There are many ways to test your fantasy basketball acumen, but head-to-head (H2H) points leagues provide a truly unique experience. It's essentially the same type of game used in fantasy football. You use a scoring system that rewards a certain amount of points for each stat accumulated (e.g., one point for a rebound, four points for a block). The total points generated by the players on your roster are tallied each week, and you get a W or an L based on whether you outscore your weekly opponent. At the end of the regular season, the top grouping of teams makes the playoffs and battles it out in an elimination bracket until there is a champion.
H2H points basketball leagues have some advantages over football. To begin with, the season is longer and there are dozens more games played by each team. That means most weeks, your players will play three or four games rather than one game like in football. An extra two months of games help make the regular season a little more forgiving too. With a longer season, a slow start doesn't mean your team is dead by Week 4 like fantasy football teams often are. Plus, players have time to develop over the course of the season, unlike the sprint approach we have in football.
What really makes fantasy points games fun is that you can add weight to different scoring stats to stress different parts of the game. You can make blocks more valuable than steals to give more value to big men. Or you can stress assists and turnovers to increase the value of point guards. This season ESPN is introducing a new default scoring system, which you can read about here. I love this new format, because it gives well-rounded players extra value but still has room for other good players to shine if they score, play defense or hit the glass well.
In other words, players such as Dennis Schroder and Domantas Sabonis might be be around the same per-game value despite the different ways they generate those stats (point guard vs. big man). It doesn't matter that Schroder racks up dimes and swipes but sports a shaky FG%, while Kanter double-doubles with great percentages; all that matters is that they should generate a similar weekly score.
With that in mind, you'll see that the beauty of this type of system is that instead of focusing on certain stats like you do in roto leagues, you are simply trying to draft the best overall player each round.
A side effect of points scoring is that it diminishes the value of one- or two-stat wonders such as Ricky Rubio, while forgiving, to an extent, the poor free throw shooting of someone like Andre Drummond. His issues at the line can sink your free throw category in roto games, but in some points systems, he could be a top-10 player due to his overall dominance when he is on top of his game.
Pre-draft: Do the math
Once you have your scoring system in place, it's time to do the math. Copy and paste your projections into a spreadsheet and create a formula based on your scoring system to generate a season total and per-game average for each player. The per-game average is the key to look at when ranking players. You'll need to factor in the risk of missing games, but when a player is healthy and active in your lineup, you'll want him to crank out as many points as possible.
The draft: Constructing your roster
The primary factor to consider when building your team on draft day is to be sure your starting lineup is filled with players with little downside. I have a strong habit of taking risks in roto hoops leagues, but it doesn't work as well in this format. In roto -- where you are concerned only with season-long totals -- you can invest in an up-and-comer, knowing that the totals he'll generate over the course of an entire season will be fine, so you can afford to wait for him to get going.
You can't wait around in H2H leagues, though. You know how frustrating it is in fantasy football when you have an injured player or a guy who doesn't show up for weeks. You end up having to fill that hole with some underachiever you picked up off waivers. Now imagine that player missing three or four games each week. Now imagine filling that hole for months on end while you battle teams that have decent players in every spot in their starting lineups. It's a recipe for a long, painful basketball season. I know; I've been there before and learned my lesson.
That doesn't mean you should ignore upside. I like to say that you earn a spot in the playoffs by having steady players in every roster spot, but you win the title because of your breakout players. So focus on adding players who have guaranteed, steady roles on their teams over players who are prone to injury or have volatile roles. Between two steady players of similar value, take the one with the most upside.
Consider the position requirements of your roster and position scarcity. This can play a big role in your efforts to make sure you have quality players at each position each week, especially in leagues that require two starting centers. Because getting the best value with each draft pick is so critical to this format, I don't recommend reaching to fill out your position requirements. Instead, it's important to plan ahead to avoid ending up in a bind later on. In other words, if your league starts two centers and you have an early choice between a center such as Rudy Gobert and a guard such Ja Morant, you should consider taking the center so you don't end up having to use JaVale McGee as your second center later.
Once your starting roster is set and you're filling out your bench, it's a good time to consider injured guys or younger ballers who might pay off weeks or months later. Again, you don't want to waste an early pick that will leave a hole in your starting lineup, but as a long-term bench investment, they can make sense. The same goes for rookies or guys who might have a chance to shuttle from the bench to the starting lineup as the season progresses.
Post-draft: Check the schedule grid
In fantasy football, it's prudent to see which teams your players will face in your league's final week. You don't want all of your players facing the top defenses. Considering your players' opponents in the final weeks of the season is a bit of a factor in H2H hoops, but the number of games played during your finals is even more important, so be sure to use our handy fantasy NBA schedule grid. Consider that a player half as good as LeBron James will match LeBron's stats in two games. So, in essence, a fantasy team could generate James' points value by plugging in a guy half as good but who plays twice as many games.
Ideally, you'll want to have the top players also playing maximum games over that stretch. It's something to consider during your draft if you have the time, but you'll definitely want to address it as the season progresses.