• The most common mistake made by DFS players is allowing factors such as consistency, match up, narratives, recent play, or preset opinions on a player’s skill level to take precedent over opportunity.  These factors influence efficiency.  While both opportunity and efficiency are important, opportunity plays a much larger role than efficiency in NBA DFS.

    In the NBA, opportunity comes in two different forms:

    1 – Opportunity based on time.  Fantasy production is directly correlated to the amount of possessions a player sees on the floor.  In general, a player who sees a 20 percent uptick in possessions will see a 20 percent uptick in fantasy production.  We measure time-based opportunity using Minutes and Pace.

    2 – Opportunity based on role.   Different roles provide different opportunities to accumulate fantasy production.  We measure role using statistics such as usage rate, rebound rate, assist rate, and play type data.

    This article is the second of a four part series looking at opportunity in NBA DFS.  Part 1 discussing pace can be found here:

    In this article we’ll look at minutes, how playing time affects fantasy scoring and ways to predict minutes.

    The Importance of Minutes

    There is a direct linear relationship between how many minutes a player plays and how many fantasy points they score.  Every minute a player plays equals extra opportunity to score points, dish assists, grab rebounds, and create steals and blocks.  Nothing in NBA DFS is more important than minutes.

    Below is the scatter plot for all NBA players this season who have averaged 1 fantasy point per minute as well as the line of average points per minute.

    The relationship between minutes with a higher floor, a higher average, and a higher ceiling is evident and linear.  A player being in good or bad form tends to affect average fantasy scoring by less than 1 fantasy point in either direction.  Matchups, independent of pace, tend to affect fantasy scoring by 1 to 3 fantasy points on average.  A bench player receiving a spot start, however, can affect expected fantasy scoring by 20 fantasy points!

    The rise of Nikola Jokic can be attributed to an increase in minutes.  Early in the season, it was not uncommon to roster Jokic at a sub 5K price tag.  Now he can cost over 10K.  While his rates have gone up, he has always been a very efficient fantasy producer since his rookie season.  What made the difference was an increase in playing time – over the course of the season his minutes have risen from under 20 a game to the 30 to 37 minute range.

    Breadley Beal is another great example of the power of minutes.  Beal’s season saw streaks of playing close to 40 minutes per game along with streaks of playing less than 34.  The minutes increase from 34 to 39 very predictably affects his fantasy output by a whopping 5 fantasy points per game.  This is a large enough increase to warrant paying an extra $1,000 to roster him.  For a player like Beal, we cannot begin to judge his fantasy value without first accurately predicting his minutes.

    More than any other factor in DFS, minutes are gold.

    There are a variety of factors to consider when projecting minutes for a player.  They are in order of importance:

    1- Injuries and news: Staying up to date with the news is the most important step to accurately predicting minutes.

    2- Recent game logs: A very simple way of predicting minutes is to simply monitor a player’s minute load in recent games.

    3- Blowout and overtime concerns: When a game blows out or goes into overtime, their minutes and fantasy production are greatly affected.  This is a topic I discussed in greater detail here.

    4- Foul trouble or matchup concerns: A player can see a dramatic decrease in minutes if they get into foul trouble.  They can also see a change in minutes based on how well or poorly they match up with a given team.  Understanding when these factors come into play can be difficult and nuanced.  The best way to grapple with this challenge is by following the NBA closely and reading daily articles by the experts here at Hoop-Ball.

    Using Injuries and News to Predict Minutes

    Keeping up to date with injuries and news is the most important part of being a successful NBA DFS player. Unfortunately, in the NBA news can be trickier than it is other daily fantasy sports.  Teams aren’t required to release their actives and inactives or their starting lineups before lock.  As a result we are very dependent on beat writers, who have access to the team before and after games, after shootarounds, and after practices.

    Expect a wave of information in the early afternoon as teams wrap up their shootarounds and practices as well as one to two hours before the game starts.  Teams playing the second game in a back to back do not usually have a shootaround, which means we’ll be left a little blind on the news front until an hour or two before the game.  This can be after lock if the team is playing in a western time zone.

    When an injury occurs or a player is rested, his minutes must be distributed among the rest of the team.  It can be tricky to figure out exactly how many minutes players will play after an injury, so the more opinions you can find about what the new rotation may look like the better.

    If it is a starter who gets injured, the bulk of the minutes will usually go to the direct backup at that position.  If a player who was not a large part of the rotation before the injury gets a spot start, chances are the new starter will not actually see a large uptick in minutes.  Many coaches, most notably Luke Walton and Steve Kerr, like to keep their best bench players in the same role even if a starter goes down.  When this situation happens, the more talented bench player at the position will see the biggest uptick in minutes while the player receiving the spot start can see as little as 10 minutes.

    Finding previous games where the injured or resting player has missed along with getting reliable expert analysis here at Hoop-Ball and throughout the DFS industry is the best way to not fall into the Useless Starter trap.

    Using Game Logs to Predict Minutes

    Looking at a player’s recent fantasy scoring is obviously helpful for charting past production, but it’s not very predictive of future performance.  Searching through game logs is very dangerous if done wrong, but can be the most effective use of research time when done correctly.  One must look for predictive data in the game logs.

    If a player has been seeing an uptick in minutes but not an uptick of fantasy production, you can very reliably predict the increase in fantasy scoring is coming.  Maybe the player has seen a series of bad matchups or just had some bad shooting performances that have overshadowed his playing time increase.  Searching for a player receiving extra minutes under the radar is a great way of finding a strong contrarian play.

    It’s important to remember a player’s context when looking at game logs.  Fouls can throw a wrench into any coach’s rotation, so be on the lookout for any situations that’ll misrepresent a player’s situation going forward. The same can be said for game state, as certain players are more likely to play when a game is out of reach.  It is easy to over-project the minutes of a bench player because he has recently gotten extra run in a series of blowouts.  Alternatively, a starter can be under-projected or over-projected if they have recently played in overtime or blowout games.  And of course, there’s the aforementioned case where a mismatch between a player’s skillset and a particular opponent keeps him stuck to the bench.

    Conclusion

    The importance of minutes cannot be overstated.  It can only take two minutes to turn a bad play into a good play and a good play into a great play.  Minutes are more important than all other factors in NBA DFS combined.

    So far in this series we have looked at time-based opportunity.  In the final two articles we will transition to role-based opportunity.  We will define the different types of roles NBA players can have and what they mean for NBA DFS.  We will also look at how to use statistics such as usage rate, rebounding rate, and assist rate to quantitatively measure players roles and predict fantasy scoring.

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