How to Play Fantasy Basketball

Drafting and selecting which players to start are key

Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Fantasy basketball is a fairly simple game. You select a team and fill out a roster. You succeed or fail based on how well your players perform in certain categories -- usually points, field goal percentage, free-throw percentage, three pointers, rebounds, assists, and steals. The process is also straightforward:

  1. Draft a team of NBA players.
  2. Watch as their statistics accumulate over time.
  3. The team with the best-aggregated statistics wins.

Of course, if you want to win, you may want to dig a little deeper.

Types of Leagues

There are as many configurations as there are leagues, but most fantasy NBA games fall into one of the following groups:

  1. Draft vs. Auction: In a draft league, owners take turns selecting players. Most leagues tend to use a snake draft format -- the player who picks first in the first round picks last in the second, the player who picks second in the first round, picks second-to-last in the second, and so on. In an auction, each team has a budget used to acquire players, and owners fill their teams by bidding on individual players. 
  2. Rotisserie vs. Fantasy Points: In rotisserie scoring, player statistics are totaled, then each team earns points according to its rank in a given category. For example, in an eight-team league, the team in first place in assists would get eight points, the second-place team would receive seven and the last-place team would get one. A points league assigns fantasy points to different statistics; for example, a basket might be worth one point, a rebound one point and a turnover negative one point. Rotisserie scoring is the most commonly used format.
  3. Head to Head vs. Cumulative Scoring: In a head-to-head league, you compete against a single team for a set period of time -- usually a week. Head-to-head leagues typically use fantasy point scoring systems. Cumulative leagues have scoring systems based on statistics accumulated over the entire season -- the team in first place when the season ends wins.
  1. Daily vs. Weekly Transactions: This is a particularly important factor to consider in basketball because game schedules aren't balanced: A given team might play two games one week and five the next. Choose wrong, and you may have your selected players sitting on the bench for several games.

The typical default setting for a league hosted on one of the big providers --, Yahoo!, CBS or -- is a draft-style with rotisserie scoring and daily transactions.

Roster Composition

A typical NBA fantasy roster includes:

  • one point guard
  • one shooting guard
  • one guard (either point or shooting guard)
  • one small forward
  • one power forward
  • one forward (either small or power)
  • two centers
  • one or two utility players, who can play any position

Most leagues also allow a set number of bench players. Players on the bench don't count toward your team statistics; they're extras you can move into and out of your starting lineup as you like.

Trades and Waivers

Most leagues allow players to be traded between teams. Some might have a trade-approval or trade-protest option to prevent trades that are unbalanced or otherwise unfair. Players who don't get drafted are considered free agents and can be picked up by teams during the season, usually on a first come, first served basis.

Fantasy Statistics

The statistical categories used in most fantasy basketball leagues are:

  • points
  • rebounds
  • assists
  • steals
  • blocks
  • three-pointers made
  • field goal percentage
  • free throw percentage

The first six categories are counting stats, where you add up each player's total to get your team's score. The last two -- field goal and free throw percentage -- are percentage stats, meaning that your score is based on your team's total shooting percentage.

To figure your team's percentage in either category, divide the total number of shots made by the total number of attempts. Some leagues substitute assist-to-turnover ratio for assists, while others add turnovers, three-point percentage or other categories to the mix.