The optimist’s fantasy basketball primer part II: Format wars

Ever want to get into fantasy basketball, but lost yourself in the plethora of format options to choose from? There are plenty of subtle differences that can make or break your fantasy experiences. It took years to figure out which format suited me best, but when I found it, I was right in my element.

Personally, I prefer head-to-head keeper leagues with a lottery draft based on the previous year’s standings. When you take those standings into account, even the last place teams have a reason to continue playing. Just like real sports, you can aim for immediate success or invest in the future by shedding quality picks to others holding on for dear fantasy playoff life. As you may or may not know, there is nothing more frustrating than facing an absent GM, it saps the fun right out of the league. In this system the GMs at the bottom still have some power thanks to players on their roster that might be of some use to a contender.

When you boil it down, reality is what we ultimately strive for in our fantasy realms of obsessive stat-hounding and endless dissection of who might hold more value at a particular time in the season. It’s the reason we play.

When it comes to choosing a fantasy format, the first thing you need to decide is whether you’re going to play in a head to head (h2h) format league or a rotisserie (Roto). The differences are vast and you usually find yourself liking one format more than the other. Each has their selling points and drawbacks, so let’s break them down.

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Selling Points:

You always have an opponent: In h2h format, the season is spliced in to week by week “matchups.” This allows for great flexibility within the depth of your roster. Most leagues have divisions and conferences and the matchups are based on relative play within them.

Divisions and Conferences: If your fantasy league doesn’t have enough GMs to make up two conferences, get out. In an ideal fantasy world, you want your league to be competitive. If you find yourself up for a challenge, join a league that has at least 16 teams, making four divisions. When you have this many teams, the talent pool on the waiver wire is much shallower, and that forces you in to making smarter moves with your roster.

Rivalries: Fantasy rivalries exist, just like real ones, especially when you’re playing in a keeper league (where you retain some of your players from year to year instead of starting with a fresh slate each season). With those rivalries comes incessant trash talking on the message boards. This type of talk could lead you to falling out with certain GMs on the trade market, or to having a better relationship with a GM you stuck up for. If you aren’t playing in a keeper league, don’t worry, there will still be plenty of trash talking going on, and when you face that GM that was talking smack, you have that extra incentive to perform at the top of your game.


Microcosms: h2h’s biggest detractor is that any player can be a stud for a single week while your stud might put up a dud. Over a season you have a basic idea of what you might get from a player, but within that week-long stretch (and sometimes at a crucial juncture of your season), everything could collapse.

Inactive GMs: While this drawback is universal in fantasy sports, you feel it a lot more in the h2h realm. When you are facing another GM and they don’t make a single roster move (which includes leaving players on the bench that shouldn’t be there) you feel that your victory is tainted. I have news for you, it kind of is. Inactive GMs skew the whole process.

Scheduled Games: Let’s say you’ve drafted Dwight Howard first overall. You’re primed and ready for a huge first week in BLKS, REBs and most likely, PTS. One problem, Dwight only plays one time in your whole week. ONE TIME! Thanks to that you lose out in those three categories and eventually the week. Such is another blight on the state of fantasy sports.


Selling Points:

Continuous Stats: When you’re playing in a Roto league you’re going to collect on every single statistic that counts for each player from the first day you have him. Unlike h2h, the collective stats roll through the season as you do, instead of week to week.

You always have an opponent: Instead of facing off against a single GM within a week (or if your league is forward thinking enough, a double header of two GMs), you will be squared up against the entire league at all times. There is no rest for the wicked in Roto.

Maximum Games Played: In a real NBA season, each team plays 82 games, so why should your fantasy NBA team be any different? The maximum games played category ensures that each position on your squad plays no more than 82 games. It is possible for them to play less, but you should always avoid finishing with less.


Maximum Games Played: Everyone loves realism in their fantasy sports, but this is one rule/category that unnerves most players. Making sure that your top guys, or as close to a replacement for your top guys as possible, play the maximum amount of games takes an extreme amount of planning. Most people with jobs or other real life commitments just do not have the time.

Lack of Message Board Movement: Roto leagues tend to be a lot drier when it comes to the trash talking element of fantasy sports. Most of that is due to the fact that there are no real rivalries because you are constantly facing the entire league, but it also has to do with the innate seriousness that comes along with Roto.

Chance: In real sports, it is often the better team that wins it all, but it doesn’t happen all of the time. In Roto there is very little chance for the bottom team to pull off a championship when they are in the bottom after the first month. This leads to a large number of inactive GMs, which is the ultimate bore.

So there you have it. If you think you’re a serious, all business, all the time purist, then Roto might just be for you. If you like to talk some smack and see the bursts of luck and excitement within a weekly match, then perhaps you should choose h2h. Whichever you choose, know that you will not win your league unless you are devoted to doing so. Half-assed GMs don’t bring home titles.

Finally, after you’ve decided on your format, please, make sure that you read all of the league rules very carefully. There are many subtle details determined by the commissioner of your league like draft style, statistical categories, etc., that it’s important to know them all. So when you do eventually find your format of choice, make sure you’re informed from top to bottom, because you don’t want to be that bore who drops out within the first month.

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About the author

Mitch Orsatti

Mitch Orsatti is a basketball writer from Toronto, with a keen interest in basketball culture, sneakers and the world of fantasy basketball.

Readers Comments (1)

  1. I only have three people ready to start fantasy basketball. Will h2h be ok? What options do I have?

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