NBA DFS: Cash Game Strategy

The National Basketball Association is a different animal compared to other daily fantasy sports. Players accumulate their scores over minutes played, rather than big plays that can skyrocket you to the leaderboard, such as a long touchdown pass or home run.

One might argue that the NBA is the ultimate game of skill in the DFS universe, because once your guys get out onto the floor – they have to produce. There’s no fluke plays that can catapult a player to value. Stat accumulation, through points scored, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, is the only way assure yourself production.

In this article, we’ll examine the factors to consider when rostering players in cash games. Our focus will be on double ups and head-to-heads. NBA cash games are quite different when it comes to game theory compared to tournaments. We cover the NBA DFS tournament strategy in another article.

Focus On Your Floor

As is the case with cash game play for just about any DFS sport, focusing on your floor should be your first priority. Remember, you’re not trying to win a large tournament against thousands of other players. You’re either attempting to beat a single opponent (H2H) or finish in the upper 50% of the field (50/50s or Double Ups).

There’s certainly something to be said for choosing players in your lineup who have a combination of a high floor and a high ceiling, but the focus should be on guaranteeing a certain amount of safety with each player you choose on your roster.

Playing Time

One of the best ways to assure yourself of a stable floor is to target players who are getting significant minutes based on their salaries and those who are shown to have consistent production. In NBA DFS, minutes equal production, therefore, “minutes equal money.”

Remember, your players can’t contribute at all if they are sitting on the bench. In cash games, we can’t take many chances with projected minutes. If a player is at risk of being benched or his minutes are in flux, that’s something that needs to be heavily considered before you insert him into your cash game lineup.

When you’re scanning game logs, minutes played should be the first thing you look for when evaluating a player’s viability for that particular slate, particularly for cash games. Selecting players with clear roles on their teams and reliable minutes is vital to success.

Be sure to look closer than the minutes played, however. If the player has seen an uptick in recent games, make sure that you understand why that is the case. It may be due to injury or because he’s playing better and drawn the eye of his head coach. Make sure the situation is still in line for him to receive similar minutes.

Certain players are simply going to be more volatile when it comes to minutes depending on who their head coach may be. Some coaches follow rotations almost exactly each night, and we can easily predict a player’s time out of the floor, but others do not.

San Antonio Spurs’ head coach Greg Popovich is debatably the best coach of all time, but his players aren’t ideal DFS targets. Popovich regularly messes with his rotations and minutes for players other than a select few guys which can be hard to predict.

In cash games, it’s paramount that you avoid duds. A player that fails miserably to meet his salary expectation can easily kill what would otherwise be a winning lineup. It’s much easier to make up for a poor score in another sport.

Usage Rate

Usage rate or usage percentage is an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player when he is on the floor. Though minutes are crucial, if a player is out on the floor and isn’t somewhat involved in the game plan, it’s not going to do us much good.

It’s impossible to give a usage range that is acceptable for cash games because it is heavily dependent on price. If a player is closer to the minimum salary, a low usage rate may be perfectly acceptable, other times it may not.

We’re going to look for players who are involved in the offense. They don’t necessarily need plays to be called for them, but they can’t just be standing around out there looking for the ball to bounce their way for an open shot or rebound.

In terms of position, guards are usually going to be a lot more consistent compared to frontcourt players, specifically centers. They are prone to foul trouble, even in the best of matchups. This doesn’t mean you can’t use two centers in your cash games (that may be perfectly viable some nights), but it is an aspect to consider.

Each NBA offense is run differently, but guards typically have the ball in their hands the most and offer lots of opportunity for fantasy production. They can score, set up their opponents for assists, and grab the occasional rebound.

On many sites, it’s possible to roster several guards (preferably point guards), including one in your utility spot. This doesn’t mean you should force guards into your roster regardless of value, but if you can make the rest of your team work or there is a lot of value at the guard spot – it can provide your team an excellent floor.

This can also make sense when it comes to site scoring. For instance, at DraftKings, a rebound is worth 1.25 fantasy points while an assist is worth 1.5 points. Assists are simply worth more there, which is another reason to roster guards, in addition to their higher floors.

Vegas Odds

If you’re not incorporating sportsbook odds into your NBA DFS research, (or any other sport for that matter) you’re doing it wrong. The oddsmakers may not be right every night, but they’re right far more often than they are wrong – they would be out of a job otherwise.

An excellent way to start your daily research is by looking at the NBA odds and begin to look at players from games with high totals. It shouldn’t be a shock that we want to take players in games with high totals and avoid those with lower numbers.

It doesn’t mean we can’t select a player from a game with a lower total if we see an advantageous matchup or one that is a definite value. However, the focus should be on games where a lot of points are likely to be scored.

Another factor to consider is the point spread. One factor that can kill fantasy production from a particular game is a blowout. In a blowout, the starters on both teams may not play their full allotment of minutes, hampering their fantasy production.

Blowouts are something that DFS players need to be aware of when targeting games, but a double-digit point spread isn’t something that you need to avoid when building your lineups. Don’t get us wrong, blowouts do happen, but they’re tough to predict.

For instance, say the Golden State Warriors are favored by -12 points over the Philadelphia 76ers. If the game is within 12 points at the start of the fourth quarter, the starters will almost certainly see some more runs.

Also, there’s a reasonable chance that if the starters don’t make it back onto the court after the third quarter, that they may have already done enough to reach value for cash games. In the end, predicting blowouts is a guessing game and isn’t usually a reason to shy away from a player if you love the matchup and price.

Injuries and Lineup Lock

If you’re not going to be around for the hour before lineup lock with the ability to edit your team, NBA DFS may not be for you. The NBA is unlike any other sport when it comes to last minute news. Injuries can come out of nowhere, and late scratches are common every night of the year.

You might have built a lineup two hours before lineup lock that you truly love, but due to late-breaking injury news, you have to scrap it. This is a common occurrence and something that players will have to deal with on a nightly basis.

It’s not always the right move to change your lineup based on injury news, but it’s an area where you can add a lot of value to your lineup. Reacting to late-breaking news and making sense of injury situations is one of the areas you can gain a massive edge over your opponents both in value and ownership percentages.

Finding Value

Similar to baseball, and most sports that are truly “daily” fantasy sports, salary adjustments will normally take a little longer to adjust to an improvement in play or change in role from a particular player.

Remember, by the time the slate begins for an evening of NBA, the salaries for tomorrow’s contests are already available to join from the lobby. If a player is undervalued and plays within the next few days, it’s unlikely that his salary is going to be heavily adjusted (though, this isn’t always the case), even if he has several standout performances.

Unlike NFL DFS, where salaries are adjusted on a weekly basis, rather than nightly, players may be underpriced for several days (or longer). Ownership levels are much less significant in cash games compared to tournaments.

When there is an outstanding value in cash games, that is extremely “chalky”, players run the risk of having a losing evening if they don’t have them in their lineups. However, it’s vital that players look to roster the best overall plays on the night while taking value into account.

One of the best ways to evaluate each night of NBA is to go position by position. If there are clear values at a position, identify those and lock them into your lineup.

Although, there may be an elite high dollar play available at that position, it’s usually best to take the value and pay up in positions where there is less certainty. Grabbing value in some spots is also an excellent way to assure yourself a higher floor play at a position where there isn’t much value.