The Importance of Injuries
Welcome to the wonderful world of injuries.
If you’ve read the daily fantasy basketball 101 course, then you know how important injuries are to daily fantasy basketball. In fact, they are so important, that I have devoted an entire course to the subject.
Daily fantasy sports differ in strategy, but in general, the premise is the same. We are trying to pick the best possible lineup within the salary cap restrictions. A lot of people often refer to daily fantasy as a puzzle. While that’s a decent analogy, we don’t need to use all of the pieces. I like to think of daily fantasy as a recipe. There are a ton of different ingredients that could potentially go into making an NBA cake, but only the right ingredients will provide us with a tasty treat. If we use the wrong ingredients, we are left daydreaming about what could have been.
There are three main ingredients in our NBA cake:
The most difficult part is deciding which factor should have the biggest weight in our decision-making process. Ideally, we would love to target players that are in favorable matchups, see a lot of minutes, and are priced affordably, but that’s rarely the case. Injuries open the door for both opportunity and value and often times those players end up being in favorable matchups. Targeting players that see an increase in minutes and usage is the best way to get exposure to players that can easily produce more than what is required from them at their respective price points.
Injuries are usually a good source of value in daily fantasy sports, but there are limitations. In football, if a starting running back is ruled out, his backup(s) will see an increase in snaps and touches. The problem is that there is usually a big gap in talent between the two, especially if the injured starter is a premier running back. In baseball, if a player gets hurt, his backup will be in the lineup that day; however, most times the backup will bat near the bottom of the lineup, and how often do we see players go hitless, regardless of the pitching matchup? Hint: often.
In terms of deriving value from injuries, basketball is by far the best sport in daily fantasy. Minutes played and a player’s usage rate have a direct correlation to fantasy production. So, when a backup sees a spot start, we can expect both of those to increase until the starter returns to the lineup. The NBA season is a long stretch of 82 games that is filled with long road trips and back-to-backs. The nature of the sport and the season is going to cause injuries, both of the short and long-term nature. These injuries lead to value galore, seemingly on a nightly basis.
Because fantasy production relies so heavily on minutes played, I would argue that basketball is the most predictable fantasy sport. If we can accurately predict minutes, then we can accurately predict production over the course of the season.
Basketball is also more predictable than other sports because the opportunity to score fantasy points is larger in each game. NBA teams averaged 96 possessions per game last season and with every possession comes the opportunity to score fantasy points, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Fantasy production is derived from five main statistical categories: points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. With so many possessions per game, minutes obviously play a key role in production.
And with so many possessions in each game, players that see more minutes obviously have more opportunities to rack up fantasy points. When we can find players that are expected to see more minutes than they normally would, then we can find value. The algorithms to produce player salaries rely on recent fantasy production, so backups are usually priced as backups. When a starter is injured, their backup will pick up the majority of the starter’s minutes and immediately become a great value option because it will be easy for him to out-produce his salary that was based on his limited minutes off the bench.
Finding value is important in daily fantasy basketball for two main reasons. First, it raises both the floor and the ceiling of our lineups. The more value plays that we can find, the higher the floor and ceiling of our lineup will be. This also helps when you are employing a value-based system, because we can generally expect those value plays to outperform their respective salaries. When that happens, we don’t need as much production from our superstars in order to still put up a reasonable score.
The second reason why finding value is important is so that we can afford those superstars. Basketball production is easier to predict than other sports, but that doesn’t mean that all players are consistent. We want to have as much exposure to the superstar players as we can because they have such a high floor. We don’t mind paying up for consistency, especially when value is present. The value plays bring that 6x, 7x, 8x-type of upside and the superstars bring that high floor. The perfect scenario is to create teams that have both a high floor and a high ceiling and often that is possible in daily fantasy basketball when you find that above combination.
Onto the next lesson, which covers the best sources of injury information.