Interested In Daily Fantasy Sports? Usage And Minutes Are Pillars For Strategy

It pays to have the proper plan of attack

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Whether it’s dabbling in the stock market, betting sports or playing daily fantasy sports (DFS), it is imperative to have a solid strategy.

We’ve 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. He’s been a professional daily fantasy player for seven years and he founded the website Win Daily Sports. One of Mezrahi’s biggest cashes was a second-place finish in DraftKings’ Fantasy Basketball World Championship. He won a cool $300,000.

“I want to avoid the landmines,” Mezrahi told NESN. “Every 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.

“I’ll look for the guys that are safe for 25 fantasy points, but what’s his true ceiling? If he has a great game, can he reach 40 points? That’s where I want to be. You evaluate price, usage, minutes along with the individual matchup and the pace of the game.”

Mezrahi prepares for a daily fantasy slate like a college student preparing for a midterm exam. He’s constantly reading, learning and evaluating to try and stay ahead of the curve. Naturally, he follows a specific routine.

“I’ll read through articles and look at our projection models earlier in the day,” Mezrahi said. “I’ll check out the Vegas point spreads and Over-Unders for the games. I’m really not trying to carve out specific lineups anywhere near 1 to 4 o’clock (Eastern) in the afternoon. It’s better to wait.

“Prior to this year, we would typically be getting most of the information on who’s questionable, doubtful and who’s not going to play around 5 o’clock. That’s when all the last-minute information used to pop. We weren’t dealing with COVID then, so times have changed a bit.

“From 5 to 7 o’clock, I’m looking at specific matchups for the early slate. This team doesn’t defend the point guard that well. This team doesn’t stop centers. How have certain players fared against specific teams in years past? You’re looking for advantages in the matchups.”

Looking for what specifically? What are the strategical building blocks?

“For me, it’s about usage and minutes,” Mezrahi said. “Those words are the two most important in basketball. Usage determines how involved a player is in the offense. It’s really a math game at that point. You’re trying to find people that are going to be on the court the most with the highest usage.

“You also want stat stuffers,” Mezrahi added. “Take somebody like Wayne Ellington. All he does is sit in the corner and shoot. P.J. Tucker, same thing. Those guys don’t get the peripheral stats. Then there’s 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.”

The more Mezrahi speaks, the more I realize that he’s an economist above all else. He’s essentially looking for a high return on investment based on the player’s 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.

“You’re looking for minimum salary priced guys that can exceed expectations,” he explained. “When there’s 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.”

I have friends that love to stack LeBron James and Anthony Davis together then figure out the rest from there. That’s 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.

“Prior to Anthony Davis’ injury, you didn’t really want to use Davis and LeBron together,” Mezrahi said. “They’re highly priced individuals and they eat each other’s salaries up pretty well. You don’t exceed value based on the dollar amount. I always want to get 5x the value. If somebody is $10,000, you want 50 points.

“But let’s just pretend Anthony Davis is scheduled to play and an hour before tip, he’s ruled out with a bad pinky toe,” Mezrahi imagined. “There’s 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.

“If Trae Young is out for Atlanta, that changes everything,” Mezrahi added. “All he does is shoot and dominate the ball. If he’s out, I roll with guys that most people wouldn’t 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.”  

Many sports bettors have “no fly zones.” These are made up of certain teams or coaches that a bettor just refuses to get involved with either way. For me, it’s the Purdue Boilermakers in college basketball. I haven’t been able to figure them out for 15 years. When I pick them, they lose. When I pick against them, they win. It’s incredibly frustrating.

There’s one player Mezrahi won’t touch no matter the situation.

“Andre Drummond,” he admitted after a quick laugh. “I just can’t do it, man. He’ll have a dream matchup and be priced right and I’ll plug him in all my lineups. And he burns me every single time. He’s the guy.”

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.

Nikola Jokic?

“Super consistent. Still has the ceiling so he’s not overrated at all. I try to get him in as many times as possible.”

John Wall?

“That’s 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, Wall’s above average. He can be great in the right situation. That’s somebody you have to monitor.”

C.J. McCollum?

“I’m not the biggest fan of him in DFS. A little overrated for the salary. If his shot is off, he’s really not that well-rounded. He’s been better this year than last year, but in prior years with a larger sample size, he’s an underperformer.”

Zach LaVine?

“In the first two weeks of the season, he was priced like he was last year. He was just smashing value every day. Now they’re pricing him into that Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal category. He was very underrated earlier and he’s starting to get the respect. He’s probably a top-five athletic guy in the league and he wants the ball late. I love his game.”

Lastly, Mezrahi spoke about the importance of pace of play. Since the goal is to maximize fantasy points, it’s paramount to find a team that’s 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.

“Ideally, you want to target a game like Washington against Brooklyn,” Mezrahi said. “Their totals are so high. You know neither team is going to blow the other one out and you can just stack up players. I’ll just stuff guys in that game. I’ll even play Mo Wagner and I usually never play him. Odds are good that the game will stay close and it’s probably a 130-125 final. There’s lots of upside there with tons of value.

“Pace of the game is very important. The Knicks are playing at a really slow pace this year so it’s 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.”

I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the curtain with somebody who plays daily fantasy sports for a living. Mezrahi doesn’t 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.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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