While we fantasy junkies spend most of our time rapping about the latest DFS sleeper or waiver-wire pickup, there is an element to rotisserie systems that often flies under the radar or is completely overlooked: games played.
Many, many years ago when I first started playing fantasy hoops, I came in second place in a league, missing first place by just a handful of blocks. Nearly two decades later, I still feel the burn of that defeat, because I didn't plan ahead enough and finished with about 10 unused games on my roster -- more than enough to surpass the team ahead of me by streaming waiver-wire shot-blockers.
In standard ESPN leagues, each team is allowed 82 games to be played at each position, and there are several angles to consider during the season when it comes to using those games:
1. Control your pace: Getting in 82 games at each position should be only one part of your season-long goal. The other part will be using those games to your advantage as best as possible by getting not only the most stats into those games but the stats you need most.
In other words, if you are chasing blocks, and your star shot-blocking center gets hurt, it doesn't make sense to replace him with a guy who doesn't block shots. You will be better off letting those games go for now, while trying to acquire a second shot-blocker you can rotate into that center spot once the star returns to action.
In fact, it is OK to get behind in games played, because it can give you more flexibility later.
Here is an example: I was in a league in which I was dead last in 3-pointers. Thanks to injuries to my shooting guards, I was 20 games behind the pace at shooting guard. Fortunately, I also had a hefty lead in FG%, so I could afford to stream hot 3-point shooters into that spot the rest of the season. Any dip in FG% thanks to chuckers didn't impact that category much, while I was be able to make a significant push in 3s.
On the other hand, if you happen to have a roster where every player is performing well, you will want to rotate them all in as much as possible, even if that puts you over the pace on games played. There is no sense in wasting max stats, though. If you have that many quality players, you should try to trade them in 2-1 deals to further upgrade their statistical impact.
2. Don't get too far behind: Once it gets later in the season, you have to be on the ball, because if you wait too long to catch up, you may not have time to get all of those games in.
During the final month of the season, things can get even more complicated, because when there is a full slate of games one night, you may have every player on your roster (even those on your bench) in action, which means you can't rotate all of your guys into the starting lineup. And on days when there are just a couple of guys going, you may not even have a player to stream in as a starter at a given position.
In fact, I always make a calendar for the final six weeks of the season in roto leagues, mapping out exactly when each player plays. That allows me to plan ahead as best as possible.
3. Don't get too far ahead: Getting in all 820 games played for your team is only part of the equation. Say you are in a league where you finish in second by two points. Suppose further that you racked up 100 more 3s than anyone else but could have passed three teams in steals with just 10 more swipes.
If you had paced your team a little more slowly, you would have had more flexibility later in the season to address those specific categories by streaming in steals guys in place of 3-point shooters.
4. Consider games played in your standings: Total points in your standings doesn't tell the full story, unless you factor in total games played by each team.
Say you are in third place with 55 points, second place has 57.5 points and first has 62 points. However, you have 448 games played, second has 484 games played and first has 464 games played.
That means that second-place team isn't really in second place, and you're likely pretty close to first.
This also comes into play when assessing your positioning in each category.
If these are the rebounding standings: 3,088, 3,043, 2,878 (you), 2,778, 2,713, 2,684, 2,674, etc.
And these are the games played for those teams: 460, 464, 448 (you), 482, 464, 484, 447, etc.
When you assess your positioning in rebounds, compare your games played (448) and boards (2,878) with a similar team (447, 2,674) and you'll see that you are more than 200 boards ahead of that team, which ranks seventh.
While you may not be able to catch the top two teams, you do have a solid cushion on the teams below you, since they have more games played. That should allow you to trade a big man for a 3-point specialist in order to make a run in 3s while not losing much -- or maybe any -- ground in rebounds.