In this post, we breakdown NBA contests on some of the top DFS sites to help you find the best places to try out these games. We start with a comparison of the standard team based contests looking into the lineup structure, salary system, scoring rules, contest sessions, and payouts. We then discuss some alternative games and promotional contests offered by various DFS sites in case you are interested in a more unique experience.
One thing to note is that Draft Ops advertises NBA contests on their site, but they have not offered any yet that I have seen. Therefore, I cannot comment on what their NBA contests are like but I plan on updating this article once I have a chance to play some.
The standard NBA contest typically requires the player to select a team filled with guards, forwards, and a center subject to salary constraints. In the table below we illustrate each position player and how many of those players you must select to complete your roster.
One important difference to notice in the various roster setups is whether the DFS site distinguishes between the specific guard and forward positions. DraftKings, FanDuel, and DraftDay all require players to select each of the 5 traditional NBA positions, whereas FantasyAces and Star Fantasy Leagues only require players to select a set of guards and a set of forwards in addition to the center position. Personally, I like the latter approach better since teams constantly adjust strategies and players swap between various positions depending on matchups or injuries.
Some DFS sites try to overcome position flexibility in a few ways. DraftKings has extra slots for a generic guard or forward in addition to the specific positions. In my opinion, DraftDay has the best solution by allowing players to be eligible for multiple positions despite not traditionally playing in that role. For example, Stephen Curry is a point guard but he’s also eligible to be slotted into the shooting guard position. Depending on what other position a player often subs into, most players can typically be slotted into one extra position. This gives you a lot of flexibility which is useful since DraftDay does not offer any utility (i.e. flex) slots.
Flex positions in fantasy basketball are referred to as utility players. Of the DFS sites, DraftKings, FantasyAces, and Star Fantasy Leagues have a utility slot or two so that you can better customize your lineups to your liking. As mentioned before, DraftKings also has a kind of flex position where you can select a generic guard or forward. I really like the utility position, not only because of the flexibility it offers for lineup customization, but also because it makes the contests more realistic. As mentioned, many players can slot into various roles. Lebron James, for example has likely played every position on the court at some point in his career depending on what type of lineup the team was running. Therefore, having a utility slot that can be filled by any player makes sense to me.
Depending on whether you prefer a traditional lineup of PG, SG, SF, PF, and C or not may impact where you like to play games. Personally for fantasy contests I prefer flexibility wherever possible so long as the basic roles are covered. My belief is you should be able to select the lineup you want. If you think there’s multiple sleepers at one position then it would be nice to be able to select those players in the same lineup. Most of the DFS sites have ways to allow you to do this whether it be collapsing the guard or forward positions into single categories, creating utility roster slots, or allowing players to fill roles outside of their traditional one. However, FanDuel seems to be the strictest in this regard. You have no flex positions and each player is only eligible in his traditional role.
Another important aspect when selecting your team is the salary system used by the site. Unlike NFL or MLB, the positions in NBA are fairly balanced in terms of fantasy scoring. Therefore, there’s not really a much different between the DFS salary systems. For the most part the differences in the salary systems are based on the number of roster spots and baseline salaries they use, but the position salaries are well balanced on each site.
Although the salaries between the positions are fairly balanced, there are some major differences in the prices of the cheapest and most expensive players. This can be very important when you’re trying to select an extreme sleeper (maybe a last minute fill-in due to injury) and want to use the saved money to select a couple of the highest scoring guys like Lebron, Curry, Westbrook, etc. In the table below, we break down the salary systems based on the highest, average, and lowest players. Note: These values are based on a single NBA session and may change by DFS site and what players are available.
Most of the sites have the highest scoring player taking up around 20% of the salary cap and the lowest players taking up only 5-6% of the salary cap. Star Fantasy Leagues is the major exception with the cheapest players only taking up 3% of the salary. This means that if you want to fill up your roster with a number of expensive players then you have slightly more flexibility to do so in Star Fantasy Leagues than on the other sites. FantasyAces has the least variability in the salaries of the DFS sites making it more restrictive to select more than one of the most expensive players.
Alternative Salary Games
Fantasy Aces offers an alternative salary game in addition to their traditional salary games. In their SalaryPro contests, you can choose to go over the cap and be penalized points or stay under the cap and be rewarded with points. This system provides a nice tradeoff of allowing players to select the team they want while rewarding those players willing to take risks on less expensive players who aren’t projected to score as high.
As mentioned, Draft Ops does not have any NBA contests open yet, but none of their contests use salaries so it’s expected that the NBA contests will not either. The biggest advantage of no salary is you have the flexibility to select the top players if you think they will play well and you won’t spend time switching players to fit a salary cap. But it can also be harder to win if everyone is selecting the obvious guys. This is a problem in the salary ones but sometimes insanely high salaries can actually make the obvious guys less played so that can make things interesting.
The final piece of the games is how the various statistics are converted into contest points. In the table above, you can find a link to each DFS site’s NBA scoring rules. The most important scoring differences depend on how negative plays are scored and whether bonuses are awarded for 3-pointers, double-doubles, and triple-doubles.
All of the DFS sites reward players with a fantasy point per game point scored. DraftKings and DraftDay both reward an extra bonus when a 3-pointer is made. For the most part, defensive plays (blocks and steals) are rewarded with 2 points which makes sense as these are less common than the offensive scoring plays. Rebounds and assists are worth 1.25 and 1.5 points respectively on most of the sites. The only other scoring possibility is bonuses that players can get for double-doubles and triple-doubles. Only DraftKings and DraftDay offer these particular bonuses.
Each DFS site varies a bit on how much you are punished for negative plays. DraftKings, FanDuel, and FantasyAces only give negative points for player turnovers. DraftDay and Star Fantasy Leagues penalize players for missed field goals and free throws in addition to turnovers. I’m not a fan of penalizing for missed shots. I get that rewarding players for efficiency is helps capture a better picture of how well a player has performed, but to me it takes away from the fun of fantasy when players are penalized excessively which can happen especially with free throws. If you want to avoid negative points as much as possible, then DraftKings is probably the most forgiving as they only penalize half a point for turnovers.
One last twist on the NBA contests is from what games you are selecting your players. Many sites just hold daily contests. However, DraftKings and FanDuel offer a few extra choices here. Each of these sites has multiple sessions from which you can choose. These extra sessions are often just subsets of the games called Turbo on DraftKings and Express on FanDuel. In addition, both sites offer early/night sessions whenever the schedule allows.
If you’re looking to play large tourneys with relatively low entry fees but large payouts, then you probably want to stick with DraftKings or FanDuel. These two sites offer multiple NBA contests on a daily basis with payouts as large as $20k to the winner. If you’re looking for more modest payouts with better odds of winning (e.g., 50-50/double up contests), then pretty much any of the top sites offering NBA will have games for you.
Other NBA Contests
DraftKings offers a new promotional contest called DK Ballers. Each week you must compete in different contests on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. If you compete in these contests you will be rewarded with an entry to a closed contest where the winner is declared the “Baller of the week” and wins a prize pack including swag and fantasy cash. For more information see DK Ballers.
DraftDay offers a few different NBA contests if you want a change from the standard full roster contests or are interested in contests without any salary constraints. In the past, they have offered Rapid Fire games where you choose one player from multiple sets of players. You get a point if your player has the highest score and you need either 3 of 5 or 5 of 5 points to win depending on what contest you enter. However, recently these contests have not shown up, and I have not found any indication of whether or not they will return to DraftDay’s offerings. But I wanted to mention them so that if you’re interested you can keep a lookout for them.
They also another pickem type game where you have to choose from a set of players which you like the best (see below). The selection system is similar to Rapid Fire where you choose players from tiers. This game also has no salary constraints and the scoring is based on the regular scoring system unlike the Rapid Fire. DraftDay often offers a free pickem contest so you should be able to try them out.
If you’re looking for a more traditional fantasy NBA contest, then DraftDay also offers daily leagues where you select a team using a traditional snake style draft and then compete with other members for prizes. One advantage of this approach is you don’t have to think about what other players are going to select and try to find less played sleepers. Instead you get to react as players fill out their rosters and select your own on the fly. The roster is slightly different than their other NBA contests. You select 3 guards, 3 forwards, 2 flex players, and one sub. There’s also no salary cap so you don’t have to worry about that aspect when drafting your team.
Star Fantasy Leagues
Star Fantasy Leagues offers Turbo drafting where you select less players on your roster than the normal contests. Although this requires less time, there is still a salary constraint system so it may not be as easy as you might want. Unfortunately they do not offer any free Turbo contests, so you cannot try them out without spending at least $1.
Star Fantasy Leagues also offers season long leagues where you can play against other players for money. These contests utilize the traditional snake type drafts for selecting your team. They even offer free season long leagues where you can win star points to spend on other contests on their site. If you’re looking to play a season long league then why not try it out and win some money or points to play other contests?
Free NBA Contests
Many of the DFS sites offer free contests with no prizes and/or the ability to can create your own free contests without prizes. However, I want to specifically mention some DFS sites with daily free rolls if you’re interested in learning the NBA game for free and potentially winning some fantasy cash or contest tickets. DraftKings, DraftDay, and FantasyAces typically offer a daily free roll for their main NBA contest. The prizes are usually a ticket to a paid contest or a small amount of money (i.e., $1 or less). DraftDay offers a higher paying although much more difficult contest. DraftDay’s Target contests pay out $100 which is then split by anyone who hits a target score they set. Unfortunately, the lineup is subject to salary constraints so it’s not as easy as just selecting the best players. But it’s free so why not try it out?
As you can see there is a wide variety of options available for you to choose from when playing NBA contests on the top DFS sites. We hope that this tool can be useful to you when deciding where to play games or where you can find some unique NBA contests if the standard salary based contests have grown stale. For an in depth review of each DFS site or if you’re interested in signing up to play games, check out the links in the table below.
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