If you follow The Action Network on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter, you know our advise often revolves around one core philosophy: Fade the public. What I’ve laid out below is a simple way to find hidden value when playing NBA DFS.
In our NBA Models, we have a very useful metric called “Opponent Plus/Minus,” which is the Plus/Minus a team has allowed to a specific position. Per our Models: “This stat helps quantify true defensive unit strength because it adjusts for opponent quality.” We’ve attempted to make it even more predictive over the past couple of years by using play-by-play data to adjust the numbers for actual positional splits.
Take a player like David Nwaba, who is listed as a SF by FanDuel and a PG/SG on DraftKings. In that case, should an NBA model list how his opponent defends a SF? Or how they defend guards? Or maybe all three? That’s exactly what our metric does: We take the exact percentage each player plays at a certain position and then adjust their opponent metrics accordingly.
Of course, a metric like Opponent Plus/Minus is only as useful as you can find an edge in contests. If everyone had access to the data, and everyone used it in the same way, it would be an accurate stat but not incredibly useful in a zero-sum game like DFS. Thankfully, our Trends tool, which shows historical ownership, can help us determine whether the public is using this info. There are numerous examples this season of teams being either very good or very bad against a particular position and ownership not adjusting accordingly.
For example, PGs against the Orlando Magic (projected for a minimum of 15 fantasy points) have exceeded their salary-based expectations by an average of 4.3 points.* Small forwards against the Brooklyn Nets and Charlotte Hornets have exceeded their expectations by an average of 5.8 and 6.8 fantasy points, respectively. The ownership levels are important, too: While the fast-paced Nets have been generous to opposing SFs, those players have also posted average ownership on FanDuel of 18.4 percent. The Hornets, meanwhile, have actually been worse against SFs, and those players have been owned in only 8.8 percent of contests on average.
Further, there are situations in which the public has owned players at a high rate despite those players having low-to-mediocre Opponent Plus/Minus marks. For example, the Brooklyn Nets have been about average against opposing PGs, allowing them to exceed salary-based expectations by 0.2 fantasy points on average, but the public has hammered these players, owning them in 20.5 percent of contests. The Nuggets have been a little more generous to opposing PGs, as evidenced by their +1.5 Opponent Plus/Minus, but it’s nowhere near where their marks last season:
The Nuggets have an excellent defender in Gary Harris to throw at opposing guards — very similar to how the San Antonio Spurs can use Danny Green or how the Pistons used Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last season — and young guards like Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray will continue to take defensive steps forward as they get more experience. The Nuggets are improved defensively this season, although they might dip a bit without Paul Millsap in the lineup, but DFS users are still rostering players against them assuming they’re just as bad as they were last season.
There’s definitely an edge to be had here, and the same is true for a situation like the Celtics. Kyrie Irving has historically not been a good defender, but the Celtics have been able to hide him — and he’s admittedly played much better on that end in Boston than he ever did in Cleveland — due to excellent defenders beside him like Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown. Point guards opposing Boston have been owned in the double-digits this season despite the fact that Boston has been outstanding defensively and those PGs have posted average value.
To highlight these situations — both positive ones with high Plus/Minus value and low ownership and negative ones with low Plus/Minus value and high ownership — I put the numbers on a 0-100 scale and averaged them. For example, PGs against the Brooklyn Nets have posted a +0.2 Plus/Minus, which is the 45th percentile (and thus has a 45.0 rating), among all DvP numbers on FanDuel this season. Those players have been owned at an average of 20.5 percent, which is the worst mark among all positions and teams. Thus, they’re in the zeroth percentile (and have a 0.0 rating). Averaging the two, PGs against Brooklyn have a value rating of 22.5. That’s not very good.
Below, I’ll go position-by-position, hitting all 30 teams in a chart before giving some key takeaways. Remember: A higher Value in the chart means that team has been both bad defending that position AND under-owned, an ideal combination in GPPs.
The public has nailed ownership on the good situations: The three worst teams against opposing PGs on FanDuel this season have been the Orlando Magic (+4.3 Opponent Plus/Minus), Phoenix Suns (+3.6), and Cleveland Cavaliers (+3.2). Unfortunately, PGs against those defenses have been owned at high rates.
There’s not really hidden value with the PG position other than knowing situations to fade, such as point guards against the Nets, as mentioned above. Other situations to fade are point guards against the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. Point guards against them have been owned in 14.5 and 14.3 percent of contests, respectively, despite posting poor Plus/Minus numbers. The Rockets are a particularly interesting case, as they traded away their best guard defender in Patrick Beverley, and his excellent replacement, Chris Paul, has missed a lot of time. Still, Houston has surprised defensively this season, ranking fifth in efficiency currently, allowing just 100.9 points per 100 possessions. Further, they’re playing slightly slower than their top-three pace from a year ago. The Rockets are darn good on both sides of the ball, and game stacks are perhaps a bit overvalued in their matches currently.
The best value is with the Memphis Grizzlies, which might be a surprise considering opposing PGs have posted only average Plus/Minus values against them of -0.7 on FanDuel and -0.1 on DraftKings. The reason they rank so high? They’ve barely been owned, averaging marks of 3.0 and 5.1 percent on the two respective sites. They’re playing ridiculously slow this season, ranking dead last in pace and averaging just 96.5 possessions per 48 minutes, but they do have a defense that ranks outside of the top-10 for the first time in what feels like forever. They could improve on that mark when Mike Conley returns in a couple weeks, but for now it could pay off to take advantage of the public’s overrated view of their defensive capability.
On FanDuel, the second-highest value rating among all positions belongs to shooting guards against the LA Clippers. They have been the worst team in the league against the position so far this year, and yet those players have been owned just 6.4 percent of the time on average. For reference, their +5.0 Plus/Minus more than doubles the mark of SGs against Brooklyn (+2.2), but the latter players have been owned in a whopping 18.6 percent of contests. The Clippers have been ravaged with injuries as usual this season, and as a result, they currently rank 27th in defensive efficiency, allowing 108.2 points/100. Lou Williams has had to play the fourth-most minutes on the team this season, and he’s been atrocious defensively, ranking dead last out of 99 qualified SGs this season with a -3.08 Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM).
On DraftKings, the worst team against opposing SGs — by far — has been the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have allowed opposing players to outpace their salary-based expectations by a whopping 6.3 points on average. That’s valuable, but those players have also been owned at a position-high mark of 13.1 percent. The third-worst team against SGs is the Charlotte Hornets, and opposing players have been very low-owned to the tune of a 3.3 percent mark. In fact, that is the lowest ownership mark of all positions and teams, which is incredible since those players have actually been quite valuable in terms of Plus/Minus performance. Charlotte is an odd team and has actually picked up the pace this year, ranking 10th on the season after finishing 19th a season ago, and they’ll likely improve defensively over the year. Still, their weak spot is likely at the SG position with below-average defenders in Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lamb, and Malik Monk.
The situations to avoid are (again) the Nets, who are not the absolute worst defensive unit in the world anymore, and the Denver Nuggets. I talked about their situation above, but I’ll reiterate that Harris is turning into one of the better SG defenders in the league, ranking eighth currently among all players at the position in DRPM.
Small forwards have absolutely crushed against the Charlotte Hornets this season, averaging Plus/Minus values of +6.8 and +4.5 on FanDuel and DraftKings, respectively. But for some reason, they have been very low-owned, with marks of 8.8 and 4.0 percent. That makes SFs vs. the Hornets the single biggest value across all positions. On the one hand, it seems like this shouldn’t be the case: The Hornets are solid defensively, and their main SF, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, has the reputation of being one of the best wing defenders in the league. He finished fifth among all SFs last season in DRPM, and he’s a solid 15th this season. What gives?
My working theory is that they’ve been atrocious defensively without MKG on the floor this season, and he has played just 338 minutes so far. For reference, rookie Dwayne Bacon, who’s spending 90 percent of his minutes at the SF spot, has played just six less minutes than MKG. A quick nbawowy.com query shows this to be true:
- Opponent Points per Possession with MKG on the court: 1.073
- Opponent Points per Possession without MKG on the court: 1.129
The Bulls and Kings are currently tied for dead last in defensive efficiency, allowing 109.5 points/100. The Hornets without MKG on the court have been miles worse than those teams defensively. While the Hornets could get better against SFs with MKG playing more, there’s certainly no guarantee that will happen. This has unfortunately been a trend for a couple years now:
Like with the PG position, there aren’t a whole lot of positive value situations to exploit. Instead, it’s probably wise to focus on the negative situations — those where PFs have posted poor Plus/Minus values but have been owned at a high rate. The Celtics are a prime example: For some reason, despite the fact that PFs against them have averaged a low -0.4 Plus/Minus on FanDuel and Boston ranks first in defensive efficiency on the year, those players have been owned at a very-high rate of 16.8 percent. This is probably due to public bias and how slow people adapt to new teams and information. The Celtics have been a team to target for the past couple of years, but that is certainly not the case this season:
Again, similar to the point guard position, DFS players have been rostering PFs against the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets at a high rate despite both owning top-seven defenses on the season. The Rockets have been playing slower, and both of these teams have been rebounding the ball better, posting top-six rebound rates on the season. As mentioned above, it’s likely game stacks involving the Warriors and Rockets are perhaps a bit overvalued by the public early this season.
The first point I’ll note is that the value is certainly higher in the center position on FanDuel than it is on DraftKings. The reason is pretty clear: You can roster only one on the former site and two on the latter. As a result, we see a similar ownership dynamic in NBA DFS as we do with QBs in daily fantasy football, where ownership levels never get very high. Only three teams have seen centers average double-digit ownership against them on FanDuel, whereas that number is nine on DraftKings. In general, if you want to gain an ownership value advantage in tournaments, the place to do so on FanDuel is at the center position. For example, centers against the Clippers have posted a FanDuel Plus/Minus of +2.1 this year but have averaged ownership of 2.9 percent. That’s quite the edge.
As far as negatives go, we have the usual three: The Nets, Rockets, and Warriors. Somewhat fading those games until ownership levels return to reasonable marks could be warranted in GPPs over the next bit.
*Data is current as of 12/3/17