How to Play Yahoo Fantasy Basketball: A complete rundown and strategies for most popular formats

Few players can compare with LeBron’s mastery of the fundamentals — but this guide can help you master the fundamentals of Yahoo Fantasy Basketball. (Getty Images)

By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports

Yahoo makes the process of joining a fantasy basketball league quick, easy and fun, kind of like Steph Curry pulling up for a three just beyond midcourt.

You just need to decide what type of league you want to play in. A private league with friends and family? Or would you prefer a public league where you just show up to draft without having to ask who’s in and who’s out?

[Yahoo Fantasy Basketball leagues are open: Sign up now for free]

We’re going to cover strategy for the two most popular formats on Yahoo: head-to-head points leagues and nine-category head-to-head leagues.

And if you’re looking to create a league as a commissioner, you can do it in just two clicks if you run with the default settings (H2H points league).

[Make sports predictions to win cash prizes with Yahoo Fantasy Slate. Play for free]

If you’re new to fantasy hoops, the head-to-head and category descriptions might not mean much to you. League settings, on the other hand, play a most important role when drafting and managing a team.

The majority of leagues in the most popular fantasy sport, football, use head-to-head points scoring with weekly roster edits. So this set up is the closest thing for basketball fans who love Fantasy Football. Each relevant statistic is assigned a point value and then those points are added up to determine who wins an individual matchup each week.

Daily fantasy (DFS), which Yahoo offers alongside its season-long leagues, employs a points format, as well. In Yahoo DFS, as well as H2H points leagues, the scoring matches the NBA’s official system:

Points: 1
Rebounds: 1.2
Assists: 1.5
Blocks: 3
Steals: 3
Turnovers: -1

As you can see, this format does not value percentages, nor does it incorporate added value for three-pointers. As such, players like Dwight Howard or Andre Drummond — who can single-handedly tank the free throw percentage of a roto league team — are more valuable under this scoring format. Players who produce in the defensive categories also receive a boost, while high-turnover players like James Harden and Russell Westbrook lose a bit of value.

Category Leagues

Meanwhile, a categorical format emphasizes efficiency. You have to alter the way you think about certain players, as a result. Ben Simmons, a nightly triple-double threat, is a first-round pick in points formats. Switch to categories, and he drops into the mid-to-late second round because he’s a poor free-throw shooter and is a non-factor from beyond the arc.

Ben Simmons’ draft value completely changes depending on what kind of format you’re in. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The goal of a categorical format is — as you’d probably guess — to win more statistical categories than your opponent. Relevant categories in a default Yahoo league are Field Goal Percentage (FG%), Free Throw Percentage (FT%), 3-pointers Made (3PTM), Points Scored (PTS), Total Rebounds (REB), Assists (AST), Steals (ST), Blocked Shots (BLK) and Turnovers (TO).

Trying to win all nine categories seems overwhelming, and that’s because it is. You are unlikely to be successful in a head-to-head format trying to win every category. Chances are, you’ll come up slightly short everywhere. Ideally, you draft the best player available with your first overall pick, and then build off his strengths to construct a team that’s strong in six to seven categories.

Let’s say you’re picking second and land Anthony Davis. Davis is strong in points, rebounds, blocks, steals, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and (lack of) turnovers. Your emphasis should be to search for players who trend near that skillet. You shouldn’t intentionally try to be poor in assists or threes, but it would make more sense for you to draft Rudy Gobert and Kevin Love with your following two picks rather than John Wall and Devin Booker. You’ll eventually need guards, but establishing a team identity should take precedent in the early rounds.

Choosing and Setting your Lineup

Whether you play in a points or category league, you’ll be starting 10 players every week: PG, SG, G, SF, PF, F, C, C, UTIL UTIL. Make sure to pay attention to positions while drafting. Players who are multi-position eligible have inherently increased value, as it gives your team more flexibility when things inevitably start to go awry. Once you’ve drafted 10 players for a foundational starting lineup, you can start throwing Hail Marys for your three bench spots. If you take a chance on a high-risk, high-reward player and it doesn’t pan out, chances are there will be someone on the waiver wire who can fill that spot. You’re giving yourself higher upside by drafting Trae Young at pick 104 rather than Dirk Nowitzki.

Don’t forget to set your lineup. Yahoo makes it as easy possible with their amazing “Set your lineup for the Week” option to save you time. Beyond that, there are two things to look for when setting your lineup for the week: injuries and total games. Injuries are often straightforward: if Blake Griffin is not going to play, take him out of your lineup. If he’s questionable for the first game of the week, you might unfortunately just have to make a judgement call. Each situation is unique.

Total games is more nuanced. Fantasy basketball isn’t like fantasy football where there’s one game per week, or like fantasy baseball where every team plays almost every day. Rudy Gobert might play twice in given week, while Willie Cauley-Stein could play four times.

Rudy Gobert is an elite talent, but depending on what kind of format you’re playing in, talent might not be enough to earn an everyday-start. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

You might say talent should win out, but what if Gobert is playing against Oklahoma City and Houston who both with tough center matchups, while Cauley-Stein plays against four bottom-of-the-barrel Eastern Conference teams? You might have to consider benching Gobert for the week, despite the fact that he’s the superior player. Sometimes, four games’ worth of production out of an average player is more valuable than two games from an elite player.

Staying on the up-and-up

Finally, keeping up on news and watching the waiver wire can give you a huge advantage. If you notice Dewayne Dedmon suffers a month-long injury, just a little investigation reveals that Alex Len is likely to see a significant uptick in minutes. Add him to your roster and it could pay dividends for several weeks, especially if your roster is dealing with injuries of its own.

If you’re dealing with a ton of injuries, you may be able to stream players. Streaming is essentially swapping out one-to-three players each week who match your team’s statistical profile and have a favorable amount of games. If your team is heavy on three-pointers and the Nets play four times this week, moving to pick up Joe Harris has a strong chance of keeping you afloat. Next week, you may drop him in favor of another three-point shooter with a three- or four-game week.

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