Lesson 1: The Art of Lineup Construction
The DFS industry has grown each and every year, especially when it comes to content providers. When I first started playing DFS (I believe it was in 2011 or 2012 – my memory is slowly fading these days), there was basically one article per day on RotoGrinders that was maybe 500 words that broke down each slate. Outside of that, there wasn’t anything in terms of content. Everyone had to make choices for themselves and there wasn’t really a set standard for what we looked for when it comes to fantasy production. With the growth of DFS, this information is not only readily available, but it’s accessible on a ton of sites. These days, everyone knows the importance of Vegas lines, usage rates, matchups, etc. It’s to the point where a lot of the edge in NBA DFS isn’t in breaking down the matchups or statistics; it’s in lineup construction.
One of the most overlooked aspects in DFS is the art of lineup building. I do the NBA Expert Chat on RotoGrinders every day during the regular season and the number of bad plays people put into their lineups always dumbfounds me. If you’ve never been into the Expert Chat, it’s basically as described. Members come into the chat and ask any question that they’d like about that night’s slate. Many post their entire lineup and ask if they need to make any changes. Keep in mind that a lot of the people in this chat are very smart individuals who have been playing DFS for years. They’ll post a lineup that looks good for the most part, but so many of them have one or two plays that make very little sense.
In this chat, I like to ask why people ended up on certain plays. It amazes me how often people respond with, “I only had ____ salary left and I needed a shooting guard” or “he’s going to be low owned, so I like him.” Those are NEVER reasons to roster players in DFS. The main goal of this course is to help you become better at lineup building. This includes the single-lineup approach (in cash games and/or tournaments) and the mulit-entry approach.
Let’s start with the first mistake, the “I only had ____ salary left to spend at a certain position.” Let’s keep this simple: Don’t target players you don’t like in a slate. Ever. I would much rather target two players I like over one player I love and one player I just plug in. Far too often, people get into a mindset of, “I have to use Player A, Player B, and Player C, then I’ll build the rest of my lineup from there.” Your goal each and every night should be to create lineups that you feel good about from the first player you click on to the last.
So, how do you fix the problem of forcing a player into your lineup when you only have a certain amount of salary left? The key is to have an open mind and to be willing to try a number of different player combinations. A lot of people do one pass when building a lineup. They start at point guard, pick their favorites and then move to the other positions. I don’t mind starting at point guard; you should always go back through to see if there are any other combinations of players that you like more. After I’ve done all of my research, I like to narrow each position down to my favorite four to six players (depending on the size of the slate). You can make a list, you can star them on your favorite projections site (RG’s LineupHQ is the GOAT), or memorize them.
Rather than starting at point guard and moving down, I start with the players I prioritize getting into my lineup first. Again, it’s simple but is often overlooked. Some slates it’s a point guard, other slates it’s a center. If I view Rudy Gobert as an absolute must play, my lineup is going to start with Rudy Gobert. There are typically a few players on each site I feel are musts in each slate (thanks to price, matchup, injuries, etc.). Now, keep in mind that this is always changing as injury news comes out. One injury can drastically alter an entire slate.
After I have my core plays locked in, then I go through each position. With each pick I make, I am mindful of how much salary I have left to spend on each player. Then, with our list of favorite plays at each position (the four to six players that you wrote down, starred, or memorized), you can fill out a lineup that you feel very good about top to bottom. I continuously try different combinations of players until I end up with a lineup that I feel great about.
Some nights are easier than others. Sometimes you will end up on a chalky lineup, other nights you’ll have a couple contrarian plays because everyone else fell into the idea of forcing Players A, B, C, and D into their lineups. Meanwhile you were looking at the bigger picture and trying to create a great all-around lineup. It’s crazy to me when bad plays end up being chalky just because everyone follows the same lineup construction and ends up with _____ dollars to spend on shooting guard.
You might be reading this thinking to yourself that this is common sense. You are very correct, yet most people don’t think twice about lineup building. There isn’t anything complicated about this process, but it’ll help you focus on the big picture when building lineups.
Now, let’s go over the other mistake that I mentioned earlier – targeting a player because he’s going to be low owned.
Do you need lower owned players to take down tournaments? Yes.
Should you be looking for leverage plays in tournaments? Yes.
Should you target a player for the sole purpose of ownership? No.
If you don’t have sound reasoning as to why you are selecting a player, then why on earth would you put them in your lineup? A team’s third-string center is going to be low owned every night; should we play him? There are plenty of good plays each night that slip through the cracks. Never be contrarian just to be contrarian. When looking for low owned plays, you want them to have upside AND be low owned.
That will just about do it for the first lesson. The main takeaway here is that lineup building is still a big edge in DFS. There is so much content available these days that everyone knows who the top plays in each slate are going to be. If you can limit your mistakes during lineup construction each night, you will gain an edge on your opponents, especially over the course of an entire season. Remember to have sound logic behind each play and feel confident about every player in your lineup.