How to navigate Fantasy Basketball Points leagues in 2020-21

·9 min read

By Nick Whalen, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

When you’re entering a fantasy draft for any sport, being adequately prepared is key. For novice and experienced fantasy players alike, familiarizing yourself with your league’s settings is a crucial step in that process.

In the world of fantasy basketball, almost all leagues operate under either a Points or Categorical format. These formats share some overlap, but whereas in Categorial leagues the goal is to win — or finish highly within — as many stat categories as possible, Points leagues present a different challenge.

For a guide on Category leagues, click here.

Unlike Category leagues, Points leagues disregard altogether how players go about accruing fantasy stats. Like with most fantasy football leagues, each statistical category is assigned a point value, and each player’s points — regardless of how they’re earned — are simply added up to produce a final score over a given period, which is typically one week.

The NBA’s official fantasy points scoring format uses the following values:

Points: 1 point

Rebounds: 1.2 points

Assists: 1.5 points

Steals: 3 points

Blocks: 3 points

Turnovers: -1 point

Customizing Your League

Those may be the default numbers, but most host sites will allow you to tailor the values to your league’s specific preferences. For instance, if you’d like to increase the impact of blocked shots, you could raise that point value accordingly. In the same vein, you can add or subtract categories, which will have ripple effects in terms of which player archetypes lose or gain value.

If you were to add, say, Made Three-Pointers as another category alongside Points, stars like Damian Lillard and Trae Young would become even more sought-after, while lesser-known three-point specialists like Duncan Robinson and Terrence Ross would also pick up some value. Using RotoWire’s 2020-21 projections as an example, adding Made Three-Pointers (worth 1pt apiece) as a category vaults Ross up roughly 20 spots — relative to default Points league rankings — while Robinson gains almost 40 spots.

In Categorical leagues, it’s difficult to manage each category — usually, there are eight or nine — and ensure your roster doesn’t have any major deficiencies. A well-rounded team is a near-requirement for title contention, but that’s not necessarily the case in Points leagues. One of the benefits of Points formats is not having to worry about being dragged down in a single category.

Understanding Which Players to Target

If a player is a poor free-throw shooter, he can still hurt your team — many leagues award 1pt for each made FT and subtract 1pt for each miss — but he’s ultimately only lowering his total fantasy point output, as opposed to doing damage to the Free Throw Percentage category. In Categorical leagues, high-volume poor free-throw shooters like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andre Drummond, and Zion Williamson can single-handedly tank a category, despite being elite in other areas. Players like these typically become more valuable in Points formats, as their elite counting stats translate directly to the “fantasy points” bottom line.

Consider the following (relatively extreme) example: Let’s say on a given night, Clint Capela scores 0 points, going 0-for-10 from the field and 0-for-10 at the free-throw line. Probably the worst overall shooting night in NBA history. However, Capela grabs 20 rebounds and blocks five shots.

If you’re playing in a Categorial league, the rebounds and blocks would be nice, but Capela’s lack of scoring would add nothing to your Points category, and his poor shooting would negatively impact both your Field Goal Percentage and Free Throw Percentage categories.

Conversely, in a Points league, you’d only be concerned about Capela’s total fantasy output. Sure, it’d be nice if he scored some points to add to his bottom line, but the 20 rebounds and five blocks alone would be worth 39 fantasy points under the aforementioned standard scoring system. Unless your league assigns negative value for field goal/free throw attempts, the fact that Capela had a horrific night shooting the ball would not affect your team in the same way it would in a Categorical league. The damage would come in the form of potential fantasy points left on the table.

With that in mind, it’s important to consider the type of players who gain or lose value in Points formats. Counting-stat monsters like the four mentioned above tend to rise in rankings, while players valued for their efficiency — think Mitchell Robinson or Stephen Curry — lose some value in Points leagues that only account for total points and don’t factor in made/missed field goals.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30)
Steph Curry should be back to his point-scoring ways this season. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Under the NBA’s standard scoring system, players who rack up defensive stats are also rewarded, with steals and blocks both equating to three points apiece. In that format, a player like Drummond becomes an end-of-the-first-round-level value, as he’s an elite blocks/steals/rebounds producer and is not punished for his lack of three-point shooting or poor free-throw shooting.

Meanwhile, Points leagues depreciate the value of players who produce above-average numbers in only one or two categories. Unless those categories are heavily weighted — for example, if your league awards 4 points for each steal — a bench player who averages 1.5 steals per game but offers little else isn’t nearly as valuable as he’d be to a fantasy manager in a Categorical league who’s looking to make a climb up the Steals category.

Similarly, players who only churn out value in one or two categories, and especially score-first players, tend to have diminished value in Points formats. Someone like Brook Lopez would aid a Categorical fantasy manager in Blocks and Threes, but his relative lack of rebounds, assists, steals, and high-level scoring means he’s really only helping Points-league managers build value through one source: Blocks. If your league awards three points per block, that’s still a valuable contribution, but it’s not nearly as valuable as it would be in a Category league, where players who block 2.0 or more shots per game are scarce.

Player A: 16pts, 4reb, 1ast, 0stl, 4blk = 34.3 fantasy points

Player B: 8pts, 10reb, 5ast, 2stl, 1blk = 36.5 fantasy points

Preparing for Your Draft

When it comes to preparing for a Points league draft, the bottom line is you’re looking for the best overall fantasy players. Using projections you trust is especially valuable in Points leagues, as you can simply plug in your league’s scoring values to generate a list of players ranked by their expected total fantasy output. In a sense, that should make building a roster easier, as long as you make sure to account for filling each required position.

Speaking of which, be sure to familiarize yourself with your league’s roster settings, in addition to its scoring values. Most leagues won’t require you to jump through hoops, but it’s important to know ahead of time if you should be targeting certain positions.

A league that requires two starting centers, for example, makes the position more valuable and raises the importance of locking down productive options at both starting spots. In short, you don’t want to be the manager who waits too long and is forced to start DeAndre Jordan and Nerlens Noel each week while more productive options at other positions waste away on your bench. Regardless of format, roster balance is key.

Among the other factors to consider in Points leagues — or any league, for that matter — is the weekly schedule breakdown. Every team plays 72 games (at least that’s the goal), but not all weeks are created equally, and there will certainly be times when it makes sense to bench an elite player for an inferior option. However, given the unique obstacles the pandemic presents, there won’t be as many discrepancies in total games each week as there have been in years past. Occasionally, teams will have a two-game or a five-game week, but the NBA’s first-half schedule is overwhelmingly slanted toward three-game and four-game weeks.

Even so, just one extra game can sometimes make a major difference. Take Lonzo Ball versus Stephen Curry, for instance. Curry is clearly the superior player, but four games from Ball could end up being more valuable than three games from Curry. Here’s a breakdown of the calculation using RotoWire’s projected fantasy output and standard Points league values:

Curry: 27.8 PPG, 6.9 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.3 BPG = 45.5 FP/G x 3 games = 136.5 FP

Ball: 12.4 PPG, 7.6 APG, 6.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 0.5 BPG = 34.2 FP/G x 4 games = 136.8 FP

Granted, you’d probably trust Curry more than Ball to exceed his projected output, but the numbers go to show just how valuable an extra game can be — especially in Points formats.

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