August and September are the toughest months for NBA Fantasy fanatics. The news blurbs focusing on Jerry Stackhouse indicate our dispair to find news. However, fantasy fans were recently presented with a very valuable resource; one that is often overlooked by fantasy managers. In a hobby that revolves around statistics and probabilities, it is amazing that very few fantasy participants turn to this information when planning their rosters. Granted, every league is different, so the value of this tool may or may not help you in your league, but GMs in competitive leagues need an edge anywhere they can find it.
I’m sure the elite fantasy participants out there already know where I’m headed – and that is a discussion about the 2009-2010 regular-season NBA schedule. This is vital for anyone participating in a Head to Head (H2H) scoring format where weekly performance determines fantasy wins and losses. Rotisserie players require that they complete 82 games per position, so the timing of the 82 games is less important. However, the weekly bias for H2H leagues means owners should carefully understand the implications of weekly scoring.
Before I get into the details, let me explain the general premise of almost every fantasy league out there. You have a roster – and you get stats when your fantasy player plays in a real NBA game. If your points outweigh your opponents’ scores over a given period, then you win. This is an extremely simple concept; except most people focus on the players’ statistics, and often downplay the notion that these NBA players have to participate in real NBA games to gain fantasy points. I believe most participants of an average H2H public league have gone through the “streaming” logjam that occurs at the end of the season when fringe players are added/dropped on a constant basis so managers can fill a daily lineup. In essence, these managers are taking advantage of the season-ending situation to populate their team with roster spots that are generating fantasy statistics. But you can apply the basic principles of streaming to your draft priority before the season even begins, and it an invaluable tool to use before the trade deadline when you’re working to finalize your team.
First, let’s take a look at the 2009-2010 season broken out by team. Here is a chart showing how many games per fantasy-week to be played for each of the 30 teams. Fantasy weeks are assumed to begin on Monday and end the following Sunday. Managers in weekly lineup leagues must pay close attention to this information towards the end of the season if their team is in contention for a championship.
The important columns are Weeks 22 to 24 (the typical playoff period). Assuming no trades, for these weeks, some players like Caron Butler and Hedo Turkoglu could have slightly higher value because they simply have more games where they can put up statistics. As you can see, some teams (such as New York, New Orleans, and Portland) have fewer games available for their players to generate points relative to other teams. I am not saying that you should avoid drafting Chris Paul, Brandon Roy, or Al Harrington. Rather, you should be aware that if your team is not scheduled for a first-round bye week, then relying on a roster with multiple Knicks players to push you deeper into the playoffs is extremely risky. And if you do have CP3 on your team, you should keep in mind during the championship week he may only put up 4 triple doubles instead of 6.
Now let’s change how we look at the upcoming season. Here is a summary of the average games each weekday:
You can see that the NBA scheduling body is fairly consistent in terms of their weekly pattern when they schedule games. I’m certain if you go back over the last few years, you will see a consistent trend. Notably, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday are busy days with many games, and it is likely that a fantasy roster will have unused players on busy days. As a result some players may have real NBA statistics that will go to waste. But managers expect to have unused playable roster spots on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday.
This is where you have to merge the two concepts together; and this is crucial If you’re planning to be in a H2H league with daily lineup changes. The reason for this is to identify the value of the light game day versus the heavy game day. This understanding is valuable throughout the season and especially crucial at playoff time.
Here is a chart for the 2009-2010 season that is similar to the previous chart. But this chart shows the number of games that teams will play each week on the light game days.
This summary tells you something about the NBA that fans already know. Simply, the NBA scheduling body has determined that there are some teams that should be the focus of everyone’s attention on the nights where there are not many games. I do not believe this list is random; the nationwide broadcasts require the ratings obtained from certain key players. Not surprisingly, the Lakers top the list (the Lakers were atop the list for the prior season as well) with Atlanta and Indiana usually playing games on busy days. To add insult to injury, the Wolves will play zero games on a Thursday all season long in the 2009-2010 campaign. They just don’t have enough fans.
But my article isn’t about the money-making aspect of the NBA. I’m here to present the impact of this regarding the weekly performance of your daily-lineup H2H league.
As I mentioned earlier, fantasy managers in daily lineup leagues always want to have as many roster positions gaining fantasy statistics each week. Given the choice, Managers will almost always prefer to have a fringe player earning 8 points and 4 rebounds a game versus having an inactive roster position (unless they’re trying to win percentages with the other categories locked down). During the regular season, constant streaming of players, especially in deep leagues is mostly ineffective because managers cannot afford to part with decent fringe players just to gain a few fantasy statistics every once in a while. But if a team is constructed properly, managers can target players who frequently play on off nights so they can take advantage of using their fringe players. In essence they are streaming without having to add/drop players. These mangers can have players (preferably stars) playing on light game days while still having full rosters on heavy game days.
During the upcoming regular season, consider how many times Kobe plays without pushing someone with fringe value to the bench. Let’s look at Kobe Bryant versus to Joe Johnson in a daily lineup H2H league. Compared to Kobe, Joe Johnson’s owner will likely have to start Joe at the expense of a fringe player an additional 19 times. Granted, there is a potential for some fantasy rosters to have full lineups even on light game days, but the impact will still be important to recognize. In my Kobe/Joe Johnson example the Kobe owner will get to plug a fringe player into a lineup for 23% more of the fringe player’s games and earn stats. I realize some readers may question the value realized by using a fringe player more often a fraction of a time; a fraction of 8 points a game hardly seems worthwhile. But consider the differences between the expected statistics of a second round fantasy pick versus a fourth round fantasy pick. Or look at how many H2H categories are decided by a handful of statistics. If your team is comprised of a lot of Hawks or Nets players, you will have a slight disadvantage throughout the entire season.
But things aren’t always rosy for Kobe and the Lakers; consider week 22 of the upcoming season. Assuming no injuries, let’s compare Kobe Bryant to Dirk Nowitzki as both enter the fantasy playoffs in a daily lineup H2H league. In that pivotal week, Kobe plays on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, his stats are accumulated at the cost of pushing a player to the bench who could have been earning some fringe fantasy points. But Dirk plays Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Except for Saturday, Dirk’s statistics will likely be earned without pushing anyone with a real NBA game to the bench. Assuming fringe players are still able to put up 8 PTS and 4 REB, then Dirk is offering his manager a +24 PTS and +12 REB advantage. Of course you should not forget that Dirk would play an extra game compared to Kobe that week as well. Will owning Kobe completely destroy your season in week 22? Of course not, but a team with Kobe, Odom, and Bynum may find itself hurting rather badly.
This article is not intended to completely dissuade you from drafting players from particular teams. But it should help you in understanding how to better position your team for balanced regular-season potency. You should never rely too heavily with multiple players on a single NBA team, and this analysis just further reinforces that notion. In addition I hope this helps you to avoid a hurdle caused by team schedules during the fantasy playoffs. The information should prove to be very useful if your team is in contention from start to finish. It is possible to take advantage a player’s scheduling strength early in the season and then trade that player for better playoff candidates later in the season. Dynasty and Keeper leagues shouldn’t put too much stock in this analysis either since it is impossible for GMs to predict schedules beyond the current year. But rest assured Kobe and LeBron are going to continue to have many games on Thursday nights for a few more years.