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How to Play Fantasy Basketball: A Playbook for New and Seasoned Fantasy Players

16 October 2022 • by Rival

How To Play Fantasy Basketball: Everything You Need To Know

by Erik C. Anderson

So you’re ready to learn how to play fantasy basketball. Or maybe you’re ready to start winning fantasy basketball.
Perfect. You’ve come to the right place. 

Fantasy basketball strategy requires a certain nuance that other fantasy sports might lack — though there are plenty of concepts that will crossover. Understanding fantasy basketball strategy requires a hard look at what type of league you’re playing in and tweaking your strategy to optimize your roster and chances of winning. 

League Settings

The core tenet of every fantasy game: league settings. You can’t prepare yourself to play a game correctly if you don’t know the house rules. 
Know your league settings. Here are a few that will be particularly important.

  • Rotisserie, head-to-head categories or points? These are the most typical league scoring formats, so getting to understand them is important.
  • Are you playing daily or weekly changes? Daily tends to be common in basketball leagues, though weekly is a great way to transfer some of those fantasy football principles to the hardwood.
  • How many categories and which categories? Nine-categories is fairly common, but which nine categories are you playing? Or are you playing in a points league, where stats are given raw values and whichever player piles up the most points becomes the most valuable?
  • Is this a keeper league? Dynasty? Or redraft every season?
  • What are your waiver rules? Unlimited acquisitions?
  • Roster size? Roster limitations? Roster type? Will your league use the standard PG-SG-SF-PF-C-G-F and three utility slots?

Remember, these settings are almost entirely customizable. Answering these questions and understanding your settings will give you an inside track to dominating your draft and signing up for a league that you enjoy. 

League Size

Ready for more questions? Great. 

How many teams are in your league? This is important to consider. More players in your league means more scarcity with top-end talent or particular stat groups. 

Are you playing with friends or new faces? If you know your fellow managers and their favorite players or teams, you might find yourself with some leverage in a trade later in the season. (No, I would never overpay for Damian Lillard. Why do you ask?) 

League size also determines what range of players have value. “Value” is fairly nebulous, as a very fringe player can have exponential value to your team if you need the exact, niche thing that player provides. However, if you’re playing in a 16-team league and each team has 13 active player slots, players putting up numbers that rank them inside the Top 208 players have value and should be rostered. Hoarding more players in that top range will give your team an advantage — generally and simply speaking. 

For an up-to-date resource, take a look at all players’ advanced stats.


Similar to the importance of league settings, what kind of draft will your league employ: standard snake draft or auction? 

Either method will require some planning for draft-day success. Success will follow pre-draft analysis (studying rankings), formulating a draft plan and taking advantage of other fantasy managers sleeping at the wheel during the draft. You never know when a top player is going to fall into your lap during your draft pick or come across the auction table at a bargain price. 

Once your draft starts, you will typically allot 30 seconds to up to two minutes between draft selections or have 5-10 seconds between bids of the auction with a minute or two between auction nominations. Getting a feel for this timing will help you stay cool and collected to make the best decisions.

Stay flexible during the heat of the draft. Sure, you spent your offseason readying a bullet-proof strategy, but when you find yourself looking at five of the top centers available, you might need to audible to a frontcourt heavy build. 

After your draft is completed, take stock: Did you accomplish everything you set out to? Where did you fall short? Do any high-upside players remain on the waiver wire? 

Give yourself two to three weeks to evaluate your team before making any trades — unless somebody makes you an offer you can’t refuse. And always, always be checking the waiver wire. 

Daily vs. Weekly

Daily or weekly changes will greatly affect your strategy. Simply put, a daily changes league means streaming waiver wire players into your lineup each day — typically within an allotted amount of acquisitions. It behooves managers to build a roster that allows for such flexibility, denoting one to two slots as weekly streamers. 

Then, it becomes a matter of efficient use of your weekly acquisitions. How many games played can add value to your weekly output from the wire? These margins matter in fantasy basketball.  

Most competitive fantasy basketball leagues will use daily changes. However, those trying to master fantasy basketball strategy after playing fantasy football may like to start with a weekly changes league. 

Waiver Wire

Speaking of the waiver wire, what are your league’s settings? Is it a free-for-all, grab as many players as you like? Or are you using a free agent cap? This will determine micro strategies within your league. 

The most important part is what to look for on the wire. Each week there will be quality free agents to add. It will be up to you to determine if that free agent’s recent spike in play is sustainable. A good rule of thumb is to consider the context of the player’s opportunity and their production. 

Did Free Agent X play 29 minutes and put up 20 points and 15 rebounds in a blowout? Is Free Agent Y seeing more minutes as a result of a rotation change, or perhaps an injury has opened up more minutes? 

A role player putting up stats in a blowout game is unlikely to replicate the feat in a more closely contested game — while a role player becoming a starter and getting consistent opportunities to produce could be a game changer. 

Understanding where opportunity can come from and then analyzing whether a production increase will come is a big part of staying ahead of the game with waiver wire additions. 

And winning the waiver wire is a surefire way to win your fantasy championship. 

Injury Report

One way to get a leg up on your league is by checking the NBA’s official injury report. Many fantasy providers use services that aggregate this information, but subject yourself to another group’s error or oversight? Go directly to the source and check for yourself which players are playing every day by 5 p.m. local time of any matchup.

These reports come out every hour on the half-hour. If you have an injury question heading into a day’s matchup, be sure to check this.

Building a winning strategy in fantasy is a key to winning. What kind of build makes sense for your league settings?

Are you in a roto league and need to do well in as many categories as possible? Specialists may not have a spot on your roster nor will punting be a very good idea. In theory, punting could work, but it means you have to pick up a ton of slack in other categories.

Are you playing H2H in most categories? Perhaps you can punt a category and build a team that can consistently win 5-4.

Are you playing in an auction draft and can choose to spend the majority of your cash on top tier players and fill out the rest of your roster with scrubs?

Try One of Rival’s Fresh Takes on Fantasy

Looking to play the best games in fantasy sports? Try one of Rival’s quick and easy fantasy games.

Challenges gives you a one-on-one fantasy sports matchup, offering a simple alternative to league play. Make the right choice and start winning immediately Jump into Rival’s Fantasybook for the chance to predict over-unders on players’ projected outputs. Follow your instincts and hit up your Fantasybookie to cash in. And finally, go for the jackpot by playing weekly Fantasy Bingo. Put together your dream lineup and enter for a chance to win weekly prizes.

Fantasy sports are a ton of fun and a great reason to bring new friends together or rekindle old relationships. Get started today on Rival.

Erik C. Anderson is a fantasy football and basketball guru and freelance writer living in Montana. He’s previously written for The New York Times, USA Today, ESPN and many more. Business inquiries can be sent to [email protected].


NBA — Stats

NBA — Injury Report