NBA Beginner’s Guide: Introduction to NBA DFS

  • Daily Fantasy has been around for a long time, long before sports wagering was proclaimed legal in a handful of states. In some states, it’s still the only way to get some legal action on a game. You can find DFS for pretty much every sport these days and even some eSports, but if you’re just starting or don’t know where to start, NBA is probably the most accessible for beginners. The great thing about DFS is that you don’t need to drop $100 to play. You can put in as little as 25 cents and enjoy the games with the hope that you will win big money.

    There are two main types of contests on DFS platforms, GPP tournaments and cash games.

    GPP Tournaments

    These are the contests that most casual or beginner DFS players will play. In most GPP contests, the entry price is low, but the payouts are high. When you put in $1 or 25 cents and you’re going for payouts in the thousands, those are GPP, which stands for guaranteed prize pools. Generally, a more expensive entry means less competition and a higher prize pool. GPP contests can be limited in how many entries a single DFS player can make. You will see contests limited to a single entry per player and some with as high as a 150 entry max per player. 

    Cash Games

    Cash games are contests where the payout is equal among participants. These are contests such as 50/50 in which half of the entrants each win an equal share of money. Double-up contests are an example of a cash game in which you win double your entry fee. The payout structure in cash games is more limited than in GPP contests, but you have a higher chance to win. 

    NBA DFS Strategies

    When playing DFS in any sport, the process is king. If you think you can pick out 10 guys that will have a good game and be right about all 10, more power to you, but it is difficult to be consistently successful in DFS that way. The key to placing “in the money” in any DFS contest is to identify a strategy that works for you and stick to it. Strategies differ for every sport and there are some that might work in NFL or MLB that do not work when playing NBA DFS. 

    Stars and Scrubs

    This is one of the more popular methods of constructing a DFS lineup and part of that is due to necessity. The pricing structure for NBA slates means that you will not be able to fit more than a few “studs” in your lineup. You want to fit players who are capable of producing high point totals and to do so, you’ll have to pay a premium on the more consistent high point producers. That leaves you strapped for cash at the bottom of your lineup. Some DFS players view the “scrub” as a shot in the dark, but you want to target specific matchups where that lower-priced player is more likely to see minutes. 

    The most common reason a ”scrub” will see more action than normal is usually due to a blowout. Another reason might be that the guy in front of them in the depth chart has their usage limited, typically because of injury. The opposite of this strategy is filling your lineup out with players who are priced at the middle to upper middle echelon with no “stars.” You can take the average of a “star and scrub” and compare it to two middle-tier guys and you’ll probably find the average is closer than you think. 

    Minutes Means Opportunities

    This is a theory that you see in season-long NBA fantasy, but one you can use to identify players that might be undervalued in DFS. The theory is sound, more minutes means more opportunity for a player to produce. As with making any DFS selection, you’ll want to look for any edge based on matchup or potential history. If you decide to target guys who have high minutes but are lower on the price sheet, be prepared to be disappointed. Guys like P.J. Washington or Tobias Harris are examples of this where they both sit around the top 50 in minutes per game, but the impact they have on a given game varies. If you catch them on the right night, you will have a good chance to win, but it can be a risky play. 

    Game Stacking

    In NFL and MLB DFS, player stacking is the way to win. You pick a matchup that stands out to you or a game with a high-point total and stack multiple guys from the same team. If that team scores a lot of runs or points, each run or point scored is reflected in your lineup. The same is not the case for the NBA as other teammates can act as a cap on the amount of fantasy points their teammate might have. You can, of course, have games where Anthony Davis and Lebron James both go off, but for every point Anthony Davis scores, that is one less basket for Lebron. For that reason, you want to avoid overexposure to any one team. There is a way to play games that have the potential to be higher scoring, but that means spreading out your exposure on both sides of the game and at different price levels. For example, if one team is favored by double digits, you can play the star on the favored side and some of the lower-priced guys on either side.

    You can also stack a game if you feel like it’s going to be closer than the general public thinks it will be. You can roster the star on the underdog and a few role players on the better team. If the stars aren’t doing well, or they go down with injury, you could be looking at a big win in a GPP.


    In large GPP tournaments, this is the way you will find the most success. It may seem counterintuitive as you have to go against what common sense is telling everybody else and probably you. This can also be platform specific as on Fanduel, for example, you are allowed only one Center. Say Joel Embiid is out and you know everybody is going to play Paul Reed due to his price and perceived increased usage. Instead of Paul Reed, play someone else and maybe even a higher-priced Center over a value play. By doing this, you guarantee you have outscored everybody in at least one position. 


    Most likely, you will be using some combination of these strategies to fill out your lineups. NBA DFS can be great fun and enhance the viewing experience. Where else can you use your basketball knowledge to win thousands on a one dollar bet? The absolute, hands down, most significant part of NBA DFS is keeping up to date with injuries. Especially as the season goes on, the injuries and “injuries” have a huge impact on DFS. Staying up to date on news and notes will give you the single biggest edge over casual NBA DFS players. When playing NBA DFS, there’s no such thing as too much information. Stay up to date on all things NBA and take advantage of the tools available on SportsEthos to help you throughout the entire NBA season.

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