By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
Whether it's your first time playing fantasy sports or you're a seasoned fantasy football player looking for a new challenge, this guide aims to educate you about how to approach a category-based fantasy basketball league. The tips and advice found here should help you construct a serviceable — and hopefully league-winning! — team, even if you haven't been actively following the NBA or have never played fantasy before.
First, as always: know your league's settings
Almost all category leagues are either "8-cat" (eight default categories) or "9-cat" (nine default categories). The eight default categories are points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, threes, FG% and FT%. Turnovers are the ninth default, and they’re the only difference between 8-cat and 9-cat leagues. 9-cat is more common on Yahoo, but you can play either format depending on what you prefer.
A few themes to remember if you play in a 9-cat league: High-usage players are often turnover machines, and rookies tend to be particularly turnover prone, especially rookie ball-handlers. Catch-and-shoot specialists (think PJ Tucker) and big men who don't pass (like Clint Capela) tend to see the biggest boosts in 9-cat value.
Occasionally, league commissioners experiment with some other category options. Some of the most common alternatives are double-doubles, triple-doubles, splitting offensive and defensive rebounds into two categories, or changing the way field goal efficiency is measured (i.e. counting made field goals, made free throws, eFG%, TS%, or some combination thereof). If you play in one of these leagues with atypical categories, the most important thing to remember is that most fantasy advice is not tailored for your leagues. There is still a lot to gain and a lot to be learned from articles, tweets, podcasts, etc, but remember that all of that advice assumes that you're playing in either 8-cat or 9-cat.
Weekly vs. daily lineups; IR spots
This isn't special to category-based leagues, but fantasy managers need to know whether they set lineups every day or once a week and whether they have an IR spot. Managers in weekly lineup leagues or leagues without an IR spot need to be more cautious on draft day. Someone like Kawhi Leonard, who is likely to miss games for "load management", does more damage in a weekly lineups league than a daily lineups league — in a daily lineups league, you can insert a replacement for just that day. Injuries are also easier to wait out if your roster has an IR spot. That way, you can add a new player without dropping the injured one.
Roto vs. Head-to-Head; Punting
This is the big one. In an H2H (head-to-head) league, you face off against one team per week — your categories against your opponent's. In H2H leagues, the teams with the best records qualify for the playoffs, and the champion is the winner of the playoff tournament. In roto (short for rotisserie), teams compete against the entire league over the course of the season. In a 12-team league, the leader in a given category gains 12 points, second place gets 11, third place gets 10, and so on until last place gets a single point. The champion is the team with the most cumulative points on the final day of the season.
The most important difference between H2H and roto is that punting (deliberately ignoring multiple categories, so that you can build an extra strong team in the remaining categories) usually leads to different results. In H2H, a well-crafted punt build is the optimal strategy. However, in roto, punting successfully is much harder and not rewarded as explicitly.
The reason you should punt in a head-to-head league is that you’re only trying to win a majority of the categories — it’s okay if you lose a few. For example, if you’re in a 9-cat league, you can effectively punt four categories in an attempt to win the other five. The more unusual build the better, as you’ll potentially be competing against other people who are punting, and you want to overlap as little as possible. Something strange like punting points, three, rebounds and assists will shift values, so you can reach to secure players who fit your build. Last season, that build — steals, blocks, FG%, FT% and TO — yielded increased value for players like Robert Williams, Herb Jones, Jaren Jackson and Mikal Bridges.
One other note on H2H category leagues: There are two types. The Yahoo standard counts each category as one game per week. So in a 9-cat league, a manager will receive a result in the standings for each category they win, loss or tie. Win five categories and lose four, you’ll be 5-4 that week.In "H2H One Win", only one result is added to the W-L-T record per week, determined by which team wins the most categories.
Blocks and Assists
Blocks and assists are the scarcest categories. Most of the leagues' assists come from the top point guards, with a few notable exceptions. All of the non-point-guard assists leaders are going to get drafted, and most of them will go in the first couple of rounds. When a point guard becomes worthy of acquisition off the waiver wire, they rarely are high-impact passers.
Similarly, there will be some shot-blocking big men who emerge off waivers as the season rolls along, but, as with assists, those players rarely block enough shots to make a major impact. As with assists, most of the best shot-blockers will all get drafted in the first couple of rounds.
Rebounds and Three-pointers
Rebounds and three-pointers are much easier to find. While the league’s elite rebounders stays pretty steady year over year, there are always several big men who emerge early in the season as reliable sources of boards. Furthermore, as big men get hurt, their backups usually step in and provide a decent facsimile of the starter's rebounding load.
Threes are a slightly different story, but the results are the same. As the total number of threes has increased, finding quality three-point shooters later in drafts has become easier and easier. Every year, a few players emerge as semi-surprising additions to the threes-per-game leaderboard. Perhaps more importantly, due to the streaky nature of long-range shooting, managers who remain active on the waiver wire can usually find a few players going through a hot streak and averaging several made threes per game.
Points are tricky. On the one hand, all the best scorers are going to get drafted early. Unless you are deliberately punting the category, you'll probably need to draft at least one 20-plus-point scorer early to stay competitive.
On the other hand, points are often overvalued by fantasy managers. Low scorers often get drafted much later than they should. High scorers get picked up off waivers much quicker, even if they provide little value in the other categories. Furthermore, as NBA offenses have changed, there are more high scorers available in the later rounds of drafts than ever before.
Points do become available on waivers throughout the season, but most of the time, it's only players who score between 13 and 18 points. Those guys can help, but, here too, waivers are unlikely to bail you out if you missed on this category on draft day.
Steals are always available on waivers. The problem? Most of those players don't provide enough help in the other categories to be worth rostering. That means that managers in daily lineups leagues can get meaningful help off of waivers, especially late in the week in a close H2H matchup, but that managers in weekly lineups leagues will have a harder time using the waiver wire to bolster their rosters.
The best way to stay competitive in steals is to try to draft elite two-way players relatively early, like Chris Paul and Jrue Holiday, so you don’t have to reach late in drafts for players who have murky roles and are generally unreliable.
FG% and FT%
Players' FG% and FT% are more variable than many counting stats, and therefore harder to predict, even if they stay in the same role on the same team.
For that reason, managers should remain careful when trying to build strength in these two categories. If you think your team is good, but not great, in either FG% or FT%, then remember that your margin for error may be small.
One last note — there are also some well-founded strategic arguments against punting either shooting efficiency category. Foremost among them, is that it is likely another manager in your league may attempt the same build, and that a punt-percentages team suffers more than other roster builds when their team has fewer games than their opponent in a given week.
If you've played in points leagues before, and this is your first time playing in a category-based league, make sure to compare last season's final ranks in points leagues to last season's final ranks in category leagues. This should help you get a good sense of which players make some pretty big jumps and which fall.
Remember that category scarcity is now much more important that positional scarcity. Positions still matter, but they matter a lot less.
Lastly, and this applies to points leagues as well as category leagues: remember that your last few picks are probably going to be dropped a few weeks later anyway. Take a few risks on upside, or focus on players who might fill some specific categorical weakness — there is no such thing as "reaching" at the end of a draft.