How Will NBA DFS Be Different During the Restart?
When the NBA tips back off with a highly anticipated two-game slate on July 30th, the players on the court and the ball they use will be about the only things that look the same from where we last left the Association in March.
Actually, scratch that.
Even the players on the court will look drastically different due to the number of players who have opted out of the restart and the eight teams that have been told their services are no longer needed. But I'm fairly certain the ball will be the same, and the baskets will still be at 10 feet. That's about it.
How all this will affect NBA DFS is yet to be determined, but one thing is certain: We don't have much time to figure it out. Each team has an eight-game sprint to the end of the season before we are treated to a potential mini play-in tournament for each conference's eighth seed.
Without much time to figure out each team's respective approaches, rotations, and motivations, DFS players must make some educated guesses on what to expect. Here are some major factors to keep in mind as NBA DFS restarts.
Minutes Allocation at the Bookends
Sir Isaac Newton would have loved allocating NBA minutes. Each game holds true to the law that states for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It doesn't take too much brain power to predict that LeBron James will likely not see anywhere near the 35 minutes per game he was playing pre-COVID. The Los Angeles Lakers are 5.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for the top spot in the West, a seemingly insurmountable climb for the Clips over just eight games.
Knowing this, James and other superstars (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam, and Nikola Vucevic come to mind) will likely see depressed rotation time, especially once it is confirmed what their playoff seeding will be.
What this means, however, is that players further down the bench will likely get more run than we would normally expect. In each NBA game, a team has to fill 48 minutes only five men at a time, and those minutes have to be filled by some finite combination of players.
For DFS players, that often will mean cheap value -- even if the players may not be in the starting lineup.
Back to the Lakers' example. If we notice after two or three games that James is playing only about 24 minutes per night, is that translating to more minutes in the middle of the roster -- to Kyle Kuzma, for example -- or is someone at the end of the bench like Alex Caruso or Dion Waiters back-filling that time?.
And while teams like the Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Toronto Raptors have their own minutes motivation, teams like the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns also have minutes to monitor, just for different reasons. As our Vaughn Dalzell pointed out, the Suns have almost no motivation to play Devin Booker big minutes, risking their franchise star. In fact, they have come out and said as much.
Teams like the Wizards and Brooklyn Nets have to play almost everyone because of a lack of bodies, but track what they do with young cornerstones like Rui Hachimura, Moritz Wagner, and Caris LeVert to see if they begin holding these young players back.
Confirmed Lineups Are More Essential Than Ever
Daily fantasy NBA players are intimately familiar with the headache that is late scratches and pre-game lineup changes. For the balance of the NBA season, FanDuel will allow late swap on its main slate, which will certainly help matters, but even with this option, setting NBA lineups could be compounded even further by the scheduling logistics of the NBA restart.
Beginning on Friday, July 31st, games will start as early 1:30 p.m. EST, and they will often be staggered throughout the day. On July 31st, games begin at 1:30 p.m. EST, and the last game doesn't tip off until 9:00 p.m. EST. That last game of the night is the DFS clash du jour between the Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, so all-day slate players will have some substantial decisions to make.
What if Russell Westbrook is a game-time decision that night since he isn't in camp yet? What do you do? Even with late swap available in this example, should DFS players leave room in their salary cap to be able to pivot to Luka Doncic or hope that Austin Rivers can deliver a modicum of Westbrook's production at a third of the price? How comfortable are we leaving salary on the table in this new format?
If you are deciding between two players for a single spot and one starts at 2:00 and one tips at 8:00, do we always gravitate toward the confirmed lineup? This puts DFS players in a tricky spot. Earlier in the season, all games typically started within a three-hour window, so even if we didn't have confirmed lineups from West Coast games, we had morning shootaround reports and coach quotes.
Further complicating matters is that there is an extremely small group of reporters that have been allowed into the bubble, and pre-game chats with coaches are strictly limited. Will we get the answers we are used to about players battling nagging injuries or awaiting COVID test results? Only time will tell. The smart DFS players will rely on confirmed lineups when possible and rotation data from games already played when trying to determine the best path to a lineup.
Can you remember back to the night of March 11th? The night when the Jazz-Thunder game was delayed as we all waited on conflicting reports about Rudy Gobert? That kind of stuff isn't going to fly in the new NBA. If there is any health question about a player, he is going to be yanked right away to preserve the integrity of the bubble. Headaches are coming.
Cash-game players must be especially mindful of rostering players who are a near lock to suit up, while tournament or GPP entries can withstand a bit more risk.
Home Court No Longer Exists
One interesting aspect of playing in a closed environment with no fans and little that resembles the environments that NBA players are used to is that home-court advantage does not exist anymore.
How does this affect teams like the Bucks and Lakers, squads with stellar home records? How does it help teams who may perform well at home but struggle on the road, like the Philadelphia 76ers?
Teams withe the largest difference between home and away point differential:
PHI 15.7 (+10.4 Home, -5.3 Away)
MIA 12 (9.3, -2.7)
POR 6.8 (1.9, -4.9)
MIL 6.5 (14.7, 8.2)
DEN 6.2 (6, -0.2)
— Ryan Kirksey (@KirkseySports) July 18, 2020
It's all a level playing field now, so DFS players must think intelligently about what the bubble environment means.
Teams with the smallest point differential between home and road games:
DAL -0.1 (6 Home, 6.1 Away)
ORL 1.1 (-0.4, -1.5)
Utah 2.4 (4.4, 2)
OKC 3 (3.9, .9)
Phoenix (0.1, -3)
— Ryan Kirksey (@KirkseySports) July 18, 2020
Teams like the Dallas Mavericks -- who outscore opponents by 6.0 points at home and 6.1 points on the road -- have shown their consistency over the first two-thirds of the season and could be considered strong candidates to make some noise in the reformatted playoffs.
Embrace the Change
DFS players are all going to be in the same unfamiliar boat when games tip next week. Those who understand the ramifications of the changing environment and can use it to their advantage are the ones who will be able to create a faster sense of leverage over their opponents.
As with any NBA season, there are efficiencies and inefficiencies that the savvy DFS player can uncover to help their rosters stand out. Embrace the change, and know that even more research will be needed before each slate.
The game has changed for the remainder of the season, and we must change with it.