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Hoop Pointers
Fantasy Strategy Ideas from the Guru

Preseason "Basketball Tips of the Day"
October 26-November 1, 1999

For the week prior to the start of the basketball season, I put out a short (OK, maybe some weren't so short) "Basketball tip of the day" in each daily blurb. To make them easier to locate, I've collected them in one place here.

11/1 - My final tip of the day echoes the same advice as the final football tip:

  • Double check your official roster in each game, and make sure it includes the players you expect. I'm sure many of you have changed your minds several times during preseason, and it can't hurt to make sure you've actually processed those final adjustments.
  • Check out RotoNews and the injury lists one last time to make sure there's no new negative info about any of your players.
  • Don't forget the advertising inducements. At the SW site, you can earn $10,000 per day by clicking on a banner ad. At Echelon, you can earn $50,000 for up to 50 daily ad clicks over the season.

10/29 - Today I will focus on the Echelon game, which has a very different format from the typical fantasy sports game. You start the season with a pot of $25 million. You "sign" a roster of up to 12 players, each with a stated daily salary. Once you sign a player, his daily cost is locked in until he is released. When you release a player, you must pay an extra cost of one day's "severance pay". Players' market salaries change daily, based on a combination of performance and demand. So if you drop a player, you may not be able to add him back at the same cost later on. On the other hand, if a player's salary has dropped since you signed him, it may make sense to release him, pay the severance cost, and then sign him again at the lower salary.

These rules provide tremendous managerial flexibility in the pace at which you accumulate players, and their resulting points. If you spend too slowly at the start, you may find it difficult to use all of your cash productively at the end of the year. But if you spend too fast at the beginning, you could be out of business prematurely.

Let's think a little bit about pacing. I count 170 days in the NBA season. (This includes the All Star break; the rules do not indicate whether salaries will be charged over the break or not, so I'm counting all days for now.) If you divide $25 million ratably over 170 days, you have an average daily "allowance" of $147,059, which averages out to $12,255 per slot, assuming all slots are filled. If you take advantage of the ad-clicking bonuses, you can augment your cash by an extra $2.5 million over the season, providing a 10% increase in your daily allowance. But if you plan to actively trade players during the year, you also need to plan for those severance costs.

Based on limited experience with this format (but drawing on some advice from Gurupies who are playing Echelon's similarly constructed Hockey game), there are a few obvious strategies & tactics to employ:

  1. You want to lock up a few "screaming bargains" ASAP. These guys will be underpriced at the start, but they will probably quickly adjust to a fairer market value. Finding these players and locking them in as cheaply as possible is critical to long term success.

  2. Once you've got some bargains locked in, you need to actively manage the rest of your roster to optimize points per dollar spent. One obvious way to do this is by buying players in advance of heavy scheduling, and dropping players in advance of light scheduling. More on this in a moment.

  3. Don't get too caught up in watching the early team ranking leaders. These are usually teams that overspend in the early weeks, and who are most likely to eventually crash and burn. Don't chase them. I'll try to produce some sort of team rankings table that provides a better expense-adjusted analysis.
Now, what about trading for extra game exposures? When is this efficient? That's probably a good topic for a more extended article, but let me stimulate some early thinking with a few examples.

Each team plays 82 games. Over 170 days, that means a player (who avoids injury) will appear in games slightly less than 50% of all paydays. (82/170=48.2%)

You are required to hold a player for at least 3 days. Over any 3 day period, roughly half of all teams (on average) play twice. So, one strategy would be to pick up players who play 2 out the next 3, and drop players who play less than that. Is that efficient?

Let's do a cost-benefit analysis. Assume for this example that you're always considering among players with equivalent production per unit cost. (Clearly, that won't be true, but otherwise the analysis gets clumsy.) Option A is to hold John Doe throughout the season, during which time he has 82 gamedays and costs 170 paydays, producing an "efficiency rating" of 48.2%. Option B is to actively drop a player whenever he has an off-day and he also plays only once in the next 3 days. I think this would require at most 55 trades, so you'd spend no more than an extra 55 paydays, or 225 paydays in total. But you would get 112 gamedays for that cost, for an efficiency rating of at least 49.8%, which is slightly better. While you would have to own players with lower daily costs (since you'll have to pay for 225 days instead of only 170 days), as long as the pts/game/$ are equivalent, it's worthwhile to do the trades.

In real life, you should be able to maneuver through a better player "rotation" pattern than the simplistic 2-for-3 swap every three days. For example, if you could generate a regular cycle of 3 games every 4 days, the efficiency rating improves to at least 60.3% (128 games/212 paydays). Maintaining a 3/4 game/day ratio may be a bit aggressive - a quick scan of the schedule shows that over all consecutive 4-day periods, an average of only 4 teams have 3 games scheduled - but it might be a good benchmark to aim for. And if consistently executed, it produces a 25% increase in expected points over the season (vs. a no-trade strategy).

If you're going to aim for a 25% productivity increase by actively trading, then you should probably not trade players who are producing points 25% better than their locked salary would suggest. I'm sure there will be some players who appreciate much more than 25% in the early weeks, and that's why your first priority should be to find them quickly. A viable draft strategy might be to fill your draft roster with players who you think are the most undervalued. After a few games, or perhaps a few weeks, you can prune out the ones who didn't materialize as expected, and use those slots for active trading.

Wow, this turned out to be a lot longer than expected! Hope it's helpful.

10/28 - Most of the preseason uncertainty for Smallworld Hoops centers around the impact of daily repricing. Over the last few SW games, we've gotten a good feel for how "the masses" seem to trade with weekly repricing, but now the timing of those trades during the week will have an impact. Here are my advance thoughts:

  • New trades will still be doled out weekly, on Thursday afternoons. Evidence from other games suggests that many managers spend their new trades as soon as they are available. I see no reason why daily repricing should change that pattern. This suggests that the Friday and Monday repricings will probably incorporate the impact of the lion's share of trading.

  • Remember, however, that higher trading volume does not translate into larger price swings. As we learned during the SW baseball season, the magnitude of price changes for any repricing are proportionate to the total number of transactions included in that cycle. If there are twice as many trades done on Friday vs. Tuesday, then 2 Friday trades will have the same price impact as one Tuesday trade.

  • Therefore, there is no reason to expect the greatest price changes will occur on Friday or Monday. If those days do experience the highest activity, then the results will probably be similar to the results we saw in last winter's SW Hoops game, where upcoming schedule intensity seemed to be one of the most influential price determinants. (Players with heavy upcoming schedules showed gains, and those with light schedules were sold.) This may therefore make the Friday-Monday changes more predictable. But it won't necessarily produce larger gains for the top players.

  • It is difficult to predict how midweek (Tues-Thurs) trading will behave. Will this continue to reflect schedule anticipation, or will it show more of a "big game" response? Since trading on those days is likely to be much lighter, I expect repricing on those days will be much more reflective of the "theme of the day" - whether that be a schedule event, or a notable individual game, or an injury, etc. If so, these days could actually produce greater price volatility at the extremes, since fewer trades will be needed to produce a maximum price move.

The daily price cap has been announced as $1 million. This should produce much greater appreciation potential for players who appear to be undervalued. Last season, a player could only rise $1.5 million per week, and after several upticks, sell pressure (induce by schedule weakness, if nothing else) generally stalled or reversed the price gain. This season, sustained buying over the course of a week could conceivably produce a rapid $5 million gain. But this heightened price volatility will cut both ways, and since price spikes are likely to stimulate some quick profit taking, I expect that some players will experience rapidly oscillating price cycles. If so, these players can provide some of the best profit opportunities, as long as you can figure out where the relative peaks and valleys are going to be. Early season experience should give us some good lessons.

With this outlook, one of the best ways to position your draft roster is to identify those players that are most likely to benefit from early season buying. This could point to players on teams with heavy early schedules. On the other hand, if everyone starts out the season loaded with Orlando players (since the Magic play 7 games in the first 10 days), this will dampen the price upside of those players (remember that preseason draft buys do not push up prices), and will also heighten their price downside once their schedule advantage dissipates. If you overload with these players, you may have troubling getting out of the way when the sell pressure occurs.

A contrarian approach might be to draft some players on lightly scheduled teams. Conventional wisdom would steer most managers away from players on Minnesota or Sacramento, since neither team plays in the first three days. However, both teams have back-to-back games on Friday-Saturday, and if these players get a lot of buying support over that first weekend, they could have some nice early upside. Still, neither team has an attractive schedule for the balance of that trading week, so it is also possible that they will be ignored in favor of other teams that have 4-5 games scheduled over the first full trading week.

I often point out that the best way to learn how to do something well is to really screw it up a few times. I see no reason to expect this season will be any different. Perhaps the best tip is to stay tuned to the daily blurbs and the message forum as the season unfolds, so we can all learn from the collective Gurupie experience, rather than taking our early lumps independently. Sound like a plan?

10/27 - Today's Basketball tip of the day is an obvious one: Watch the schedule. From week to week, there are wide disparities in the number of games played. One important way to maximize your points is to maximize your exposure to games played. This applies to both covered games, but in different ways.

For SmallWorld, schedule watching is important not only to maximize your game exposures, but also to improve your value generation. Since many others will also be buying players in advance of heavy game schedules, this is an important way to identify likely price gainers. And the longer a player's heavy schedule persists, the more likely that player will be able to hold his value gains for an extended period.

In Echelon's game, you pay your roster of players daily, whether they have a game scheduled or not. So it can be costly to hold on to players who don't have favorable schedules. Granted, there will probably be some players who are cheap enough to be worth holding through thick and thin. But for a good portion of your roster, you will want to actively rotate players to optimize game exposure vs. cost.

I provide several tools which should make schedule planning much more efficient. The color coded schedule makes it much easier to identify teams with relatively light and heavy schedules. Look for the teams with a long period of green and white dates, and avoid those teams with frequent bursts of red. I also offer the NBA Sched-O-Matic which allows you to customize your slicing and dicing of the schedule to match your schedule outlook period. Don't rely on either of these tools exclusively, because they each offer a different perspective.

Here are a few tidbits to get you started:

  • Neither Minnesota nor Sacramento play at all for the first three days of the season, and they each have light schedules for awhile afterwards as well. If you've got your eye on Garnett, or Webber, or even Wally Szczerbiak, it probably makes sense to wait on those pickups.
  • At the other extreme, Orlando plays 7 games in the first 10 days. Not only will that provide a lot of points per dollar in the early going, but think about how they will appear in Smallworld's early season top 50 lists.
  • While Orlando has the strongest start, teams like Houston, New York, the Lakers, Seattle, and San Antonio also have favorable schedules. In fact, those teams may even be marginally more attractive for Smallworld, because although they play one less game (vs. Orlando) in the first 10 days, they have a more attractive schedule for the following week, which should give their players more prolonged price protection.
It isn't rocket science. But a lot of people won't make the effort to plan ahead. You've got superior tools to work with. Use them.

10/26 - My first basketball tip may seem trivial, but it may also be the most important: "Read the Rules". Both the Smallworld and Echelon games have some significant changes from their prior hoops games. If you are going to fashion a productive draft, you really need an advance understanding of the player characteristics you are targeting.

In Smallworld, we have fewer trades and daily repricing, and with a daily price cap of $1 million, I expect significantly more price volatility, which makes the upside potential greater, but also heightens the downside risk. Our weekly dole of trades is only 4 (last season it was 5), which means that you'll only be able to turn over your roster ever 2.5 weeks. Last year, holding a player for two weeks only required holding him through 2 repricings. This year, a 2-week holding period will span 10 repricings. While we will have 8 trades for the first 4 days (4 to start the season on Tuesday, and another 4 after the Thursday repricing), you'll want to make sure you are efficient in getting the most for your trade usage, and that will require a reasonably thoughtful draft. More on this later in the week.

For Echelon, the format is quite different from recent Echelon offerings (although very similar to their current hockey format). If anything, the changes make planning even more paramount. You start the season with a fixed pot of cash from which you have to "pay" your roster each day over the course of the year. If you run out of funds too soon, your season ends prematurely. And if you have funds left over at the end of the season, it is wasted. While this format allows great flexibility in pacing your season, success will require more patience and planning than is typical in many fantasy sports games. But this should work to the advantage of most Gurupies, who tend to be more thoughtful about their game plans, and who are more comfortable with the technical nuances. In this game, trade capacity is virtually unlimited (each player is subject to a minimum holding period, however), and while that probably makes your initial draft less critical to long term success, identifying and locking in a few bargains early on will be very important.

Even if you read the rules when you first registered, it's a good idea to go back and reread them now. They aren't that long! And it's common for preseason rules to undergo some changes and clarifications after the first release. You may very well notice something that you don't recall from your first reading.

RotoGuru is produced by Dave Hall (a.k.a. the Guru), an avid fantasy sports player. He is not employed by any of the fantasy sports games discussed within this site, and all opinions expressed are solely his own. Questions or comments are welcome, and should be emailed to Guru<>.

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