If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that any time there's an opportunity for fun, it needs to in fact be just that -- fun. Not kinda fun. Or a little fun. It needs to be a blast, something people look forward to and talk about every day.
So how do we get there in fantasy basketball? How do we make it not just fun, but also competitive and compelling for everyone involved?
For starters, we draw upon experience. We figure out what has worked and what hasn't in previous years. Then we adjust, play out the season and learn again.
Having played fantasy hoops since the mid-90s and served as a league commissioner in nearly every league I've been in during that time, here are some of the things I've found that help ramp up the fun factor year after year.
For leagues that use categories
For many years I ran a nine-category roto league, with one of the stats being turnovers. It was something everyone in the league got used to, and each person drafted accordingly, sometimes passing on very solid players who turned it over frequently in favor of lesser players who took better care of the basketball.
It sounded alright on paper. But the second we left "alright" in the dust, the league became a lot more fun. We decided to remove the TO category and replace it with another one (which you'll read about below). In a poll of league members, everyone preferred the nine-category league without needing to worry about a negative stat like TOs.
This fun little wrinkle adds strategy to your draft and the way you form your team. Some teams will try to win with a roster full of bigs who dominate the FG%, rebounds, blocks and double-double categories. Others will still try to win categories like points, FT% and 3-pointers, even if it means punting on double-doubles. Then it comes down to steals, making that category all the more important.
Adding double-doubles also naturally adds value to players who otherwise might be overlooked and underappreciated. A quick look at last year's stats, for example, shows that Domantas Sabonis ranked third in the league in double-doubles behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Hassan Whiteside. Jonas Valanciunas? He ranked 10th.
Over the past half decade or so, positions have become less important around the NBA. We've seen 6-foot-6 guys like Draymond Green playing center and 6-foot-10 guys like Ben Simmons running the point. It's a whole new world out there!
So in leagues that don't score based on categories, why force rosters to have a set number of starters at every position? Setting all the roster spots to utility (UTIL) creates a competitive environment where the best team wins, removing any restrictions that come from factoring in positions. If you can build a team of all point guards who happen to be the best in points leagues, why shouldn't that be allowed? You have the ability to make that happen.
Add a weekly prize/payout for the highest-scoring manager
Any way you can add something extra to play for each week; it's worth trying. You'd be amazed how even a $10 weekly prize for the fantasy manager with the highest scoring team of the week will ramp up the competitiveness of everyone in the league. And it might be worth considering a consequence for the lowest scoring team of the week too.
Expand your league
Normal-sized leagues with eight or 10 or 12 teams are a lot of fun, with every team having 2-4 star players on its roster. Usually, that seems like a great setup. But if you have a lot of fantasy managers who are interested in playing, a bigger league with 16 or 18 or 20-plus teams can be an absolute blast. One of the most fun leagues I've ever been a part of had 30 teams, in fact.
The more teams in the league, the more knowledgeable everyone needs to be. In that 30-team league, teams were lucky if they had one star let alone two. And can you imagine what that waiver wire looked like? If you could find someone who even logged minutes in a game, you felt like you had struck gold! That may sound weird, but it made things extremely fun over the course of the season.
Add multiple IR slots
Injuries are always prevalent in the NBA, and this year fantasy managers also have to deal with the possibility of players missing time due to COVID-19. That's not fun at all.
One way to counter this is to add IR slots. While standard league settings in ESPN Fantasy don't include any IR slots, I've found that adding 2-3 of them is necessary for teams to be able to overcome a rash of injuries at any point in the season. The IR can also be a place to stash injured stars who are out for an extended period but also have the talent to come in and be a major factor later in the season.
Consider these new ESPN Fantasy Basketball features
This season, we created a new default scoring system for head-to-head points leagues. Read our explainer to find out how it works and why returning leagues should consider changing to the new system.
Along with the updated scoring settings in points leagues, there are several other new features league managers can take advantage of in 2020-21. For one, it is now possible for league managers to add bench and IR slots after the draft. Secondly, we now offer non-retro scoring for all leagues that draft after the season starts, which means you can start your league fresh after the holidays and not worry about games that were already completed.