if you had any tips for players to keep my eye out on, both established and sleepers.

    Hoping to improve on second place last year!

    Cheers Doc,


  • @stevenash

    Hi I’m in a 5 team roto league and was wondering if u can give me some advice, my team is:
    Pg deron Williams
    G Stephen curry
    Sg Andre iguodala
    Sf Kevin durant
    F Danny granger
    Pf josh smith
    C dwight Howard
    C Tim Duncan
    Util lamar odom
    Util brandon roy
    Bench Blake griffin
    Bench darren collison
    Bench Jason Richardson
    BTW this is a regular yahoo standard roto league. I was offered pau gasol for dwight Howard- should I take it? Also there are a couple good players that havent been picked up such as Eric Gordon, joakim Noah Rohibbert, marc gasol, oj mayo, should I pick any of those guys up?

  • @stevenash

    I also forgot to mention Jeff green wasn’t picked up yet…

  • kmo

    Great article. Would really apprciate your thoughts on my team. Im in 2 h2h leagues. Just did the draft for one of them last night and ended up with this team. 8 teams, 10 cats (ignoring TO)

    1. Deron Williams
    2. Pau Gasol
    3. Rajon Rondo
    4. Tyreke Evans
    5. Joakim Noah
    6. Andre Iguodala
    7. Zach Randolph
    8. Trevor Ariza
    9. Eric Gordon
    10. Chris Kaman
    11. Jrue Holiday
    12. JJ Hickson
    13. Anthony Randolph
    14. Javale Mcgee
    15. Rodney Stuckey
    16. Demar Derozan

  • http://dimemag.com/author/the-fantasy-doctor/ The Fantasy Doctor

    @Luca: Nice trio of keepers. Keep an eye out for guys like Batum, Udrih, Hickson, AK-47, Robin Lopez, Jeff Teague and Austin Daye.

  • http://dimemag.com/author/the-fantasy-doctor/ The Fantasy Doctor

    @@stevenash: Five teams — my oh my. First off, since it’s a roto league, I’d accept Pau for Dwight in a heartbeat. Even if you unload Howard, you’ll struggle with FT% thanks to Odom, Smith and Griffin, so prepare or adjust for that. Other than that, it looks good. Since your league is so shallow, it’ll likely come down to tiny differences. I like Marc Gasol a lot, but he recently got hurt, so steer clear for now. In a roto league, I’d prefer Noah, Gordon or Mayo over Griffin.

  • http://dimemag.com/author/the-fantasy-doctor/ The Fantasy Doctor

    @kmo: Nice draft. You’re leaning almost wholly on Gordon and Ariza for threes, so that could be a vulnerable category during weeks they don’t play often or play poorly. Other than that, I don’t see any gaping holes. Since there are only eight teams, I think you might be able to find a more-reliable player to replace DeRozan, who just dislocated a finger. But if you’re digging his upside, no problem with sticking with him.

  • kmo

    Thanks for the advice doc! i just did my second draft. im not very happy with this team at all. My draft position was awful (6th out of 12 teams). Can you advise on this team as well please? i think i need your help

    1. Kobe Bryant
    2. Brook Lopez
    3. Kevin Love
    4. Stephen Jackson
    5. Raymond Felton
    6. Lamarcus Aldridge
    7. Jrue Holiday
    8. JJ hickson
    9. Beno Udrih
    10. Linas Kleiza
    11. Yi Jianlin
    12. Tiago Splitter
    13. jeff teague (im gonna drop him soon)

  • goRosego!

    hey doc

    I’m in a 10 team head to head league, not sure about my team…thinking about punting a category or two…im thinking 3’s and something else.

    my team:

    PG: Darren Collison
    SG: Stephen Curry
    SF: Rudy Gay
    PF: Dirk Nowitzki
    C: Al Horford
    G: Jason Terry
    F: Nene
    UTIL: Caron Butler
    UTIL: Andre Miller
    UTIL: Paul Millsap
    Ben: Tyrus Thomas
    Ben: D.J Augustin
    Ben: Linas Kleiza

    There arnt many inriguing gurad or Small forward options left, but there are several big men available;

    Brendan Haywood, Javale Mcgee, Robin Lopez, Andris Biedrins, Samuel Dalembart, Spencer Hawes, Charlie Villanueva, and Taj Gibson.

    maybe go for rebounds, blocks, FG%?

    ant comments/advoce would be great.


  • Cristian

    Hey doc,
    Im in an 8 team h2h league. Can you tell me what you think of my team? Also, Troy Murphy, Vince Carter, Baron Davis, Andre Kirilenko, and Rashard Lewis are available. Should I pick them up?
    Heres my team:
    PG Deron Williams
    SG Joe Johnson
    G Jason Kidd
    SF Lebron James
    PF Al Horford
    F Gerald Wallace
    C Marcus Camby
    Util Kevin Love
    Bench Darren Collison
    Bench David West
    Bench Andrew Bogut

  • Cristian

    Hey doc,
    me again. I got offered a trade for deron williams for billups and josh smith. Im scared that without deron ill lose assists. I have jason kidd and lebron on my team so i might be fine but right now im against a guy who has rajon rondo, nash and russel westbrook and im barely beating him in assists. what should i do.