Fantasy NBA: Why this is the best season to give it a try

You think Joel Embiid is fun to watch on the court? Think about how much more fun would it be to have him on your fantasy team racking up points for you? Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

"The NBA should start the season at Christmas. That's when I start paying attention, anyway."

I've heard every possible variation of that sentence throughout the years, usually in September and October, when the NBA season typically ramps up for tipoff. For those of us who play fantasy sports, that timing is unfortunate, because it is just weeks after we've drafted our fantasy football teams and locked ourselves into that mindset. It can be difficult for even the most dedicated fantasy basketball fan to switch gears on the fly like that, which is part of what prompts so many to utter that opening sentence.

But, this year things are different. Due to the challenges and uniqueness of 2020, the NBA is starting its season at Christmastime this year. The season tips off on Dec. 22 and will run through May 16 with 72 games, making this season 10 games lighter and more than a month shorter than usual.

All this conspires to make this the perfect season for you to try out fantasy basketball!

Fantasy football season is entering the home stretch and will be all but over by the time the NBA season begins. I spent much of Sunday watching the NFL and positioning my fantasy football teams for the playoffs, which begin in two or three weeks. The trade deadline has already passed in most leagues, so now is actually the perfect time for me to sink my teeth into a new challenge.

Fantasy basketball is coming at just the right time.

And, this NBA season will last 20 weeks -- very similar to the 17 weeks of the NFL season, especially compared to the 32-week marathon of a typical MLB season. For those of you who play fantasy football, this fantasy basketball season's pace and timeline should be just like what you're used to. Especially if you play in our points-based fantasy basketball leagues, like the vast majority of people do.

Speaking of our points-based fantasy basketball leagues, we have a fun, exciting new scoring system to roll out this season. We worked with the ESPN stats and analytics group to come up with a scoring system that better reflects NBA player evaluation methods, then modified the result to make it easy and intuitive for fantasy basketball game play. In other words, we nerded out to make a scoring system that better fits the NBA game action that you love but also plays so smoothly that you'll barely have to think about the numbers.

That brings us full circle to the main reason why you should try out fantasy basketball this season: It's incredibly fun!

Fantasy basketball shares all of the major elements that people love about fantasy football: active agency, building teams that give you a reason to watch and care about the results of every game, creating conversation pieces that a group of friends (or strangers) can bond over, and generating the perfect trash-talking opportunities and chances to show that you are secretly a sports expert with tangible rewards for doing a good job.

And you get to draft!

Drafting is one of the most fun things to do in fantasy sports. Whether you get together with old friends and draft live on a big draft board or just log in to draft online with a bunch of strangers, there's just nothing like going into a draft with your own strategy, your own list of sleepers and busts, and your own confidence that you know it all and are about to absolutely crush the game with your genius. It's a unique feeling in sports, even in fantasy sports, and by adding fantasy basketball to your ledger, you'll get to experience the fun of drafting again just as your fantasy football season is winding down.

In fact, let's stick on fantasy football for a moment as we discuss game play. One of the common misconceptions about fantasy basketball is that you have to do daily transaction, rotisserie-style leagues in which you have to be locked in all day every day to keep up with every breaking element of every game to keep your fantasy team up-to-date.

That just isn't true!

You can play in those types of leagues if you want, and I have absolutely loved doing so through the years. Daily transaction, rotisserie and roto head-to-head leagues have given me entire seasons of joy, where I really immersed myself in the NBA and just lived it to the fullest. I'd come home every evening and turn on League Pass at 7 p.m. and watch until the last West Coast game went off around 1 a.m. And it was glorious! However, I was also single and in grad school at the time, so I had the time and energy to do that. And my friends were at the same place in life, so our fantasy leagues were lit!

These days we're all married, most have kids and at times multiple jobs. We don't have the same amount of time or energy for pastimes that we had in our bachelor days, but we still love fantasy hoops. So now, we play points-based fantasy basketball and set our lineups once a week. It's just as fun, but it requires a much lower time commitment in order to play and win.

It is, dare I say it, much like fantasy football!

The points scoring system for fantasy basketball mixes elements like points scored, rebounds and assists into one fantasy score in a similar fashion to the way that fantasy football mixes yards, receptions and touchdowns to do the same. And in weekly transaction leagues, you can pick up free agents and finalize your lineup only once per week, usually Sunday or Monday. That way, even if you don't pay attention during the week at all, you could still check in and make your lineup changes once, then sit back and do nothing but enjoy the game action for the week with no added pressure ... just like you do in fantasy football.

But, enough about football. The main reason you should try fantasy basketball is because it gives you a better, heightened ability to enjoy all of the amazing storylines of an incredible NBA season. The NBA is in a renaissance right now, led by one of the greatest players of all time as the reigning Finals MVP for the fourth time in his career: LeBron James, who continues to make his case to top GOAT lists, adding hardware and accolades that few if any have ever accomplished before. But, he's far from alone in his quest for history.

Kevin Durant is back, healthy and joined up with Kyrie Irving in their attempt to bring a championship to their new home in Brooklyn, New York.

Stephen Curry is also back, joining old running mate Draymond Green and some new faces, including Andrew Wiggins and No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman, as they attempt to resurrect their dynasty, even with Splash Brother Klay Thompson sidelined for the season with a torn Achilles.

The Clippers, last season's consensus favorite to win the championship after bringing in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, are running it back with some new faces of their own.

Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell exchanged 40- and 50-point explosions during last season's playoffs, and they're back to push their teams further up the ladder, even though they aren't necessarily the best players on their own teams. Nikola Jokic is now a perennial MVP candidate with his unique style that could allow a center to potentially average a triple-double, and Rudy Gobert is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year whose huge on-court impact is confirmed every season by real plus/minus scores near the top of the league.

The 76ers bring back Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons to take another crack at the title, and they brought in former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey to build a better team around them and Doc Rivers to try to coach them over the hump. The Celtics just signed superstar Jayson Tatum to a max extension that may not be enough to encompass his actual value, and the Heat are quietly in a gym somewhere working and hoping everyone forgets just how electrifying and dangerous they were during their run to the 2020 NBA Finals.

Oh, by the way, I haven't even mentioned two-time defending NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who already has a new All-Star running mate in Jrue Holiday. Or the 2019 champion Raptors, who continue to build around budding superstar Pascal Siakam and their deadly backcourt of Kyle Lowry and the newly extended Fred VanVleet.

Or the Suns and Trail Blazers, both of whom finished last season on fire and added key new impact players, Chris Paul and the incredibly underrated Robert Covington, who should get them into the mix.

Or the youth. Oh my goodness, the youth.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic paused the NBA season from mid-March until late August, the young players essentially got an extra offseason to develop. Thus, in the bubble, we got a sneak peak at what some of the brightest young talent will look like moving forward.

Luka Doncic plays like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had a baby.

Zion Williamson plays like Charles Barkley merged with Shaq.

Trae Young might just shoot from half-court on any given possession -- and has a good chance of making it!

Ja Morant might just put any player in the league on a poster any given night.

There are storylines on top of storylines, and you don't want to miss them. Playing fantasy basketball gives you another, more active way to enjoy all of this historic action and incorporate it into your own daily entertainment.

And that, in the end, is the most important part. Our country and world are in the midst of some historic public health, economic and social challenges. As a result, in 2020 we've had to learn to work from home, meet via Zoom, and enjoy our sports almost entirely from a distance. By playing fantasy basketball, you can make yourself a part of the game even if you never set foot in the arena. You can enjoy some parts of the game that may even be easier to digest at home in front of your computer and television than from a courtside seat. And you can maximize your entertainment value during a time when we all really need every opportunity we can get to have a really good time.

So, sign up and draft your own fantasy basketball team. I'm willing to bet you'll be happy that you did.