Approaching High-Scoring Blowouts in Tournaments
Vegas lines are one of the first things that many NBA DFS players look at. They can be useful since they are a quick way to gage which games will be high scoring and which games are likely to remain competitive throughout. As always in games like DFS, if you know how your opponent is going to play, it is easy to find ways to exploit them. One way to exploit our opponents’ reliance on Vegas lines is to attack games that have a high projected total and a large point spread. Everyone knows to target games with a high total and a small spread, but people usually shy away from games with double-digit spreads because they are afraid the best players will not play during the fourth quarter and will therefore have trouble paying off their price tags. This means that we can roster players in games with high projected totals that are expected to perform very well, and get them at low ownership.
Why Should We Not Be So Scared of Blowouts?
In my opinion, trying to predict blowouts is one of the biggest mistakes people make in tournaments. Maybe I am just not very good at it but, when I let blowout risk play a large role in my decision making process, it backfires way more than it helps. There are a few reasons for this.
First, some games just do not go as expected. Take the recent game between the Rockets and the Nets, for example. Everyone agreed with Vegas that there was no way the Nets would keep the game close in Houston- but then they did. It was a game where, if we knew it would remain close throughout, we probably would have had interest in almost every player in the game. But, because it was unlikely the game stayed close, we backed off of some very high-upside plays. Winning tournaments is about maximizing upside and taking advantage of outlier events. In many cases, the potential upside offered by the players in the projected blowout, if the game happens to stay close, far outweighs the potential upside that we get with the alternatives that we roster in their place. You do not have to be “right” very often to be extremely profitable in tournaments, as long as you are taking risks that have extremely high rewards.
Second, by definition, one team is performing very well in a blowout. Oftentimes, the few minutes that we lose because our player sits the fourth quarter are offset by the high level of production our player sustains over the first three quarters. For example, if Steph Curry gets hot and hits 15 three-pointers in the first three quarters, it is very unlikely that his opponent is hanging in the game, and there is a good chance that Curry does not play much, if at all, in the fourth. But does that really matter? His production in those three quarters blows his normal production out of the water, so we are still better off than if the game stayed close with Curry producing at his average pace.
Third, it is much easier to predict that a game will blowout than it is to predict how it will blowout. That is to say, it is very difficult to predict if the game will be close throughout and then the favorite goes on a 20-2 run with five minutes to go in the fourth or if it will be a 35 point game at the half. These have the same end result as far as the Vegas line is concerned, but are drastically different with regard to the fantasy performances of the players in the game. All blowouts are not created equal.
Who Should We Target in Potential Blowouts?
Now that we hopefully agree that blowouts can be potential goldmines, we need to figure out who the best players are to target in these games and look at different strategies to maximize the effectiveness of targeting them.
We will start with the heavily favored team. It seems obvious that we want to roster these players, but they have been going incredibly under owned. Take the Warriors against the Knicks on Thursday night, for example. In the $27 Crossover on DraftKings, Klay Thompson was 7.6 percent owned, Draymond Green was 8.2 percent owned, and Steph Curry was 10.7 percent owned- and this was on a 5 game slate. The Warriors’ game had the highest total on the slate (if I remember correctly- it may have been second highest) and Golden State was a massive favorite. At least one of these players was basically a guarantee to have a big game and they were all barely owned. At these ownership levels, we are off to a good start just by having exposure to the best players on the team that is favored, but we can get even more specific with who we target from the favored team.
One approach is to target the second-tier stars that are less expensive than the superstars, like Klay Thompson over Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving over LeBron James. The reason this is a viable strategy is because players like Thompson and Irving are very involved on offense, and capable of being a large contributor to a blowout, but it is much easier for them to exceed their price in 30 minutes of play than it is for Durant or James. This is not to say that we should not also target Durant or James, because we should, but the mid-tier guys offer exposure to the game with a little bit less risk.
We should also target players based on how they correlate to their teammates. Sticking with the Warriors example, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have a relatively strong positive correlation, likely because Green picks up the assist on a lot of Thompson’s made shots. So we can roster Thompson and Green together and will be paid off nicely if the game blows out as a result of Green feeding Thompson for open three-pointers. Steph Curry, on the other hand, does not correlate positively with anyone on Golden State. When Curry is the hot hand, he is creating his own shot and is not missing, so there are not as many assists or rebounds to go around. This means that we can roster Curry by himself and will be paid off nicely if the game blows out as a result of one of his shooting outbursts.
It is also important to pay attention to rotations. By using popcornmachine.net, we can see that Kevin Durant usually plays about 6 minutes at the start of the game and start of the second half, then goes to the bench until there are two or three minutes left in the first or third quarter. This means that he is less likely to lose significant minutes as the result of a blowout than is someone who plays 10-12 minutes to start the third quarter and then goes to the bench until the 6 minute mark of the fourth, since the game is more likely to be out of hand by halfway through the fourth quarter.
Utilizing these approaches to selecting players from the favored team allows us to roster high upside players from a team that is projected to score a ton of points, instead of just rostering the minimum priced guys who will maybe get us 22 fantasy points if the game does, in fact, become a blowout.
Turning to who we should roster from the underdog, all of the previous strategies apply. There is more merit to rostering bench players from the underdog, however, since massive underdogs are often playing short-handed. In addition, the starters obviously are not projected to do very well, given that they are huge underdogs, so we are not missing out on as much potential upside by rostering their backups. Instead, we can roster a player off the bench, such as Justin Holiday last night. Holiday was a strong play because he was likely to see more minutes since Rose and Anthony were injured and because he was coming off the bench so he was likely to get plenty of fourth quarter playing time even if the game was not close. Figuring out what players get garbage time run for the underdog is a good way to find cheap value plays, although it does not go as overlooked as rostering good players on the favored team does.
When Can We Gamestack a Projected Blowout?
A strategy that I have employed frequently this season that has led to fun things like 4th place finishes in live final qualifiers is to stack both sides of the potential blowout. It is most effective when specific criteria are met, but it is a great way to capture huge upside at low ownership and really maximize our goal of setting ourselves up to capitalize on outlier events.
First, we want the favorite to be a team where we can be relatively certain where the production will come from. Compare a team like Denver, who has 10 different high upside players, any of which could conceivably have a big game, with a team like Golden State, who has Curry, Thompson, Durant and Green contributing a huge percentage of their production. We prefer teams like Golden State because we are already taking on risk by stacking a game that is likely to be over after three quarters; we do not want to amplify that risk by targeting a team where, even if the game is close and high scoring, we are likely to choose the wrong players.
Second, we want one of two conditions to exist for the underdog. We either want them to have a core like Golden State where we can be confident most of their production will come from if the game stays close, or we want them to have multiple bench players who are productive when they get minutes and who are guaranteed extra minutes in a blowout. For examples of both, we can look at the Knicks. Before Carmelo Anthony was ruled out, I was a huge proponent of stacking the starters from both sides because, if the game were to stay close, it would mean that some combination of Anthony, Porzingis and Jennings were having monster games. After Anthony was ruled out, we could either roster Jennings and Porzingis and hope they kept the game close or we could target the New York bench because Justin Holiday and Guillermo Hernangomez are both players who can produce fantasy points at a high rate and would see extended minutes if the game turned into a blowout. Pairing Jennings and KP with Golden State starters would put us in a great spot if the Knicks scored enough points to keep it close and pairing Holiday and Hernangomez with Golden State starters would put us in a great spot if the Golden State starters had big games and the game ended up being a blowout. Either option was viable because we were able to narrow down where production would come from in both scenarios, and there was a strong correlation between the players from both sides.
As you can see from the Golden State- New York examples, the key is that we are allowing ourselves to stack players from the team with, often, the highest implied total on the slate at low ownership and increase our ceiling by correlating them with the players who are likely to do well on the opposing team if the favored team plays as well as Vegas predicts.
There are some games that are best left alone but, judging by ownership percentages so far this season, there is a very big edge to be gained by not shying away from high-scoring games just because they have large spreads. We are always taking on risk in tournaments, so why back down from the risk that comes with the highest upside?