NBA DFS: How Much Does the Opponent Matter?

DvP stats are big for daily fantasy basketball players. It’s not quite as important as the opposing pitcher quality in baseball since basketball is a team sport, but obviously certain players are in better spots against certain defenses than others.

But how much?

The Numbers on Opponent Quality

I chose to break down opponent strength by looking at Opponent Plus/Minus Allowed, which is the points above or below salary-based expectations a defense has allowed to a specific position. For example, if the Cavs play three point guards whose collective salaries suggest they will score 75 points over the long run but Cleveland allows only 69 points, they would have an Opponent Plus/Minus Allowed of -2.0 PPG (which would be good for them and bad for opposing point guards).

So with that in mind, here’s a look at how Opponent Plus/Minus Allowed has affected actual player value.

This relationship is pretty clear. I also charted Plus/Minus vs. Opponent Rating, which is simply a percentile rank for a defense.

Defenses that have ranked in the top 20 percent at stopping a position, for example, have allowed around 0.7 DraftKings points per game fewer than what you’d expect based on opponent salaries.

So there’s definitely a relationship between opponent quality and expected performance, as we’d expect. But here’s why I think it isn’t that important.

Editor’s Note: This is one of the many valuable DFS lessons that can be found over at RotoAcademy. Click here to browse through all of our free/premium offerings and improve as a daily fantasy sports player!

The Value of DvP Stats

First, you can see the Plus/Minus numbers here really aren’t that substantial. The difference between a top 20 percent defense and a bottom 20 percent defense is somewhere around 1.3 expected points per player per game. For such a drastic change in defensive quality, that’s not a massive number. There are a variety of other stats that can boost your Plus/Minus more than 1.3 points per game.

One of the reasons for this, I think, is that it’s sometimes difficult to accurately label players’ positions. LeBron James can play pretty much every position on the court, and his role within the offense can totally change based on where he’s playing and who is around him. Further, certain teams use positions differently than others. It’s difficult to say “this defense plays this well against power forwards” when where various power forwards shoot and how they play in general changes so much.

The biggest reason I think DvP data is overvalued, however, is that it’s used so much by the average player, which limits its usable value in tournaments. In GPPs, we’re looking for the biggest possible edge over the field. Well, DvP stats can surely help you find some additional player value, but if you’re using something that most of the field is also using, you’ll run into high ownership.

If a stat gets overvalued so much that the public thinks it is more important than what it is, then it can make sense to actually look for players who such a stat says aren’t in good spots. I think we’re at that point with DvP data. In every sport, I specifically like the idea of targeting studs in perceived poor matchups. A Russell Westbrook can go off against anyone; if you can get him at reduced ownership because of his matchup—something that’s a negative but not nearly as much so as what people believe—then that’s a win.

In 5 Secrets to Daily Fantasy Basketball Success, you’ll learn:

• Secret 1: Team Strength and the Vegas Lines
• Secret 2: How Much Does Value Matter?
• Secret 3: Timing Is Everything
• Secret 4: The Effect of Travel
• Secret 5: How Much Does the Opponent Matter?

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About the Author

  • Jon Bales (JonBales)

  • Jonathan Bales is the founder of RotoAcademy and author of the Fantasy Sports for Smart People book series.

Comments

  • TheGovernor8

    I love the contrarian thought process. At the end of the day, as you intelligently point out, a stud will go off against anyone.

    . ??? For you. I’ve noticed scoring on double ups are getting higher and higher (I imagine as more and more buy lists). Last week I was winning some 3/5 tourneys and losing w the same lineup on a 50/50?!? Your thoughts on only playing tourney and just lowering your nightly amount? Thanks

  • agarrett1041

    Great Read!

  • Dizzlewizzle

    I think this DvP is a nice, basic starting point, but agree that it can be very misleading. Mainly, as you pointed out, listed positions can be misleading. Another thing to think about is this: If a team gives up the most points to centers, how do they allow those points? Rotowire has a page that allows you to look at this more closely. Maybe they allow the most points to centers by a long shot, but are 20th in rebounds and 23rd in blocks. So a scoring center would be a great play, but somebody like Whiteside who does alot of his damage in rebounds and blocks may not be a great play. Same with PG’s and points, assists, threes, steals, etc. Like you said, the top guys get theirs regardless, for the most part. An extreme example from a few years back was when Rondo was scoring 8 a game with 22 assists, he was playing a team ranked as one of the better D vs PG cause they allowed very few points but were top 5 in assists allowed. Nobody was on him and he hit value easy. It’s a time consuming task to match each team with the style player at each position each night, but I think you get a much clearer picture of what player is a good play.

  • generalkenobi711

    @Dizzlewizzle said...

    I think this DvP is a nice, basic starting point, but agree that it can be very misleading. Mainly, as you pointed out, listed positions can be misleading. Another thing to think about is this: If a team gives up the most points to centers, how do they allow those points? Rotowire has a page that allows you to look at this more closely. Maybe they allow the most points to centers by a long shot, but are 20th in rebounds and 23rd in blocks. So a scoring center would be a great play, but somebody like Whiteside who does alot of his damage in rebounds and blocks may not be a great play. Same with PG’s and points, assists, threes, steals, etc. Like you said, the top guys get theirs regardless, for the most part. An extreme example from a few years back was when Rondo was scoring 8 a game with 22 assists, he was playing a team ranked as one of the better D vs PG cause they allowed very few points but were top 5 in assists allowed. Nobody was on him and he hit value easy. It’s a time consuming task to match each team with the style player at each position each night, but I think you get a much clearer picture of what player is a good play.

    Well said.

  • soonerdawg

    I don’t have access to the full article, so forgive me if this was coveres, but….

    One thing that has worked VERY well for me is player performance vs DvP….It is time consuming as hell because I do my own research, but I think in shorter slates (due to less time involved) it gives me an edge….

    For instance…..30 NBA teams….I break them into DvP Quartiles….30 NBA teams = 5 quartiles of 6 each (I prefer to call them tiers so as not to insult the true meaning of a quartile)…..So if Point Guard A is going up against a defense that ranks 3rd against the PG position, I will look at all games that particular player has gone up against a top tier PG defense….by this time in the season you will get a data size anywhere between 5 and 10, which is decent in an 82 game season

    It is not an automatic thing by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it gives an edge over those who do nothing more than glance at DvP

    Also, it kind of reminds me of my school days, when you needed to cite a scientific article….well, Wikipedia is no scientific source, but it is a great place to start and find the scientifically acceptable articles that you would like to use, as is DvP…..but I think you should go a step further than just that

  • jv21

    Good article. I think a good edge is looking at recent DvP trends. A lot of people are only looking at season long and overlook the impact of injuries, rotations or strategies.

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