The last fantasy basketball season was understandably truncated due to COVID-19. Entering the 2020-21 campaign, fantasy hoops investors face a new condensed scheduling format to navigate amid a pandemic climate that will likely demand increased managerial agility and foresight.
With the inevitability of some players missing time due to load management, injuries and COVID-19 protocols, those in rotisserie and head-to-head formats could benefit from adopting season-specific management strategies in order to adapt to the upcoming season of professional hoops.
With an eye on what fantasy managers might want to consider during this unique era of professional basketball, let's discuss potentially helpful draft and management strategies for the rapidly approaching NBA season.
1. Draft strategy
With 10 fewer games during this 72-game season, rotisserie formats are impacted to a relevant degree, as simple math tells us that Joel Embiid, Blake Griffin or Victor Oladipo resting for a dozen games this season represents a notably higher percentage of the season than in an 82-game format.
Does this mean you should avoid such talents in roto drafts? I don't believe so, but using the increased influence of games missed as a differentiation tool could prove valuable when making high-leverage decisions in the early and middle rounds of your drafts.
If you do land Embiid or Kawhi Leonard in the second round, for instance, valuing stability in subsequent rounds could prove prudent. You shouldn't build your fantasy roster through a completely risk-averse lens, but understanding the impact of load management and injury potential in such a shortened season could help foster a more effective balance of risk and cost certainty.
2. Schedule-specific considerations
Per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA could move to an MLB-style schedule, where teams play mini-series against one another to limit travel.
Sources: NBA and Board Governors continued discussion on call today about playing something resembling more of a baseball series to limit travel outside of bubble. For example, a team might travel to New York and play its two road games against Knicks and one vs. Nets. https://t.co/ObuqSkNXCB
- Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 23, 2020
If this baseball-esque series format comes to fruition in the NBA this season, it presents fantasy managers with an opportunity to more accurately gauge both load management and matchup concerns.
Imagine the 76ers take a Midwest trek to face the Cavaliers and Pistons for a pair of two-game series in a given week. Given the caliber of opponents and the condensed nature of such a week combined with the high potential for Embiid to engage in a deliberate load management plan, it could be a light week for the two-way superstar.
Not that this would inherently signal managers should rest Embiid for that week in head-to-head formats, but rather, it could influence the types of players one can deploy in utility spots or other positions to bolster scoring and steals or whatever player-specific stats you'd want to ensure.
While the scenario above is likely more relevant for the likes Embiid, Kawhi, Kristaps Porzingis and other load-management all-stars than the greater NBA population, matchup-specific considerations for a condensed schedule could prove more universal.
Imagine the Mavericks play two games in Salt Lake City against the Jazz followed by a road series against the Lakers, two teams with well-earned defensive reputations. While Luka Doncic is clearly a fixture in lineups, regardless of opponent, it's possible that the slow pace, high elevation, and elite rim protection the Jazz bring could significantly limit the statistical potential of peripheral options such as Josh Richardson, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Maxi Kleber.
In essence, the potential for heavy doses of tough matchups in a given week in head-to-head formats could prove more influential than in seasons past, when matchup diversity in a given week was common. Leveraging stats such as pace (possessions per 48 minutes) and defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) can prove beneficially predictive for matchup purposes.
3. Roster management
A key strategy for ESPN Fantasy League Managers to implement in all formats is additional IR spots. Managers should consult league members -- even if your draft has already occurred -- with the premise of affording teams more roster relief for the likely uptick in players missing time due to load management, injuries and COVID-19 protocols.
If your league already has one IR spot, maybe expand this to three. It's unlikely this shift would create unfair advantages for specific teams, and it helps create a more even playing field.
I'd also advise leagues to consider adding a few additional bench spots to increase roster insurance and flexibility for managers. Sure, the waiver wire will prove shallower, but this affords each manager more in-house options to adapt to injuries and COVID-19 scenarios.