How NBA Can Make Fantasy Hoops as Popular as Fantasy Football

Jamal Collier@@JCollierDAnalyst IIIOctober 4, 2012

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 30:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat posts up Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs  at American Airlines Arena on April 30, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The NFL has embraced the role that fantasy football plays in increasing the viewership and interest of its league. For fantasy basketball to approach that level of popularity, the NBA has to take notes.

There are other impediments to the ascension of fantasy basketball into the mainstream consciousness, such as the increased complexity of fantasy hoops in comparison to the points-based system of fantasy football.

However, that same complexity can be used as a selling point as it may immerse “potential GMs” in a competitive world that requires them to find balance on their teams in order to win on a regular basis.

For example, many basketball leagues take place in a rotisserie (or “roto”) format. That means that owners are competing for an entire season with no checkpoints (i.e. win or loss each week).

While doing that, owners compete in a variety of categories and earn points based on their league rank in those categories. Two percentage-based categories in most leagues (field-goal and free-throw) make for a more difficult task of keeping up with (and affecting) fantasy scoring as the season goes on.

The each-category approach applies to a certain sector of the population. Chances are, the more a fan you are of NBA hoops before you try to jump into fantasy basketball, the more likely it is that you’ll prefer the deeper, more immersive scoring systems.

I enjoy those, but for fantasy basketball to catch on like wildfire a la fantasy football, a standard points-based system is almost necessary. The draw of fantasy football to previously non-fans of the NFL is its simplicity and competitive nature.

The difference between fantasy football and fantasy basketball is this: In football, there are far fewer forms of currency available for use in the fantasy game. You’ve got yards (passing, rushing and receiving), interceptions and touchdowns (same thing). That’s about it.

If you want to add depth to the game, you could add receptions and maybe even passing/rushing attempts, completions and the like. But given that standard leagues rely most significantly on one side of the ball (offense), there still remain few options for confusion.

Basketball, meanwhile, offers a lot more ways to tie up new fantasy owners. In a points league that’s designed to weigh various statistics differently based on their rarity and/or importance (blocks vs. rebounds, for example), it will be difficult for new players to get comfortably involved.

Just adding together the mainstream counting stats (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) makes things simpler, but removes the ability for a defensive/rebounding specialist like Serge Ibaka to outshine a pure scorer like Andrea Bargnani.

Each player has his role in the NBA and in fantasy basketball, but committed fantasy hoops players and NBA GMs alike would tell you that saying Bargnani is clearly a better player than Ibaka at this point in their careers is ridiculous.

In the spirit of “legitimate” fantasy basketball, the new standard leagues would have an each-category approach to them, but use just the mainstream counting stats.

Statistics that tell the story of a player’s efficiency (percentages, turnovers, three-pointers made and the like) have their place in fantasy basketball.

But a standard scoring system built around balancing the ability to win in assists and steals (point guard numbers) as well as rebounds and blocks (big-man stats) is a good introduction to the full fantasy basketball experience on a de facto trial basis.

The head-to-head element has to be there for purposes of bragging rights and keeping things interesting throughout the course of the NBA season.

If Kobe Bryant scores 81 points for a fantasy owner in a rotisserie league, he drops 81 for a fantasy owner in a rotisserie league. That’ll factor into season totals and little else.

If he puts on that sort of performance for a fantasy owner in a head-to-head league, he also dropped 81 points on another unsuspecting fantasy owner, potentially swinging the scoring category in favor of the Kobe owner. It just makes things more fun.

Now that my proposal for the mainstream rules has been established, all that is really left is for the NBA to supplement the interest in the fantasy version of its game.

By taking the initiative to do that, the dynamic of fantasy basketball will eventually help bring more fans to the NBA.

Once involved in heated discussions about why Player X is better/worse than Player Y (in the fashion of a true NBA fan), more numbers and statistics will come into play.

The most dedicated and engrossed fantasy players will wonder why the percentages and/or turnovers never came into play during the version of fantasy hoops to which they were introduced.

And, similar to the PPR (points-per-reception) format of fantasy football, the people who were content with the format as currently proposed will never have to know the difference.