Benny “The Eagle”, Vol. 5: Something Smells Gamey
I’ve written lots about my dubious basketball skills over the past number of weeks, but this isn’t to say that I’m completely unskilled in the world of sports. Curling was always my other great love of the winter sports. Being from Canada, you might have expected that I’d say it was hockey. Forget hockey. Hockey is garbage. I don’t want to smack around imitation frozen cow dung with a stick all dressed up in 4 inches of padding from head to toe. Who wants that? Just let me huck boulders down the ice while screaming at the top of my lungs like a wild Viking berserker to get my 2 buddies to sweep harder. THAT’S a man’s game. I knew basketball wasn’t every going to be my most successful venture, so I played lots of different games to find what I’d be good at. My greatest success was likely in curling where as a Skip, my team finished 3rd in the high school city championships. Evaluating the kinds of games you play to find your most successful paths is essential to enjoying the journey in life.
There are lots of wonderful articles out there outlining and explaining the differences in the kinds of contests available on the big two sites. It’s fair to say the style of contests you enter has as much to do with your success as the lineups you create. There even more interesting articles and books that have been written about game theory that really dig down deep into how to approach different contests. I won’t try to do that here, but I do want to make a couple observations from my first two months of really going after NBA DFS.
I am primarily a cash game guy. I’m a low risk investor. I like to look for consistent players with a solid floor and build one cash game lineup that I can cheer for on a given night. I’m not worried about hitting the big jackpot and am happy to just grind out small profits over time on my way to making some walking around money. I’ve created really comfortable processes that I’ve honed in NFL and MLB research and have become a profitable player going this route: slow, steady, and consistent.
Coming into this NBA season I thought I was settling into the ultimate DFS sport for people who like cash games. NBA players tend to be quite consistent from night to night. There is not much variance in their performance compared to sports like NFL which is slightly less predictable, or MLB which has extremely high variance in performances even for stars from night to night. I have found that in many ways NBA performances do have far less variance involved, but in other very important ways, the NBA has significantly more volatility than I ever anticipated.
On Monday night I was going about my business and getting ready for bed. I checked my scores one last time on my phone before plugging it in on my nightstand and saw 281 points for my DraftKings lineup. VICTORY! Some players had outstanding nights. Everyone in my DraftKings app was lit up with red flames showing they had exceeded 5x value that evening. Everyone except Jerian Grant who had been slightly disappointing, achieving only 3-4x value. Being that he was 43% owned and at near minimum salary though, I figured it shouldn’t be a big deal. After all, everyone else overachieved, I was more the 30 points over the magic number of 250, and there was only one game left being played that night. I went to sleep at peace with the world.
When I woke up the next morning though, something was wrong. There was no junk mail from DraftKings informing me that I had won and should brag to all my friends about my amazing $10 victory last night. There was no push notification from the app giving me my bronze participation trophy for finishing 1497th out of a field of 3500. WHERE WERE MY TINY PIXELATED FIREWORKS? Totally befuddled and groggy, I opened up my recent contest log only to find that the cash line had wound up being 281.25. I missed out by one quarter of a point.
While it may be true that there is far less variance in individual player performances in the NBA than the other major sports, there is certainly wildly larger volatility in cash lines in contests than I expected. This may be a problem of small sample size, but it has been my experience in past seasons as well. While everything in me wants to search for great value plays with solid floors for production to build cash game lineups with – building lineups to achieve that magical 250 points at 5x value – my experience has been that that isn’t good enough. Searching for players capable of 5x value to win in cash games is like trying to win a shooting competition by shooting the exact same spot consistently while hoping the moving target gets in your line of sight more often than not. In NFL games, finding players good for 3x value will win almost every week in double ups. In MLB, I don’t a particular value threshold I aim at as there is so much variance in player performance. Rather, it’s about finding players that have the highest probability of success given their statistics and matchup: 120 points is more a line to hope for than to aim at. Given the low variance in player performance in NBA games, I expected it to play more like the NFL, however I’m finding that I’m not able get that same level of lineup construction comfort to count on. Building winning cash game lineups in the NBA is more complicated that just finding players capable of 5x value.
Take a look at the volatility in the cash line in double-ups from this past season on DraftKings. Given, these numbers are simply from the contests I have played in and so they may represent a small sample size. Regardless though, they have been my experience from having played nearly every main slate in MLB, NFL, and NBA this year:
Upward Volatility in Cash Line
I realize I may be inventing a term here, but what I’m meaning is how high the real cash line in a DraftKings double-up winds up being versus the generally expected cash line. The high number in line is my highest non-winning score in a double-up this year:
- MLB: 120-124.35 = 3.7% upward variance from expected cash line
- NFL: 150-152 = 1.3% upward variance from expected cash line
- NBA: 250-281 = 12% upward variance from expected cash line
Despite all the talk of lower variance in the NBA, there has been far more volatility in NBA double-up cash lines in my experience. The low number in each sport is the generally accepted “safe score” for double-ups. As you can see, my experience is that the cash line can skyrocket much higher in NBA contests than MLB or NFL ones.
Downward Volatility in Cash Lines
On the other end of the conversation is the low-end scores that still cashed in double-up contests for me this year in each sport. This number in many ways shows how “forgiving” a cash line might be on a given night if scores are lower than usual. The low number in each line is the lowest winning score I had in a double-up this year on DraftKings.
- MLB: 98.2 -120 = 18.1% downward variance from expected cash line
- NFL: 142 – 150 = 5.3% downward variance from expected cash line
- NBA: 252 – 250 = -1% downward variance from expected cash line
As you can see, some nights in MLB wound up having very low cash lines while my NBA experience has shown me that even my lowest winning score was still above the generally accepted winning number. There is very little room for error in selecting players in NBA games. If you miss on even one player, your chances of cashing in a double up are virtually none unless you have multiple players that score well ahead of 5x value. Rather than having 250 points as the score to aim for on DraftKings, the reality is that it is the absolute bare minimum you can aim for and you likely need to have players scoring significantly higher than that to win.
Total Cash Line Volatility
- MLB: 3.7+18.1 = 21.8% total variance
- NFL: 1.3+5.3 = 6.6% total variance
- NBA: -1%+12% = 11% total variance
While this shows that MLB does indeed have the most variance in cash lines, most of that number came through scores below the expected cash line rather than above it. It may just be a case of working from flawed expectations, but none the less it has certainly led to frustrating experiences with the NBA this season.
So, I’m giving up. I’m done with NBA cash games for now. The now cliché definition of insanity from Einstein is “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Players projected for 5x value is the MacGuffin of NBA DFS. It’s a number that people have held up as a barometer that actually holds questionable value in determining cash game values. It’s a fine place to start from, but a person has to be much more concerned with the production ceiling a player has to make winning lineups than the floor they can sustain. With that in mind, I’m switching most of my focus over to multi-entry GPP’s from single lineup double-ups. Overall this season, I have had much more success in NBA GPP’s anyways.
- Total entry fees this week: $47
- Total winnings this week: $56
- Net total this week: +$9
- Bankroll: $208.30
Again this week, my cash game record was abysmal. On the flipside, I was again pretty profitable overall in my GPP plays. I played to a loss of $7 in my cash games, while I made a $16 profit overall in my GPP entries. It’s good to be on the winning side of things for a change, and I’m excited to see what the adjustment in contest entry strategy holds for me going forward. Onward and upward I say! ONWARD AND UPWARD!