NBA Showdown Strategy - Historical Analysis

I have been a reluctant participant to DraftKings Showdown contests despite my love for NBA DFS. However, I have been somewhat intrigued with the addition of Captain Mode where one of the six players earns 1.5x their DK points at the cost of 1.5x their salary. So I decided to look at the optimal Captain Mode lineups for 370 NBA games played so far this year, where optimal means the lineup for each game that scored the highest DraftKings points.

Salary Assumption
Since DraftKings doesn’t offer this format for every game, I had to make an assumption for how DraftKings would have priced each of the players had the Showdown Captain Mode format been available. It is obvious from comparing DraftKings salaries in Classic contests with salaries for those same players in Showdown contests that DraftKings is not using a simple transformation. For example, tonight’s slate features the Heat and Clippers in both formats. On the classic mode, both Dwyane Wade and Bam Adebayo are $5400 yet Wade is $200 more expensive in Showdown mode ($7600 vs $7400). For my analysis, this imprecision is something I can live with so I fit a simple model to make the transformations from Classic salaries to Showdown salaries.

Average Salary
One look at last nights Miami – Phoenix boxscore will tell you that there will be games where leaving salary on the table is a preferred strategy. That was most evident in the Atlanta – Cleveland matchup on Oct 30, which saw an optimal lineup with a salary barely over $31,000. However, the best bet is to make better use of your available dollars as the average salary for all the optimal lineups was almost $48300. Here is a quick distribution of what the total Salaries looked like for our 370 optimal lineups:

Lineup Total Salary Range Number of Lineups Percent of Lineups
$49500 – $50000 125 34%
$49000 – $49499 79 21%
$48500 – $48999 48 13%
$48000 – $48499 32 9%
$40000 – $47999 56 15%
Under $40000 30 8%

Captains Salary
What may have been the most surprising to me was the lack of a pattern when looking at the Captain’s salary for the optimal lineups. The distribution was remarkably uniform which suggests to me that DraftKings created their salaries to force players to consider every option when choosing their Captain.

The Showdown rules only allow stacking of at most 5 players from the same team, but after looking at the data it does not appear that extreme stacking is the preferred strategy. Here are the number of players from each of the teams for the optimal lineups:

Lineup Team Composition Number of Lineups Percent of Lineups
3 players from each team 158 43%
4 players from one team 175 47%
5 players from one team 37 10%

Only 19 of the 370 optimal lineups did not include at least one non-starter, and 13 games had an optimal lineup where 4 of their 6 players came off the bench. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of the optimal lineups had a bench player as the Captain. Here are the number of bench players included on each of the 370 optimal lineups:

Lineup Bench Composition Number of Lineups Percent of Lineups
All starters in lineup 19 5%
1 non-starter in lineup 109 29%
2 non-starters in lineup 160 43%
3 non-starters in lineup 69 19%
4 non-starters in lineup 13 4%

Team Trends
Denver had the most players in our optimal lineups, averaging 3.52 players per game while Atlanta averaged the least at 2.28 players per game. Despite the talent in Milwaukee, a Buck was only a Captain 29% of the time meaning 71% of the time it was best to pick a player from the Bucks opponent. On the other side, when the Nuggets play, the optimal lineups had one of them as a Captain for 68% of their games.

Nikola Vucevic holds the top honors for most selections, making the lineup in 73% of the Magic’s games and being a Captain nearly 31% of the time. Domantas Sabonis was the top bench player, making the lineup 64% of the Pacer’s games with being the optimal Captain 28% of the time. As far as the perennial superstars, they definitely find their way into the lineups but maybe not as much as you would think. Kevin Durant tied for the 3rd highest selection rate, Giannis Antetokounmpo tied for 13th, Russell Westbrook tied for 35th, Anthony Davis tied for 56th, and James Harden tied for 73rd joining names like Mason Plumlee and Danny Green.

Final Thoughts
Remember that lineup construction in DFS is rarely focused on achieving the optimal lineup. So while Tim Frazier was the Captain’s pick the same number of times as Anthony Davis this year, those two players have much different risk-reward profiles. This has been an interesting exercise for me and maybe just enough to get me into a Showdown game or two. Kudos to DraftKings for continuing to innovate in ways that diversify lineups and reduce split winnings.

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