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Fantasy Basketball: An Introduction
By Mike Jasko

The NBA season is just around the corner, starting next Tuesday, which means it’s time to journey into the world of fantasy basketball. The popularity of fantasy basketball hails to that of fantasy football and baseball, but to the hardcore hoops fan, there is just about nothing more exciting (outside of the NBA Playoffs, of course) than drafting his/her annual fantasy basketball team. But this article is not intended for those that are already fantasy basketball enthusiasts, but rather, for those fantasy football players who have never played fantasy basketball, are thinking about playing, and are interested in how it works and differs from fantasy football.

One of the biggest differences in fantasy basketball and fantasy football is the wider variety of rules and formats played by the average user. While of course there are a variety of exceptions (IDP, TD Only, Keeper Leagues), the average fantasy football player plays in at least one league with rules that are somewhat standardized across the industry. Being less mainstream, fantasy basketball players have been largely left to their own devices and as a result, there are a variety of formats and while certain formats retain high popularity, you are much more likely to find a variety of formats played by a cross-section of fantasy basketball players than you would with a similar cross-section of fantasy football players.

Types of Drafts

Auction drafts do exist in the fantasy football realm, but they are much more popular in NBA Fantasy and they differ considerably from the standard “snake” drafts that you are probably used to. Instead of user taking turns choosing players that go straight to their fantasy teams, users take turns selecting players to put for auction. Each user starts with $200 and must outbid other users in order for the player to be added to the roster.

This type of draft allows for different strategy than could be employed in a snake draft. For instance, if you really wanted two superstars on your team, you could spend most of your allotted money on those two guys, something that couldn’t happen in a snake draft since those hypothetical players would likely both go in the first round.

Or you could go for a very balanced squad by waiting for all the big names to be chosen so that you can outbid everyone else on the mid-level players. You can also bid on someone that one of your opponents is targeting, even though you might not actually want that player, since only the highest big wins. Doing this drives up the players price, leaving your opponents with less to spend on other players which you may be targeting in later rounds.

For those that have never done an auction draft before, it can be daunting, as it is much different than a snake draft. However, it definitely adds a dynamic to the draft that you simply can’t replicate with a snake draft.   For those that want a more traditional draft experience, there are plenty of snake-drafting NBA fantasy leagues out there, just make sure you note what type of draft you are signing up for.

Scoring Formats

As you already know, fantasy football, almost universally, relies on weekly, head-to-head match-ups between users for its format. In fantasy basketball however, this is completely different. Firstly, there are two different types of scoring in fantasy basketball; points-based and category-based. Points-based scoring is exactly what you’re used to in fantasy football; statistics are assigned a point-value (1.5 for an assist, 1.2 for a rebound, etc.) and the most points win. Category-based scoring comes from fantasy baseball, the original fantasy sport. Each user’s team is ranked in a certain number of categories, and those rankings are used to determine the winner. There are a variety of scheduling formats used within each scoring format.

With category-based scoring, the most common and traditional format is known as rotisserie. Each user’s team is ranked in each category, and then that ranking is assigned a value (10 for 1st place, 9 for 2nd, and so on). The total of these rankings points are used to create the league standings. This is a cumulative process which takes the entire season. Unlike in fantasy football, there is no playoff system, and simply the person in first place at the end of the season is the champion.

There are also other formats which use category-based scoring that bring in aspects of fantasy football. Head-to-Head leagues are becoming increasingly popular is fantasy basketball due to its similarities to fantasy football. ESPN offers two types of category-based, weekly match-up formats. The first there is Head-to-Head, Each Category. In this format, users are matched up against a different opponent each week, much like in fantasy football. At the end of the scoring period, team totals are accumulated and a win, loss or tie is credited in each category based on opponent's weekly totals (i.e. 6-3-1 in a 10 category league).

A similar format is Head-to-Head, Most Categories, in which the user who wins the most categories during the scoring period is awarded a win and the other user is given a loss. Both of these formats have playoffs like in your normal fantasy football league. If the category-based scoring doesn’t sound like your thing, there are also several types of points-based scoring formats to choose from.

The standard points-based league operates just like the rotisserie league described earlier. Teams collect points throughout the entire season, and ranked based on those. At the end of the season, the user with the highest point total is league champion; i.e. no playoffs. The alternative to this is the Head-to-Head Points, which is the closest format to your standard fantasy football league. You are matched up against a different person each week, and there is a playoff that comes after 19 regular season weeks.

Those are the main type fantasy basketball leagues out there, so if you’re a fantasy football player that also likes the NBA, there are plenty of reasons to play fantasy basketball. Fantasy Football season ends with December, but fantasy basketball will be raging through April. If you botched your fantasy football draft or if your team has been riddled with injuries, now is the chance to redeem yourself.

Check back tomorrow for my NBA Fantasy rankings for each position.

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