“How do I take down a large tournament?”

When it comes to daily fantasy sports, that’s the million-dollar question — sometimes literally. Being a cash-game grinder is nice, but the ability to win a life-changing sum of money in one night is the driving force behind the DFS industry.

Luckily, we have a lot of great tools at FantasyLabs that can assist in your quest to answer that question. Bryan Mears recently took a look at some things that can increase your chances of taking down an NFL GPP, and I’m going to attempt to do the same for NBA.

One of our most powerful tools is the Contests Dashboard. You can track DFS ownership levels of your own lineups, compare those to lineups of top DFS players and view lineup trends in a variety of different NBA contests.

After crunching the numbers, there are a few trends that stood out among GPP winners. You’re obviously still going to need to put in a lot of work and get extremely lucky, but there appear to be a few things you can do to try and increase your chances.

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Tip #1: Spend the Cap

Mears suggested that one of the best ways to increase the expected value of an NFL Lineup is by not spending the full $50,000 salary cap. It increases the likelihood that you will have a unique lineup, and the NFL has enough variance that failing to max out the salary cap doesn’t have a drastic impact on your ceiling.

That logic doesn’t appear to hold true for the NBA, however. The salaries are typically really sound on DraftKings, so you’ll likely need every dollar available to build a lineup with enough upside to win on most nights.

More than 61% of winning lineups used the full $50,000 last season, which was greater than the total percentage of entries that spent the full cap on most evenings. The amount of lineups using the full salary cap also appeared to increase as the buy-in level increased, so sharp NBA DFS players appear to agree with the strategy.

If you aren’t going to spend the full $50,000, you probably don’t want to go much lower: 86.25% of winning lineups used at least $49,900. The average winning salary checked in at $49,923, so every dollar in NBA DFS should be treated as a precious resource.

Tip #2: Embrace the Chalk

Ownership is a major focus in GPPs, and that focus is warranted: No one wants to be at the top of a leaderboard and be forced to share the money with other people. Especially if you’re planning on using the full salary cap, being contrarian should be one of your primary focuses with each lineup.

That said, it’s virtually impossible to win if you fade all the chalk. After all, the chalk is the chalk for a reason: Typically they’re the players in the best spots on any given slate. It probably goes without saying that playing good players is typically +EV. Winning lineups averaged a highest-owned player of 42.75%, so embracing the chalk is not going to preclude you from coming in first.

A lot of time, these are role players who are going to see a bump in usage or minutes due to an injury. Using the Trends tool, players who are priced at $4,000 or less and projected for at least 28 minutes have averaged a Plus/Minus of +3.97. If we restrict that to competent fantasy assets — players who average at least 0.70 fantasy points per minute — the average Plus/Minus increases to +5.21. That kind of production is really hard to replicate with comparably priced players.

Tip #3: Differentiate Your Lineups with Deep Sleepers

OK, so far I’ve advocated for using basically the full salary cap and playing the chalk. That’s a good formula for a duplicate lineup, so let’s dig a little deeper.

The best way to take a chalky lineup and differentiate it is to include a few players that are off the fantasy radar for one reason or another. Winning lineups averaged 2.5 players less than 10% ownership, and 55% of winners had at least three players with an average ownership less than 10%. Winners with more than four players with better than 10% ownership were rare, so targeting three to four low-owned plays in each lineup appears to be the sweet spot.

This concept of balancing chalky plays with contrarian ones is known as the “barbell strategy.” Mears highlights the concept beautifully in his article:

“Think about the difference in lineups despite the same average ownership in the following examples:

  • Player 1: 30%, Player 2: 2%, Average Ownership: 16%
  • Player 1: 18%, Player 2: 14%, Average Ownership: 16%

Both of those lineups can win, but 1) the second lineup is more likely to be duplicated, and 2) the 30% player has high ownership for a reason. That level is usually reserved for the best value players, which means you’re eschewing value by fading them.”

Additionally, you should ideally be looking for one or two players with extremely low ownership. The winning lineup averaged a low ownership of 4.78%, and 30% of winning lineups had a player with average ownership of 2.5% or less.

Tip #4: Embrace Stars and Scrubs

Every slate is different, but it seems like the default on most nights should be a stars-and-scrubs approach. GPP winners last season paid approximately $10,100 on average for their highest-salaried players and $3,900 for their lowest.

Digging into the Trends tool can help explain why this appears to be the preferred strategy. Low-salaried players tend to offer the highest Plus/Minus among players projected for at least 24 minutes, and the most expensive players offer the highest ceiling. Putting together the right combination of stars and scrubs is going to give you the best chance of winning on most slates: Only 30% of winning lineups last season had no players priced at $9,000 or higher.

The new rule changes at FanDuel should only strengthen the stars-and-scrubs approach. They are going to drop your lowest-scoring player each night, which makes it much easier to roster multiple punts.

Tip #5: Anyone Can Win a GPP

This is more a word of encouragement than a piece of strategy, but I think it’s important nonetheless. I was shocked at how many people won GPPs with just a handful of lineups last season.

Winning at DFS can be a discouraging process – especially if you focus more on GPPs than cash games. You’re going to take a lot of Ls, and seeing the same names at the top of the leaderboard can make grinding each slate feel like a lost cause. Those guys are obviously going to win more than their fair share, but to quote the legendary Danny O’Shea, it only takes one time:

As long as your process is sound, there’s no reason you can’t catch lightning in a bottle regardless of the size of your bankroll.

That’s it. Now that I’ve done the hard work — just kidding — all that’s left to do is pick the correct players and go win yourself some money. I’ll be tracking the data in even more detail during the 2018-19 season and will post an updated article with the results.

Good luck this season!

Pictured Above: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports