Beginner’s Guide to Playing NBA Fantasy Basketball

Man on Cell Phone With an NBA Stadium Background

If you have already played in fantasy leagues before, most likely NFL, then you probably already know a lot of the ins and outs.

But if you’ve always been a fan of basketball and sports betting, and this is your first foray into fantasy sports, let’s go over the basic concept.

You’ll draft, or select, a group of NBA players, and those players’ statistics will be matched against the stats of other fantasy owner’s teams of players. Fantasy basketball can be played on a daily, weekly, or seasonal basis.

How each statistic is scored varies from league to league and depends on the format you choose, or also can be decided by a league commissioner or a group of fantasy players.

So like other fantasy sports, it’s all about filling up the stats sheet. You want to pick players that consistently have high stats over a wide range of categories.

In a typical fantasy league, these will be the 9 categories of stats used for accumulating points:

  • Points
  • Field Goal %
  • Free Throw %
  • Rebounds
  • Blocks
  • Assists
  • Steals
  • Three-Pointers
  • Turnovers

Some leagues might also include offensive rebounds, 2pt field goal percentage, and 3pt field goal percentage. In addition, some leagues or formats might also discount categories like turnovers or field goal % altogether.

There are several different ways of competing and scoring fantasy basketball.

Types of NBA Fantasy Basketball Scoring Formats

Each scoring format will decide how player statistics are converted into fantasy points. There are three main scoring systems that fantasy owners can choose from:


Every week, one fantasy owner will be pitted against another owner and each fantasy owner’s teams’ stats will be calculated against the other to determine a winner. This is perhaps the most popular scoring format because every week a winner and loser are determined.

Since you know what players each owner has on their teams, this format also allows you to formulate weekly strategies about who to play on your roster. You will need to outscore your opponent in at least 5 of the 9 stat categories to win each week’s matchup.

Another particular aspect of Head-to-Head that adds an extra element of excitement is that most of these leagues will take the top winningest owners and then match them off in a series of playoff rounds before the beginning of the actual NBA playoffs.


The biggest difference between Roto and Head-to-Head is that stats are calculated over the course of the entire season instead of on a weekly basis.

Depending on the number of teams in your league, usually 10 or 12, each owner will receive a set number of points per category. These points correspond to the number of teams in each league. Accordingly, if a league has 10 teams, the team who has the most rebounds will be given 10 points while the team who has the least amount of rebounds will receive 1 point.

NBA Player in Physical Play

Success is typically tougher to achieve in Roto especially if there is one category where your team scores low. Whereas in Head-to-Head, you just have to be better in a majority of stats, against one other team on a weekly basis.

For beginners, I would recommend the Head-to-Head scoring option simply because of the week to week excitement it provides, and, unlike Roto, if your team happens to tank in one category you can still remain competitive.

Points Leagues

If you’ve already played fantasy football, this scoring system should be familiar to you.

Every statistical category is assigned points. A typical scoring system works something like this:

  • Points (1 point)
  • Field Goals Made (1 point)
  • Field Goals Attempted (-1 point)
  • Free Throws Made (1 point)
  • Free Throws Attempted (-1 point)
  • Rebounds (1 point)
  • Blocks (1 point)
  • Assists (1 point)
  • Steals(1 point)
  • Turnovers (-1 point)

It’s important to note that some points leagues will assign different point totals to categories than the ones above, or might not count some of the categories at all, turnovers for example.

Like Roto, the Points League format calculates and compiles points over the course of a season to determine a league winner.

Yahoo and ESPN, are the two most popular online Fantasy Basketball apps, and each one of these has default options that assign varying points totals to each category.

One advantage that each offer is that the “commissioner”(more on the specifics of this function later) of your league may have the option to customize how many points each category receives as well as discounting a category altogether.

One glaring disadvantage of Point League scoring is that it favors certain types of players over others.

You’ll score more points from a big power forward like the Cav’s Andre Drummond who can score 18 points and grab 15 rebounds even though he has a terrible free-throw %. While at the same time, you won’t get as many points from a more balanced player like the Hornet’s Nicolas Batum, who can put up nightly numbers like 9 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals.

“Commissioners” of NBA Fantasy Leagues

A commissioner, or “commish,” of a fantasy league will be one of the owners of your league that has the ability to determine the rules and scoring method of your league.

When using both Yahoo and ESPN, you or one of the other owners can only be the commissioner if you choose to participate in a private league. Otherwise, you will be competing based on a set of default rules and scoring formats designed by Yahoo and ESPN.

If you’re looking to play fantasy with a group of friends or colleagues, I would highly recommend setting up a private league with your own commissioner.

There will be a settings page in which you can select or deselect various rules. As the commish, you will be able to do things like adjust points, remove or add roster slots, set the weekly schedule (for playing Head-to-Head), and decide on the draft date and time.

A benefit of having a commissioner, or being one yourself, is that you decide how each statistic is to be scored and design a league system that you and your fellow owners believe to be the fairest. The level of control and involvement a commissioner has can be a blast, but it can also take up a lot of time.

So it’s great that at any time in the season, you can change the league settings in your app and assign someone else to be commissioner. You can even rotate the assignment throughout the season, so the responsibility is shared by all.

Drafting Players

Once you’ve established which league you’re going to participate in then you can start thinking about which players you might select and how you’re going to build your roster.

The scoring system that you will be playing under will determine what kind of players will be best to draft.

For example, if you’re in a Roto league, where all stat categories are weighted more or less equally, picking Andre Drummond, who has a terrible free-throw %, could totally bottom out that category for you.

But if you’re in a head-to-head league where it’s all about winning a majority of stat categories, you might want to go with Drummond, knowing that Drummond was the top rebounder in the NBA for the 2018-2019 season who also scored a respectable 17 points per game.

Or perhaps you’re in a league that doesn’t count free-throw % at all. Taking into account exactly how your roster will accumulate points will dictate which players you draft.

There are two primary methods for drafting players, the live standard draft and the auction draft:

Live Standard Draft

In a live standard draft, each team owner from your league will select picks in a live, round-robin online draft. After the first round of picks, the draft order is reversed. This kind of draft is also called a “snake” format.

So if you’re in a league with 12 teams, the team that has the 12th pick also has the 13th pick, and accordingly, the team with the 1st pick won’t get to pick again until the 24th and 25th selections. This ensures a certain amount of equity between the quality of players within the teams.

Auction Draft

Auction drafts also take place in real-time but in this format, every owner is given a certain amount of money for acquiring players. Owners are then randomly assigned spots from 1-12 where they will nominate players to be bid on. The owner who wins the bidding war wins the player.

This kind of draft is only recommended for more seasoned fantasy basketball participants, for knowing how much to spend and when to spend could make or break your entire fantasy season.

Filling Your Roster

Regardless of which kind of draft you are a part of, in order to make the most of your roster, you’re going to have to do so some research on a wide range of players.

Your roster will consist of 12 to 13 players just like an actual NBA team. You’re going to want to pick your starting lineup first and your utility players and bench last.

You can choose as many point guards or power forwards as you want, but at the end of the draft you must have at least one player at every position; point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center.

NBA Players in a Play

Before you draft your players, doing your research at, or at one of the other dozen or so basketball fantasy sites that offer player’s projected stats, is a must if you want to play competitively.

Having a list of players that are separated into columns by statistical category and listed in ranked descending order, will be essential for you to draft the best players possible.

Being able to delete or cross-off players as they’re drafted will enable you to see remaining players that will best fill your statistical needs.


If you’re already a fan of betting on the NBA, playing fantasy can enhance your knowledge of basketball in a big way.

There are a lot of variations for playing online fantasy basketball, but if I’ve left out any of the basics, let me know in the comments.