Whether itâs dabbling in the stock market, betting sports or playing daily fantasy sports (DFS), it is imperative to have a solid strategy.
Weâve shared several sports betting strategies and picks over the last few months, but I have very little DFS experience. Admittedly, I gave it a shot many moons ago without much success. It felt like throwing darts blindfolded.
In DFS, you compete against others by building a team of players from a certain league or competition. You have a salary cap that forces you to stay on budget and you earn fantasy points based on the statistics that the players accumulate.
There is, however, a method to the madness.
Just ask Jason Mezrahi, who is one of the best in the business. Heâs been a professional daily fantasy player for seven years and he founded the website Win Daily Sports. One of Mezrahiâs biggest cashes was a second-place finish in DraftKingsâ Fantasy Basketball World Championship. He won a cool $300,000.
âI want to avoid the landmines,â Mezrahi told NESN. âEvery night there are guys that just blow up your lineup. I want to optimize with guys that have safe floors, but still have that ceiling potential due to the matchup or pricing on that particular day.
âIâll look for the guys that are safe for 25 fantasy points, but whatâs his true ceiling? If he has a great game, can he reach 40 points? Thatâs where I want to be. You evaluate price, usage, minutes along with the individual matchup and the pace of the game.â
Mezrahi prepares for a daily fantasy slate like a college student preparing for a midterm exam. Heâs constantly reading, learning and evaluating to try and stay ahead of the curve. Naturally, he follows a specific routine.
âIâll read through articles and look at our projection models earlier in the day,â Mezrahi said. âIâll check out the Vegas point spreads and Over-Unders for the games. Iâm really not trying to carve out specific lineups anywhere near 1 to 4 oâclock (Eastern) in the afternoon. Itâs better to wait.
âPrior to this year, we would typically be getting most of the information on whoâs questionable, doubtful and whoâs not going to play around 5 oâclock. Thatâs when all the last-minute information used to pop. We werenât dealing with COVID then, so times have changed a bit.
âFrom 5 to 7 oâclock, Iâm looking at specific matchups for the early slate. This team doesnât defend the point guard that well. This team doesnât stop centers. How have certain players fared against specific teams in years past? Youâre looking for advantages in the matchups.â
Looking for what specifically? What are the strategical building blocks?
âFor me, itâs about usage and minutes,â Mezrahi said. âThose words are the two most important in basketball. Usage determines how involved a player is in the offense. Itâs really a math game at that point. Youâre trying to find people that are going to be on the court the most with the highest usage.
âYou also want stat stuffers,â Mezrahi added. âTake somebody like Wayne Ellington. All he does is sit in the corner and shoot. P.J. Tucker, same thing. Those guys donât get the peripheral stats. Then thereâs a guy like Derrick Jones Jr. He might not look like the best player on paper, but he can get you nine points, six rebounds, three blocks, two steals.â
The more Mezrahi speaks, the more I realize that heâs an economist above all else. Heâs essentially looking for a high return on investment based on the playerâs fantasy salary. Right player, right price. Many DFS players key in really popular players then roll the dice on a few bench guys and pray that they get hot.
âYouâre looking for minimum salary priced guys that can exceed expectations,â he explained. âWhen thereâs a late scratch, a guy can go from a 10 to 12-minute backup role to a 30-minute role. And they just soak up stats. A guy will score eight points and grab eight rebounds or dish out eight assists depending on his position. You can find guys that get you 30 DFS points at a $3,000 salary.â
I have friends that love to stack LeBron James and Anthony Davis together then figure out the rest from there. Thatâs a really difficult strategy because those two superstars, and superstars in general, are so expensive. It makes a lineup too top heavy and hinders your ability to build a well-rounded squad.
âPrior to Anthony Davisâ injury, you didnât really want to use Davis and LeBron together,â Mezrahi said. âTheyâre highly priced individuals and they eat each otherâs salaries up pretty well. You donât exceed value based on the dollar amount. I always want to get 5x the value. If somebody is $10,000, you want 50 points.
âBut letâs just pretend Anthony Davis is scheduled to play and an hour before tip, heâs ruled out with a bad pinky toe,â Mezrahi imagined. âThereâs an instant ripple effect. Where does the usage go? Kyle Kuzma, who was priced as a backup, is now a must play. Guys like Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder become way more valuable.
âIf Trae Young is out for Atlanta, that changes everything,â Mezrahi added. âAll he does is shoot and dominate the ball. If heâs out, I roll with guys that most people wouldnât even think about playing. Guys like Kevin Huerter and Cam Reddish are automatically going to get a lot more opportunities with Young out of the equation.â
Many sports bettors have âno fly zones.â These are made up of certain teams or coaches that a bettor just refuses to get involved with either way. For me, itâs the Purdue Boilermakers in college basketball. I havenât been able to figure them out for 15 years. When I pick them, they lose. When I pick against them, they win. Itâs incredibly frustrating.
Thereâs one player Mezrahi wonât touch no matter the situation.
âAndre Drummond,â he admitted after a quick laugh. âI just canât do it, man. Heâll have a dream matchup and be priced right and Iâll plug him in all my lineups. And he burns me every single time. Heâs the guy.â
Tapping into my extremely limited knowledge of DFS, I circled four NBA players I thought might have decent value on a day-to-day basis. I wanted to throw these names at Mezrahi and get his rapid-fire reactions.
âSuper consistent. Still has the ceiling so heâs not overrated at all. I try to get him in as many times as possible.â
âThatâs 50-50 for me. Earlier in the year, when guys like Eric Gordon were out and there was nobody else, Wall was a great play. When Gordon and Christian Wood and Boogie Cousins are all playing, Wallâs above average. He can be great in the right situation. Thatâs somebody you have to monitor.â
âIâm not the biggest fan of him in DFS. A little overrated for the salary. If his shot is off, heâs really not that well-rounded. Heâs been better this year than last year, but in prior years with a larger sample size, heâs an underperformer.â
âIn the first two weeks of the season, he was priced like he was last year. He was just smashing value every day. Now theyâre pricing him into that Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal category. He was very underrated earlier and heâs starting to get the respect. Heâs probably a top-five athletic guy in the league and he wants the ball late. I love his game.â
Lastly, Mezrahi spoke about the importance of pace of play. Since the goal is to maximize fantasy points, itâs paramount to find a team thatâs in a favorable matchup to score plenty of points. The betting totals can provide you with a decent idea of which games oddsmakers believe will have more scoring.
âIdeally, you want to target a game like Washington against Brooklyn,â Mezrahi said. âTheir totals are so high. You know neither team is going to blow the other one out and you can just stack up players. Iâll just stuff guys in that game. Iâll even play Mo Wagner and I usually never play him. Odds are good that the game will stay close and itâs probably a 130-125 final. Thereâs lots of upside there with tons of value.
âPace of the game is very important. The Knicks are playing at a really slow pace this year so itâs hard to attack them. But any time Washington and Brooklyn are on the slate, I load up on everybody on the other team because those two play no defense.â
I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the curtain with somebody who plays daily fantasy sports for a living. Mezrahi doesnât do this for a hobby, he’s turned it into a career. And he takes it all very seriously.
It goes to show just how hard you have to work to win.