NBA Strategy: Evaluating Matchups For Individual Players

When playing daily fantasy NBA, we try to exploit each fantasy site’s salary algorithm in an effort to find undervalued players and increase our edge. While the salary algorithms on sites like FanDuel and DraftKings are relatively accurate, one area they overlook is player and team matchup. Because of this, players who have exceptional matchups, like a PG against the Lakers or a defensive minded big man vs the 76ers, tend to be very good picks. Most daily fantasy professionals evaluate matchups by looking at fantasy points allowed by team and position (or what some players refer to as ‘DvP’). But in order to find a player with an extremely good matchup, one who is likely to be one of the best plays of the day, we need to look deeper at each individual player and what type of matchup will be best for them. Looking at fantasy points allowed will almost never tell the whole story.

Offensive Versus Defensive Fantasy Points Allowed

The scoring system in daily fantasy NBA is much different than MLB and NFL scoring. In MLB, for example, all fantasy scoring is based on offensive production. But in NBA, defensive statistics often matter just as much as offensive statistics. A player can get more fantasy points from rebounds, blocks, and steals than they do from points and assists. Since a skill of a team on offense has very little relation to the skill of a team on defense, teams that allow a lot of fantasy points don’t necessarily allow a lot of fantasy points on both ends of the floor.

Offensive Fantasy Points Allowed And Quality Of Defender

If you look at the teams that give up the most offensive fantasy points, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Lakers, you may also notice they are the bottom of the barrel in the NBA in another category: Defensive Efficiency. Unsurprisingly, the amount of points and assists a team gives up is mostly a function of how well that team plays defense. The worst individual defenders on that team should also give up a lot of offensive fantasy points to his position. But other factors matter as well. Players who don’t expend a lot of energy on the defensive end by guarding a player with a small offensive role will be better on the offensive end of the floor.

By looking at statistics that are correlated with offensive fantasy points allowed, we created our own metric to measure how many offensive fantasy points an individual defender should allow, which we call Fantasy Defensive Rating. You can use this metric to evaluate how spot starters change the positional matchup for a team. For example, if Ricky Rubio is injured and Zach LaVine, the worst fantasy defender at the date of this article, becomes the starter for Minnesota, opposing PGs who average a lot of points and assists should do very well.

Defensive Fantasy Points Allowed and Offensive Efficiency

Defensive fantasy points allowed has nothing to do with a players defensive ability. Defensive statistics all come from an opposing team or player making a mistake on offense, a missed shot (Rebound), a turnover (Steal), or a blocked shot attempt. Therefore, the amount of defensive statistics a team gives up should be correlated to how well a team plays offense. I ran a correlation analysis on this idea and found it to be true. The correlation between defensive fantasy points allowed and offensive efficiency for the 2014-15 season is ~0.6, which indicates a very strong relationship. If you add normalized possessions per game, the correlation becomes ~0.8. Therefore, as offensive efficiency and pace decreases, a teams defensive fantasy points allowed should increase in proportion.

Offensive/Defensive Fantasy Players

If we designate each NBA position to the numbers 1 through 5, with PG being 1 up to Center at 5, the percentage of defensive fantasy points a player scores increases as position designation increases. Or more simply stated: Guards score mostly offensive fantasy points while Centers score mostly defensive fantasy points. You can look at the breakdown of the percentage of fantasy points relevant NBA players score on the offensive/defensive end in our tools section.


You can gain access to this and many other NBA tools by signing up for free!

You can gain access to this and many other NBA tools by signing up for free!

Judging Matchup Based On Player Type

As you can see from the previous spreadsheet, players vastly differ in this ratio. DeAndre Jordan has an extremely high %DFP at 67%, while Tony Parker has an extremely high %OFP at 87%.

When looking at the best matchups for Tony Parker, the 76ers would appear to be one of them as they allow the 4th highest fantasy points to PGs. But the 76ers have the highest defensive fantasy points allowed by a wide margin, something that doesn’t benefit Parker. In reality, the 76ers are an average if not poor matchup for Parker. On the other hand, the Lakers give up mostly offensive fantasy points, and therefore are an ideal matchup for Parker.

If we are to look at Jordan’s quality of matchup by simply looking at FP allowed to Centers, we would find the 76ers are his best matchup by a small margin over the Timberwolves. But if we look at defensive fantasy points allowed, which is mostly what Jordan accumulates, we find that the 76ers are still his best matchup, but this time by a huge margin, making him a must play against them.




  • Fantasy points allowed by position is good matchup indicator, but is too general to be a great matchup signal.
  • Fantasy NBA is one of the only sports that heavily rewards defensive statistics.
  • Offensive fantasy points allowed is a function of quality of defense and individual defenders. Defensive fantasy points allowed is a function of a teams offensive efficiency and pace.
  • Guards tend to score mostly offensive fantasy points, while big men tend to score mostly defensive fantasy points.
  • You can judge what type of matchup to look for with any individual player by using our %FP tool.



View all posts by Daniel Steinberg
Daniel Steinberg

About the Author

Daniel Steinberg Daniel Steinberg is a former bond trader at a multi-billion dollar proprietary trading firm in Chicago. He uses his knowledge of statistics and his creativity from his career as a poker professional to create the most advanced Daily Fantasy statistical analysis that you will find anywhere. Follow him on twitter @DanielSingerS

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