NBA DFS Tournament Strategy

In our article on NBA cash game strategy, we go through the strategies for 50/50 and H2H games and the type of players you should be selecting for each type of contest. When it comes to tournaments, your goal is going to be quite stark compared to cash games.

Remember, in tournaments, you’re trying to beat a large field of players, thousands or tens of thousands or more of other players in hopes of hitting that big score. Playing tournaments simply to “cash”, and win back your buy-in or make a little in profit, is not the way to attack these large field events.

High Ceiling Plays

Our goal in cash games is to finish in the upper half of the field or beat a single opponent, which allows us to double our money, minus the rake. In these contests, we’re focusing on the floor and aren’t too mindful of ownership.

In tournaments, the focus should be on the upside and the ownership of a particular player is considerably more relevant compared to cash games. Instead of focusing on safety, and a baseline of points, the focus should be on a high upside or ceiling.

In tournaments, we can roster players who may end up with just a few points, or blow up the stat sheet if they hit their shots or get extended run. Cash games are all about putting guys who are assured playing time, into your lineup; but that’s not the case in tournaments.

Tournaments are also another area we can look to roster guys from games with lower totals. This isn’t something we should do simply for contrarian sake, but if a player meets our criteria, we put him in our lineup with no reservations.

In cash games, plugging players into your lineup from games with low totals isn’t usually a strong idea, unless there is an elite value available. The oddsmakers are right majority of the time, and choosing to roster players from games that have a greatly lower number of projected points isn’t advisable, at least in cash games.

However, playing bench guys or ones that don’t have an assurance of minutes is an excellent strategy in tournaments. Many of these guys are completely written off the board by cash games, due to their uncertainty, making them attractive targets in large field contests.

Don’t Ignore Obvious Values

Speaking of obvious values, one of the aspects of tournaments that is pounded into the heads of new players is that they have to be entirely contrarian to win. Contrarian thinking is necessary to win tournaments, and even cash games to some extent; but it’s vital to realize that it doesn’t mean going off the board with all your picks.

Ownership percentages are going to be something to consider when evaluating your lineups for tournaments, but often, even perceived “chalky” plays can go under-owned in tournaments.

The amount of lineups you’re entering into a tournament has a lot of bearing on this (more on that later), but fading a guy who you look at as a top play, who also has a considerable upside, just for contrarian sake – isn’t an ideal strategy.

In NBA, specifically, a player that feels like an elite play should probably be a guy you look to have in most (if not all) of your lineups. Unlike MLB and to a lesser extent NFL DFS, where a player in a good matchup can vastly under produce due to variance, NBA offers fewer fluctuations regarding outcomes.

Most of the time, if a player receives his allotment of minutes, which is considerably more predictable than something like targets in an NFL game, he will most likely come close to his mean score in terms of fantasy points.

If you’re extremely high on a player, it’s because you’re assuming he will outperform his salary expectations by a decent margin. Even if the player may a have high ownership rate, fading due to ownership concerns, is probably not a +EV strategy long term.

Remember, ownership is hard to predict. If you’re a person that regularly reads daily fantasy sites, and is active in the DFS community, that may skew your predictions even more. Many of those who take the game seriously often forget that the general public who play DFS aren’t factoring in ownership percentages when deciding their plays.

We’re not saying to discount ownership altogether, but when putting together your tournament lineup(s), it’s better to focus on playing the guys who you have been rated as elite plays, rather than focusing on how highly a player may be owned.

Number of Entries

Your strategy when it comes to GPPs is going to be heavily dependent on how many teams you enter. For newer players, a focus on cash games is probably best, but throwing a GPP lineup or two every night is an excellent way to create some upside for yourself as well.

If you’re doing just a few entries each night, the strategy mentioned above is an excellent way to attack tournaments. Identity your top values, and surround them with different upside plays. There’s little reason to ignore a player who you expect to massively outperform his salary when you’re running a ton of entries.

Even for a player who is strictly focused on tournaments, and gives little thought to cash games, establishing a “core” of players who will be used in most, if not all lineups is a sound strategy.

Going way off the board isn’t necessary with all your plays, and if you can correctly predict some of the night’s top plays from a points-per-dollar perspective, that should leave your team in a good position to make a run at a high finish.

Of course, if you’re running 20+ teams each night into tournaments, you should have more than enough entries to cover your bases with your top plays or core, so you can go off the board with your other lineups.

Many large daily fantasy sites have rather large caps on the number of entries that a single user can enter. Entering 200 or so teams on these, is a viable (and profitable) strategy for skilled high volume tournament players.

Managing a large number of lineups like this can be tough. We recommend using Excel or organizing your lineups, while giving yourself more exposure to your strongest plays of the evening compared with ones that are more of shots in the dark.