Yahoo Fantasy Basketball: A 101 guide on how to play

We're here to help you on the path to holding a trophy at the end of your fantasy basketball season. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
We're here to help you on the path to holding a trophy at the end of your fantasy basketball season. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Fantasy basketball continues to grow as the NBA has become one of the most popular leagues worldwide. If you’re a passionate basketball fan, you’ve imagined putting together a superstar roster with the likes of LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. In the NBA, that’s nearly impossible due to salary cap restraints. In fantasy basketball, you can build a roster of NBA stars, solid starters, up-and-comers and veterans with something left in the tank. Then you get to manage that team all season, make trades or add free agents to enhance your roster and hopefully make a title run.

If you’ve never played fantasy basketball before, don’t worry. We’ve put together this quick-and-easy how-to guide to get you ready. We've also included links to additional help articles throughout this story if you'd like to dive deeper on anything. See why this game within the larger game is so much fun for avid basketball fans. And you might even get a championship in the process.

What is fantasy basketball?

When it comes down to it, fantasy basketball is a collection of players assembled on a team, and their accumulated real-life stats get converted into fantasy points. If you’re able to score more fantasy points than your opponent, then you win that particular week’s matchup. Win enough weekly matchups throughout the season and you secure a spot in the fantasy playoffs and potentially become a champion.

With the title come the spoils of holding it over your friends whom you defeated with some offseason trash talk. Sounds pretty similar to the real deal on the NBA hardwood, right?

There are many different ways to play fantasy basketball, and it’s easy to do so using Yahoo’s default settings. Or, you can customize the scoring settings to suit your league’s tastes. But the idea is the same: you as the fantasy manager must draft your team first and foremost (more on that below). After that you manage the starting lineup and bench, adding players to your active roster and dropping them based on injuries and performance. Players can be added from the free-agent pool called the waiver wire — you’ll sometimes have to cut a player to fit the pickup on your roster. There are also deadlines to keep in mind when making lineup and roster changes as well as important dates to keep in mind throughout the season. Trades could come into play too, where you agree with leaguemates to swap players to suit your mutual needs for the rest of the season.

All this happens throughout the season as you operate as a fantasy GM. This regular dedication can mean starting the right player for a day or week (depending on your league format) to accumulate fantasy points that propel you to wins in weekly competitions with leaguemates.

Don’t feel that this game is being played on a computer. Enjoy watching the actual NBA games and look at how the scoring translates to fantasy as you follow your team’s progress on your desktop or our very user-friendly Yahoo Fantasy app. You’ll see that your team compiles stats for points scored, rebounds, steals, assists and many other categories. As you get more experience, you’ll see how stars like Nikola Jokić and Kevin Durant help you across several categories, and thus are more valuable to your team.

Some leagues play for more than bragging rights. They could set a monetary reward for the champion or the top finishers in the league, staggered based on final placement. For private leagues, the commissioner works with the league members to determine what's at stake and how the end-of-season awards are distributed. Yahoo can even help with holding the funds and paying out the winners for private prize leagues. Some leagues even agree upon a punishment for the last-place team, and those can be as funny as they are creative. So don’t finish last!

What are the different scoring formats in fantasy basketball?

Players on your fantasy team’s active roster put up stats in the categories tied to your league settings, and your scoring is dictated by your scoring format. There are two formats which people typically play fantasy basketball. You can also try others to see what suits your league’s tastes, but the main formats to play are:

Head-to-head (H2H) points leagues: This is the Yahoo Fantasy default format for new Private Free Leagues. You play a different leaguemate every week, and the fantasy manager with more points wins the matchup, just like in fantasy football. There are six categories that account for scoring:

  • Pts = 1

  • Reb = 1.2

  • Asst = 1.5

  • Blk = 3

  • Stl = 3

  • Turnover = -1

H2H nine-category leagues: Again, you play a different leaguemate every week, but this time the fantasy manager with more category wins takes the matchup. The scoring categories where your team can compile stats are: points scored, rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers (ranked in inverse order), blocked shots, 3-point shots made, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage.

Let’s say you’re playing in a head-to-head category league. Starting on Monday, all the categories are zero until the games start. As they progress you’ll see how your team is doing vs. your opponent’s team, until all the statistics have been accumulated and you either won or lost that category. The fantasy manager winning more categories by the end of the week wins that head-to-head matchup.

Typically, leagues only count that overall victory, so the goal is to win at least five of the nine categories each week. There is an option to play a cumulative style where your record is how many categories you’ve won and lost in a week. Note: you can also consider using more or less than nine categories.

Standings are kept for your league, and at the end of the season a designated number of teams make it to the playoffs. That’s when it becomes even more fun and intense.

Yahoo has default settings where the league size is 12 teams, yet you can increase or decrease the number based on how many people you want to play in your league. It’s ideal to have an even number of teams for H2H leagues, but there’s an option to play with an odd number (as long as you have five or more teams).

Additional formats

Rotisserie: Your team compiles stats in different categories, and all the fantasy teams are ranked in each category. The higher you rank in each category, the more points you obtain and the higher you rank overall.

Seasonal points: Instead of facing an opponent each week, your total points each week are added to your running total with the team with the most points at the end of the season as the champion.

In this format, there are nine categories that account for scoring: Field Goals Attempted (-0.45), Field Goals Made (1), Free Throws Attempted (-0.75), Free Throws Made (1), 3-Pointers Made (3), Points Scored (0.5), Total Rebounds (1.5), Assists (2), Steals (3), Blocked Shots (3), Turnovers (-2)

Try one format and see if there are any tweaks you’d like to make. Or change formats altogether. That’s what’s fun about fantasy basketball — there are different ways to play to suit what you enjoy the most.

How do you draft a fantasy basketball team?

When you were a child there was that excitement that built for your birthday. That same anticipation is there waiting for one of the greatest days of the year: draft day! That’s the day that all the people in your league convene to pick your respective rosters. If you’re lucky to be near one another, there are few things better than a live draft. If your league is scattered all over the country — in some cases the world — Yahoo Fantasy has you covered. You can draft online or even on your phone. For commissioners, we also have tips on getting your league ready to draft.

The Yahoo default positions for each team in a 12-team league are: one point guard (PG), one shooting guard (SG), one guard (G), one small forward (SF), one power forward (PF), one forward (F), two centers (C), two utility (Util) and two injured list (IL). Each team also gets three bench spots, which are used to move players in and out of the starting lineup based on however you want to deploy your team.

The most common way to select teams is through what’s called a snake draft. Don’t worry, no reptiles are used or harmed while all the fantasy managers are going around choosing their teams. In a 12-team league, after the order is determined, teams start drafting from No. 1 through 12, and then in the second round start at 12 and count backward toward No. 1 again. Then repeat the process until all the teams have been selected. The default positions listed above go through 13 rounds, but that can be increased based on your league’s wishes.

If you’d like a little more challenging way to draft, your league can elect to try a Salary Cap Draft, where all the teams start with a predetermined budget, usually $200. Instead of going around and picking players, the managers in your league get to nominate players and assign them a salary as long as it’s within their remaining budget. While it would be impossible to roster Nikola Jokić and Luka Dončić on the same team in a snake draft format (both are the consensus top two players according to Yahoo Fantasy average draft position), in a salary cap draft teams can load up on stars and leave a few dollars for less-productive players at the end of their roster. It takes longer to draft this way, but there is more strategy in managing the budget to fill up a team.

When the draft is complete, the fun is just beginning. Now it’s time to ride the wave of emotions that your team gives you on a daily basis through the end of the season. Make trades, add players off waivers. Make some hard cuts. Above all, talk some good-natured trash with your leaguemates. It’s all in the fun of playing fantasy basketball!